This translation (revised edition 2012) by Ian Johnston, Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, BC, has certain copyright restrictions. Instructors are free to distribute it in print or electronic form, in whole or in part, to their students and to edit the text for their own purposes, without permission and without charge. However, all commercial publication is prohibited without the permission of the author. Those who would like to have a Word file of this translation (free of charge) should contact contact Ian Johnston.

The translator would like to acknowledge the valuable assistance of Sir Richard Jebbís Commentary on Philoctetes.

Note that in the text below the numbers in square brackets refer to the Greek text, and the numbers without brackets refer to the English text. The endnotes have been added by the translator.


Philoctetes was one of the warrior leaders who set off with Agamemnon and Menelaus to attack Troy. On the way he was bitten by a snake, and the wound refused to heal. His cries of pain and the stench of his wound so upset the Greeks that the leaders decided to abandon him on the deserted island of Lemnos, where he remained all by himself. The action of the play takes place ten years after this event.


ODYSSEUS: king of Ithaca, a leading warrior of the Greek army at Troy.
NEOPTOLEMUS: young son of the great Greek hero Achilles.
PHILOCTETES: Greek warrior abandon on Lemnos.
SAILOR: attendant on Neoptolemus.
CHORUS: sailors from Neoptolemusí ship.
MERCHANT TRADER: a sailor spy, posing as a Merchant.
HERCULES: mortal son of Zeus, later made a god.

The Greek forces fighting at Troy are normally called the Argives or the Achaeans, as in Homer.

[Scene: on the deserted island of Lemnos, just outside Philoctetesí cave. The opening to the cave is on stage, above the level of the orchestra. Enter into the orchestraODYSSEUS and NEOPTOLEMUS with a SAILOR attending on Neoptolemus]

   So here we are on the shores of Lemnos,
   a lonely placeówell off the beaten track,
   surrounded by the sea. No one lives here.
   This was this place, Neoptolemus,
   son of Achilles, bravest and best
   of all the Greeks, where, many years ago,
   I left Philoctetes, son of Poeas,
   a man from Malis. I abandoned him,
   acting on orders from our two commanders.
   His foot was dripping with infectious sores,                                    
   painful ulcers. He kept screaming all the time.
   His strange, wild howling rang throughout the camp.                          
   He cried so much we could not pray in peace
   or make libations and burnt sacrifice.
   But whatís the point in talking of that now?
   This is no time to tell long stories,
   for if he learns Iím here, then my whole scheme,
   the one I think will catch him quickly, fails.
   Look, your job is to carry out the tasks
   we still have left to doóto find a rock                                           
   somewhere round here which has two openings,
   so shaped that when itís cool there are two seats
   facing the sun, and when itís hot, the breeze
   wafts sleep in through the chamber tunnel.
   To the left below it you might glimpse                                                    
   a water spring, if itís still functioning.
   Climb up the rock. Keep quiet. Then signal me,
   if you see those features there or somewhere else.
   After that Iíll tell you my entire plan.
   Then both of us will carry out my scheme.                                    

[NEOPTOLEMUS sets out searching, moving up towards the opening of the cave]

   Lord Odysseus, that task you mentionedó
   I think weíre close. I see a cave up here
   quite like the one you mentioned.

                                            Above you?

   Or below? I donít see it.

NEOPTOLEMUS [approaching the mouth of the cave]
                                                                   Itís up here.
   High up. I canít hear a soundóno footsteps.

   Watch out. He may be there, in bed asleep.                                            

NEOPTOLEMUS [peering into the cave]
   The place is empty. I donít see anyone.

   Anything in there which might indicate
   some human lives inside?

                                                                       Yes, there isó
   a bed of leaves pressed down. Someone lives here.                     

   Is it empty otherwise? Nothing else
   hidden in the cave?

                                                    Thereís a wooden cup,
   crudely made, some wretched craftsmanís workó
   and kindling, too, set to light a fire.

   What you describe must be the things he owns.

   Look here, thereís something else. Rags left to dryó

[NEOPTOLEMUS inspects the rags]

   Agh, theyíre full of pus! The stench!

                                                     This is the spot.
   Obviously our man lives here and is nearby.                                           
   His foot is crippled with that old disease.
   He canít go far. Heís gone to find some food                                 
   or a remedial herb heís seen somewhere.
   Send that man of yours to be our lookout,
   in case he stumbles on us unawares.
   Heíd rather catch me than any other Greek.

[NEOPTOLEMUS comes back down and whispers to his ATTENDANT, who then leaves]

Heís on his way. Heíll be our sentry on the path.
   If thereís something else you need, just say so.

   Son of Achilles, to fulfill your mission,                                                    
   you must be loyal to your ancestry.
   Thatís more than something merely physical.
   If you hear a plan youíve not heard before                                     
   and it sounds strange, you must obey itó
   youíre with me here as my subordinate.

   What are your orders?

   when you speak to him, tell him a story.
   You have to trick him, lead his mind astray.
   When he asks who you are and where youíre from,
   say youíre Achillesí sonóno deception there.
   But tell him you intend to sail for home. 
   Youíve left the Achaeansí naval forces
   because you truly hate them. And hereís whyó                           
   in their prayers they summoned you from home                                   
   to Troy, since youíre the only hope theyíve got
   to take the city. But then they judged you
   not good enough to have Achillesí arms,
   although you came to claim them as your right.
   Instead they gave them to Odysseus.
   Say what you like of meópile up the insults,
   the worst there are. That wonít injure me.
   But if you donít go through with what I say,
   youíll hurt the Argives, every one of them.                                    
   If we donít get our hands on that manís bow,
   youíll never capture Troy successfully,
   never destroy the realm of Dardanus.
   Let me tell you why you can talk to him                                                 
   and safely win his trust, while I cannot.
   Youíve joined the Trojan expedition freelyó
   youíd made no oath to anyone. In fact,
   you werenít a member of that first contingent.
   But I was, and I canít deny the fact.
   If he sees me while he still has his bow,                                        
   Iím lost, and you, as my companion,
   will share my fate. Thatís why we need to planó
   we need some scheme so you can find a way
   to steal his bow, which is invincible.
   My boy, I know your nature is not fit
   to make up lies or speak deceitful things.                                               
   But winning victoryís prize is sweet indeed,
   so force yourself to do it. After this,
   the justice of our actions will be clear.
   So now, for one short day, follow my lead                                        
   without a sense of shame. In time to come
   they will call you the finest man there is.

   Son of Laertes, I hate to carry out
   an order which it hurts to listen to.
   Itís not my nature to do anything
   based on deceit. My father, so they say,
   was just the same. But I am prepared                                                       
   to take the man by force, no trickery.
   Heís just one man on foot. Heíll never win
   against so many of us in a fight.                                                         
   Since I was ordered here to work with you,
   I am not eager to be called disloyal.
   Still, my lord, I would much prefer to fail
   in something honorable, than to win out
   with treachery.

                                               You noble fatherís son,
   when I was young, I had a quiet tongue, as well.
   I let my active hands speak up for me.    
   But now Iíve gone out into adult life
   and faced its trials, I see with mortal men
   the tongue, not action, rules in everything.                                      

   What are your orders, then, apart from lying?                                         

   Iím ordering you to use deceitful means
   to seize Philoctetes.

