Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Philoctetes (fihl-ok-TEE-teez), a Greek warrior who had received as a legacy from Herakles his magical bow and arrows. As the Greek expedition sailed toward Troy, it had paused at Chrysa, where Philoctetes, approaching a shrine, had been bitten on the foot by a serpent. The wound refused to heal. Because Philoctetes’ screams of pain and the odor emanating from the wound caused acute discomfort to his shipmates, he was, at the instigation of Odysseus and the Atreidae, marooned on the barren island of Lemnos. Ten years later, the Greeks captured Helenus, a Trojan prophet, who revealed that the city would never fall without the willing aid of Philoctetes. Odysseus and Neoptolemus were sent to persuade Philoctetes to rejoin the cause of those who had abandoned him. At the beginning of the play, Philoctetes, who has endured ten years of loneliness, starvation, and hideous pain, is kept alive only by his superhuman stamina and his fierce hatred of the Greeks who wronged him. He is deceived by Neoptolemus, who, having promised to take him home, is entrusted with the great bow. When the real purpose of Neoptolemus’ visit becomes clear, Philoctetes adamantly refuses to go to Troy, even though to remain on Lemnos would mean certain death for him without the weapon he uses to kill sea birds for food. There is no question but that he is morally right to resist not only Odysseus’ threats but also Neoptolemus’ persuasions;...

(The entire section is 605 words.)