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Sophocles, Philoctetes

Translated by Robert Torrance

Note: This translation of Sophocles' Philoctetes was produced by the Adams House Drama Society of Harvard University in 1961, and again, in 1964, by the Group of Ancient Drama at the East River Park Amphitheater in New York City. Both productions were directed by Anthony Keller with music by Raphael Crystal and design by David Follansbee. The text was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1966 together with The Women of Trachis. A slightly revised version was included in Oscar Mandel, ed., Philoctetes and the Fall of Troy, published by the University of Nebraska Press in 1981. The translation is dedicated to the memory of Cedric Whitman.


ODYSSEUS, son of Laertes.
NEOPTOLEMUS, young son of Achilles.
PHILOCTETES, son of Poeas.
SPY, a sailor of Odysseus, later disguised as a merchant
, sailors of Neoptolemus.
A sailor.

Some other names in the text

Asclépius, god of healing.
Átreus, father of Agamemnon and Menelaus, Greek commanders.
Chalcódon, a prince of Euboea.
Chrýse, a small island near Lemnos; also, the goddess of this island.
Hélenus, a Trojan prophet, son of Priam.
Ixion, a king chained to a wheel for attempting the bed of Hera.
Lémnos, a large island in the Aegean across from Troy.
Lycomédes, grandfather of Neoptolemus.
Mycénae, city of Agamemnon.
Oeta, the mountain on which Heracles was burned.
Pactólus, a fabled river of gold in Lydia.
Peparéthus, an island off the coast of Thessaly.
Phoenix, old tutor of Achilles.
Sigéum, a promontory near Troy.
Sísyphus, a wicked king, slanderously called Odysseus' father.
Skýros, an island off Euboea, ruled by Neoptolemus.
Spárta, city of Menelaus.
Sperchéius, a river near mount Oeta and Trachis.
Thersítes, a scurrilous Greek.
Théseus, father of Demophon and Acamas, enemies of Neoptolemus.
Tydeus, father of Diomedes, the cohort of Odysseus.


[Scene: the island of Lemnos, in front of PHILOCTETES' cave.]

[Enter ODYSSEUS and NEOPTOLEMUS followed by the sailor who will return later as Odysseus' SPY.]

ODYSSEUS. This is the shore of the sea-encircled isle
of Lemnos, uninhabited and forlorn.
Here long ago, great Neoptolemus,
son of Achilles, noblest of the Greeks,
under strict orders from my two commanders
I left the Malian archer Philoctetes.
His swollen foot groaned with a festering ulcer,
and we could not so much as sacrifice
in peace of mind, when all our camp was filled
with savage, sacrilegious screams of pain,
moaning and wailing. But, why speak of that?
Now is no time for lengthy words, for he
may learn that I am here, and I may ruin
the scheme by which I hope to snare the man.
Listen: in what remains you must assist me.
Go forth and seek a twin-mouthed rock: a cave
such that in winter each of the entrance-ways
faces the sun, but in the summertime
a gentle breeze sends sleep through both the chambers.
Down to the left a little you will find,
I think, a stream - unless its source has failed.
Approach it silently, and signal me
whether he still lives there, or someplace else.
Then you must listen to the plan which I
will tell you, and we'll carry out together.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Look, prince Odysseus - what you ask is easy;
I think I see the cave you just described.
ODYSSEUS. Far up, or further down? I cannot see it.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Up high - and I can hear no sound of footsteps.
ODYSSEUS. Make sure that no one lies asleep inside.
NEOPTOLEMUS. I see an empty chamber - no one near.
ODYSSEUS. And are there no provisions there for living?
NEOPTOLEMUS. A pile of leaves pressed down for a man to sleep on.
ODYSSEUS. Is all the rest of the cave deserted then?
NEOPTOLEMUS. All but a cup carved from a piece of wood
by a clumsy workman's efforts - and some kindling.
ODYSSEUS. This treasure-house which you describe is his.
NEOPTOLEMUS. And over here - ugh! - filthy rags are lying,
set out to dry, and full of hideous pus.
ODYSSEUS. Clearly this dwelling place belongs to him;
he must be somewhere near: a man whose leg
was maimed so long ago will not walk far.
Either he's gone to look for food, or else
to find a soothing medicine for his wound.
Send this man here to spy, and to prevent him
from coming suddenly; for he would rather
take me than all the other Greeks combined.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Done - be assured the path will be well guarded.

[SPY withdraws.]

Now, if you will, speak further of your plan.
ODYSSEUS. Son of Achilles, now is the time to show
your true nobility, not with strength alone,
but, if you hear some unexpected plan,
yet serve me - for you came as my assistant.
NEOPTOLEMUS. What are you asking?
ODYSSEUS. This: you must beguile
the mind of Philoctetes with your words.
When he inquires about your name and country,
tell him the truth: you are Achilles' son.
Then say you're sailing home, leaving the fleet,
leaving the army of those hated Greeks
who summoned you from home with earnest prayers -
since only thus could Troy at last be captured -
yet, when you came, cheated you of the arms
of great Achilles, which you rightly claimed,
and gave them to Odysseus. Slander me
in terms as harsh and bitter as you wish:
you won't hurt me at all. But if you fail
in this, you bring disaster on the Greeks.
For if his bow cannot be taken, you
will never capture Priam's ancient city.
Now, let me tell you why this undertaking
is safe for you, but perilous for me.
You were not one of those who first set sail
to Troy, constrained by great and solemn oaths,
yet none of this can I disclaim. And so
if he once sees me, with that bow in hand
die - and you, as my accomplice, with me.
No, we must plan this deed more cleverly:
steal his resistless weapon like a thief!
I know, my son, you were not meant by nature
to speak, or to contrive, such evil acts;
but what we gain by victory is sweet,
so do it - later on we will seem just.
Now, but for one day's brief and shameless time
give yourself to me - and forever after
you shall be called most reverent of men.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Son of Laertes, when I hear a plan
which pains me, I recoil from acting on it.
I was not born to act on false contrivance,
nor, so they tell me, was my father. I
will freely lend myself to take the man
by force, not guile: he has one foot: he cannot
by force defeat such men as we. . . . And yet
I came to help, and would not willingly
be called a traitor. Prince, I would prefer
to fail with honor than to win by evil.
ODYSSEUS. Son of a valiant sire, I once was young;
my tongue, like yours, was slow; my hand was active.
But now, by long experience, I see
the tongue, not deeds, is ruler in all things.
NEOPTOLEMUS. What are you asking but that I should lie?
ODYSSEUS. I say, snare Philoctetes by deception.
NEOPTOLEMUS. But why deceive him rather than persuade him?
ODYSSEUS. He will not listen - nor be caught by force.
NEOPTOLEMUS. What dreadful strength could make a man so bold?
ODYSSEUS. Arrows which bring inevitable death.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Then do we not so much as dare approach him?
ODYSSEUS. Only if by deception - as I said.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Do you not think that telling lies is shameful?
ODYSSEUS. No - not, at least, if lies lead on to safety.
NEOPTOLEMUS. How can a man face speaking words like these?
ODYSSEUS. None should recoil when what he does brings profit.
NEOPTOLEMUS. How will I profit if he comes to Troy?
ODYSSEUS. Troy will be captured only by his bow.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Then will I not sack Troy, as it was promised?
ODYSSEUS. Not without it, nor it apart from you.
NEOPTOLEMUS. It must be taken then, if that is true.
ODYSSEUS. When you accomplish this, two gifts are yours.
NEOPTOLEMUS. What? Tell me, and I will no longer scruple.
ODYSSEUS. To be proclaimed at once both wise and good.
NEOPTOLEMUS. I'll do it then - and lay all shame aside.
ODYSSEUS. Do you remember all that I have told you?
NEOPTOLEMUS. Be sure of it - for now I have consented.
ODYSSEUS. Then stay here by the cave and wait for him.
I will depart - he must not see me here -
and take our spy back to the ship again.
Later, if you should seem procrastinating
or spending too much time, then I will send
this very man to you again, disguised
as a ship's captain: his secrecy will help you.
Listen, my son, to him, and when he speaks
artfully, benefit from what he says.
Now I must go: this task is in your hands.
May guileful Hermes guide us on our way,
and Nike, and Athena - my protectress!

