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Heracles, Philoctetes, Neoptolemus

Author(s): Harry C. Avery

Source: Hermes, 93. Bd., H. 3 (1965), pp. 279-297
Published by: Franz Steiner Verlag
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Accessed: 04-12-2017 20:56 UTC

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HARRY C. AVERY, Heracles, Philoctetes, Neoptolemus 279

vielmehr die ausfiihrlichere Fassung in einer andern Schrift die sekundare ist.
Aber das liegt fiber den Rahmen der gegenwartigen Untersuchung hinaus.
Immerhin hat diese vielleicht, wenn auch auf einem ganz begrenzten Gebiet,
zu Ergebnissen gefiuhrt, die auch fur eine erneute Untersuchung der Entstehung
und Komposition der Memorabilien uiberhaupt nicht ganz ohne Nutzen sind.



This paper is primarily concerned with two aspects of Sophocles' Philoc-

tetes: what happens to Philoctetes' character in the course of the play; and
Philoctetes' relationship to Neoptolemus and to Heracles.
Let us deal with Philoctetes' character first. Before Philoctetes appears
on stage, Sophocles prepares his audience for a frightening, noisome, and
pitiful sight (7, 9-II, 38-9, I47, I69-90). Loud cries of pain precede Phi-
loctetes on stage (20I-2I8). He enters, moving laboriously, unpleasant to
see, and, to judge from the text later (876, 890-I, I032), unpleasant to

wahrscheinlicher. Taktik und Strategie sind innerhalb der Heere aller Zeit in der Heeres-
organisation selbst gelehrt worden. Es ist eine ganz singulare Situation, daB im Griechen-
land des 5. Jahrhunderts Leute auftreten, die selbst keine Militars sind und trotzdem
Privatunterricht in Taktik und Strategie zu geben versprechen. Das Memorabilienkapitel,
das inAthen spielt, geht von dieser Situation aus. Wenn dann in der Kyrupaedie (i, 6, I2)
der junge Kyros sich von seinem Vater Geld (was fur welches?) geben l1ft, um bei einem
Privatlehrer Taktik zu studieren, ist das nur aus der Ubertragung aus der griechischen
Situation und also wohl auch aus der entsprechenden Skizze in den Memorabilien zu
erklaren. Der umgekehrte Vorgang, daB Xenophon das fur die Kyrupaedie, wohin es gar
nicht paBt, erfunden und dann erst in die richtige Situation uibertragen haben sollte, ist
auBerst unwahrscheinlich. Auch lieBe sich das durch eine genauere Analyse noch in mehr-
facher Hinsicht bekraftigen.
Das zweite Aristippgesprach in den Memorabilien (3, 8) ist ebenfalls skizzenhaft, und
Xenophon wird dort in Wirklichkeit ebensowenig mit Aristipp fertig wie in 2, i. Auch
hier ist es so, daB andere Werke Xenophons und sogar andere Teile der Memorabilien
selbst Einsichten enthalten, welche es unwahrscheinlich erscheinen lassen, dao Xenophon
danach noch so oberflachlich verfahren sein sollte wie in 3, 8. Aber das alles liegt uiber den
Rahmen der gegenwartigen Untersuchung hinaus und soll nur zeigen, in welcher Richtung
sie sich weiterfuihren laBt. In dem Kapitel 3, 8 ist, wie auf den ersten Blick zu sehen,
nichts fur den historischen Aristipp Charakteristisches enthalten. Es ist nichts als ein
anderer Versuch, dem von ihm miBbilligten Sokratesschiiler, den wirklich zu widerlegen
ihm in 2, I miiBlungen ist, eins auszuwischen.
* I wish to thank Professor B. M. W. KNOX, who generously read this paper and
discussed it with me.

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smell. Physically he is repellent, but once he begins to speak he is presented

as a very attractive person, warm, hospitable, humane. He greets Neoptolemus
and the chorus graciously (2I9-23). He notes their Greek clothing and
remarks that it is most dear to him (223-4). He apologizes for his appearance
and hopes they will not shrink in fear from him because of his wild looks
(225-8). Neoptolemus admits they are Greek and Philoctetes exclaims
(lo qt1TaTov qvci0v7ya (234) in his joy at hearing Greek again. He is imm
impressed by Neoptolemus' appearance and manner (235), and adopts a pater-
nal attitude towards him (co -rivov, 236). Thus, in his first encounter with
people, Philoctetes is shown as a friendly, considerate, fatherly man, in spite
of the harsh treatment he had received at the hands of the Greeks on their
way to Troy. He is genuinely interested in his visitors and glad that they are
Greeks. He shows no bitterness until he learns that his name is not known
(254-6). Once he remembers his grievance, however, his speech becomes
harsh. He fears, like Ajax, that his enemies are laughing at him (258; cf. I023,
II25). He introduces himself and tells his story to Neoptolemus. His account
is acrimonious and resentful, especially against Odysseus and the Atreidai,
but it is by no means uncontrollably so. He is far from being a wild man,
despite the =c27yeltwievov of line 226, which probably refers only to his
appearance. Quite to the contrary, he is a humane and sympathetic man, and
he remains so until his betrayal by Neoptolemus.
These characteristics are especially noticeable in the scene where Philoctetes
learns from Neoptolemus about some of the heroes who fought at Troy
(4I2-52). Philoctetes had already expressed sorrow at the death of Achilles
(332-3 and 337-8), and had shown appreciation of the sympathy he had
gotten from Neoptolemus and the chorus (403-4). Now he is shocked at the
death of Ajax, bitter that men like Odysseus and Diomedes should still be
alive, and concerned for his old and noble friend, Nestor. The news of Antilo-
chus' death wrings from Philoctetes the sorrowful remark that Antilochus and
Ajax are the two men he least wanted to see dead. But that is not all. He
leams that Patroclus has died, and, to make it worse, that Thersites lives on.
In this scene we see Philoctetes' tender concern for his friends and his sorrow
at their death. This small catalogue of heroes also serves to establish Philoctetes
as a friend of the great heroes.
This scene serves another, more important, function. There is a marked
alternation in this passage between the good men who have died and the evil
men who live on. This contrast, emphasizing the horror and unfairness of war in
which the good die and the bad survive, is of prime importance for an under-
standing of Philoctetes' character. It brings to mind, and parallels, Philoctetes'
own misfortune, which was also undeserved, unfair, and brutal. Nevertheless,
Philoctetes did suffer, just as Ajax and the rest died. This emphasis on the
essential injustice of life assumes a greater significance as Philoctetes repeatedly