                                                  But why deceit?
   Why not persuade him?

                                            The man wonít listen.
   And heís not someone you can take by force.

   Is he that confident, that powerful?

   Indeed, he is. His arrows never miss.  
   Every shot brings death.

                            I have no chance at all
   if I move out to challenge him?

   None whatsoever, unless, as Iíve said,                                               
   you use some trick to grab him.

                                                  So you donít think
   thereís any shame in saying something false?

   No, I donítónot if the lies will save us.

   But how can anyone control his face                                                        
   when he dares speak such lies?

                                        When what you do
   brings benefits, you should not hesitate.

   If that man comes to Troy, how do I benefit?

   The only way the city can be captured
   is with his bow and arrows.

                                          So I am not the one
   whoíll take that city, as you told me?                                                

   Yes, but you need them, and they need you.

   If thatís true, we must track them down, it seems.

   By doing this work, youíll garner two rewards.

   How? If I knew that, Iíd not refuse it.

   In this one act, youíll get yourself a name
   for shrewdness and nobility.

                                                All right,                                                           
   Iíll do it. Iíll set all shame aside.

   That story I sketched out for you just nowó
   do you recall it?

                                  You can be sure of that,
   since Iíve at last agreed to do it.                                                       

   All right. Now, you stay here and wait for him.
   Iíll move off, so Iím not seen around you.
   And Iíll return our lookout to his ship.
   Now, if I think youíre taking too much time,
   Iíll send that same sailor here again,
   but Iíll disguise his actions and his clothes,
   to make him captain of some merchant ship,
   beyond all recognition. Then, my boy,                                                     
   when he tells you some fancy tale, you listen,
   taking from it anything that helps you.                                             
   Now Iím going to my ship. Itís up to you.
   May Hermes, who guides men through deceptions,
   lead us through this, and with Athena, too,
   goddess of victory, our cityís patron,
   and the one who always rescues me.

[Exit ODYSSEUS. Enter the CHORUS, members of Neoptolemusí crew]

   My lord, tell me what I must conceal
   and what to say to this Philoctetes.
   Heís bound to be full of suspicion.
   For Iím a stranger in a foreign place.
   The art and judgment of the man                                                       
   who rules with Zeusí godlike sceptre                                                       
   exceed the skills of ordinary men.
   That age-old authority of kings
   has now come down to you, my son.
   So tell me what I need to do to serve you.

   Right now perhaps youíre eager to inspect
   the place here on the shore in which he lives. 
   You can look through itóthereís no need to fearó
   that dangerous man has left his cave for now.
   When he gets back, stand ready to come out                                   
   when I give you the sign. Try to help me.
   Provide whatever aid I may require.

   My lord, this help you talk about                                                             
   has for a long time been my chief concern,
   always to keep my eyes alert
   above all to whatís best for you.
   Tell me some details of this man,
   the kind of shelter where he lives,
   and where he might be now.
   There are things I ought to know,                                                      
   in case he comes at me somewhere
   when Iím not ready for him.
   Where has he disappeared?
   Is he at home in there,
   in that cave, or here outside?

   Hereís his dwelling with two entrances,
   a den carved in the rock.                                                                             

                            The man who lives hereó
   whereís the poor wretch gone?

                                                       I think thatís clear.
   Heís dragging his foot along some place nearby,
   looking for things to eat. Iíve heard it said                                    
   that thatís the way he usually lives,
   In his sad state it takes what strength he has
   to shoot his feathered arrows at his prey,
   and no one ever ventures close enough
   to help him cure his sick condition.

   Well, I pity him for tható
   with no human to look after him,                                                             
   and no companionís face to see,
   he lives a miserable life,
   alone, always alone,                                                                          
   infected with a cruel disease,
   confused about what he should do
   to cope with every pressing need.
   How does he bear a fate so grim?
   It is the workings of the gods.
   What a wretched race of men they are
   whose life exceeds due measure.

   This man Philoctetes,                                                                                 [180]
   for all we know, is just as good
   as any member of the finest clan.                                                    
   But here he lies all by himself,
   apart from other human beings,
   with shaggy goats and spotted deer,
   suffering from hunger pangs
   and from his painful wound.
   Itís pitifulóhe has to bear
   an agony that has no cure,
   and, as he cries in bitter pain,
   the only answer comes from Echo,
   a distant, senseless babble.                                                              
230      [190]

   Well, nothing in all this surprises me.
   Let me explain just how I understand it.
   This manís sufferings come from the gods,
   both those afflicting him from savage Chryse
   and those he suffers now without a cure.
   The gods are planning that Philoctetes
   will not aim his bow at Troy and shoot his shafts,
   those all-conquering arrows from the gods,
   until the time is right, when, people say,
   those weapons take the cityóthatís Troyís fate.                          
240      [200]

   My lad, be quiet.

                                 Why, whatís the matter?

   I heard a noiseóa sound that may have come
   from someone in distress. From over there,
   I think, or maybe there. Yes, I hear itó
   I hear the voice of someone hurt. Thatís itó
   someone forced to crawl along the path.
   That heavy groaning of a man in pain,
   even from far away, is hard to miss.
   The cries are just too clear. Now, my lad,
   you should listen . . .

                                    To what?

                                      Iíve just been thinking.                                   
250      [210]
   This manís not far awayóheís close to us,
   bringing music home, not like a shepherd
   piping his flocks back to some melody,
   but screaming as he stumbles.
   Perhaps his echoing howls
   come from his bodyís pain
   or else heís seen our ship
   at its unwelcoming anchorage.
  In either case, his cries are dreadful.

[Enter Philoctetes]

                                     You there, you strangers,
   what country are you from? Why land here,                                  
260      [220]
   put into such a desolate location,
   without a decent harbour? If I guessed
   your homeland or your family, what answer
   would be right? You look as if youíre Greeks,
   at least from how youíre dressed, and thatís a sight
   that pleases me. But Iíd like to hear you speak.
   Please donít be afraid of me and run away,
   scared because I look like such a savage.
   Take pity on a wretched, lonely man,
   abandoned without friends, in misery.                                           
   If you come as friends, speak up. Answer me.                                         
   Itís only right we talk to one another.

   Well, stranger, the first thing you should know
   is that weíre Greeks. Thatís what you want to hear.

   Ah, that language gives me such delightó
   to hear such words spoken by a man like this,
   after so many years! Tell me, young man,
   what made you land here? Something you need?
   Some business? Or a friendly wind? Speak upó
   tell everything, so I know who you are.                                          

   My birthplace is the island Scyros. Right now,
   Iím sailing home. Iím Neoptolemusó                                                      
   Achillesí son. Now you know everything.

   My lad, son of a man I truly loved,
   and from a land I cherish, you were raised
   by old Lycomedes, your motherís father.
   What business brings you to this island?
   Where are you sailing from?

                                 Well, if you must know,
   Iím sailing now away from Troy.

                                             Whatís that you say?
   Iím sure you werenít one of those on board                                   
   when our first expedition sailed for Troy.

   Did you take part in that great enterprise?

   My boy, you mean you donít know who I am,
   you have no clue who you are looking at?

   How can I know a man Iíve never seen?                                                   

   You donít know my name? Youíve never even heard
   a rumour of my deadly suffering?

   Let me assure you I know none of tható
   Iíve no idea what youíre asking.