[ODYSSEUS and the spy leave. The CHORUS enter.]

[Strophe A]

CHORUS. O master, how must I, a stranger in a strange land,
speak or dissemble before this wary man?
Tell me: for that man
surpasses other men
in wisdom and in skill who rules
with the sanction of God.
To you, my son, has come now
all of that ancient power: tell me,
how may I assist you?

NEOPTOLEMUS. As for now you may wish to view the land
he inhabits here by the farthest shore:
survey it boldly, but when the dreadful
traveller stumbles home again,
come when I beckon you, and try
to serve as the moment requires.

[Antistrophe A]

CHORUS. For long, O prince, my chief concern has been
watching for your best interest over all.
Tell me now: what chamber
does this man inhabit,
and what land is his? for I
must learn, lest suddenly
he fall upon me here.
Where is his dwelling? where is he,
at home or far away?

NEOPTOLEMUS. Here you behold the rocky entrance-way
of his twin-mouthed lair.
CHORUS. But where has this miserable man gone now?
NEOPTOLEMUS. I would surmise that he is dragging
his foot nearby in search of food.
They say it is thus he gains a living,
hunting wild beasts with winged arrows,
leading a hateful, hateful life. And no one
comes near to him
to heal his heavy hardships.

[Strophe B]

CHORUS. How I pity this lonely man!
No one living will care for him,
no companion is by his side,
wretched, always alone,
afflicted with a savage wound,
and lost when need arises.
How can he live?
How can he bear such insufferable pain?
O inscrutable plan of God!
O most miserable race of men,
never is destiny mild.

[Antistrophe B]

He was born of an ancient race,
yielding never to any man;
now, bereft of the gifts of life, he lives apart from all others along with spotted and shaggy beasts,
piteous, hungry, in pain,
bearing incurable ills -
and afar in the mountains
she of the babbling voice,
Echo, responds to his cries of pain,
wailing sadly around him.

NEOPTOLEMUS. None of these things surprise me at all
they come from heaven, and, if I may judge,
the first of his troubles was sent on him
long since by Chryse with savage intention;
and now, though he suffers with none to help him,
surely some god is watching his course
to hold him back from aiming at Troy
his god-given arrows, until the time
shall come when, the oracles say, she is destined
to fall and be vanquished by them.

[PHILOCTETES screams offstage.]

[Strophe C]

CHORUS. Be silent, my son!
NEOPTOLEMUS. What is it?
CHORUS. A cry has arisen
as if from a man worn down by pain -
from there - or over there - it came.
Surely I hear the voice of someone
helplessly creeping along;
I cannot ignore
that grievously wearying voice from afar -
it comes too distinctly.

[Antistrophe C]

Then change, my son.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Change what?
CHORUS.. your plan of action;
for he must be close, cannot be far,
and not to the sound of the flute
does he come, like a pasturing shepherd,
but, stumbling helplessly near,
he wails from afar,
beholding the harbor all barren of ships -
his moaning is dreadful!


Who are you, and what country are you from,
who sail to this ill-harbored, homeless land?
What city do you come from? How may I
address you? The appearance of your clothing
is Greek - and oh, how sweet it seems to me! -
but let me hear your voices; and do not
recoil in terror at my wild appearance,
but pity me, a wretched man, alone,
deserted on this island, friendless, wronged:
speak to me! . . . if, indeed, you come as friends.
Oh, answer! It would not be right if you
refused to hear my words and speak to me.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Stranger, be certain, first of all, that we,
as you most wish to learn, are Greeks indeed.
PHILOCTETES. Oh, sweet, sweet voice! How strange it seems, to be
greeted by such a man after so long!
What purpose made you come, my child, and led you
so far? What impulse was it? what fair wind?
Answer me all - and tell who you are.
NEOPTOLEMUS. My country is the sea-encircled isle
of Skyros; I am sailing home; my name,
Neoptolemus, son of Achilles. That is all.
PHILOCTETES. O son of a dear father! O sweet island!
Foster-child of the aged Lycomedes,
why did you sail to this land - and from where?
NEOPTOLEMUS. In truth, I am sailing on my way from Troy.
PHILOCTETES. What arc you saying? You were not one of those
who came with us when we set out for Troy.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Then did you, too, share in this enterprise?
PHILOCTETES. My child, can you be ignorant who I am?
NEOPTOLEMUS. How should I know a man I never saw?
PHILOCTETES. Have you not heard my name, or learned the story
of all the suffering that has been my ruin?
NEOPTOLEMUS. Be certain I know nothing that you ask me.
PHILOCTETES. Oh, how I suffer - how the gods must hate me!
No tale of how I live has reached my home
or found its way to any part of Greece;
but those ungodly men who left me here
conceal their deed, and laugh, while my disease
continues, flourishes, grows even greater.
O child, son of Achilles, I am he
whom you perhaps have heard of, he who wields
the bow of Heracles: I am the son
of Poeas, Philoctetes. Long ago
the king of Ithaca and his commanders
deserted me unjustly on this island,
to rot with savage plagues inflicted by
the noxious poison of a deadly viper.
With only this, my son, they left me here
alone, and sailed away. At first they brought me
from Chryse to this island in their ships;
then, overjoyed to see me fast asleep
here in this rocky cave, they sailed away
and left me nothing but a few soiled rags
such as a beggar wears, and a small pittance ,
of food. May such a fate soon crush them too!

But you, my child - perhaps you can imagine
the awakening I had when they were gone.
Oh how I wept and cursed my evil fortune
when I beheld the ships which I had sailed in
all vanished. Not a man remained behind:
no one to help me live, and none to soothe
my wearying disease. I searched all over
and soon discovered only grief was there,
but that in plentiful supply, my son.

Time in its unremitting course went on,
and I, within this narrow cave alone,
provided for myself; my bow supplied
my stomach's needs by striking down the doves
that flew above me; and when my swift arrow
sped from the string and struck one, I would crawl
in pain and drag my throbbing foot behind me
toward it; and when I needed drinking-water
or firewood, even when the frosts of winter
were hard upon me, I crept forth in pain,
and somehow managed. Yet, I had no fire:
I ground two stones together till, at last,
a spark appeared from nowhere - and preserved me.
And now a home to live in and a fire
suffice - except to free me from this illness.

Let me, my child, describe this island to you.
No sailor, of his own free will, comes near it;
there is no harbor here, no place to land
and sell his goods with profit, or be welcomed:
no one with any sense would anchor here!
But if one did, against his will (for often
in the long life of man these things occur),
he, when he came, my son, would speak to me
with pity, and would give me, from compassion,
some portion of his food or of his clothing;
yet none, when I would mention it, was willing
to take me home, and I have wasted here
for ten long years in hunger and in pain,
feeding the ravenous maw of my disease.

The sons of Atreus and the strong Odysseus
have done this to me, child: and may the gods
in heaven grant me vengeance for my wrongs!

