Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Lemnos. Barren volcanic island in the north Aegean Sea, across from Troy. There, Odysseus abandons Philoctetes after the Greek warrior is bitten on the foot by a snake while preparing to make a sacrifice at the shrine on the island of Chrysa. Philoctetes’ wound never heals, and the smell it emits and Philoctetes’ groans are the reasons Odysseus gives for making him an outcast. The play makes Lemnos appear to be far more isolated from the Greek world than the real Lemnos actually was. The island’s exaggerated isolation strengthens the play’s theme of the difficulty of human survival in nature: Philoctetes lives alone in a cave, a place that reinforces his isolation yet provides him with shelter and some comfort. There, birds and animals constitute his only companions.

When Odysseus returns to Lemnos, he describes the cave in which Philoctetes has been living. Neoptolemus identifies it by the stained bandages he finds drying in the sun, the leaf-stuffed mattress, and a crude wooden cup.


*Euboea. Long, narrow island along the eastern coast of Greece where Chalcedon ruled and to which Philoctetes begs to be taken. The river Spercheius was opposite the island on the Greek mainland. Trachis is a small coastal town across from Euboea near Oeta, a mountain near the coast in the region of Malis. Philoctetes describes the island and its surrounding terrain to show how deeply he yearns to return to civilization.


*Pactolus. River in ancient Lydia (in west central Asia Minor, now Turkey) once famous for the gold found in its sands, a source of wealth for the Lydian kings, mentioned by the Chorus as a place of sustenance.