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Heracles, Philoctetes, Neoptolemus 28I

refuses to go to Troy, where, as Helenus and Heracles make clear, his duty lies.
He refuses to go because he cannot accept the inevitable unfairness and evil
in life, as Heracles had accepted them. Instead, when faced with the fact of
their existence, Philoctetes lashes out against the gods and expresses his doubts
about their goodness (446-52).
To return to Sophocles' presentation of Philoctetes' gentle and considerate
character: this is apparent in his speech begging Neoptolemus to take him
home, when he shows himself aware of his repulsive appearance and thinks
of its effect on the others (473-4 and 480-3). Later, when Neoptolemus has
falsely promised to take him home, Philoctetes is full of gratitude and calls
Neoptolemus fijutirog av?Q (530). Again, after the false Merchant has left the
scene and Philoctetes' fears have been raised to a feverish pitch, Neoptolemus
reaffirms his previous promise. Now the older man is even more grateful,
and generous to the point of allowing Neoptolemus to handle Heracles' bow
(658-9 and 662-6).
At 730 Philoctetes suffers the first attack of his illness on stage. Here, too,
we may assess his character. He first says the pain is nothing (733). He claims
he is better already (735). By 742-3, however, he can no longer deny the pain.
He was anxious to hide his pain from the chorus and Neoptolemus partly
because he did not want them to regret their decision to take him home,
but also because he was conscious of their sensibilities and considerate of their
comfort. He bears his pain bravely until 756 when it succeeds in breaking
him, and he begs Neoptolemus for pity. A few lines later (762), he hands the
bow over to Neoptolemus for safe-keeping. Then he suffers an attack so severe
that he calls upon death (797), and asks Neoptolemus to put him to death
as he himself had once put Heracles to death (799-804). When the attack
subsides, Philoctetes expresses his confidence in Neoptolemus. He says there
is no need for Neoptolemus to swear an oath not to abandon him. A simple
hand-shake' is enough as a sign of trust (8II-3). Immediately thereafter the
pain returns (8I4), and Philoctetes again wishes to die (8I4-20). At last he
goes to sleep worn out by his illness (82I-6).
When Philoctetes awakes, he is touchingly grateful that he has not been
abandoned (867-76; cf., in contrast, his first awakening on Lemnos, 276-84).
A few lines later (890-2), he shows again his consideration for others by
asking Neoptolemus not to allow the chorus to help him walk for fear they
might be offended by the stench from his wound. At this point, Philoctetes,
trusting in Neoptolemus and thinking he is on his way home, reaches the

1 This hand-shake has great importance for Philoctetes. He is especially bitter that
it had been violated (942-4), and, in the speech in which he finally convinces Neoptolemus
to take him home, he reminds Neoptolemus of it (1398). When Neoptolemus returns the
bow to Philoctetes, he recalls the hand-shake by asking Philoctetes to stretch out his
right hand to receive the bow (129I-2). Cf. also 1254-5.

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pinnacle of his confidence in his fellow men. Neoptolemus' deceitful promises

have helped him regain this confidence after his brutal experience ten years
As they are about to start off for the ship, Neoptolemus expresses his
agonizing unhappiness at his deceitful position. He is at a loss what to do (895).
Philoctetes, tenderly concerned, worries the youth with his questions, but
he has no idea of what is really bothering Neoptolemus. The worst he can
imagine is his old fear that he will be left behind (9IO-I). Now, in his con-
cern, Philoctetes shows his first coolness towards Neoptolemus (dvt)e 6'& cf.,
in contrast, 530). When he finally learns the truth, that Neoptolemus is
taking him to Troy, Philoctetes at first cannot believe it. He asks Neoptolemus
what does he mean, and uses the affectionate di 'rbvov (9I4). But he soon
realizes what has happened, and he feels crushed, betrayed (923-4):

d'o'Aco) a TAr4ywv, neo3bo,yat. 'ct' ps', Oi 4bVE / b6eaxag2;

Philoctetes recoils from his former affection and trust. We can imagine him
spitting out the word &ve much as Dido spits out hospes when she is berating
Aeneas for deserting her (Aeneid 4, 323). Philoctetes' tenderness turns to
hate (927-30).
This scene marks a change in Philoctetes' character, a change that is
in some ways permanent even though he does later resume his affection for
Neoptolemus. Now he feels tricked (929, 948, III2, II36). Neoptolemus has
deprived him of life (93I, 933, I282-3). Philoctetes' emotions are so powerfu
and his disappointment in mankind so profound that he can find release only
by calling upon nature (936-9, 986-7; cf. I452-64, and Aeschylus, Pro-
metheus Bound 88-92, I09I-3) to witness Neoptolemus' treachery and
Odysseus' baseness. But Neoptolemus' victory is hollow, since Philoctetes is
nothing but a corpse, a shadow of smoke, an image (946-7; cf. 953, ioi8, I030).
Yet Philoctetes knows that Neoptolemus is not basically bad (950). He has
been taught evil by others (97I-2). When Odysseus comes back on stage
(974), Philoctetes realizes that Odysseus was behind it all. He again wants
to die (999-I002; cf. I204-9). He rails against Odysseus for using Neoptole-
mus and corrupting him (I007-I5). When he is left alone with the chorus,
he absolutely refuses to go to Troy, though the chorus tries again and again
to convince him to go (I095-I2I7). He admits, however, that his pain and
sorrow have driven him out of his mind (1I95). Now he considers the Greeks,
whose very clothing and tongue he had loved (223-4 and 234), his enemies
(I2I6). When Neoptolemus returns and calls him out of his cave, Philoctetes

1 Cf. 93-4 where Neoptolemus says to Odysseus that he does not want to be called
a traitor.
2 Cf. 3I4-5 where Philoctetes uses the same word and tense to describe the actions
of Odysseus and the Atreidai against himself.

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Heracles, Philoctetes, Neoptolemus 283

has no confidence in the youth, and thinks he brings evil with him (I265-6).
He had trusted him before, but now he will never have confidence in him again
(I27I-2 and I28I). He links Neoptolemus to Odysseus and the Atreidai, and
wishes they would all perish (I285-6). Yet once Neoptolemus has convinced
him of his good intentions by returning the bow, he immediately does regain
the older man's confidence. Philoctetes addresses him with affection (m6xvov
I295). When Odysseus returns, Philoctetes wants to shoot him, but he is
restrained by Neoptolemus (I299-I304). Neoptolemus tries again to persuade
Philoctetes to go to Troy (I3I4-I40I), but Philoctetes adamantly refuses
until Neoptolemus finally consents to take him home (1402). Thereupon
Heracles appears on stage (1409), and Philoctetes is at last convinced he
should go to Troy (I445-7). He bids a last farewell to his home for the past
ten years, says that Moira is sending him to Troy, attributes all that has
happened to Zeus, and departs for Troy (1452-68). So the play ends in tune
with destiny.
But we may be allowed to ask if things are exactly the same after Neoptole-
mus' deception is discovered by Philoctetes as they were before. True, Philocte-
tes does accept Neoptolemus again, but he does not have any of that sweet
humanity he had when Neoptolemus first met him. Now he is eager to cut
down Odysseus and now he hates the Greeks. Even more significant is the
fact that Philoctetes now stands entirely outside of society. Neoptolemus
makes this point when he tries to persuade Philoctetes to go to Troy (I3I6-23):

Men have to bear their misfortunes sent from heaven. But those
who wallow in their self-inflicted troubles, as you do, may not
justly claim any man's forgiveness or pity. You have become
a wild man (1yeQorat). You don't take advice. And if someone,
thinking of your own good, gives you advice, you hate him and
consider him your enemy.