CHORUS. I think that I must pity you as greatly
as they who came before me, son of Poeas.
NEOPTOLEMUS. And I bear witness to your words: I know
how true they are. I too have felt the hand
of Atreus' evil sons and strong Odysseus.
PHILOCTETES. What? do you also bear a grudge against
these cursed sons of Atreus? Do you hate them?
NEOPTOLEMUS. Would that this hand could satisfy my hatred!
Then would Mycenae and Sparta come to know
that Skyros too has fathered valiant men.
PHILOCTETES. Good, child! But what foul crime have you endured
to come with such a mighty wrath against them?
NEOPTOLEMUS. Ah, son of Poeas, it is hard, but I
will tell you how I suffered at their hands.
After Achilles met his destined end . . .
PHILOCTETES. Oh wait! say nothing more until you tell me,
has he, the glorious son of Peleus, died?
NEOPTOLEMUS. He has - not killed by any man, but struck
(so they say) by the arrow of Apollo.
PHILOCTETES. Well, both the slayer and the slain were noble.
My child, I cannot say if I should first
ask of your suffering or mourn for him.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Unhappy man! your own misfortunes are
enough - you need not mourn for any other.
PHILOCTETES. Yes, you are right. Go on, then, with your story
of how these violent men have done you wrong.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Mighty Odysseus and old Phoenix came
to fetch me in a painted ship, and said -
either sincerely or with false intent -
that, since my father died, it was decreed
that Troy be taken by no hand but mine.
Stranger, when they had spoken thus, believe me
it was not long before I sailed. I yearned
above all else to see my father's body
before his burial - I had never seen him -
but also there was magic in their pledge
that I alone should take the towers of Troy.
After we sailed two days, a friendly breeze
advanced us on our way, and soon we reached
the port of cruel Sigeum. When I landed
all of the army welcomed me, and swore
that they beheld their dead Achilles living.
But he was dead: and after I had wept
for him and my misfortune, I approached
the sons of Atreus, thinking them my friends,
and asked them for the arms and all the rest
my father owned; but they in turn replied
presumptuously: "Achilles' son, choose freely
among your Father's other goods, but now
Laertes' son is master of those arms."
I sprang to my feet immediately, in tears,
and, in a towering passion at my wrong,
I cried: "Wretch, have you dared to give my arms
to another man without first asking me?"
Odysseus was standing near, and said:
"Yes, child, these men have justly allocated:
I saved your father in his time of need."
But I immediately assailed him then
with every bitter insult I could think of,
enraged that he should steal my arms from me.
He was a man not quickly angered, but,
stung by the words he heard me speak, he answered:
"You were not here with us, but shirked your duty.
Now, since you dare to boast so, you will never
sail back to Skyros with these arms again."
I listened to his taunts and insults: now
I am sailing home, deprived of what is mine
by that most evil of evil men, Odysseus.
Yet I would blame his leaders even more:
a city's welfare, like an army's, lies
with those who rule, and many who do wrong
are led astray by what their leaders tell them.
That is my story - and may the man who hates
these sons of Atreus be my friend and God's.


CHORUS. All-fertile guardian of the mountains, Earth,
mother of God,
thou who rulest the golden stream Pactolus:
there once I called upon thee, sacred mother,
when this man felt the wrath of Atreus' sons,
when they were giving the arms of his father,
unequaled in splendor,
to the son of Laertes, O blessèd one,
thou who ridest bull-slaughtering lions.

PHILOCTETES. You and your comrades, stranger, as it seems,
have sailed to me with signs of suffering
so similar to mine, that I am sure
they come from Atreus' sons and from Odysseus.
I know full well that he would lend his tongue
to any evil word or wicked deed
by which he might accomplish some injustice.
Nothing surprises me in that - except
that Ajax could endure to see it done.
NEOPTOLEMUS. He was not living, stranger: I would never
have been despoiled if he had been alive.
PHILOCTETES. What? are you telling me he too is dead?
NEOPTOLEMUS. Be certain he will see the light no more.
PHILOCTETES. Oh wretched that I am! but Tydeus' son
and the bastard child that Sisyphus sold Laertes,
they will live on - for they deserve to die.
NEOPTOLEMUS. They do, most surely: but they are still living
and prospering in the army of the Greeks.
PHILOCTETES. But is my old and faithful friend alive,
Nestor of Pylos? He, at least, could sometimes
restrain their evil deeds with his wise counsels.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Yes, but he lives in sorrows, for his son
Antilochus is dead, who once stood by him.
PHILOCTETES. Oh, you have mentioned the two men whose death
I wanted least to hear you tell me of!
What must we look f6r when such men as these
have died, and yet Odysseus lives, though he
deserves to be a corpse instead of them!
NEOPTOLEMUS. He is a shrewd contestant, Philoctetes;
but even shrewd plans often trip themselves.
PHILOCTETES. Tell me, I pray you, where Patroclus was -
he whom your father loved beyond all others.
NEOPTOLEMUS. He was dead too - and I, in short, will tell you
that war, of its own choice, will take no man
who is evil, but will always take the good.
PHILOCTETES. I will bear witness there! and on these grounds
will ask about a paltry, worthless man
I knew, whose tongue was clever: how is he?
NEOPTOLEMUS. Who else besides Odysseus can you mean?
PHILOCTETES. Not him - there was a man, Thersites, there,
who always spoke so long that all the others
refused to listen: is he still alive?
NEOPTOLEMUS. I never saw him, but I heard he lives.
PHILOCTETES. He would - for nothing bad has ever died!
The gods themselves take special care of that,
and somehow seem delighted to allow
the evil and villainous to live; but always
banish whatever things are right and good.
How can I praise the deeds these gods have done
when I discover they themselves are evil?
NEOPTOLEMUS. Son of Oetean Poeas, as for me,
I in the future will beware of Troy
and watch the sons of Atreus from afar;
and where the worse is stronger than the better,
and what is good dies out, and villains rule -
never will I make friends with such as they.
No, it will satisfy me after this
to find my happiness in rocky Skyros.
Now to my ship: farewell, a long farewell,
great son of Poeas! May the gods release you
from this disease, as you yourself desire.
We must be going so that, when the gods
grant us to sail, we may set forth at once.
PHILOCTETES. Child, are you leaving me?
NEOPTOLEMUS. The time commands:
we must keep closer watch upon our ships.
PHILOCTETES. Child, in your father's and your mother's name,
by everything you value most, I beg you,
do not abandon me to live alone
with all these many hardships you yourself
have seen, and others you have only heard of.
Give me a passing thought: I know this burden
is great, and will perhaps offend you, yet
bear with it; for the truly noble man
will hate a shameful act, and prize a good one.
If you forsake me, only shame is yours,
but if you take me safely home to Oeta,
my son, a rich reward of fame awaits you.
Come: I will trouble you for just one day;
make the endeavor - place me where you will,
down in the hold, or in the prow, the stern,
wherever I will be least in the way.
Consent - by the god of suppliants, child, I pray,
listen: I fall upon my knees, though I
am weak and lame and wretched: do not leave me
forlorn, and far from human footsteps, here.
Save me, and take me to your home, or else
farther, to prince Chalcodon's land, Euboea:
then we will not have far to go to Oeta,
the Trachinian hills and the fair-flowing river
Spercheius, and you may take me to my father -
though I have been afraid long since that he
has passed away: for I have often sent
prayers with my visitors, and summoned him
to come for me and take me home again.
But either he is dead, or else, more likely,
my messengers neglected what I asked them,
and, in their haste, sailed on their homeward way.
But now I have found in you both messenger
and escort: have compassion, and preserve me!
The life of man is full of dread and danger;
its happiness is fleeting; and the man
who dwells apart from grief must watch that danger,
and when he lives at ease must be most careful
lest suddenly his life slip by in ruin.


CHORUS. Have pity, prince, for he has told of pains
many and hard,
such, I pray, as my friends will never suffer.
Prince, if you hate the cruel sons of Atreus,
turn their evil deeds to his advantage:
come, let us take him and carry him now
in our swift-flying ship
to his home, to the land where he yearns to go,
fleeing far from the wrath of the gods.

NEOPTOLEMUS. Beware lest you be ready now, but later,
when you have come in contact with his illness
and tire of it, you change to other plans..
CHORUS. No, never fear, for you will never have
just cause to utter that reproach against me.
NEOPTOLEMUS. I would account it shameful to be slower
than you to serve this stranger in his need.
Come, let us sail and leave at once, for surely
our ship will not refuse to carry him.
And may the gods convey us from this land
safely, wherever we may wish to sail.
PHILOCTETES. Oh sweetest day of days, oh kindest man!
Sailors, my friends, I wish that I could show you
truly how dear you have become to me!
Son, let us go - but first we must salute
this home which is no home, for you must learn
how I sustained myself with patient heart.
I think no other man than I could even
look for a moment on this sight and bear it;
but destiny has taught me to endure.
CHORUS. Wait, let us listen, for two men are coming -
one from our ship, the other man a stranger.
Listen to what they say before you enter.