   O how truly miserable I must be,                                                    
   how bitter to the gods, if not a word,
   not even rumours of my living here,
   have reached my home or any part of Greece.
   Those men who broke godís laws to leave me here
   have hushed it up and laugh, while my disease
   keeps flourishing and getting worse. My boy,
   young lad whose father is Achilles,                                                          
   the man who stands here right in front of you
   is someone you perhaps have heard about
   as master of the arms of Hercules.                                                  
   Yes, I am Poeasí son, Philoctetes,
   the man those two commanders of the army
   and that Cephallenian king, Odysseus,
   so disgracefully threw out, deserted here,
 while I was suffering this cruel disease.
   I was bitten by a savage deadly snake.
   Our fleet had sailed from Chryse by the sea.                                          
   It landed here. Then, my boy, they left me
   with this infection as my sole companion.
   Yes, they left me here alone. Once they saw                                 
   my storms of pain had passed and I was sleeping,
   they were so happy to abandon me
   under an overhanging rock, here onshore,
   setting out some rags, some scraps of food,
   a pittanceóenough to please a beggar.
   I hope they get the treatment they gave me!
   My boy, can you imagine how I felt
   after my sleep that day, when I awoke,
   when I got up to find theyíd disappeared?
   How I wept, how I cried out in distress,                                         
   when I saw the ships on which Iíd sailed
   had all gone off, with no one else around,                                               
   no one to help, no one to soothe the ache
   of my disease? I looked everywhere,
   but all I found around me was my pain.
   Of that, my lad, I had more than my share.
   Well, time went by for me, month after month,
   alone in this small shelter. I was forced
   to look to my own needs all by myself.
   This bow gave me the food my stomach craved,                          
   by shooting birds as they passed overhead.
   Each time an arrow flew out from this string                                          
   and struck, Iíd go crawling after it, in pain,
   dragging this wretched foot behind me.
   In winter, when I needed to fetch water,
   often there was frostóat that time of year
   itís not uncommonóand Iíd have to break
   some firewood. Iíd drag myself outside,
   in agony, and get it. Then, at times,
   I had no fire. But by rubbing stones                                                
 finally produced the hidden spark
   which keeps me going day by day. In fact,
   living here under this roof and with my fire
   I have all I need, except, of course,
   relief from my disease. You see, my lad,                                                  
   you should know some facts about this island.
   No sailor ever comes too near this placeó
   not if he can help it. Thereís no moorage
   or any port where he can buy and sell
   to make a profit or find a welcome host.                                       
   So men with any sense donít travel here.
   If someone ever came unwillinglyó
   such things do happen often over time
   in the full span of oneís lifeówell then,
   when they arrived, my boy, theyíd talk to me,
   speak a few sympathetic words, and then,
   from pity, add some food or clothing.
   But thereís one thing no one would ever do,                                           
[3   10]
   once I suggested itótake me safely home.
   This is the tenth year of my misery,                                               
   wasting away in hunger and distress,
   eaten up by this gluttonous disease.
   This is the work of those sons of Atreus
   and Odysseus, that brutal man. They did this.
   May the Olympian gods give them someday
   full retribution for my agonies!

   Son of Poeas, I pity you, as welló
   just like those visitors you had before.

   I, too, can testify to what you say.
   You speak the truth. For Iíve experienced                                      
380      [320]
   how bad the sons of Atreus can be,
   and Odysseusí brutality as well.

   Whatís that? You mean you, too, have complaints
   against those cursed sons of Atreusó
   something they did to you to make you angry?

   I wish one day my hand could vent my rage,
   so then theyíd learn in Sparta and Mycenae,
 Scyros is the mother of brave men.

   Good for you, my lad.
 But whatís your reason?
   Why are you so angry? Whatís the grudge                                     
   you have against them?

                               Iíll tell you, son of Poeas,
   but itís hard to say what I went through                                                  
   on their account when I arrived at Troy.
   When fate declared Achilles had to die . . .

PHILOCTETES [interrupting]
   Whatís that? Stop there. Answer this question firstó
   is Achilles, son of Peleus, dead?

                                                            He is.
   But no mortal killed him. It was a god.
   Phoebus Apollo brought him down, they say,
   with an arrow shot.

                                              Both noble beings,
   the killer and the killed.
Now Iím not sure,                                   400
   my boy, what I should do nextóquestion you
   about your suffering or mourn Achilles.

   Your own afflictions are enough for you,
   I think.  You unhappy man, you donít need
   to mourn the next manís troubles.

                                                               Youíre right.
   So tell me once again what you went through,
   how those men harmed you.

                               They came to get me
   in a fancy, decorated shipóPhoenix,
   who raised my father, and lord Odysseus.
   They saidóI donít know if itís true or notó                                 
   that since my father had been killed,
   destiny decreed that no one except me
   could seize those towers in Troy. Well, my friend,
   once theyíd said that, they gave me little time
   before we left. We sailed there at top speed,
   mainly because I had a great desire                                                          
   to see my fatherís corpse before the burial,
   since Iíd never seen him. In addition,
   what they said to me was truly wonderfuló
   if I went back with them, Iíd capture Troy.                                    
   Well, we rowed and had a favorable wind,
   so on my voyage by the second day
   we had reached Sigeum, that bitter place.
   Then, when I disembarked, all the army
   at once came crowding round to welcome me,
   swearing they could see the dead Achilles
   alive again. But he just lay there dead.
   In my grief I wept for him. Soon after that,                                             
   I went to Atreusí sons, as friends of mine,
   or so I thought, to claim my fatherís arms                                     
   and all the rest of what belonged to him.
   They gave me the most shameless of repliesó
   ďSeed of Achilles, you may take away
   all your fatherís things except his weapons.
   Another man is master of them now,
   Laertesí son, Odysseus.Ē I jumped upó
   my anger was immediate and intenseó
   tears were in my eyes. Full of bitterness,
   I yelled at them, ďYou miserable men,
   have you two dared award my weapons                                         
   to another man rather than to me                                                            
   without even bothering to tell me?Ē
   Then Odysseus spoke upóit so happened
   he was there nearbyóďYes, boy, they did.
   And rightly, too, because I rescued them.
   I was there to save their masterís body.Ē
   In my rage I began to heap on him
   every insult I could think of, all at once.
   If he meant to steal those weapons from me,
   then there was nothing I was holding back.                                  
   Hurt by my abuse, though not enraged,
   Odysseus said, ďYouíve not been where we haveó
   you werenít around when we all needed you.
   And now, since you cannot speak politely,                                             
   youíll never sail to Scyros with those arms.Ē
   After hearing such rebukes and insults,
   Iím sailing home without my property,
   thanks to that low-born criminal Odysseus.
   But I donít lay the blame so much on him
   as on those in command. For any city                                            
   depends completely on those in control,
   and so must all the army. And when people
   grow unruly, itís what their teachers say
   that makes them so corrupt. Thatís my story,
   all I have to tell. If thereís anyone
   who hates those sons of Atreus, I hope
   the gods will cherish him the way I do.                                                    

   All-nourishing mountain mother Earth,
   mother of Zeus himself,
   you who live and rule                                                                        
   in great Pactolus, rich in gold, 
   most dread and sacred mother,
   over there I called on you,
   in Troy, when sons of Atreus
   heaped all their insults on this man,
   while they were handing over
   his fatherís armour to Odysseus,
   paying highest honours to that manó
   such awe-inspiring things.
   Hail, blessed goddess, as you sit                                                     
480     [400]
   on your splendid decorated throne,
   where carved-out lions slaughter bulls.