This is what Philoctetes has come to. He is wild and without contact with his
fellowmen. In the rest of this scene, Philoctetes argues well, refuting Neoptole-
mus' points, but his arguments are essentially those of a man outside of
society. Troy and the rest of the world mean nothing to him (I369, I400-I;
cf. I200-2). He wants only to go home (I368, I399). By sheer stubborness
and strength of will, aided not only by the moral right that was indubitably
his because of the vicious treatment he had received from the Greeks ten
years earlier, but also by Neoptolemus' sense of remorse, he brings Neoptole-
mus around. But Philoctetes' character is far from that of the gentle and
considerate man he was when he first came on stage. Then he apologized for
his appearance and his clothes, saying that he had turned wild. But every-
thing he did belied any bestiality in him. Now, however, he has to be told he
has become a wild man. He refuses to recognize that it is not evil individuals

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who are working against him (debased as Odysseus and the Atreidai might be),
but history itself. History (or, if you will, fate, or in terms of the play, the gods:
i326; cf. I92-6) has made him suffer, just as it brought about the death of
Achilles, Ajax, Antilochus, and Patroclus, while it allowed Odysseus, Diomedes,
the Atreidai, and even Thersites to live on. Philoctetes cannot bring himself
to accept the injustice immanent in this world. He realizes (I350-7) that
Neoptolemus' advice to go to Troy is well meant, and he finds it difficult to
refuse it. But he does refuse because he cannot bear to give in and help his
enemies. His pride and his fear of the future (I358-6I), that he might suffer
the same things at the hands of the same men, keep him from followingNeoptole-
mus' advice. Indeed, Philoctetes had cause not to yield and go to Troy, he
had reason not to help his enemies, but the world is not built in such a way
that everything should be done with reason and with cause. When Philoctetes
refuses to go to Troy, he rejects the opportunity to grow greater than he was
and to become worthy of Heracles. Instead he chooses to remember his suf-
ferings, play the wild man, and stay outside of society.
This view of Philoctetes' character is strengthened by two themes that
appear throughout the play. The first is the loneliness of Philoctetes' life in
a desolate place for the last ten years and the fear he has of being left alone
again now that Neoptolemus has promised to take him home'. This motif is
closely connected with a second, that of the wild, savage, beast-like life
Philoctetes has led on Lemnos and his close connection with animals. Two
passages have been discussed above (226 and I32I), but this motif 2
permeates the whole fabric of the play. It appears in Philoctetes' agony after
he had been bitten by the snake (9-IO), in the animal-like home he had in
a cave (I6-9, 27-39, I59-60, 272, 286, 534, 952, IO8I-4, I262-3, I453),
in the animal-like food he ate (43, I62, 274, 308, 707-II, II07), in the general
animal-like life he led (I82-5, 2I4, 226, 272, 29I, 7I4-7, I032, I32I; cf. I436),
in his close connection-almost kinship-with animals (i65, 936-7, 954-8,
I092-3, II46-62), in his being hunted, now by men, now by animals (ii6,
839, 958, I004-5, IOO73, IO92-44, II56-7), in the savagery of the wound
itself (I73, 265-6, 3I3, 698, 745, II67), and in the savagery of the snake that

1 See lines 2, 172, I83, 195, 22I, 227-8, 265, 269, 286, 30I-4, 470-I, 487, 688,
69I-700, 809, 938-9, ioi8, 1070, II02-5.
2 M. H. JAMESON has also noticed these two motives in CP 51, I956, 22
He includes some instances where the word c is used of Philoctetes' locomotion (206-7,
294, 70I). It is unlikely that Sophocles used this word to indicate that Philoctetes crawls
like a wounded animal. At 787 rQoa'eL occurs as a synonym of rQowTeXETat. At II55
Sophocles uses it of birds and at I223 he has Odysseus use it of Neoptolemus when the
latter is in a hurry. Cf. 730, 985, and 29I, 702, and JEBB's note to 291.
3 For Odysseus as a hunter see also 609.
4 This is based on the reading in PEARSON'S Oxford text. Other readings of this vexed
passage (e. g. in the Bud6 text), yield a different sense.

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Heracles, Philoctetes, Neoptolemus 285

bit him (267) 1, and the goddess he offended (I94). Philoctetes' loneliness and
the savagery of his life, combined with his profound disappointment in Neop-
tolemus, make a wild man of him. This could have happened at any time
during the past ten years, but we have seen that Sophocles was very careful to
present Philoctetes, at the beginning of the play, as a man who was not wild.
He was very much a decent human being then. So it was not his environment
that was instrumental in the change in Philoctetes. It was his environment
combined with his disappointment in Neoptolemus. His disenchantment was
the operative factor. Let us now turn to the relationship between the two
men and examine its nature.
Neoptolemus, on his part, seems to consider Philoctetes his friend, and
no more, both when he is deceiving him and afterwards (585-6, 67I-3, I375;
and I385; cf. 390 and I387) 2. But Philoctetes has an entirely different view
of the relationship. He maintains a paternal attitude towards Neoptolemus
and he comes very close to consitlering him his son, or at least his potential son.
No one reading the play can but be impressed with the number of times
Philoctetes calls Neoptolemus ial or Trxvov. These words are spoken by
Philoctetes again and again like a refrain, some fifty-two times in all3. It is
true that others call Neoptolemus ral or Trsvov, but it is never with the
affection, trust, and gratitude which are evident in most of the places where
Philoctetes uses these words (932, 967, and 98I are exceptions, for they are
spoken when Philoctetes feels betrayed and he pleads with Neoptolemus to
return his bow and to pity him).
Odysseus calls Neoptolemus Tdxvov once (I30) and nal once (372). In both
cases the tone is quite different from that of Philoctetes. The first case occurs
after Neoptolemus has agreed to help capture Philoctetes deceitfully and when
Odysseus is giving him instructions. Odysseus tells him to follow the lead of
the sailor he will later send to help him deceive Philoctetes. Here he addresses
Neoptolemus as rsxvov. Neoptolemus has abandoned his principles and is

1 PEARSON in his Oxford text removes the ayepco of the Mss. and replaces it with OlVot'cfo
extrapolated from Eustathius, Opuscula 324, 6o. Since the Mss. reading continues an
important theme, and since it is hard to see how q?owhV could be replaced by ayeip
text, it is best to keep the Mss. reading as DAIN does in the Bud6 Sophocles.
2 Neoptolemus also calls Philoctetes $ivoq 232, 348, 4I2, 525. Philoctetes nowhere
calls Neoptolemus a friend (67I-3 are rightly assigned to Neoptolemus in modern texts
in spite of the Mss. attribution to Philoctetes; see JEBB's note ad loc.), and he calls him
&Vog only once under special circumstances (923; see p. 282 above). Philoctetes does call
the chorus Uvot, and this sometimes includes Neoptolemus (marked by N.): 2ig N.,
404 N., 868 N., 1070, 1184, 1190, 1203, 1264. The chorus calls Philoctetes $Evog at I35,
1045, I I63.