[Enter SPY, with another sailor.]

SPY. Son of Achilles, I asked this sailor here,
who, with two other men, was standing guard
over your ship, to tell me where you were.
I met you when I least expected to,
for only chance has brought me to this island.
I was sailing as a merchant back from Troy
with a small crew to my grape-clustered home
Peparethus. When I learned that all these sailors
were members of your crew, why, I decided
not to sail on my way in silence, but
to speak with you - and take my due reward.
You see, you don't know anything at all
about the new plans which the Greeks are making
concerning you - not only plans, but deeds,
and deeds in progress, not just thought about.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Stranger, if I have any seed of virtue
I will remember your concern for me.
Now, tell me what you mean, for I must learn
about whatever plan the Greeks have made.
SPY. The aged Phoenix and the sons of Theseus
have launched an expedition to pursue you.
NEOPTOLEMUS. To take me back by force or by persuasion?
SPY. I only know what I have heard from others,
NEOPTOLEMUS. Are Phoenix and his fellow-sailors really
so anxious to appease the sons of Atreus?
SPY. Be certain they are doing so - and now.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Why did Odysseus not set forth with them
and tell me this himself? Was he afraid?
SPY. He and the son of Tydeus were sailing
after another man when I left port.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Who is it that Odysseus is seeking?
SPY. There was a certain man - but tell me first
who he is; and speak softly when you say it.
NEOPTOLEMUS. This is the famous Philoctetes, stranger.
SPY. Ask me no more, but sail from here as quickly
as possibly you can, and leave this island.
PHILOCTETES. What is he saying, child? what shadowy bargain
is this man making with you about me?
NEOPTOLEMUS. I am not certain yet; but he must speak
openly, to my sailors, and to you.
SPY. Son of Achilles, do not charge me here
with saying what I should not: I am poor,
and these men are the means of my subsistence.
NEOPTOLEMUS. I hate the sons of Atreus, and he
is my best friend, because he hates them too.
You, if you come in friendship for me, must
not hide from us whatever you have heard.
SPY. Watch yourself, son.
NEOPTOLEMUS. I know what I am doing.
SPY. You are responsible.
NEOPTOLEMUS. I am: speak on.
SPY. I will. The men I told you of before,
the son of Tydeus and the strong Odysseus,
are sailing under oath to bring this man
back - by persuasive words, or by brute force.
It was Odysseus who informed the Greeks
about this plan: he was more confident
than his companion that he would succeed.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Why did the sons of Atreus turn their thoughts
again, when so much time had passed, to him
whom they deserted here so long ago?
What passion came upon them? what constraint
or vengeance from the gods, who punish evil?
SPY. I will explain these matters, for it seems
you have not heard about them. Helenus,
a noble prophet and the son of Priam,
was captured one night by this guileful man
Odysseus, who is known for shameful acts
and insults: he was taken then in chains
and shown to the Achaeans as a prize.
He prophesied to them of many things,
and said the towers of Troy would never fall
unless they could persuade this man to come
back from the island he inhabits now.
And when Laertes' son had heard the seer
thus prophesy, immediately he promised
the Greeks would see the man brought back to them.
He hoped he would come willingly, but said,
willing or not, that he would come; and then
offered his head if he should fail to bring him.
Now you have heard me, son: I would advise
haste for yourself and any man you care for.
PHILOCTETES. Oh oh, has he, that universal plague,
sworn that he will persuade me to return?
I shall as soon come back from hell to see
the light, when I have died, as be persuaded
SPY. I cannot vouch for that; but I am going
back to my ship - and may the gods be with you!

[SPY and SAILOR leave.]

PHILOCTETES. Is it not strange indeed, my child, that this
son of Laertes hoped by soothing words
to bring me back among the Greeks again?
No, I would rather listen to the hateful
serpent that crippled me than hear this man!
He would say anything to serve his end;
but now, at least, I know that he is coming.
Then, child, let us be going: let us place
wide tracts of sea between us and Odysseus.
Come, let us hasten; timely speed will bring
sleep and repose for us when toil is over.
NEOPTOLEMUS. As soon as favoring breezes fill our sails,
then we will go; but now they are adverse.
PHILOCTETES. Those who flee evil always have fair sailing.
NEOPTOLEMUS. These winds are adverse to our enemies, too.
PHILOCTETES. No wind will ever blow against those pirates
when they have any chance to steal or plunder!
NEOPTOLEMUS. Well, let us sail then: but first go inside
and fetch whatever things you have most need of.
PHILOCTETES. I do need some things, though I have but few.
NEOPTOLEMUS. What can you need that my ship does not have?
PHILOCTETES. A certain medicine I own, with which
I soothe my wound until the pain dies down.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Take it then: what else do you wish to bring?
PHILOCTETES. The arrows I have overlooked and left
behind me: no one else must find them here.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Is that the famous bow you have there? Tell me.
PHILOCTETES. This which my hands are holding, and no other.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Will you allow me to behold it closer,
and take it, and revere it as a god?
PHILOCTETES. Child, I will grant this favor to you, and
whatever else is in my power to help you.
NEOPTOLEMUS. I long to hold it - but my desire is such
that, if it were not right, I would not wish it.
PHILOCTETES Child, do not doubt your wish is right and holy.
You and you only have allowed my heart
to hope once more to see my native land,
my agèd father and friends: you have restored me
and saved me from the snares of evil men!
Take heart, for I will let you hold it, and,
when you return it, you may boast that you
alone of men were good enough to touch it.
I won this bow myself through my good deeds.
NEOPTOLEMUS. I am glad I found you and acquired a friend.
He who repays one good deed with another
is such a friend as riches cannot buy.
Now go inside.
PHILOCTETES. I will, and you must follow:
I need someone to help me in my illness.

[PHILOCTETES and NEOPTOLEMUS withdraw into the cave.]


[Strophe A]

CHORUS. Such suffering my eyes have never seen: they say
Ixion once went near to the sacred bed
of Zeus, and was cast by the god to the depths on a wheel of fire;
but I have never beheld or heard of another
whose fate was harder than this man's.
He did no wrong to any man alive,
but lived at peace with all: yet now
he wastes away unjustly.
I cannot understand how he
ever was able to live all alone
and hear the waves around him,
enduring a life so full of tears.

[Antistrophe A]

He had no neighbor but himself, he could not walk,
and none was near to share in his suffering
or listen when he would lament of his cruel, devouring pain,
or soothe the burning-hot blood that would ooze from the wound
in his poisonous foot, or gather
soft herbs from the fruitful earth, whenever
the agony would fall upon him.
He crept from place to place
and crawled with slowly painful steps
(just like a child who has lost his nurse)
wherever he might hope to find
the means to live when the pain died down.

[Strophe B]

He found no food on all of the sacred earth,
nor anything which laboring men enjoy,
except when he could limit his hunger
with arrows shot from his swift-striking bow.
How black his life was,
he who never for ten long years
rejoiced in the taste of wine,
but searched to find a place where he
might but drink of stagnant water.

[Antistrophe B]

Yet soon at last he will become great and happy,
for he has met the son of a noble race,
who, now that many months have departed,
will carry him in his ship to his country,
land of sea-nymphs,
near Spercheius's banks where once
the bronze-armored Heracles
approached the gods all splendid with fire
atop Oeta's craggy mountain.

[NEOPTOLEMUS comes out from the cave, followed by PHILOCTETES.]

