Friday, June 06, 2008


Philoctetes, or as I like to call it, "The Curse of Stink-foot", is unique among Greek tragedies in that it actually has a happy ending. Philoctetes comes to his senses and accepts his duty as a soldier and mortal. There is even the indication that he will be healed of the malady that is rotting his foot after the Argives have conquered Troy with his assistance. Nobody even dies.

It remains an interesting play in the modern context because the soldier Neoptolemus is made to choose between duty and honor which remains a problem for subordinates in modern states. Also, Philoctetes rivals Job for undeserved suffering; having been stricken with a strange disease that is consuming his foot, his fellow soldiers are ordered to leave him behind on the island of Lemnos where he lives in a cave for nine years, eating wild animals and suffering miserably. One character notes that the “fortunes given them by the gods men are obliged to bear”, but it is hard not to sympathize with Φιλοκτητης.

It’s also easy to understand why he would rather tell them to go hang it when Odyssseus returns to the island and has his soldier Neoptolemus use trickery to lure Φιλοκτητης to return with them. A prophet has stated that the Trojan War will end when Philctetes assaults Troy with his superior bow and arrow. Blinded by his pain and misery, Φιλοκτητης wants nothing to do with them after Neoptolemus/ Nεοπτολεμος comes clean about the deceit. One can understand where he's coming from.

The ending is a bit weak- the deus ex machina is Heracles, who saves the day by convincing Φιλοκτητης to defeat Troy and be healed. But the theme of duty and honor and how they sometimes are at odds is still powerful.

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