236, 249, 260, 268, 276, 284, 300, 307, 315, 327, 337, 466, 468, 478, 484, 533, 578, 628,

635, 658, 662, 733, 742, 745 (twice), 747, 750, 753 (twice), 776, 782, 799, 804, 805, 807, 8II
869, 875, 878, 879, 889, 896, 898, 914, 932, 967, 981, 1295, I301, I3IO, I367, 1399.

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completely under Odysseus' sway. Odysseus' use of the word is affectionate

in a way, but it also carries a note of self-satisfied exaltation and triumph.
Odysseus has conquered the scruples of the son of Achilles, and he has con-
verted him to his wily way of doing things. While Neoptolemus is deceiving
Philoctetes, he is very much the spiritual son of Odysseus, a brilliant and
resourceful liar like his mentor. In the end Neoptolemus avoids this fate.
But Philoctetes is very much aware of the dangers for Neoptolemus inherent
in Odysseus' friendship when he says (I3IO-2) that Neoptolemus has shown
his true nature at last and has revealed himself to be the son of Achilles, not
of Sisyphus (cf. 4I7 and 625). In the second instance, Odysseus is said by
Neoptolemus to have called him zal in Neoptolemus' false description of the
scene at Troy when he asked for his father's armor. Odysseus was near by
and said, )>Boy, these weapons are justly minea (372), in what was probably
meant to be a patronizing tone with an edge of anger and menace in it.
The Merchant also calls Neoptolemus ra twice (589, 620). Here the word
is used as a sort of exclamation point by the Merchant to emphasize some of
his statements to his fellow conspirator. The word seems to mean, #)Look,
Neoptolemus, here's an important point, follow my lead and be careful what
you say((. Some take one of these passages to be an aside between the conspira-
tors (see JEBB's note to 589). In any case, there is no affection in the Merchant's
use of the word.
Finally, the chorus, also, calls Neoptolemus nar and T4evov. Sometimes
they address him so when they are apprehensive (I4I), or afraid (20I, 2IO);
elsewhere when they are trying to convince Neoptolemus to do something
against his better judgement, in this case stealing Philoctetes' bow while he
is asleep, and abandoning him (843, 845, 855, 863). Furthermore, the chorus'
use of these words is blunted by their use of other forms of address that are
respectful and indicate that he is their leader (alva$ and b8ano'rqg). At one
point these are mingled in with affectionate words (I35, I50), at another they
occur when the chorus is urging Neoptolemus to pity Philoctetes (507, 5IO),
and finally when the chorus is hesitant or doubtful (963). Both the affectionate
and respectful words are found together in 1072.
To return to Philoctetes, his use of affectionate words begins almost as
soon as he sets eyes on Neoptolemus. He is immediately impressed with the
youth's appearance and calls him rExvov (235-6). All of Philoctetes' warmth
and humanity center on Neoptolemus. From this point on until Neoptolemus'
treachery is revealed, ral and Pexvov are the words with which Philoctetes
regularly addresses Neoptolemus, with only two exceptions, early in their
relationship (242 and 260), where he acknowledges that Neoptolemus is the
son of Achilles. After Philoctetes learns of Neoptolemus' deceit, he calls him
nal or Tsxvov less often (only eight times), and addresses him as the son of
Achilles twice (io66, I284; cf. I3I2). Actually Philoctetes in the course of the

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Heracles, Philoctetes, Neoptolemus 287

play calls Neoptolemus specifically )>son of Achilles< only twice (260: ;ral;
and io66: .ire'e4a). The other two times (242 and I284) he uses periphrastic
terms: *son of a most dear father<<, and ))most shameful offspring of a most
noble father#. Besides addressing Neoptolemus as the son of Achilles,
Philoctetes also acknowledges that fact from time to time (434, 468, 874-5,
904-5, 940; also I366, usually bracketed as spurious). But considering the
amount of time that Neoptolemus and Philoctetes are on stage together, it
must be admitted that Philoctetes does not at all stress Achilles as the father
of Neoptolemus 1.
Thus we have seen that Philoctetes, when speaking to Neoptolemus, uses
7al or T'xvov almost to the exclusion of all other modes of address. In view
of Philoctetes' affectionate paternal attitude towards Neoptolemus, it is
significant that Sophocles is careful to have Neoptolemus say, early in his
relationship with Philoctetes, that he had never seen his father alive2 (35I;
see JEBB's note). Neoptolemus, then, is presented as a young man who has
never known a father, and is, in a sense, looking for one, somewhat like Joyce's
Stephen Dedalus. Odysseus thinks he can play the role of surrogate father for his
own purposes (see p. 286 above). Philoctetes, in his loneliness and pain, is less
conniving and more sincere than Odysseus. He thinks he has found a son.
Let us now follow the course of this relationship in the play, see how it
develops for Philoctetes, and observe what part the affectionate form of
address plays in this development. We have noted above that Philoctetes
calls Neoptolemus -rxvov or 1ai from the beginning of their relationship.
Later, however, he addresses Neoptolemus with a special urgency when he
begs to be taken home again (468-506, especially 468-89). He looks to
Neoptolemus as his savior (488, 50I; cf. 3II)3. When Neoptolemus consents
to take him home, Philoctetes is full of joy. He calls the youth ifri'drog dviq
(530) and nal (533). From this point until the truth comes out, Philoctetes is
completely devoted to Neoptolemus. He looks to him as to a son who will pro-
tect him when he is worried (578, 628, 635). Philoctetes will do anything he can
for Neoptolemus (658-9), even let him handle the bow (662). Philoctetes is
especially dependent and close to the youth when he is caught in the agony of
his illness (733-53; eight occurrences of nal and rExvov in twenty lines). In
connection with this passage, it is worth-while to pause for a moment to examine
a subtle device used by Sophocles in the scene of Philoctetes' suffering to stress

1 Odysseus calls Neoptolemus the son of Achilles four times (4, 50, 57, 1298), the Mer-
chant twice (542, 582), the chorus once (I220), Heracles once (1433), the Atreidai once
(364), and Neoptolemus himself once (240-I). It is significant that Philoctetes never
calls Neoptolemus by name.
2 This particular fact in Neoptolemus' false story was most probably true. Some of
the story was to be true, some of it false (56-67).
3 See below Appendix on the Theme of Salvation, p. 297.