   Youíve sailed here carrying your grief,
   pain like my own, a certain guarantee.
   You and your story harmonize with mine,
   so I can recognize how those men act,
   the sons of Atreus and that Odysseus,
   a man who, I know well, would set his tongue
   to every evil lie or debased act                           
   to get the unjust end heís looking for.                                            
   No, what youíve said does not surprise me,                                            
   though I do wonder how great Ajax,
   if he was there, could bear to witness it.

   My friend, Ajax was no longer livingó
   had he been alive, theyíd not have robbed me.

   Whatís that you say? Did death get Ajax, too?

   Heís dead and gone. Imagine Ajax
   no longer standing in the sunlight.

   No, no.
 Itís dreadful. But Diomedes,                     
   son of Tydeus, and that Odysseus,                                                  
   son of Sisyphus (so people say), sold
   to Laertes still in his motherís womb,
   theyíll not die, for they donít deserve to live.

   No they wonít. Thatís something you can count on.
   In fact, right now within the Argive army                                                
   those two are really thriving.

                                                     And Nestor?
   What about that fine old friend of mine
   from Pylos? Is he alive? Heís the one
   who with his prudent counsel often checked                
   the nasty things that those two men would do.                            

   Right now heís not doing well. That son of his,
   Antilochus, who stood by him, is dead.

   Thatís more bad news. Those two men you mentionó
   I really didnít want to hear theyíd died.
   God knows what we should look for in this world,
   when such men perish and Odysseus lives,
   and at a time when we should hear the news
   that he was dead instead of those two men.                                           

   Heís a slippery wrestler, Philoctetes,
   but even clever schemes are often checked.                                  

   Now, for the godsí sake, what of Patroclus?

   On that occasion where was he? Tell me.
   Your father loved him more than anyone.

   He was also dead. I can tell you why
   in one brief sayingógiven the choice,
   war takes no evil men. It always wants
   to seize the good ones.

                                There I agree with you.
   With that in mind, let me ask you thisó
   what about that worthless man who was so glib,
   so daring with his tongue and yet so smart?                                 
530      [440]

   Surely that can only mean Odysseus?

   No, I donít mean him. There was a man there
   called Thersites, who never was content
   to speak up only once, although no one
   ever granted him the right to speak at all. 
   Do you know if that fellowís still alive?

   I havenít seen him. But from what Iíve heard
   the man still lives.

                               Of course, he does.
   No evil people ever get destroyed.
   The gods are careful to look out for them.                                    
   Somehow with all those stubborn criminals
   they like to turn them back from Hades,
   while always sending good and righteous men                                       
   down to their deaths. How can I sort that out?
   How can I praise the gods? When I give thanks
   for how the worldís divinely organized,
   I find the gods themselves disgraceful.

   Well, Philoctetes, you son of Poeas
   from Oetea, in future Iíll be carefuló
   Iíll keep watching whatís going on at Troy                                     
   but from a distance, and Iíll do the same
   with those two sons of Atreus. Where I see
   lesser men in someoneís camp prevail
   over their betters, so good men waste away,
   while cowards rule, among such groups as these
   Iíll never make my friends. No, Scyrosí rock
   will be enough for me from this day on.
   Iíll be a happy man in my own home.                                                       
   Now, Iíll get back to my ship. Farewell,
   Philoctetesóas best you can fare well.                                          
   I pray the gods will rid you of disease,
   in answer to your wishes. We must be off,
   ready to sail out when the god permits.

   My lad, are you setting off already?

 Our opportunities are telling us
   to wait close to our ship for a good wind 
   and not move far away.

                                      And now, my boy,
   by your father, by your mother, by all
   the things you love in your own home,
   I come to you a suppliantódonít leave me,                                  
570      [470]
   not alone like this, living helplessly
   in such distress. You see what this is like.
   Youíve heard how much I suffer. Think of me
   as something incidental. Yes, I know
   you have a great disgust for such a load.
   But even so, bear with it. Noble minds
   find unkind deeds disgraceful and commend
   good acts, and so if you turn down this plea,
   what people say about you wonít be good.
   But my boy, if you do help, youíll win                                            
   the greatest tribute given to honour,
   if I can reach Oetaís land alive.
   Come, not even one full day of trouble.                                                   
   Take the chance. Let me aboard, and set me
   any place you wishóin the hold, the bow,
   the sternówherever I will least offend
   the others in the ship. Give your consent,
   my boy! By Zeus himself, god of suppliants,
   let me convince you! Iím on my knees
   in front of you, although Iím weak and ill,                                     
   a cripple. Donít leave me all alone like this,
   so far from any routes men travel on.
   No. Take me safely to your home, or else
   to Euboea, where Chalcodon lives.
   From there itís no long trip for me to reach                                            
   Oeta, the Trachianian heights,
   and the fair-flowing Spercheius river,
   so you can show me off to my dear father,
   although for some time now Iíve been afraid
   heís gone from me. Iíve often summoned him,                              
   sending urgent prayers with those whoíve come here,
   for him to send a ship to rescue me
   and take me home. But either he is dead,
   or, what I think more likely, those I asked,
   thinking my affairs a trivial thing,
   hurried to complete their voyage home.
   But now in you Iíve come across a man                                                    
   who can carry me and be my messenger.
   Have mercy, and rescue me! Bear in mind
   how everything for human beings is strange                                 
   and so precariousóthings can go well,
   then change into their opposite. A man
   who stays away from harm has to watch out
   for dreadful things, and when a man succeeds,
   then he must really look at how he lives,
   in case he is destroyed without a warning.

   O my king, have pity.
   Heís spoken of his struggles,
   all that suffering and pain,
   ordeals I hope no friend of mine                                                     
   will ever have to undergo.
   And if, my lord, you hate                                                                            
   those savage sons of Atreus,
   Iíd transform their evil acts
   into some benefit for him
   and carry him, as he has asked,
   in your rapid well-stocked ship
   back to his home, and so avoid
   the righteous anger of the gods.

   Take careóright now youíre just a bystander.                              
   Thatís easy. But later, when youíve had your fill                                    
   of that disease of his by living with it,
   you may no longer stand by what youíve said.

   That will not happen. Youíll never have just cause
   to make that charge against me.

                                                     Well, Iíd be shamed
   if this stranger found me less prepared than you
   to work on his behalf. So come on, then,
   if it seems right to you, letís put to sea.
   The man should start his trip without delay.
   Our ship will take him. We will not refuse.                                  
   May the gods grant we safely leave this land 
   and sail from here wherever we may choose.

   What a glorious day! O you sweet man,                                                  
   and you dear sailors, I wish there was a way
   to show you how youíve made me your true friend!
   Letís be gone, my lad, once weíve kissed the ground
   in ritual farewell to my home in there,
   that was no home, so you can also learn
   how I sustained myself, how I was born
   with a determined heart. For I believe                                           
   the very sight of it would have convinced
   anyone but me to give up this ordeal.
   But from necessity Iíve had to learn
   to bear such misery.

