Philoctetes

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In Greek mythology, Philoctetes (also Philoktêtês or Philocthetes, Φιλοκτήτης) was the son of King Poeas of Meliboea in Thessaly. He was a Greek hero, famed as an archer, and was a participant in the Trojan War. He was the subject of at least two plays by Sophocles, and one each by Aeschylus and Euripides. However, only one Sophoclean play survives, the others are lost. He is also mentioned in Homer's Iliad; Book 2 describes his exile on the island of Lemnos, his wound by snake-bite, and his eventual recall by the Greeks. The recall of Philoctetes is told in the lost epic Little Iliad, where his retrieval was accomplished by Odysseus and Diomedes.

Philoctetes was stranded on the Island of Lemnos or Chryse by the Greeks before the start of the Trojan War. There are at least four separate tales about what happened to strand Philoctetes on his journey to Troy, but all indicate that he received a wound on his foot that festered and had a terrible smell. One version holds that Philoctetes was bitten by a snake that Hera sent to molest him as punishment for his service to Heracles. (As he was the only one who would light Heracles' funeral pyre, Heracles bestowed on Philoctetes his magical bow and arrows.) Another tradition says that the Greeks forced Philoctetes to show them where Heracles's ashes were deposited. Philoctetes would not break his oath by speech, so he went to the spot and placed his foot upon the site. Immediately, he was injured in the foot that touched the soil over the ashes. Yet another tradition has it that when the Achaeans, en route to Troy, came to the island of Tenedos, Achilles angered Apollo by killing King Tenes, allegedly the god's son. When, in expiation, the Achaeans offered a sacrifice to Achilles, a snake came out from the altar and bit Philoctetes. Finally, it is said that Philoctetes received his terrible wound on the island of Chryse, when he unknowingly trespassed into the shrine of the nymph after whom the island was named (this is the version in the extant play by Sophocles).

Regardless of the cause of the wound, Philoctetes was exiled by the Greeks and was angry at the treatment he received from Odysseus, who had advised the Atreidae to strand him. Medôn took control of Philoctetes' men. Philoctetes remained on Lemnos, alone, for ten years.

Helenus, son of King Priam of Troy, was forced to reveal, under torture, that one of the conditions of the Greeks winning the Trojan War, was that they had to use the bow and arrows of Heracles. Upon hearing this, Odysseus then retrieved Philoctetes from Lemnos. (As Sophocles writes it in his play named Philoctetes, Odysseus is accompanied by Neoptolomus. Other versions of the myth don't include Neoptolemus.) Philoctetes' wound was healed by Machaon or Podalirius, sons of the gods' physician Asclepius. Philoctetes then killed many Trojan heroes, including Paris, son of Priam and husband of Helen. After the war, he went to Italy and founded the town of Petilia in Calabria and establish the Brutti.

[edit] In modern literature

The legend of Philoctetes was used by André Gide in his play Philoctète.

Sophocles' play forms the basis of an essay by Edmund Wilson The Wound and the Bow, in the book of the same name.

Derek Walcott's modern Caribbean epic, Omeros, includes a character named Philoctete; he receives a wound and clearly alludes to the Greek narrative.

Philoctetes also appears in Seamus Heaney's play The Cure at Troy, a "version" of Sophocles' Philoctetes.

The legend of Philoctetes was, in part, the inspiration for Robert Silverberg's science fiction novel The Man in the Maze.

The 1997 Disney animated movie Hercules takes considerable license with Greek myths. In it, Philoctetes (usually referred to simply as "Phil") is a satyr and a trainer of aspiring heroes who has often been disappointed by his trainees' shortcomings. After some initial reluctance, Phil agrees to train the callow young Hercules, and is ultimately gratified when the people of Thebes refer to the mighty and triumphant Hercules as "Phil's boy." He is also seen in the video game Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II. The actor Danny DeVito provided Philoctetes's voice. Robert Costanzo provides his voice in video game and television reprisals of the character, and Ichirō Nagai does his Japanese voice.

Donna Jo Napoli's teen novel Sirena features a love affair between a mermaid and Philoctetes, interrupted when the Greeks come to retrieve him.

The Torchwood episode "Greeks Bearing Gifts" has the alien serial-killer Mary (played by Daniella Denby-Ashe) refer to herself as Philoctetes, in reference to his exile on Lemnos. She was transported to Earth for crimes which she described as "political" but her testimony is probably untrustworthy. Unlike classical Philoctetes, she is not recalled to her home but, rather, consigned by Captain Jack to the centre of the Sun.

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Philoctetes

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