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the relationship between Philoctetes and Neoptolemus as Philoctetes sees it

and to point up Philoctetes' basic yearning for a son. When Philoctetes is con-
vulsed by his pain he utters certain conventional cries of agony. One of
them is short, just two syllables, n=al (785, 786, 792, 793). The others are

longer: 745-6, naora1=cc n==oTa 1 oa =a noanaca a na11ai, and 754,

nana.7rn=a1. It seems impossible that Sophocles here meant simply that
Philoctetes was uttering inarticulate cries of pain. Indeed, the formula is
conventional (see LSJ9 s.v. nraza!). But given the importance of the father-son
relationship in this play, surely Sophocles must have been aware of the sound
of these cries. The longer cries combine the vocative of the child's word for
father (ai7=ra; see LSJ9; and note that the ultimate is short, and how well it
fits into the iambic trimeter) and the vocative of the word for son. The shorter
cries syncopate these two elements. In both the longer and the shorter cries
the emphasis is on the last syllable, and this syllable is identical with the
vocative ral, which, as we have seen, is so prominent in this play. The ety-
mology of these cries is unknown, but their derivation is not significant. What
is important is that Sophocles uses these cries in an environment where they
gain special significance beyond their normal meaning. They reinforce and
emphasize the dependence of Philoctetes on Neoptolemus and Philoctetes'
concept of his relationship to the young man 2. We return now to the course
of the play and note that Philoctetes has become so sure of Neoptolemus that
he gives the youth Heracles' bow as if to his son (776), and he refuses to
exact any oaths from him (8ii). When Philoctetes awakes from his sleep to
find Neoptolemus still there, he is grateful and affectionate (867-92; five
occurrences of nza and -rExvov). Similarly, he is sympathetically anxious,
as if for a son, when Neoptolemus is tortured by the dilemma his deceit has
caused (869, 898, 9I4).
After Philoctetes has learned of Neoptolemus' treachery, he still thinks
of him as his son and begs him to relent, as he would beg an errant son (932,
967, 98I). But it is to no avail, for Neoptolemus leaves with Odysseus (IO80).
When Neoptolemus comes back to return the bow, Philoctetes is distrustful
until Neoptolemus swears an oath by Zeus (I289; cf. 8ii and I324). Even
then Philoctetes does not call him rExvov until he is frightened by Odysseus'
voice (I295). In the next hundred lines, Philoctetes absolutely refuses, for the
last time, to go to Troy, and he persuades Neoptolemus to take him home.
The latter consents (I402), and Philoctetes expresses his great joy, at the

1 I follow DAIN's Bude text, which I think is better here than PEARSON'S Oxford text.
The latter is closer to the readings of the Mss. but DAIN's reading is in accord with the Mss.
readings of 754. It is better that these cries be as standarized as possible.
If the theory presented here is correct, perhaps the first alpha of 746 should be
printed as a separate exclamation, cf. 732 and 739.
2 These sounds are juxtaposed again at 895-6.

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Heracles, Philoctetes, Neoptolemus 289

same time proclaiming that Neoptolemus has uttered a yewalov e'o0 and has
presumably become himself yevvalog, something he had not been until he had
honestly consented to take Philoctetes home.
We may note here the interesting development of the word yevvaloq in
this play. It is first used by Odysseus, but in a perverted sense. He says (5I)
that Neoptolemus must be yvvalog in regard to the purpose of their voyage,
and he must acquiesce in the plans of Odysseus. Later Philoctetes defines the
yevvalog (475-6) as being one who hates the alo'Xeo'v (cf. 906 where Neoptole-
mus admits that if he betrays Philoctetes he will seem a&ixeo'Q) and who
glories in the good. At 799-80I Philoctetes, in the throes of pain, asks Neopto-
lemus to put him to death and twice calls him yEvvaloq. At this point Neo-
ptolemus is deceitful, and yevvalog only in Odysseus' sense of the word. At
io68 Odysseus urges Neoptolemus to leave the scene and not look back at
Philoctetes for fear that the youth might yield to his compassion for the older
man since he is yevvalo?. Here Odysseus uses the word in its true sense,
recognizing Neoptolemus' innate virtue, but fearful of its consequences.
Finally in the passage discussed above, Philoctetes says (1402), (d yEvvaiov

Ee?7rco 'zog. Neoptolemus has spoken a word that shows that he is indeed
yevvalog. At last he has progressed from being a yevvalog in Odysseus'
perverted sense to becoming a yevvaloc in the true sense. Now Neoptolemus
has found himself and his true nature.
After 1402 there is a complete reversal in the relationship between the two
men. They are still father and son, but their roles have changed. Hitherto
Neoptolemus had been the stronger and Philoctetes the weaker. Now the
younger man seems to have lost all his confidence in himself (see, in contrast,
I24I-60 for the way he handles Odysseus when the latter threatens him).
He is worried and fretful, while Philoctetes, who had earlier been a helpless
suppliant, now calms Neoptolemus' fears and assures him that he will protect
him against his enemies. They have only to depend upon his bow (I403-8).
Here at last Philoctetes has gained control of the situation, while Neoptolemus
is very much the nervous youth, depending on the confidence and skill of the
older man. At this point Heracles appears on stage. Before we discuss Heracles'
speech, however, let us examine another aspect of the relationship between
Neoptolemus and Philoctetes, and then the relationship between Philoctetes
and Heracles, to which the first leads.
We have noted that the relationship between Neoptolemus and Philoctetes
was not merely a simple father-son relationship, but more complex, in that
the son, through most of the play, is superior in strength, guile, and freedom
of choice to the father. He guides affairs along the course he chooses. Further-
more, Neoptolemus is the son who is a savior of this father (see appendix,
p. 297 below). This is especially evident in the passage where Philoctetes
begs Neoptolemus to take him home (468-506, especially 50I; see above).

Hermes 93,3 20

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A parallel situation is glanced at in the case of Nestor and Antilochus (424-5;

cf. Pindar, Pythian 6, 28-43). More important, however, is the passage in
which Philoctetes tells Neoptolemus that it is N tg for him to handle the bow
(662-6). He goes on to say that Neoptolemus alone has given him the power
to look on the light of the sun, to see the land of Oeta, his father, his friends,
and the power to overcome his enemies. The first of these gifts concerns us
most now, for it is tantamount to saying that Neoptolemus has given Philocte-
tes life, as a father gives his son life. Here Neoptolemus is in the position of
a father, and is at the peak of his influence over Philoctetes. It is from this
dominant and seemingly generous situation that Neoptolemus descends until
he is completely dependent upon Philoctetes at I403-8.
This complex and reversible father-son relationship puts us in mind of
the relationship between Philoctetes and Heracles, a relationship that plays
an important role in the play and parallels that of Philoctetes and Neoptolemus.
Philoctetes' services to Heracles on Mt. Oeta can be regarded as similar to
those which Philoctetes wants from Neoptolemus. By setting fire to Heracles'
pyre, Philoctetes both )>saves<( Heracles from his suffering and ))sends him
homea to the gods. Thus Philoctetes is a benefactor (670) to Heracles, just as
Neoptolemus could be a benefactor to him. The possession of the bow creates
a bond between Heracles and Philoctetes, a bond that runs from Heracles
to Philoctetes, so that the latter is in a sense a son, or at least a descendant
(II3I-2), of Heracles.
We may ask if Philoctetes could be considered, in the bounds of this
play, the son of Heracles. To answer this we have to deal with the problem
of Philoctetes' father. There is a curious ambiguity throughout the play as
to the person of Philoctetes' father. On the one hand there is no doubt that
Philoctetes is thought of as Poias' son, for he is often called that in the play'.
At the same time Sophocles seems to establish a deliberate ambiguity in which
Philoctetes comes very close to being the son of Heracles. Sophocles seems
intentionally to obfuscate the person of Philoctetes' father. It could sometimes
be Heracles, then again, it turns out to be Poias.