NEOPTOLEMUS. Come now - why are you suddenly so silent?
Why do you stand dumfounded without cause?
PHILOCTETES. Ah ah ah ah!
NEOPTOLEMUS. What is it?
Nothing much, my son: go on.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Are you in pain from your habitual illness?
PHILOCTETES. No - I am certain it is better now.
O gods!
NEOPTOLEMUS. Why do you call the gods with such loud moans?
PHILOCTETES. To come to me and soothe me and preserve me
ah ah ah ah!
NEOPTOLEMUS.What are you suffering from? Come, speak: do not
be silent - you are clearly in great pain.
PHILOCTETES. Child, it is killing me: I can no longer
hide my distress from you - oh oh! - it comes,
it comes! wretch that I am! the pain, the pain!
Child, it is killing me: child, it devours me!
Ah oh ah oh ah oh ah oh ah oh!
Child, if you have a sword at hand, I pray you,
in God's name, take it, strike this foot of mine,
now, cut it off, now - never mind my life -
come child!
NEOPTOLEMUS. But what has happened now to cause this outburst
of sudden screaming and groaning that I hear?
PHILOCTETES. You know, my son.
NEOPTOLEMUS. What is it?
PHILOCTETES. Child, you know.
NEOPTOLEMUS. I do not know.
PHILOCTETES. How can you not know? Oh!
NEOPTOLEMUS. Frightful must be the burden of your illness!
PHILOCTETES Frightful beyond the power of speech: have pity!
NEOPTOLEMUS. What can I do?
PHILOCTETES. Do not forsake me in fear:
this comes upon me at times, when it has finished
wandering elsewhere.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Oh unhappy man,
truly unhappy with these many pains!
Shall I take hold of you and give my hand?
PHILOCTETES. No, no - but take this bow of mine, and hold it
just as you asked before, until the pangs
from the disease which pains me now die down,
Preserve it for me; guard it well - for sleep
will take me when this agony has passed,
and only then will free me: you must let me
slumber in peace. But if in the meantime
these men should come, I pray you, by the gods,
do not by any means, willing or not,
give them the bow, or you will kill yourself
and me, who am your suppliant, together,
NEOPTOLEMUS. Trust my discretion, for no hands will touch it
but yours and mine: so give it in good faith.
PHILOCTETES. Take it, my son, and pray it may not bring
such pain and suffering to you as it
brought me, and him who wielded it before me.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Grant this, O gods, to both of us, and grant
fair sailing to us and a prosperous voyage
wherever God and our intentions take us.
PHILOCTETES. My child, I fear your prayers are said in vain:
the bloody gore drops oozing from the depths
of my wound, and yet the worst is still to come.
The pain, the pain!
O my foot, how great will be the pain you cause me!
It is creeping,
it is coming nearer, wretched that I am!
You know it now; but do not flee from me!
Ah ah ah ah!
O king of Ithaca, would this anguish might
pierce through your breast: ah ah ah ah ah ah!
Oh oh oh oh! Agamemnon, Menelaus,
you captains of the Greeks, would that you might
suffer instead of me this lifelong pain!
Oh oh!
Death, Death, why, when I always call upon you,
day in, day out, can you not ever come?
O child, my noble friend, come, take me now
and burn me in the famed volcanic fire
of Lemnos' mountain: I myself once dared
to do this for the son of Zeus to gain
that bow which you are now preserving for me.
Say something, child.
Speak; break your silence - child, what are you thinking?
NEOPTOLEMUS. I have long now been grieving for your hardships.
PHILOCTETES. But, O my child, take heart: it comes to me
grievously, but it quickly goes away.
I only pray, do not leave me alone.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Take heart: we will remain.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Be certain sir.
PHILOCTETES. I will not place you under oath, my son.
NEOPTOLEMUS. It is not right that I should go without you.
PHILOCTETES. Give me your hand as pledge.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Here: I will stay.
PHILOCTETES. Now take me there.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Where do you mean?
NEOPTOLEMUS. Why do you rave and look up at the sky?
PHILOCTETES. Let me go, let me go!
NEOPTOLEMUS. I will not.
PHILOCTETES. You will kill me if you touch me!
NEOPTOLEMUS. I will let you go if you are in your senses.
PHILOCTETES. Earth, take me here to die now in your arms:
I can no longer stand erect for pain.
NEOPTOLEMUS. I think that sleep will come upon this man
soon now: his head already is bent back;
the sweat is pouring over his whole body;
a thin black stream of blood has broken from
his wounded foot. Friends, let us leave him here
in peace, and hope that sleep may come upon him.


CHORUS. Sleep who art stranger to sorrow and suffering,
come to him gently, gently,
and grant him, lord, thy blessing now;
let him behold this light
which now spreads over his lustrous eyes:
come, Healer, I pray.
Child, you must make your decision now
what to do and how to think,
seeing how these matters stand.
Why should we be slow to act?
The moment is judge over every deed,
and often allows unexpected achievements.

NEOPTOLEMUS. I know he cannot hear me but I see that we must fail
if we should take the bow alone without the man and sail:
the crown is his and he it was the god meant for our prize -
it is a shameful thing to boast of futile deeds and lies.


CHORUS. Child, be assured that the gods will attend to that.
When you reply to me next,
speak softly, softly, O my child,
the tone of the words you utter:
the sleep of men who are ill is light
and quick to perceive.
Now be especially careful to
take no possible chances here:
do it, do it secretly,
You know what I am speaking of
But if you follow some other plan,
a man of discretion can see only danger.


Child, the wind is with us now:
the man cannot see us: he lies
defenseless, in darkness,
fearlessly sleeping,
without the use of his hands or feet
like a man who lies in the kingdom of death.
Be sure the plan you choose
is best: in my opinion, child,
the wisest counsel is that
which involves the minimum danger.

NEOPTOLEMUS. Silence, I say, and keep your wits about you:
he is lifting up his head with open eyes.
PHILOCTETES. O light of heaven, how little I expected,
on waking, to behold these strangers here!
Never, my child, could I have hoped that you
would wait upon my suffering with such pity,
and stay beside me and help me in my need.
The sons of Atreus - those noble captains! -
were not so patient as you to bear with me.
But you are good by birth, my child, and come
from noble parents; you have lightly done
all this, and borne with my screams and foul smell.
And now, since some oblivion and release
from my disease has come to me, my child,
raise me yourself, and lift me up, my child,
so that when pain releases me we may
set forth in our ship and not delay to sail.
NEOPTOLEMUS. How glad I am to see you living still,
and breathing without pain, beyond my hopes!
I almost might have thought, as I was watching
your agony, that you were dying. Come,
raise yourself up now, or, If you prefer,
I will command these men to carry you;
for you and I are of the same intention.
PHILOCTETES. Thank you, my child: now help me rise again,
and leave these men alone. They should not suffer
this smell before they need to. On the ship
they will have pain enough from living with me.
NEOPTOLEMUS. So let it be - now take my hand and rise.
PHILOCTETES. Fear not - my ingrained habit will restore me.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Ah me, what course of action must I take?
PHILOCTETES. What is the matter, child? Why do you waver?
NEOPTOLEMUS. I find myself unable to reply.
PHILOCTETES. Unable? Child, do not say such a thing.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Yet even so is the turmoil I am in.
PHILOCTETES. Has my disease become offensive to you,
and will you not now take me in your ship?
NEOPTOLEMUS. Everything is offensive when a man
departs from his own nature and does wrong.
PHILOCTETES. Surely your words and actions will be like
your father's if you help a worthy man.
NEOPTOLEMUS. I will seem base, and that thought tortures me.
PHILOCTETES. Not if you help me - yet I fear your words.
NEOPTOLEMUS. O God, what shall I do? Must I be guilty
again of hiding truth and spreading lies?
PHILOCTETES. Unless my judgment fails it seems that he
is falsely leaving me, to sail away.
NEOPTOLEMUS. I am not leaving you, but I may bring you
to greater pain - and that thought tortures me.
PHILOCTETES. My child, I cannot understand your words.
NEOPTOLEMUS. I will hide nothing: you must sail to Troy,
to the Greek army of the sons of Atreus.
PHILOCTETES. What are you saying?
NEOPTOLEMUS. Wait, until you learn . . .
PHILOCTETES. Learn what? What do you mean to do with me?
NEOPTOLEMUS. To save you from this suffering, and then
to go along with you and capture Troy.
PHILOCTETES. Can you really mean this?
NEOPTOLEMUS. Yes: a strong compulsion
necessitates it: do not be enraged.
PHILOCTETES. Oh, you have killed me and betrayed me! Stranger,
what have you done to me? Give back my bow.
NEOPTOLEMUS. That is not possible. My duty and
expedience both make me obey my rulers.
PHILOCTETES. You monstrous plague, you hateful instrument
of craft and cunning, think what you have done,
how you have tricked me! Are you not ashamed
even to look at me, who trusted you?
You took my bow, and with it took my life:
give it back I pray, give it back I beg, my child;
by all your father's gods, do not destroy me! …
Oh wretched that I am, he will not speak,
but looks away and keeps it for himself.