[Philoctetes starts to lead Neoptolemus up to his cave]

                                                        Wait a moment! 
   Two men are coming. We should talk to them.
   Oneís a sailor from your ship, the other one                                           
   a stranger. Letís hear what they may have to say.
   Then you can go inside.

[A sailor enters, leading a spy disguised as a Merchant]

                                                             Son of Achilles,
   I asked my companion here, who was on watch,
   guarding your ship with two other sailors,                                    
   to tell me where I might run into you.
   I did not intend to have this meeting,
   since I was driven to this very coast
   by chance. Iíve been sailing my own ship
   without much company on my way home,
   back from Troy to wine-rich Peparethus.
   But once I heard that all these sailors here                                             
   were from your crew, it seemed a good idea
   to say something, not to resume my trip,
   until Iíd talked to you and then received                                       
   a fair reward. You may not understand
   some matters which concern youóthe Argives
   have new things in store for you, not just plans
   but actions theyíve already set in motion,
   no longer mere ideas.

                                          If Iím a worthy man,
   stranger, this favour you are doing for me
 by your concern will make me your good friend. 
   So tell me of these things you spoke about.
   I need to understand just what you know
   about the latest schemes the Argives have.                                   
770      [560]

   Old Phoenix and the sons of Theseus 
   have set sail with a naval escortó
   theyíre coming after you.

                          To take me back by force,
   or to persuade me to return with them?

   I donít know. Iím here to tell you what I heard.

   Are Phoenix and his comrades on the ship
   so keen to do a favour for those men,
   the sons of Atreus?

                                         †††  You can be sure
   theyíre doing it, not wasting any time.

   How come Odysseus was not prepared                                         
   to make this trip and bring the news himself?
   Did some fear hold him back?

                                     He was getting ready,                                               
   along with Tydeusí son, to apprehend
   some other man, just as I was leaving.

   What kind of person was Odysseus chasing?

   He was a man. . . 

[The Merchant pauses and nods towards Philoctetes]

                                         . . . but first of all tell me
   who this man is. And keep your voice down
   when you speak.

                               This man here in front of you,
   stranger, is the famous Philoctetes

   Then question me no more. Get out of here.                                 
   Sail from this place as quickly as you can.

   Whatís he saying, my boy? Why is this sailor
   trying to haggle with you about me
   in the shadows?

                           I donít know what he means.                                             
   But what he says, he must speak openly,
   to me, to you, and to the crew, as well.

   Seed of Achilles, donít make the army
   angry at me for saying what I should not,
   since I get many benefits from them
   as payback for the services I give,                                                   
   the sorts of things a poor man carries out.

   Those sons of Atreus are my enemies.
   This man hates them, tooóthatís the reason
   heís my greatest friend. Youíve come here
   out of a sense of comradeship with me,
   so when you speak, you must not hide from us
   anything you heard.

                               Think of what youíre doing.

   I have been thinking of that for some time.

   Iíll hold you responsible. . . .                                                                      

                                         All right. Speak up.

   Then Iíll explain it to you. That man thereó                                
   heís the one the two of them are chasing,
   those men I spoke of, cruel Odysseus
   and Diomedes, son of Tydeus.
   Theyíve sworn an oath to sail and bring him back,
   either by persuading him with reasons
   or by overpowering force. All Achaeans
   clearly heard Odysseus when he said that.
   He was confident theyíd be successful,
   much more than his comrade Diomedes.

   Why were the sons of Atreus so keen                                             
   after all this time to redirect their thoughts
   onto this man, whom theyíd kept in exile                                               
   for so many years. Whatís got hold of them?
   What do they want? Or is it some power
   from the gods, a force of retribution,
   making them pay for evils they have done?

   Thatís something you have probably not heard,
   so Iíll explain it all. There was a prophetó
   his name was Helenusóof noble birth,
   a son of Priam. One night Odysseus,                                              
   who has a reputation for deceit
   and every kind of shame, went out alone
   and used his trickery to capture him.
   Odysseus tied him up and brought him back,
   then put him on display among the Argives,
   like a splendid captured beast. Well, Helenus
   foretold all sorts of thing to them and then,                                           
   he made this prophecy concerning Troyó
   theyíd never smash its mighty citadel
   unless they could persuade Philoctetes,                                        
   reason with him, and lead him back to Troy
   from the island which he now inhabits.
   Once heíd heard this prophecy from Helenus,
   Odysseus quickly promised heíd get him
   and show him to the Argives. He believed
   heíd bring Philoctetes with his consentó
   that was the likeliest scenarioó
   but if he was unwilling, heíd use force.
   And then he said if he did not succeed,
   anyone who wished should cut his head off.                                 
   Now, boy, youíve heard it all, and Iíd advise                                           
   that you and anyone you care about
   act now without delay.

                                       Thatís bad news for me.
   Has that man, that source of every injury,
   sworn that heíll convince me to return,
   go back to the Achaeans? If I do,
   once Iím dead Iíll be persuaded to rise up
   into the light from Hades, just the way
   his father did.

                                 I donít know about all that.
   But Iím going back to my own ship. I pray                                     
   that somehow god brings you the best of help.

[Exit Merchant]

   My boy, donít you think it is extremely odd
   Odysseus would ever entertain the hope
   his reassuring words could bring me back,
   lead me from his ship, and then show me off
   there in the middle of the Argives. No!                                                    
   Iíd rather listen to my greatest foe,
   the worst of all, the snake that crippled me
   and made me what I am. That Odysseus
   will say anything and attempt them all.                                        
   So now I know heís sailing to this place.
   Come, my lad we should get going from here,
   so thereís a wider stretch of sea between us
   and Odysseusí ship. Letís go. Well-timed haste
   brings sleep and rest after the work is done.

   Weíll set sail when the wind stops blowing in
   right at our bow. Its course is now against us.                                        

   But the moment one is fleeing trouble
   is always the best time to put to sea.

 This wind is blowing in their faces, too.                                 880

   Thereís no wind can hold back any pirates
   when theyíre intent of plundering and theft
   and using force.

                                     Well, if thatís what you think,
   then letís be off, once youíve taken from in there
   the things you need or really want to keep.

   Some things are necessary, but not much.

   Whatís there that we wonít have on board my ship?

   I have a certain herb I always use,
   the most effective treatment for this wound                                          
   until it is completely cured.

                                                         Bring that.                                     
   Is there something else you want to get?

   Any of the arrows Iíve forgotten
   or overlooked, in case I leave them there
   for someone else to take.

                                 What youíre holding thereó
   is that the famous bow?

                                                         The very one.

   This weapon in my hands is not a substitute.

   Is there some way I could inspect the bow
   more closely, hold it, get a feel for it
 as something sacred?

                                        For you alone, my son,
   Iíll grant this wish and whatever else I can                                    
   thatís in your interest.

                                  Iíd love to hold it,                                                          
   but I want that only if itís lawful.
   If not, you should forget I ever asked.

   What you say, my boy, is just and pious.
   Youíre the only one whoís offered me
   the light of life, the hope that I will see
   the land of Oeta, my aged father,
   and my friends. When I was lying there,
   at my enemiesí feet, you raised me up
   beyond their reach. Take courage. This bow                                 
   is yours to hold and then give back to me,
   the one who gave it to you. You can claim,
   thanks to your virtue, youíre the only man
   whoís touched it. Thatís the reason I myself
   acquired the bowóby acting virtuously.
15                                               [670]

   Iím glad I found you and became your friend.
   A man who knows how to return a favour
   for a favour heís received has proved himself
   a friend more valuable than all possessions.
   Please go inside.

