After capturing the bow from Philoctetes, Neoptolemus starts to feel ashamed by his actions and wishes to make amends (p.203, Philoctetes). In response to Odysseus’s question of where he was off to, Neoptolemus tells him, “To undo the wrong that I have already done”, (p. 203, Philoctetes). Confused, Odysseus asks Neoptolemus, “What wrong are you talking about” (p. 203, Philoctetes)? This question and Neoptolemus’ response, “I used base treachery against a fellow-creature” (p. 203, Philoctetes), are what separate the two men. Neoptolemus goes on to return Philoctetes’ bow to him and asks for forgiveness (p.206-7, Philoctetes). The use of deception in the attempt to steal the bow from Philoctetes and Philoctetes himself emphasizes Odysseus’ lack of honor. Honor is achieved by doing what is right no matter what the consequences; it is also gained through fair combat and victory.
Sophocles’ version of the Philoctetes is not the first ever written, however it is the first to have the island (that Philoctetes was stranded on) be a desert island. With the change of settings, Odysseus’ honor is absolutely destroyed, leaving a crippled man on a land, where a healthy man would have trouble surviving. The reason why Odysseus engendered the desertion of Philoctetes is because he had become a burden to the rest of the Greeks (526, Powell). Instead of keeping his honor and showing compassion towards Philoctetes by sending him home, he orchestrates Philoctetes’ abandonment on Lemnos (p. 163, Philoctetes). The option of sending Philoctetes home seems as if it were never explored and the Greeks just did not care if they left the man on the island to die. Philoctetes makes several requests of Neoptolemus to take him home, “Son I beseech you, do not leave me here … If I am brought home … And fetch me home” (p. 178-9, Philoctetes). Eventually Neoptolemus agrees to bring the crippled man home and tells him so, “We’ll go, then, as soon as you’ve got whatever you need” (p. 184, Philoctetes).
After Philoctetes hears that Odysseus is coming, he wants to set sail for home immediately, but Neoptolemus says they must wait for the wind to favor them (p. 183 Philoctetes). Philoctetes then tells Neoptolemus, “All winds are fair, when death is on your heels” (p. 184, Philoctetes). Philoctetes’ remark plays on the idea that he could have been sent home no matter what the wind conditions were like instead of being abandoned by his fellow Greeks. However in the end Philoctetes wonders if Neoptolemus will fulfill his promises, “Our hands on it, to see me safely home” (p. 210 Philoctetes). He simply responds, “Yes, let us go” (p. 210 Philoctetes), deciding to take the honorable path, by fulfilling his oath. Odysseus’ one great desire throughout the entire Odyssey, is to return home to his wife and child. On the way to Troy he abandons Philoctetes on an island where he would have no chance of getting home and thereby shows his true hypocrisy. He denies the man the one thing that he, himself, desires above everything else — to return home.Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 5
Ajax translated by E.F. Wlting
Philoctetes translated by E.F. Watling
Ed. William H. Harris, and Judith S Levey
The New Columbian Encyclopedia 4th edition
Columbia University Press, New York, 1975