Like many Caribbean islanders, Derek Walcott is able to see history prismatically. His European education allows him to see the daily life of his fellow St. Lucians in epic terms that resemble those of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey or the tale of Philoctetes, best known through Sophocles’ play Philoktts (409 b.c.e.; Philoctetes, 1729). The Franco-Antillean forms “Achille” and “Philoctete” substitute for “Achilles” and “Philoctetes,” but such minor accidental adjustments pale beside the timeless human realities of unobtainable love and unhealed wounds. Omeros moves simultaneously through several time periods and tells several stories concurrently. On the simplest level, the narrative voice of the Seven Seas (Omeros) presents portraits of the fishermen Achille, Hector, and Philoctete. As in Homer’s Iliad (c. 750 b.c.e.; English translation, 1611), Achille and Hector contend for Helen, the island beauty. Helen’s beauty is central to the poem, and the golden yellow dress she wears, a gift of Ma Kilman, makes Helen resemble a monarch butterfly.
The unhealed wound of Philoctete resembles that of Philoctetes, the Greek warrior to whom the dying Heracles willed his bow and arrows. It was because Philoctetes unknowingly brought that bow into the sacred precincts of Artemis that a serpent gave him a wound that would not heal. Philoctete’s plight also resembles that of Amfortas, one of the chief knights of the arthurian quest for the Holy Grail. It is the wound of humanity itself, the wound in Jesus Christ’s side. It is the wound that one cures only through an inner source such as the native medicine of Ma Kilman. Philoctete received his wound from a rusty anchor,...
(The entire section is 735 words.)