Harbors and promontories - fellow-creatures
who roam the Mountainside - steep-rising cliffs
I have no one but you whom I may speak to
(for you have heard me often) and lament
the wrongs Achilles' son has done to me.
He swore to take me home, yet sails for Troy;
he gave me his right hand, yet now he holds
the sacred bow of Zeus' son Heracles,
and plans to show it off before the Greeks.
He uses force, as if I could oppose him:
I who am but a corpse, a smoky shadow,
a vision! He would not have captured me
before - or even now, except by guile.
Yet he has tricked me now: what must I do?
Oh give it back and be yourself again!
What do you say? Nothing? Then I am lost!

My twin-mouthed cave, I come to you again,
naked now, and deprived of my subsistence.
I shall soon waste away within this chamber,
killing no wingèd birds or mountain beasts
now with my arrows; I will perish here
in pain providing food for those who fed me:
they whom I hunted once will track me down.
I must pay for the blood that I have shed
because of one who seemed to know no evil.
Curses - yet not until I learn if you
will change your mind: if not, may you be damned!

CHORUS. What shall we do? Prince, you must tell us now
whether to sail or yield to this man's words.
NEOPTOLEMUS. A strange compassion for him comes upon me,
which I first felt, not now, but long before.
PHILOCTETES. Have pity, child, in God's name: do not give
men cause to blame you for deceiving me.
NEOPTOLEMUS. What shall I do? I wish that I had never
left Skyros to be burdened by these troubles!
PHILOCTETES. You are not evil - yet it seems that you
have learned from men who are: leave that to them,
but sail away, and give me back my weapon.
NEOPTOLEMUS. What shall we do?

[ODYSSEUS, who has entered unnoticed, steps forward.]

ODYSSEUS. Rash man, what are you doing?
Step back, I tell you: give the bow to me.
PHILOCTETES. Who is it? Do I hear Odysseus speak?
ODYSSEUS. Odysseus, yes! Now you may see me clearly.
PHILOCTETES. Oh, I am ruined, lost! then it was you
who snared me and deprived me of my weapon!
ODYSSEUS. I and no other - I confess it freely.
PHILOCTETES. Child, give me back my bow.
ODYSSEUS. No, he will never
do that, not even if he wishes: you
must come with us, or they will force you to it.
PHILOCTETES. Boldest and evilest of wicked men,
will the use force on me?
ODYSSEUS. Yes, if you struggle.
PHILOCTETES. Lemnos, my island, whose almighty flame
the god of fire engendered, can you bear
to see this man force me away from you?
ODYSSEUS. Zeus, let me tell you, Zeus rules in this land;
Zeus has done this - and I am but his servant.
PHILOCTETES. Villain, what pretext will you think of next?
By crediting the gods you make them liars!
ODYSSEUS. No, they are true. And now we must set forth.
PHILOCTETES. I will not.
ODYSSEUS. But you will: you cannot help it.
PHILOCTETES. Wretch that I am! was I my father's son
to be a slave and never live in freedom?
ODYSSEUS. Not so, but equal to our noblest men,
with whom you will take Troy and bring it low.
PHILOCTETES. No, never! I would suffer any evil
to keep this rocky land beneath my feet.
ODYSSEUS. What can you do about it?
PHILOCTETES. Throw myself
down on those rocks and dash my brains upon them!
ODYSSEUS. Two of you, seize him: this must not take place.

[Two CHORUS members seize PHILOCTETES and bind his hands.]

PHILOCTETES. My hands, oh how you suffer now without
your bowstring, bound together by this man!
But you, whose thoughts are foul and servile, you
stole on me, hunted me, and took this boy
whom I had never seen to be your shield -
My equal, but too good for you! - who only
tried to perform what you had ordered, though
clearly he is remorseful now for what
he did in error and for what I suffered.
But your base soul, peeping from hidden comers,
trained him against his nature and his will
to be a shrewd contriver of evil deeds;
and now, O wretch, you bind me and intend
to take me from this shore where once you left me,
a friendless, lonely, homeless, living corpse.
May you be cursed, as I have often prayed!
Yet no . . . the gods grant nothing sweet to me,
and you will live in happiness while I
drag on my wretched life with further pains,
laughed at by you and by your twin commanders,
the sons of Atreus, whom you serve so well.
And yet when we first sailed for Troy, you were
deceived and forced, while 1, who suffer now,
came willingly, with seven ships, until
you cast me off - or they, if you prefer!
Why will you take me? what can you intend?
I am a worthless nothing, long since dead!
Why do I seem, god-hated man, no longer
crippled and putrid to you? How will you
sacrifice if I sail with you? for that
was your excuse for leaving me before.
May you be damned! - you will be damned for all
the wrongs I suffered, if the gods are just.
I know they are, for you would not have sailed
on such a trip after a man like me
unless some god had spurred you on your way.
O fatherland of mine, O gods who watch me,
avenge, avenge, however late, my wrongs
on all these men, if you have pity for me.
I live most piteously, but if I saw
them perish, I would think my illness cured.
CHORUS. This stranger's words are strong, and strongly spoken,
Odysseus: he will not submit to hardships.
ODYSSEUS. If I had time I could reply to him
at leisure; now I will say one thing only:
where any man is needed, I am there.
If you will speak of just and noble men,
you will find none more reverent than I.
By nature I want victory everywhere
except from you, to whom I freely yield.
Release him; do not touch him any longer;

[CHORUS members release PHILOCTETES.]

let him remain. We have no need of you
now that we have your bow, for Teucer lives
among us still, and knows his craft, and I
believe that I myself can handle it
no worse than you, and aim it just as well.
What need for you? Take pleasure in your island,
for we must go. Perhaps this prize will bring
to me the honor which you might have had.
PHILOCTETES. What shall I do in my unhappiness?
Will you display my weapon to the Greeks?
ODYSSEUS. Talk to me now no longer - I am going.
PHILOCTETES. Seed of Achilles, will you not address me
now, but depart from me without a word?
ODYSSEUS. Come with me - do not look at him - for you
are noble, and you may yet spoil our fortunes.
PHILOCTETES. Strangers, will you too leave me here alone,
and not have pity on my solitude?
CHORUS. This boy is our commander, and whatever
he says to you, we must agree with him.
NEOPTOLEMUS. He will say that my nature is too full
of pity; but, if this man wishes, stay
until the others have prepared the ship
and we have made our offering to the gods.
Meanwhile perhaps his attitude toward us
will soften. Now the two of us must go:
as soon as we send word, be prompt to follow.



[Strophe A]

PHILOCTETES. O my hollow cavern of stone,
now hot, now icy cold, was I
never again to leave you then,
unhappy that I am, but die
with no one near but you?
Ah ah ah ah!
O my chamber, so full of grief
brought upon you by me alone,
how can I now survive here
day by day, and where will I find
hope to provide me with food in my pain?
The tremulous doves will
fly on their way through the piercing air
above my head, unhindered.
CHORUS. You have caused this, you alone,
harsh-fated man, and no one
is forcing this fortune
upon you but you.
You had your chance to choose
a better fate, but chose instead
one which is harder for you.