1 See lines 4-5, 263, 3I8, 329, 46I, I230, I26I, I410, I430. Note that there is a stretch
of some 770 lines when Philoctetes is never addressed by his father's name. In this part
of the play we find most of the ambiguities concerning Philoctetes' father.
For the alternate tradition, that Poias, not Philoctetes, set fire to Heracles'
pyre, see Apollodorus, Bibl. 2, 7, 7 (FRAZER'S Loeb ed., vol. I, p. 271); Tzetzes' scholia
to Lycophron, Alexandra, 50 (SCHEER's ed., p. 38); Zenobius I, 33 in LEUTSCH and
SCHNEIDEWIN'S Corpus Paroemiographorum Graecorum (Goettingen, I839-5I), vol. I;
cf. also RIBBECK's Tragicorum Romanorum Fragmenta (Leipzig, I897), frag. xxxvi (ex
incertis incertorum fabulis), which refers to Poias and may belong to Accius' Heraclidae.
Poias is, at best, a shadowy figure, without much substance. He was an Argonaut (Apollo-
dorus, Bibl. i, 9, i6; FRAZER, Op. cit. p. 97), and skilled with the bow (Apollodorus,
Bibl. I, 9, 26; FRAZER, Op. Cit. P. II9).

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Heracles, Philoctetes, Neoptolemus 29I

This problem is best approached by first considering the problem of

Philoctetes' homeland. The epic tradition sets him firmly in the Magnesian
peninsula. All the towns mentioned in Iliad B 7I6-8 are located there'
(cf. also Strabo, 6, I, 3, 254). In this tradition Philoctetes is connected with
no other locality. Poias, leaving aside for the moment his connections with
Heracles, is associated only with Magnesia and Phthiotic Thessaly2, both of
them some way from Oeta. JEBB3 and FIEHN4 both say that Philoctetes'
homeland was transferred to the land around the Malian Gulf by the three
tragic poets, because of Philoctetes' association with Heracles. Outside of
Sophocles, however, there is only one line from Aeschylus to support this view.
In this line, from Aeschylus' Philoctetes , the Spercheius river is apostrophized.
This is very thin evidence. There is nothing to indicate who called upon the
river or under what circumstances. We know little enough about Aeschylus'
Philoctetes even with Dio's comments, so that it is not possible to make even
an educated guess as to the context of the line. Assuming that it refers to
Philoctetes' homeland is rash. Neither the other fragments of this play nor
the considerable fragments of Euripides' Philoctetes6, produced in 43I, give
the slightest hint that either of these playwrights considered the region around
the gulf of Malia the homeland of Philoctetes. Quite to the contrary, it seems
very likely that Sophocles was the first to change Philoctetes' homeland and
set him in country closely identified with Heracles. This could be done more
easily because Philoctetes was a relatively minor figure in the epic tradition.
That it was Sophocles who made this innovation is supported by the manner
in which Philoctetes' name is first introduced in the play (4-5). Odysseus calls
him the Malian son of Poias. The word MqAtd appears at the end of line 4 in
an emphatic position. Sophocles seems to have been emphasizing at the begin-
ning of this play his change of Philoctetes' homeland.
Placing Philoctetes in the land of Heracles meant that Sophocles could
always keep Heracles in his audience's consciousness by mentioning localities
associated with him, without actually naming him or bringing him overtly
into the action of the play before it was necessary. The transfer to Malia also
meant that there was always some subtle connection between Heracles and
Philoctetes. Sophocles used this geographical novelty as a vehicle for his

1 No definite location is known for Thaumakia, but it is assumed to be in the Magne-

sian Peninsula; see V. BURR, Necov KaTa'oyog: Untersuchungen zum homerischen Schi
katalog. Klio Beiheft 49 (N. F. Heft 36), Leipzig, 1944, p. 98.
2 See H. KENNER, RE XXI, I95I, col. II87-8.
3 R. C. JEBB, The Plays of Sophocles, Part IV, The Philoctetes, Cambridge, 1932,
4RE XIX, I938, col. 2502.
5 Fragment 249 in NAUCK, Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta2, Leipzig, 1889. It
comes from Aristophanes' Frogs, line I383. We learn from the scholium to the passage
that the line is from the Philoctetes.
6 For Aeschylus' play, see NAUCK, OP. cit. p. 79-82; for Euripides', p. 6I3-21.


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deliberate ambiguity in the matter of Philoctetes' father. Before we examine

the passages involved, however, we may note that Philoctetes introduces him-
self to Neoptolemus first as the master of Heracles' arms, and only secondly
as the son of Poias (262-3). The former seems to have been the more im-
portant fact about Philoctetes.
The first ambiguity in regard to Philoctetes' father occurs at 453 where

Neoptolemus addresses Philoctetes, di y6ve0Aov O&tat'ov naareo6. Given the

obscurity of Poias, his identification with lands far from Oeta, and the powerful
association of Heracles with Oeta, it seems that the first impression this line
would give to an audience would be that Philoctetes is somehow Heracles'
son in addition to being the possessor of his bow'. It does not create a very
strong impression, for we have been told Philoctetes is the son of Poias. But
it does create a certain tension, an uneasiness almost, about the father of
Philoctetes. This tension is maintained throughout the play. Twice Philoctetes
longs to return to his Oetaean homeland (479, 664), which again must put the
audience in mind of Heracles.
The ambiguity may be noted again at 490-9, where Philoctetes, begging
Neoptolemus to take him home, says that Neoptolemus may take him as
far as Euboea. From there it is not a long journey to Oeta, the Trachinian
ridge, and the lovely Spercheius, where Neoptolemus may show Philoctetes
to his father. Surely these lines conjure up Heracles and not the faint shadow
figure of Poias. Oeta and Trachis are inextricably twined into the Heracles
legend. We may doubt perhaps the absolute relevance of the Spercheius to
Heracles, but Sophocles himself makes the point some two hundred fifty lines
later when the Spercheius is closely associated with Heracles (726-9). Once
Sophocles has brought Philoctetes and Heracles close together, he does not
leave it at that. No sooner do we have a clear picture of the relationship
between the two than Sophocles blurs the image of Heracles. Philoctetes goes
on to say that he has long feared that his father may be dead. He had sent
many messages to him asking to be returned home, but there was no answer.
Either he is dead or the messages never got there. Here Philoctetes seems to be
talking about the natural father. These last lines could scarcely refer to

1 Oiratog occurs once in the Trachiniae, 436, and Oir77 three times, 200, 635, 1191.
The title of Seneca's Hercules Oetaeus and the play itself stress the hero's association with
the place. Zenobius (in LEUTSCH and SCHNEIDEWIN, P. 290 n. i above) 5, 44 mentions
an Oiralo; 6alucov (cf. in the same work, Plutarch i, 69 and Diogenianus 7, 23) cited from
Clearchus of Soli in Cyprus (frag. 65 in F. WEHRLI, Die Schule des Aristoteles, Texte und
Kommentar, Klearchos, Basel, I948). This 6at'jcw hated pride and insolence. LEUTSCH
says it is either Heracles or Zeus (for the latter see Trachiniae, i igI). But Propertius, 3, I,
32 says: )Troia, bis Oetaei numine capta dei((, referring obviously to Heracles. Propertius
may or may not be thinking of Clearchus (see H. MEYER, RE XVII, I937, col. 2294).
It is clear, in any case, that Heracles was closely identified with Oeta and could be called
Oiraiog, even though this is not one of his recognized epithets.