                                Iíll go in there with you.                                       
   My sick condition craves your company.

[Philoctetes and Neoptolemus enter the cave together]

   Though I never saw it happen,
   I have heard the distant rumour
   how a man once stole into
   the marriage bed of Zeusóand then
   how the mighty son of Cronos
   lashed him to a whirling wheel.
   But from all Iíve heard and seen                                                                
   I know no other mortal man
   whoís run into a fate as harsh                                                          
   as has Philoctetes, a man
   who did no wrong to anyone
   by thievery or violence,
   but acted fairly towards those
   who treated him respectfully,
   and then, without deserving it,
   he was abandoned here to die.
   Amazement seizes me to think
   how, as he listened by himself
   to breakers crashing on the shore,                                                  
   he somehow kept a hold on life,                                                               
   which brought him so much pain.

   He had no neighbour but himself
   and lacked the power to walk. No one
   for a companion in the place
   throughout his illness, no one there
   to answer him with sympathy
   when he cried out against the plague
   that ate his flesh and made him bleed,
   no one to gather healing leaves                                                       
   when he succumbed to an attack,
   to take them from the fertile earth                                                           
   and staunch the burning streams of blood
   oozing from the ulcerous sores
   on his wounded foot. No. He crept
   back and forth, crawling like a child
   with no dear nurse attending him,
   to any place where he might find
   relief to ease his pain, and then
   his all-consuming agonies                                                                
   eventually would subside.

   And he could not collect his food
   by taking what the earth provides
   or any other nourishment
   for those of us who feed ourselves
   with our own work, except those times                                                   
   he eased his hunger with a meal
   he got himself with feathered arrows
   from his swiftly striking bow.
   Heís lived a miserable life,                                                               
   without the joy of succouring wine,
   but always for the past ten years
   heís had to look around and find 
   whatever puddles he could reach.

   But now, with all these troubles past,
   heíll find success and happiness.                                                               
   Heís met a noble familyís son
   whoíll take him, after all this time,
   aboard his own seaworthy boat
   and sail to his ancestral home,                                                        
   the place where nymphs of Malis dwell,
   along Spercheius river banks,
   where, high up on Oetaís heights,
   that bronze-shield warrior rose up,
   and moved up to the gods, ablaze
   in his own fatherís sacred fire.

 [NEOPTOLEMUS and PHILOCTETES come out from the cave. PHILOCTETES is carrying his bow and is in obvious pain]

   Letís move out of here, if thatís what you desire.                                   
   Why are you so silent? Thereís no need for that.
   Have you been paralyzed? 

                         Aaiiii . . . aaiii.

   Whatís wrong?

                                 Itís nothing serious, my boy.                              
   Just keep going.

                                                     Are you in agony
   from that disease which always bothers you?

   No, no.
 I think itís better now. O you gods!

   Why scream like that and call out to the gods?

   For them to come to me in person . . . save me . . .
   Aaaiiiiii! . . . Aaaaaaiiiiii!!! . . . Aaaaaiiiiiiiiii!

   Whatís troubling you now? Why not speak up?                                     
   Why donít you tell me? Itís obvious enough
   youíre in some kind of pain.

                                                  Iím done for, my boy.
   I canít conceal this dreadful thing from you . . .                            
   Aaiiii . . . It goes right through me . . . shooting pains.
   Itís horrible . . . Iím in such agony!
   Iím being destroyed, my lad, eaten up . . .
   O my god . . . my god . . . such awful pain!
   O my boy, if you have got a sword at hand
   by the gods, I beg you, slice my foot off, 
   here, where my leg ends. Amputate it now!
   Donít worry about my life. Do it, my boy!                                               

   What new pain makes you scream so suddenly?
   Why groan and cry like this?

                                          You know, my son.                                     

   What is it?

                           My boy, you know the reason.

   No, I donít. Whatís wrong with you?

   How could you not know? Aaaaiiiii!

   Itís the agonizing weight of your disease.

   Thatís right . . . the pain . . . itís indescribable.
   Have pity on me!

                                 What shall I do?

   Donít grow afraid and just give up on me.
   The disease attacks me only now and then,
   perhaps when it has finished roaming elsewhere.

   Alas, youíve had such a tormented life,                                          
   poor man, it seems youíve really suffered                                               
   every kind of trouble. What do you want?
   Can I help you up? Do you need my hand?

 Donít do that. But take this bow for meó
   you just asked if I would let you hold it.
   Make sure you guard it well. Keep it safe,
   until this present fit from my disease
   gets less intense. Once the pain relents,
   Iíll be overcome with sleepóit wonít leave
   before that time, so let me rest in peace.                                       
   If those two men get here while Iím asleep,
   donít give them the bowóno, by the gods,                                             
   I tell you donítónot of your own free will,
   or without wanting to, or through a trickó
   you may get yourself destroyed and me,
   and Iím your suppliant.

                                                                   Donít worry.
   Iíll be careful. No oneís hands will touch the bow
   but yours and mine. Let me take it from you,
   and may it bring good luck!

                                                    Here, lad, take it.
   Give the godsí jealousy due reverence,                                           
   in case this bow brings you much suffering,
   as it has me and the man who owned it
   before I did.

                     Gods grant us both successó
   a prosperous quick trip to any place                                                        
   we come to on our trip which god thinks right.

PHILOCTETES [still in great pain]
   My boy, Iím afraid your prayers are useless.
   Dark red blood is dripping down, oozing out
   from deep within my sore, and I expect
   thereíll be new attack. Aiiiii . . . aaaiii . . . 
   itís really bad . . . this accursed foot . . .                                          
   it keeps tormenting me  . . . creeping up my limb . . .
   itís almost here . . . aaiii, it hurts so much . . .
   You know whatís going onódonít abandon me,                                     
   donít leave . . . aaaaiiiii . . . Ah, Odysseus,
   you who were once my guest, how I now wish
   you were in such agony, with pains like this
   driving through your chest! Itís hard for me . . .
   Aaaaiii . . . it strikes again! You two commandersó
   you, Agamemnon and Menelaus,
   may this disease feed on the pair of you                                        
   instead of me and for as many years . . .
   Itís too much for me . . . O death, death,
   here I keep calling for you all the time.
   Why canít you ever come? O noble boy,
   my child, my welcome friend, take
 me away,
   and burn me in that famous Lemnian fire.
19                                            [800]
   I thought it right to do that service once
   for Zeusí sonóand in return I got
   those weapons you are holding for me now. 
   What do you say, lad? What do you say?                                       
   Why so quiet? Whatís on your mind, my son?

   I feel so sorry for youówhat youíre going through
   has for a long time now disturbed me.

   Donít worry about that, my lad. Cheer up.
   These fits are nasty but they pass off soon.
   So I beg you not to leave me here alone.

   Donít be afraid. Weíll stay.                                                                         

                                      You will not leave?

   You can be sure of it.

                                                           Well, my lad, 
   I donít think itís fair to make you swear to it.

   Thereís no need. It would be against the law                                
   for me to go without you.