[Antistrophe A]

PHILOCTETES. Oh unhappy man that I am,
dishonored in my suffering:
I will never, never behold
another man to share my grief,
but soon will perish here -
oh oh oh oh! -
bringing food to my home no more
such as once, with my wingèd shafts
held in my mighty hands, I
caught; but now the deceitful words
born of a treacherous mind have snared me.
Oh how I wish that he,
he who has brought all this evil on me,
could feel my never-ending pain.
CHORUS. Only fate has done this to you.
As for me I have not lent
my hand to any guile: so speak your
dreadful ill-fated curse on others.
My only wish is that you will
not now reject my friendship.

[Strophe B]

PHILOCTETES. Ah ah ah! he is sitting now
down by the shore of the white-waved sea
laughing at me and brandishing
the only prop of my wretched life,
which no one before had ever taken.
O my bow, my only friend,
torn away from loving hands,
surely if you have a heart
you are looking with pity on me,
the comrade of Heracles.
Never again will I hold you hereafter:
you will be wielded now by the hands
of another, a man of deceitful guile,
and watch his shameful tricks, and see
that hateful man, my wicked foe,
bringing his evil plans to fulfillment
with thousandfold shames for me, my God!
CHORUS. Man should always attempt to speak with justice;
but his tongue should not ever say
galling words which derive from envy.
The man you speak of was ordered
by many other men, and he
has done a great service for all his friends.

[Antistrophe B]

PHILOCTETES. O birds of the air, O bright-eyed tribes
of wandering beasts who inhabit
this rocky, mountainous pasture-land:
no longer need you flee from your lairs,
for I will never hold in my hands
the arrows which used to protect me.
Oh how miserable am I now!
Roam wherever you wish: the land
no longer is dangerous for you;
now it is only just that you
should take my blood in return for yours
and sate yourselves on my yellowed flesh.
Soon I shall leave this life of mine.
How can I find myself a living?
How can a man with none of the gifts
the nourishing earth supplies to others
feed himself on the winds of the air?
CHORUS. In God's name, if you respect a friendly stranger,
come to me as I come to you.
Pray consider, consider well
how you may flee from this plague.
It eats without remorse, and no one
ever could learn to endure such pain.
PHILOCTETES Again, again you have brought
to my mind my ancient pain,
O kindest of men to visit me:
why will you kill me, what have you done?
CHORUS. What can you mean?
PHILOCTETES. You wished to take me
back to that hated land of Troy.
CHORUS. I think it is best.
PHILOCTETES. Then leave me alone!
CHORUS. What you have spoken is welcome to me
and joyfully will I perform it!
Let us go, let us go,
each to his place on our ship.
PHILOCTETES. By Zeus who is god of curses, I pray you, stay!
CHORUS. Be calm!
PHILOCTETES. Strangers, remain for God's sake!
CHORUS. Why do you scream?
PHILOCTETES. Ah ah ah ah!
O God, I am dying, wretchedly dying!
My foot, my foot, how will I ever
take care of you in the time to come?
Strangers, come back to me now again!
CHORUS. But what can we do for you now
more than what you have told us before?
PHILOCTETES. You must not blame me, for I
am distraught with tempestuous pain,
and my screams are beyond my control.
CHORUS. Come with us then, poor man, as we bid you.
PHILOCTETES. Never, oh never: be certain of that!
Not though the god of the fiery lightning
came to envelop me in his flame!
May Troy soon perish with all of those
who cast me off because of my foot!
But strangers, grant me, I beg you, one prayer.
CHORUS. What are you asking?
PHILOCTETES. Give me a sword,
or an axe or whatever weapon you have.
CHORUS. What will you do? what terrible thing?
PHILOCTETES. I will cut up my flesh and my limbs with my hands,
for all of my thoughts are of blood!
PHILOCTETES. I will go to seek my father.
CHORUS. Where?
PHILOCTETES. In the land of the dead,
for he is no longer alive!
O my country, home of my fathers,
would that I might behold you: how foolish I was
to leave your sacred river and go
to assist those hated Greeks.
And now I am nothing, nothing at all.

[PHILOCTETES withdraws into his cave.]

CHORUS. I would have left you long ago and gone
down to my ship, if I had not beheld
Odysseus approaching us; and with him
Achilles' son is also coming toward us.

[NEOPTOLEMUS enters rapidly, followed immediately by ODYSSEUS.]

ODYSSEUS. Will you not tell me why you are returning
along this pathway with such earnest speed?
NEOPTOLEMUS. To undo the error which I made before.
ODYSSEUS. Your words are strange: what "error" do you mean?
NEOPTOLEMUS. Obeying you and yielding to my sailors.
ODYSSEUS. What have you done that was not proper for you?
NEOPTOLEMUS. I have snared a man by shamefulness and guile.
ODYSSEUS. But whom? Oh, what new plan are you now making?
NEOPTOLEMUS. No new plan: I will give the son of Poeas . . .
ODYSSEUS. What do you mean? I am suddenly afraid.
NEOPTOLEMUS. . . . his bow, which I took from him, back again.
ODYSSEUS. O God! what are you saying? Give it back?
NEOPTOLEMUS. I took it shamefully, and not with justice.
ODYSSEUS. In God's name, are you saying this to mock me?
NEOPTOLEMUS. Only if telling truth is mockery.
ODYSSEUS. Son of Achilles, tell me what you mean.
NEOPTOLEMUS. How many times must I repeat my words?
ODYSSEUS. I wish I had never heard them even once!
NEOPTOLEMUS. Now you may rest assured you have heard all.
ODYSSEUS. There is, I say, there is a way to stop you!
NEOPTOLEMUS. What are you saying? Who can stop me now?
ODYSSEUS. The army of the Greeks - and I among them.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Shrewd though you are, your words are far from shrewd.
ODYSSEUS. Surely your speech and deeds are not so shrewd!
NEOPTOLEMUS. If they are right they do no need your shrewdness.
ODYSSEUS. How is it right to give back what you took
on my advice?
NEOPTOLEMUS. I made a shameful error,
and I must now endeavor to retrieve it.
ODYSSEUS. Do you not fear the army of the Greeks?
NEOPTOLEMUS. With justice on my side I have no fears;
and I will not submit to do your bidding.
ODYSSEUS. Then must I fight with you instead of Troy?
NEOPTOLEMUS. If you so wish.
ODYSSEUS. Look: do you see my hand upon my sword-hilt?
NEOPTOLEMUS. Yes. And do you wish
to see my hand on mine - without delay?
ODYSSEUS. Well, I will let you be. But I am going
to tell the army: they will punish you.

Odysseus withdraws.

NEOPTOLEMUS. Now you are showing wisdom; and if you
continue thus, you may stay clear of trouble.
Philoctetes, Poeas' son, I call upon you
to leave your rocky chamber and come forth.

Philoctetes emerges from the cave. PHILOCTETES. What is this sound of shouting near my cave?
Why do you call? what can you want from me?
There must be something wrong: have you come to me
bringing new hardships to add to my others?
NEOPTOLEMUS. Take heart and listen to the words I speak.
PHILOCTETES. I am afraid. I suffered bitterly
from your fair words before, because I listened.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Is it not possible to change one's mind?
PHILOCTETES. Your words seemed just as true when you were
stealing my bow from me, and yet they were deceptive.
NEOPTOLEMUS. They are not now: I wish to learn from you
whether you will remain here and endure, or sail with us
PHILOCTETES. Wait, say nothing more!
Every word that you speak will be in vain.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Are you resolved?
PHILOCTETES. Much more than I can say.
NEOPTOLEMUS. I wish you had been persuaded by my words;
but if I speak to no avail, then I will cease.
PHILOCTETES. All that you say will be in vain,
for you will never make my mind your friend.
You robbed me of my life and took my bow,
yet now you come to me to bring advice,
most hateful son of a most noble father!
Damn all of you - the sons of Atreus first,
and then Laertes' son: then you!
NEOPTOLEMUS. Do not curse me, but take your bow back from my hand.
PHILOCTETES. What do you mean? is this another trick?
NEOPTOLEMUS. No, by the sacred majesty of God!
PHILOCTETES. How sweet your words are if your words are true!
NEOPTOLEMUS. My deed will show how true they are: reach out
your hand and take your weapon once again.