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Heracles, Philoctetes, Neoptolemus 293

Heracles. Yes, they do refer to Poias, even though his name is not mentioned.
What has happened in this passage is that Sophocles has confused us by in-
sinuating first (490-3) that Heracles is somehow the father of Philoctetes,
then (494-9) he immediately retreats from this position by talking about
Poias. The confusion is quickly resolved, but the tension has been created,
and not for the last time, since the ambiguity appears again'.
We find it next in a choral passage (72I-9). The chorus sings that Philocte-
tes is about to return to his paternal hall, where the Malian nymphs live, and
to the banks of the Spercheius, where the bronze-shielded man approached
the gods, above the heights of Oeta. Here again Sophocles seems to hint at
a father-son relationship between Heracles and Philoctetes, but he is careful
to keep it ambiguous. The word )>paternal<( seems to point to Heracles, but
there is nothing explicit (cf. I2I3 and below).
A more explicit reference to the father-son relationship between the two
occurs at II3I-2. Philoctetes laments the loss of his bow. He addresses the
bow (II28-9), and says that, if it can feel, it must pity rdv aHQaxt8tov iiOttov2
who will never use it again. Here the adjectival form of Heracles suggests
that Philoctetes is in some way )>of Heracles<(, just as if he were a Heracleid.
In this passage he is definitely the successor, if not the son, of Heracles. This
is the most explicit reference to the relationship between the two in the play.
Later Sophocles becomes equivocal again. Towards the end of his kommos
with the chorus, Philoctetes wishes to commit suicide (I204-I7). He says
his mind dwells on death and he wants to seek out his father. The chorus
asks where, in what land, and Philoctetes answers, in Hades, for he no longer
looks on the light. This probably refers to Poias (see p. 292 n. I), but given
the ambiguity elsewhere, this is not self-evident. Still we may accept it as
referring to Poias. The real ambiguity comes in the next line (12I3), where

1 This passage gives rise to a small, but nagging, problem. Why does Philoctetes some-
times think of his father as dead and other times as alive? (493-4 and 497: doubt; 665:
alive; I2IO-I: dead; I37I: alive). Perhaps the solution offered by JEBB (note to I209f.),
that Philoctetes thinks his father is dead when he is depressed and alive when he is more
cheerful, is the right one. But Philoctetes' ambivalence may also be connected with the
ambiguity about Philoctetes' father. Poias is alive and Heracles is dead, but which one
is his father ? Or, to develop the idea further in the case of each, Poias is alive, but he
is also a shadowy figure with little life of his own (we know most about him from the
recondite collection of Apollodorus; see p. 290 n. i); and Heracles is dead, but he is also
alive in that he dwells among the gods.
2 PEARSON in his Oxford text obelizes adOAtov and suggests some word like S'86eov
which he draws from the 6aid6oxov in the scholium to the passage. But the scholium pro-
bably refers to 'HeaoxAetov when it reads, advr E4 rov roi6 'HoamAlovg da'6oXov. "AOAtov
is probably the correct reading, with the meaning, ))the unhappy descendant of Heracles (x; cf.
the Bude translation (which keeps a&AMov), ))le pauvre h6ritier d'H6racles((, and the note
in SCHNEIDEWIN-NAUCK-RADERMACHER (IIth ed. Berlin, 9 i I), ad loc., >Irov HedxAstov,
wie die Anhanger und bd6toXot des Pythagoras HvOayo'eetot hiessen<.

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Philoctetes cries out: co o',l i) d

is Trachis, and compares 49I, where Philoctetes says he wants to return to
the Trachinian ridge. If it does refer to Trachis , there can be no connection
with Poias, who is associated, even in the Heracles legend, only with Oeta,
where he was a shepherd (see the works cited in p. 290 n. i). Trachis again
brings to mind Heracles, and here once more (cf. 72I-9 and above) in con-

nection with the word nra'retog.

These ambiguities are finally resolved in Heracles' speech at the end of

the play. He first addresses Philoctetes as vrai Hot'avrog (I4IO), thus sett
the matter of Philoctetes' father. These words, coming from Heracles' mouth,
are definitive. Heracles also removes the ambiguity as to whether Philoctetes'
father still lives or not, and he definitely establishes Philoctetes and his father
in the region of Oeta (I430). In resolving these ambiguities, Heracles also
makes it clear that Philoctetes is not to follow in his own footsteps, except
as the possessor of the famous bow. If Philoctetes had been less stubborn and
less selfish, if he had been more willing to pursue unpleasant and even unjust
duties, if he had been, in short, more like Heracles, when he was asked to go
to Troy, he might, in Sophocles' terms, have become a second Heracles. But
as it is, he is presented in this play as a Heracles manque.
That the relationships here presented between Neoptolemus and Philocte-
tes, and between Philoctetes and Heracles, hold good is evident from those
passages in the play where the lineage Heracles -Philoctetes-Neoptolemus is
explicitly established. We find this lineage first in the passage where Philoctetes
allows Neoptolemus to touch the bow of Heracles (667-70). Neoptole-
mus, he says, will be able to boast that he alone of mortal men has touched
the bow. The youth gained this honor because of his a'QE. Philoctetes goes
on to say that he himself had gotten the bow because of his benefactions to
Heracles. Here Sophocles clearly establishes the ratio Neoptolemus is to
Philoctetes as Philoctetes is to Heracles, and the reverse. There is no doubt
that the bow could establish as strong a link between Neoptolemus and
Philoctetes as it did between the latter and Heracles.
A little later (776-8), Philoctetes actually does hand the bow to Neoptole-
mus, who then becomes its possessor, if only temporarily. He now holds the
power of Heracles in his hands. Philoctetes emphasizes this when he tells
Neoptolemus to pray to the gods that the bow may not become a source of
trouble to him as it has been to Philoctetes and Heracles before him. Here
Neoptolemus is actually set into a line descending from Heracles (cf. 942-3
where the line is extended back to Zeus). Philoctetes' hope that it will not
bring bad fortune to Neoptolemus is the other side of the knowledge that the

I It may not be Trachis, but, assuming that Sophocles had some city in mind, I cannot
think of a more likely suggestion.