                                     Give me your handó
   a pledge of trust.

                  I will stay. Hereís my pledge.

[NEOPTOLEMUS and PHILOCTETES shake hands. Then a new fit attacks PHILOCTETES, and he falls to his knees]

   Take me back . . . in there.

                            Where do you mean?

PHILOCTETES [indicating the opening to the cave above them]
   Up there . . . in there!

NEOPTOLEMUS [grabbing Philoctetes]
                                                                  Is this another fit?
   Why roll your eyes up at the sky?

                                                            Let go!
   Get your hands away from me!

                                                If I do,
   where will you go?

                           Take your hands off me! 

   I wonít do that, I tell you.

                                                Youíll kill me
   if you keep grabbing me!

                                                 All right, Iíll let go,
   if you really think thatís better for you.                                         

   Iím close to deathóO Earth, embrace me now
   these fits wonít let me stand up any more.                                              

[PHILOCTETES collapses prone on the ground]

   I think sleep will overcome him soon.
   His head is sinking back. His whole body
   is soaked in sweat, and a black flow of blood
   has burst through on his heel. Leave him alone,
   my friends, so he can fall asleep.

   O Sleep who knows no pain,
   sweet Sleep so free of suffering,
   come to us with joy, my king,                                                          
   and bring him happiness.
   Hold before his eyes that light                                                                  [830]
   which shines
 around them now.
   Come down, I pray, and heal him.

   My son, think about where you are right now
   and how you sort out where we go from here.
   Do you not see him there? Heís asleep. Letís act.
   Why hesitate? For Opportunity,
   which takes everything into account,
   often wins decisively in one quick blow.                                       

NEOPTOLEMUS [looking down at sleeping Philoctetes]                  
   He cannot hear a thing. But even so, 
   I know if we set off without this man,                                                      
   weíll have hunted down this bow in vain.
   The crown of victory belongs to himó
   the god instructed us to lead him back.
   Weíll bring disgrace and shame upon ourselves,
   boasting of what we did, when the result
   was incomplete and when we lied, as well.

   But the god will see to that, my boy.
   And when you answer me again                                                      
   you must whisper to me, lad,
   speak softly when you talk.
   In sickness all menís slumber
   is not real sleepóit has keen eyes.
   I think you should use the utmost care,
   doing everything within your power,
   and take that bowóa major prize.                                                           
   Take it without alerting him.
   If you hold to what you intend for himó
   and you know clearly what I meanó                                              
   then there are surely going to be
   some desperate problems facing us,
   which a shrewd man could well foresee.
   Now, lad, a fair wind blows you on your course,
   this manís eyes are closed, his weaponís gone,
   and heís stretched out in a dark sleepó
   and in this heat a man sleeps soundly.
   He canít control his hands or feet,                                                            
   like someone lying with Hades.
   So think if what youíve talked about                                              
   is practical. Consider that. My boy,
   as far as I can grasp whatís happening,
   the finest action is the one
   where thereís nothing to fear.

   Keep quiet, I tell you. Donít lose your wits.
   Heís opening his eyesóraising his head.

[Philoctetes wakes up and struggles to stand and look around him]

   Ah, to sleep and then to see the daylight
   and friendly people watching out for me,
   a sight beyond my fondest hopes! My boy,
   I never would have thought youíd do thisó                                  
   remain here with such sympathy and wait                                              
   to help me until my fit was over.
   Those fine generals, the sons of Atreus,
   you can be sure, would not have done that,
   not so readily. But your nature, lad,
   is goodóyouíve got a noble ancestry.
   So you bore all these troubles easily,
   the cries of pain and the appalling stench.
   And now it looks as if I can forget
   this illness and rest awhile. So, my boy,                                        
   lift me up. Help me to my feet, lad.
   When I recover from this dizziness,                                                          
   weíll go to the ship and sail without delay.

   Iím glad to see youíre still alive, breathing
   without that pain. What I was expecting
   was something elseóin your endless suffering
   your symptoms made you look as if youíd died.
   Now you should get up. Or, if you prefer,
   these men will carry you. Itís no trouble,
   since you and I agree what weíre to do.                                          

   Thanks, my lad. Why not help me up yourself,
   as you were going to? Leave the men alone,                                           
   so they donít get upset by the foul smell
   before they have to. It will be hard enough
   for them to be on board the ship with me.

   All right, then. Iíll take hold of you. Stand up.

   Donít worry. Iíll do what I always do
   to get up on my feet.

[PHILOCTETES struggles with great difficulty to stand up. NEOPTOLEMUS watches him]

                                                This is dreadfuló
   what am I supposed to do at this point?

   What is it, lad? Those words sound out of place.                         

   I donít know how I need to frame my words . . .
   Itís so confusing . . .

                                         Youíre confused? 
   No, no, my boy, donít say such things.

   The position Iím in . . . it makes me feel like that.

   The disgust you feel about my sicknessó                                               
   surely that feeling has not persuaded you
   not to take me on your ship?

                                                  When a man
   abandons his own nature and then acts
   against his character, all things are dreadful.

   But you, at least, by helping a good man                                              
   have not been doing or saying anything
   your father wouldnít have done.

                                                    Iíll be dishonoredó
   thatís the thought that keeps tormenting me.

   No, not because of what youíre doing now.
   But the way youíre talking has me worried.

   O Zeus, what do I do? Will I be disgraced
   twice overóhiding what I should not hide
   and forfeiting my honour with my words?

   Unless Iíve judged this situation badly,                                                   
   this manís intending to betray meó                                              
   heíll leave me here and sail away.

   I wonít abandon you. Iíll take you with me,
   but youíll really find the trip distressing.
   All this time thatís whatís been troubling me.

   What do you mean, my boy? I do not understand.

   I wonít conceal a thing. You must sail to Troy,
   back to the Achaeans and the army
   led by those sons of Atreus.

                                                         O no!
   What are you saying?

                                    Donít start wailing,
   not until you learn what itís about.                                                 

PHILOCTETES                                                                      &nbs p;                
   Whatís there to learn? What are you doing with me?

   First, Iím saving you from this awful place.
   And then Iím going with you to plunder Troy.                                        

   And that is what you really mean to do?

   Thereís a powerful necessity at work
   controlling these events. Keep your temper
   when you hear the story.

                                                          Iím done for . . . 
   betrayed . . . this is appalling! You stranger,
   why have you done this to me? My bowó
 it back to me right now!

                                                  I canít do that.                                      
   Both my duty and my own self-interest
   compel me to obey those in command.

   You destructive fire . . . you total monster . . . 
   you hateful masterpiece of fearful treacheryó
   what youíve done to me, how youíve betrayed me!
   Arenít you ashamed to look at me, a man
   who was your suppliant, who begged your mercy?                                
   You wretch! When you deprive me of my bow,
   you take away my life. So hand it back.
   Iím begging you. Please, my lad, return it.                                     
   By your fathersí gods, donít rob me of my life!