[ODYSSEUS steps forward.]

ODYSSEUS. But I forbid it, calling God to witness,
in the name of Atreus' sons and all the army!
PHILOCTETES. My child, whose voice is that? did I not hear
ODYSSEUS. Yes, you did: and now you see him,
him who will take you back to Troy by force
whether Achilles' son approves or not.
PHILOCTETES Not without paying, if my aim is true!

[ODYSSEUS turns and leaves.]

NEOPTOLEMUS. Wait! for the sake of God put down your arrow.
PHILOCTETES. For God's sake take your hand off mine, dear child.
NEOPTOLEMUS. No, I will not.
PHILOCTETES. Oh, why have you not let me
kill my hated enemy with my bow?
NEOPTOLEMUS. That would be right for neither you nor me.
PHILOCTETES. Well, this much is certain: the false-hearted
commanders of the army of the Greeks
are cowards in fight, however bold in words!
NEOPTOLEMUS. So be it: now you have your bow, and you
have no cause to be angry, or to blame me.
PHILOCTETES. Yes, you are right, my child; and you have shown
what nature you were born with. Sisyphus
was not your father, but Achilles, who
was most renowned when living, as when dead.
NEOPTOLEMUS. I am truly glad to hear you praise my father
and me; now listen to the benefit
I hope to win from you. Men must endure
the fortunes which are given them by God;
but when they willingly persist in pain,
like you, it is not right for anyone
to pardon them or have compassion on them.
You are too harsh, and will not hear advice;
and if one counsels you with good intentions
you hate him and consider him your foe.
Yet I will speak, and call God as my witness:
so hear my words and write them in your heart.
This suffering is sent on you from heaven
because you once went near to Chryse's serpent,
the secret guardian of her roofless home.
Be certain you will never find relief
from your hard illness while the sun continues
to rise and set again, until you come
of your own will to Troy, where you will find
the children of Asclepius among us,
and they will soothe your illness; then, with me,
and with our bow, you will demolish Troy.
Now I will tell you how I know all this.
We have a Trojan prisoner among us,
Helenus, best of prophets, who declares
that these things shall occur, and furthermore
he says it is ordained that Troy shall fall
this very summer: he will give his life
willingly if his prophecy proves false.
Now that you are aware of this, yield freely.
It is a fair reward to be acclaimed
the noblest of the Greeks, and find your way
to healing hands, and then, when you have captured
sorrowful Troy, to win immortal glory.
PHILOCTETES. My hateful life, why do you keep me here
instead of letting me go down to Hades?
What shall I do? how can I disobey
his words, when he has counseled me in friendship?
Shall I submit? But then, in my misfortune,
how could I face the light? whom could I speak to?
My eyes, who have beheld my many wrongs,
how could you ever bear to see me with
the sons of Atreus, who have ruined me,
or with that villainous son of Laertes?
Resentment for the past is not what hurts me,
but thinking on the pains that I must suffer
hereafter: for when men have given birth
to evil thoughts once, they will soon learn others.
Your actions, too, surprise me: you should never
have thought of going back to Troy or taking
my bow: for these men have insulted you
and robbed your father's arms. Can you intend
to go and fight for them, and force me also?
No, child, not that! You must fulfill your promise
to take me home; and you must stay in Skyros
and let those evil men die and be damned.
Thus you will win a double gratitude,
mine and my father's; and though you have served
bad men, your nature will not seem like theirs.
NEOPTOLEMUS. You speak with reason; yet I hope that you
will put your trust in God and in my words,
and sail from here with me, who am your friend.
PHILOCTETES. What, sail to Troy and to the hated son
of Atreus with this cursèd foot of mine?
NEOPTOLEMUS. To those who will relieve your pus-filled limb
from suffering, and cure you of your illness.
PHILOCTETES. These are strange words indeed: what are you saying?
NEOPTOLEMUS. What will be best for you as well as me.
PHILOCTETES. When you speak thus, do you not fear the gods?
NEOPTOLEMUS. Why should I be afraid to help my friend?
PHILOCTETES. But will you help me or the sons of Atreus?
NEOPTOLEMUS. You - for I am your friend, and speak in friendship.
PHILOCTETES. Yet you would give me to my enemies!
NEOPTOLFMUS. My friend, be less defiant in misfortune.
PHILOCTETES. Surely you will destroy me with your words.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Not I . . . but you will not know what I mean.
PHILOCTETES. I know the sons of Atreus left me here.
NEOPTOLEMUS. They did; and yet they may restore you also.
PHILOCTETES. Not if I must consent to go to Troy.
NEOPTOLEMUS. What must I do then, if my words cannot
persuade you to do anything I ask?
The easiest course for me is to be silent
and let you live without help, as before.
PHILOCTETES. Yes, let me suffer what I have to suffer.
But you, my child, must now fulfill the promise
made when you touched my hand, and send me home.
Do not delay, or speak again of Troy,
for I have had my fill of lamentation.
NEOPTOLEMUS. If you wish, then let us go.
PHILOCTETES. O nobly spoken word!
NEOPTOLEMUS. Plant our footsteps firmly now.
PHILOCTETES. With all the strength I have.
NEOPTOLEMUS How can I escape the anger of the Greeks?
NEOPTOLEMUS. What if they destroy my country?
PHILOCTETES. I shall be at hand.
NEOPTOLEMUS. How can you assist me?
PHILOCTETES. With the bow of Heracles.
PHILOCTETES. I will prevent them.
NEOPTOLEMUS. Bless this land, then, and depart.

[HERACLES appears above.]

HERACLES. Not yet, until you have heard the words
which I will speak to you, son of Poeas.
Be certain that you are hearing the voice
and beholding the presence of Heracles.
For your sake I have departed from
my heavenly home,
to tell you the counsels of Zeus on high,
and prevent you from making this journey.
Now hear my words, and obey them.

First I will say that in my varied fortunes
I have passed through many sufferings and toils,
and won, as you may see, eternal glory;
and now it is ordained for you as well
to build from suffering a noble life.
First you will travel with this man to Troy
and there will find release from your disease;
and then, foremost among the ranks in courage,
you will slay Paris with that bow of mine,
Paris, who was the cause of all these hardships,
and conquer Troy, and choose the prize of valor
from all the army's spoils, and take them to
your father Poeas by the plains of Oeta.
But when you bring these spoils home from the army,
take some, in gratitude for my bow, to
my funeral pyre. You too, son of Achilles,
must listen: for without him you cannot
take Troy, nor he apart from you. Like lions
you roam together, and together guard
each other's lives. And I will send to Troy
Asclepius to cure you of your illness;
for it is fated Troy shall be once more
captured by my bow. When you spoil the land,
remember this: to reverence the gods;
for of all things that is the most important
to father Zeus. Such reverence will not die
with men, but go with them in life and death.
PHILOCTETES. O voice which I long have yearned to hear,
revealed to me now,
I will not disobey your words.
NEOPTOLEMUS. And I will also grant assent.
HERACLES. Do not delay your action long;
occasion is calling,
and the wind at your stern is urging you on.

[HERACLES withdraws.]

PHILOCTETES. Now as I leave I will call on my island.
Farewell to the chamber that shared in my vigil,
and the nymphs of the meadows, nymphs of the streams,
and the masculine roar of the sea-swept coast.
Often my head has been damp with the blowing
of southerly winds, though deep in my cave;
and often the distant mountain of Hermes
has heard my voice and answered to me
with echoing groans in my tempest of sorrow.
But O my streams and my Lycian spring,
I am leaving you now, I am leaving at last,
though I had thought I would never depart.
O land of sea-circled Lemnos, farewell!
Do not begrudge me a fair voyage now
to whatever place great Destiny calls,
and my friends' advice, and the almighty god
who has brought these things to fulfillment.
CHORUS. Come let us go now all together,
and pray to the nymphs of the sea
to grant us a prosperous voyage.


Please send your comments concerning The Stoa: A Consortium for Electronic Publication in the Humanities to Ross Scaife ( This document was published on: October 26 1999