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Heracles, Philoctetes, Neoptolemus 295

bow brings superhuman powers to its possessor. But as Neoptolemus gets

possession of the bow, we know that he has gotten it under false pretenses.
He has lied his way to Heracles. By his deceitfulness he has already shown
that he is no more worthy to be the grand-son of Heracles than Philoctetes,
by his intractability, he has shown himself worthy to be the son.
This relationship between the three is made clear again at 799-805
(cf. 8I4). Philoctetes, in the midst of his agony, begs Neoptolemus to hurl him
into the volcano on Lemnos and burn him. He himself had once done this
favor for the son of Zeus in return for the arms that Neoptolemus now preser-
ves. Here Sophocles strengthens the ratio mentioned above, for he puts Neo-
ptolemus into a position in regard to Philoctetes that repeats exactly the position
that Philoctetes once had vis-a-vis Heracles. As Philoctetes had lighted the
pyre for Heracles, so Neoptolemus is asked to do for Philoctetes. Thus both
the great symbolic acts that link Heracles and Philoctetes, the handing over
of the bow and the lighting of the pyre, are consciously and carefully extended
by Sophocles to include Neoptolemus.
These three passages, coming within a hundred fifty lines of one another
and appearing at the very heart of the play, establish the potential relationship
between Heracles, Philoctetes, and Neoptolemus. But the relationships remain
potential, never really consummated. These relationships represent what
could have been, if Philoctetes and Neoptolemus had been more than mortal and
immune to human weaknesses. At the very moment, however, that Neoptolemus
receives the bow, he is living a lie and he is closest to being the son of Odysseus,
and thus outside the line of Heracles. Philoctetes, too, fails, but we may have
more compassion for him. His was the harder task: to think he had found
a son and successor, to find that that son was a brilliant and unscrupulous liar,
to lose his faith and trust in his fellow countrymen (and indeed in all men),
and then to be asked to do what was expected of him, to go to Troy, to help
his enemies. Heracles would have done this, even though Odysseus was no
more hateful to Philoctetes than Eurystheus was to Heracles. Heracles would
have done it, but it was not in Philoctetes to do it.
All of this is made clear by Heracles' speech at the end of the play, which
takes up the important themes and problems of the play. Heracles himself is
essential. He alone can resolve the human dilemmas that Philoctetes and
Neoptolemus create for themselves, since their problems hinge on their inability
to live up to the standards Heracles had set. We have noted earlier that
Heracles settled the ambiguities about Philoctetes' father and his homeland.
More important, however, is his attitude towards the two men. Heracles is
careful to set himself off from them. They both are his descendants in so
far as they both have handled the bow and both could have followed
along his path. But they had not. Now Heracles is alone. He has suffered and
endured and has at last won aOacvarov aest' (I4I9-20). He thus becomes

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unique among the Greeks, a man who became a god. Once he has set himself
off, Heracles turns to Philoctetes, and promises him relief from his pains and
a life of fame' (I422). Heracles then addresses Neoptolemus as 'AxtWR4cog
UxvOV (1433), thereby setting his seal on Philoctetes' judgement that Neoptole-
mus has truly shown himself to be Achilles' son, not Sisyphus' (I3IO-2).
At the same time Heracles makes it clear that Neoptolemus has no kinship
with either Philoctetes or himself. He further predicts that Philoctetes and
Neoptolemus will take Troy together (I435). Having separated himself from
Neoptolemus and Philoctetes and having pronounced their fates, Heracles
proceeds to yoke the two of them together into a team by addressing them in
duals (I436-7): )>You two protect each other, he you and you him, just like
two lions that feed together in the same field((. Henceforth Philoctetes and
Neoptolemus are left to their human fates, with only themselves for protection.
Thus, Heracles sends the two men off to Troy, which was destined to fall
twice to Heracles' bow2 (I439 -40). In one sense Philoctetes and Neoptolemus
go off successful, for they will accomplish the fall of Troy. But in another,
more important and deeper, sense, they go off failures, for they failed to grow
beyond themselves and their human limitations to reach the stature of Heracles.
These two men, who perhaps had the greatest chance for success, failed to
become worthy of Heracles and his bow.

Appendix on the Theme of Salvation

The idea of salvation is an important theme in the play. Philoctetes looks

for salvation, and has been looking for it for many years (494-6). Salvation
for him is, for the most part, his return home, but not wholly. It is also relief
from pain (738) and the procurement of the necessities of life (297). The Ne-
optolemus who takes Philoctetes home is his savior (3II, 488, 50I), but the
Neoptolemus who betrays him is precisely the opposite (93I, 933, I282). Philoc-
tetes is also interested in the salvation (preservation) of the bow. When he
hands it over to Neoptolemus he assumes it will be safe in his hands (766, 803).
But just as he himself is not safe in Neoptolemus' hands, so is the bow in
danger also.

1 This fame is something Philoctetes seems to crave. His first bitterness comes when
he hears nobody knows about him (254-6). Neoptolemus seems to understand Philoctetes'
need for fame and plays upon it (575, 654, I344-5, I347; cf. 478 where Philoctetes offers
Neoptolemus unlimited fame for taking him home).
2 It is significant that the bow has almost no history after the fall of Troy, and that
it descends to no one else after Philoctetes. There is a story, attributed to Euphorion by
Tzetzes, that the bow was dedicated to Apollo Alaios in Cremissa in southern Italy where
it remained. See Tzetzes' scholia to Lycophron, Alexandra, 9II (P. 294 in SCHEER's ed.),
and Euphorion, frag. 45, in J. U. POWELL, Collectanea Alexandrina, Oxford, I925, P. 39.
The fact that the fate of the bow is obscure may have prompted Sophocles to imagine
what might have happened if a worthy successor had been found. And who more worthy
than the son of Achilles?.

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Heracles, Philoctetes, Neoptolemus 297

Neoptolemus also thinks about salvation. When he promises Philoctetes to

take him home, he utters an ambiguous prayer, that the gods deliver ((crqotsv)
them from this land to whatever place they want to go to (528-9). Here he
uses the word in a private and perverted, Odyssean (see below) sense, not in
the way Philoctetes is meant to take it (see 464-5 and 780-I for other
deliberately ambiguous statements by Neoptolemus). But Neoptolemus also
uses the word in its normal sense. He tells Philoctetes that taking him from

the island will mean saving him from his present evils (9g9). Later he says that
if he yields to Philoctetes, the latter will go on living as he has been living,
without salvation (I395-6). Here he is genuinely concerned about Philoctetes'
salvation. Just so are the Atreidai truly concerned about his salvation (I39I),
if only for their own purposes.
Odysseus, too, discusses salvation. He is willing to go to any lengths to
achieve it (IO9). Neoptolemus says that Odysseus considered himself the savior
of Achilles' arms and corpse (373; see p. 287 n. 2). Odysseus also boasts that
Athena always saves him (I34: ' or'ECt ,s' del). This line is particularly
interesting when compared with Philoctetes' statement at 297 where the same
phrase is used of the fire which always saves him (d xat' ori'qe& ,' d8l), that is,
provides him with the necessities of life. It is difficult to ascertain exactly
what Sophocles meant when he put the same phrase into the mouths of the
two great antagonists. Perhaps he meant to point up Philoctetes' association
with and dependence upon the elemental essentials of life, and Odysseus'
connections with the deities. The last might emphasize the rightness of Odys-
seus' desire to bring Philoctetes to Troy (cf. I373-4), if not the means he
employs. Whatever the significance of those two lines, it is important, in view
of the iteration of the theme of salvation, that the last words of the play
(spoken by the chorus) are a prayer to the nymphs of the sea to be their savior
on the return home (I470-I).

Austin, Texas/Washington, D. C. HARRY C. AVERY

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