[NEOPTOLEMUS remains silent and cannot look at PHILOCTETES]

   This is atrocious! Heís not speaking to me.
   He wonít even look me in the eye,
   as if heíll never give me back my bow.
   O you bays and headlands, you mountain beasts,
   whoíve been part of my life, you jagged rocks,
   to you I callóthereís no one else to hear me.
   So to you, my customary companions,
   I cry out what this boy has done to me,                                                   
   Achillesí son, who made me a promise                                          
   heíd take me home and who now leads me off
   to Troy. With his right hand he pledged his word,
   then took my bow and keeps it for himself,
   the sacred bow of Hercules, Zeusí son,
   which he desires to show off to the Argives.
   Heís taking me by force, as if I were
   some mighty warrioróhe doesnít realize
   heís destroying a corpse, a smoky shadow,
   no more than a mere ghost. If I were strong,
   heíd not have captured meóeven as it is,                                      
   with me in this condition, heíd not prevail
   except by trickery. Itís my harsh fate.
   My hopes have been betrayed. What should I do?
   Give back the bow. Return to who you are,                                             [950]
   to your true character.
 What do you say?                                      
   Youíre silent, and Iím a wretched nothing!
   Iíll go back once again to you, my rock
   with your two entrances, but unarmed now,
   without a way to get my nourishment.
   And in this cave Iíll waste away alone,                                           
   unable to bring down with my arrows
   birds on the wing or beasts that roam the hills.
   Instead Iíll die a miserable death.
   Now Iím a feast for those I used to feed on,
   the prey of those I hunted down before.
   Iíll pay a full reprisal with my life,
   my dismal life, for those whose lives I took,
   thanks to a man who looked as if he had                                                
   no sense of evil. May you perish, too!
   But no, not quite yet, not before I see                                            1270
   if you will change your mind again.
 If not,
   I hope you die a truly wretched death!

   What shall we do? Itís up to you, my king,
   whether we sail off now or else comply
   with what heís asking.

                                   Pity for this man,
   a dreadful pity, has come over me,
   and itís not something new. No. Iíve felt it
   for a long time now.

                                             By the gods, my boy,
   have mercy on me. Donít give people cause
   to criticize you for deceiving me.                                                    

   No, not that! What am I going to do?
   I wish Iíd never sailed away from Scyros!                                                 
   Whatís going on here is just too painful.

   Youíre not an evil man, but it seems to me
   you came here after learning shameful things
   from wicked men. Leave bad deeds to others,
   those fit to act that way, and sail from here.
   But first give me my weapon.

                                                   You men,
   what shall we do? 

[Enter ODYSSEUS with a small escort of armed sailors. PHILOCTETES does see him immediately]

                                                    What are you doing,
   you traitor? Come back here. Give me that bow.                          

   Whoís that? Do I hear Odysseusí voice?

ODYSSEUS [stepping forward]
   Yes, it is Odysseus. Now you can grasp
   the way things are. Iím here. See for yourself.

   Alas, Iíve been betrayed. Iím being destroyed.
   So heís the one who really caught me out
   and stole my weapons.

                                    That right. Itís was me                                               
   and no one else. I will acknowledge that.

   Give me the bow, boy. Hand it over.

   He wonít do it, even if he wants to.
   No. Youíve got to come along with me.                                          
   If not, these men will take you off by force.

   Of all evil men, you are the nastiestó
   and boldest, too. Theyíll take me in by force?

   Yes, unless you come of your own free will.

   O Lemnos and you all-powerful flames
   lit by Hephaestus, can you endure thisó
   that this man will compel me now to leave?

   I tell you itís Zeus who rules this country.
   Yes, Zeus. And this has been ordained by Zeus.                                     
   I am his servant.

                                          You despicable man,                                  
   you just invent the things you wish to say,
   and by making claims about the gods,
   you turn them into liars.                                                                  

                                                    No, I donít. 
   They speak the truth. We have to go.

                                                             I wonít.

   But I say you will. You have to obey.

   This is all so shamefulóitís clear enough
   my father conceived in me a slave
   and no free man.

                  Youíre wrong. He made a man
   to be just like the finest warriors
   with whom youíre going to capture Troy by force                        
   and then destroy it.

                                Iíll never do it,
   not even if I have to undergo                                                           
   every kind of torment, not while I stand
   with these steep island rocks below me.                                                 

                              What will you do?

   Iíll throw myself directly from this cliff
   and smash my head in on the stone down there.

ODYSSEUS [to his attendants]
Grab him, you two! Donít let him do that!

[The two sailors rush up and grab Philoctetes by his arms]

   O my arms, what suffering you must bear
   because you lack that bow you cherish so!
   Now youíve become a tied-up captive beast,                                
   thanks to this man. And you, who cannot think
   a healthy thought that suits a man whoís free,
   youíve sneaked up and snagged me once again,
   using this young lad, whom I didnít know,
   to be your screen. Though heís too good for you,
   heís someone worthy of my companyó
   he only thought of following his orders,                                                  
   and heís already showing his remorse
   for mistakes heís made and what Iíve suffered.
   Your vicious spirit, always peering out                                          
   from secret hiding places, trained him well                                  
   to be adept in acting with deceit,
   though that was not his nature or his wish.
   And now, you wretch, you mean to tie me up
   and take me from the very shore where once
   you left me by myselfówithout a friend,
   without a cityófor all living men
   nothing but a corpse. Ah, I hope you die!
   Iíve often prayed that death would come for you.
   But gods have granted nothing sweet to me,                                
1350     [1020]
   so you remain alive and keep on laughing,
   while I am suffering pain and living on
   with so much agony, a laughing stock
   for you and those two sons of Atreus,
   those generals you serve in doing this,
   although you only sailed away with them
   once youíd been forced under their yoke by tricks
   and by compulsion. But I sailed with them
   of my own free will, bringing seven ships.
   A complete disaster! They threw me out,                                      
   off the ship, like someone with no honour.
   You say they did it. They say it was you.
   So why are you now taking me away?
   Why am I going with you? Whatís the reason?
   Iím nothing, and, so far as youíre concerned,                                           
   for a long time Iíve been dead. How is it,
   you creature whom the gods despise, that now
   you do not view me as a stinking cripple?
   If I sail with you, how will you then
   make holy sacrifices anymore?                                                        
   Or pour libations? That was your excuse
   for throwing me ashore back then. I hope
   you die a disgusting death! And you will,   
   for the evil things youíve done to hurt me,
   if the gods have any sense of justice.
   I know they are concerned about these things.
   You never would have sailed on such a trip,
   all for the sake of such a wretched man,
   unless some god-sent spur was pricking you
   to come and get me. O land of my fathers,                                    
1380     [1040]
   you gods who gaze on what we mortals do,
   if you pity me, bring on your vengeance,
   and, after these long years, pay them all back.
   My life deserves your pity. If I could see
   them killed, Iíd think I was no longer sick.

   What the stranger said was harsh, Odysseusó
   his troubles have not eased his bitterness.

   I could go on and answer him at length,
   if I had time. Thereís only one thing now
   Iíll say to him. Iím the kind of man                                                 
   who adapts himself to each occasion.
   So, faced with being judged by good, fair men,                                       
   youíd find no one more pious than myself.
   By nature Iím a man who needs to win
   in everythingóhowever, not with you.
   So now Iíll happily defer to you.
   Let him go. Thereís no longer any need
   for you to hold him. Let him remain here.
   We have Teucer with us, a skilled archer.
   So am I, and I believe itís possible                                                  
   for me to use this bow no worse than youó
   my hand can aim it just as well as yours.
   So why do we need you? