Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 407

The play Philoctetes by Sophocles tells us the story of the eponymous hero, who is an expert archer marooned on the deserted island of Lemnos.

The play has given us several memorable quotes.

Unheeded, save when babbling echo mourns
In bitterest notes responsive to his woe.

Philoctetes is alone on a deserted island with only birds and beasts for company. The chorus poignantly highlights his anguish at not being able to talk to anybody. He has no one who'll lend him a sympathetic ear and hear his woes about the festering wound on his heel, which is what resulted in him being left alone on Lemnos. His cries are met with mournful echoes that further drive him to distraction.

His arrows winged with death

Odysseus says these words to answer Neoptolemus's question about why Philoctetes cannot be coaxed or forced into accompanying them to Troy. Philoctetes, with his bow and poison-tipped arrows gifted by Hercules, is nearly invincible in battle.

Away! I'll do it. Thoughts of guilt or shame
No more appall me.

Neoptolemus assures Odysseus that he'll take recourse to deceit in order to get Philoctetes to accompany him back to the waiting ship. Neoptolemus agrees, after much initial hesitation, when Odysseus tells him that victory over Troy and a seat among the greats of Greek history can be his if he can get Philoctetes to come aboard the ship along with his celestial weapons.

New troubles; for behold he comes!
Not like the shepherd with his rural pipe
And cheerful song, but groaning heavily.

This quote is from a conversation between Neoptolemus and the chorus. The chorus offers to take Neoptolemus to Philoctetes, who lives in a cave deep in the forest. The chorus tells Neoptolemus of the fate that has befallen Philoctetes and how he suffers from his wound and the unbearable loneliness forced on him. When the chorus sees Philoctetes coming, it warns Neoptolemus to be ready, for Philoctetes approaches not in cheerful spirits but in a foul mood because of the persistent agony.

Consider first.

A spy, posing as a merchant, asks Neoptolemus to consider the repercussions of asking him to speak openly in front of Philoctetes—to which Neoptolemus emphatically replies that he has. The spy, who has been sent by Odysseus to help Neoptolemus get Philoctetes back to Troy, then begins to speak. He informs his listeners about how Odysseus and Diomede have resolved to lay their hands on the weapons Philoctetes owns.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access