Greek Mythology part 5

Not only do his actions destroy his honor, they also show his lack of compassion towards a fellow comrade. Already having likened Odysseus to the Spartans, Sophocles implies that the Spartans have no honor or compassion for their allies or fellow citizens. This is further use of propaganda to bolster the morale of the Athenians and to slander the Spartans. Making them out to be self-centered honor less men, who only care for themselves, they will use and abandon any of their allies. The Spartans, having been likened to Odysseus (who has no bravery, no honor, and who does not care for his friends) are, in Sophocles’ work, turned into less than men.

The one thing of Odysseus’ character which remains constant from Homer’s Odyssey to the Philoctetes is his great intelligence. In the Odyssey he uses his intelligence to defeat the Cyclops and to set the trap for the suitors — to name a few of his mental feats. He uses his mental prowess to overcome obstacles that could not be overcome in any other way. However in the Philoctetes his intelligence is used in nefarious ways. He attempts to use lies and deceit to relieve Philoctetes of his bow, and Philoctetes curses Odysseus because of his intelligence. The connection is inferred between Sparta and Odysseus, concerning Odysseus’ strength (his intelligence) as compared to the Spartans’ strength (the intelligence of their military). Odysseus’ grand plan concocted by his superb intelligence is unsuccessful. His lack of success helps the Athenians believe that, just like Odysseus, strength is not enough to be successful in the end and that the Spartans might be unsuccessful as well. This thought helps push the Athenians forward into the end of the Peloponnesian war where they are victorious.

With the conclusion of the Philoctetes, Odysseus comes out as the villain of the play, not as a hero like he is in the Odyssey. The story of the Philoctetes pits Philoctetes, the play’s hero, against Odysseus, through Neoptolemus, until the end. Odysseus is more than content to steal the bow and leave Philoctetes on the island of Lemnos, without any way to survive. This quality can be projected onto the Spartans. The Spartans are the evil enemy of the Athenians and their cause is right.

Odysseus starts his literary life off as one of the Greek heroes, a great legend, a friend to all men, in Homer’s Odyssey. No good thing can last forever, and for Odysseus it is his status as one of the more honorable Greek warriors. His character is taken by Sophocles and through a myriad of twists and turns is turned into an absolute villain, a coward. This transformation starts in the Ajax and is concluded in the Philoctetes. The first casualty of literary creation lost to Odysseus is the courage which he possessed in the Odyssey. The loss is a minor thing in the Ajax; since, Odysseus manages to save face when confronted by the ‘loss’. Sadly there is no such attempt to protect the disgrace of cowardice in his portrayal in Sophocles’ second play, the Philoctetes. The performance in the Philoctetes portrays Odysseus as not only a coward but as compassionless. He seems to care nothing for the good of his comrades in arms in the play when he decides to place his own ego over the Greeks success against Troy. However, the intelligence for which this famous warrior is known remains in tact, but it is no longer used for noble purposes. Instead, it is used for selfish goals. In the Odyssey, Odysseus uses his intelligence to save his life, to defeat his enemies, while maintaining his honor. In the Philoctetes, Odysseus uses his mind to try to trick Philoctetes out of Heracles’ bow, the man’s only means of survival. Neoptolemus at first questions the use of lies to steal away Philoctetes bow, but is quickly convinced by Odysseus that the ends justify the means and so is ready to play his part. Through all these twists and turns Odysseus losses everything Homer had given to him at the end of the Odyssey. He has become comparable to one of the suitors whom he had killed upon his return home from Troy. Odysseus has become a cowardly, evil man – in short, a Spartan, through her allies.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my old Greek myth paper.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

     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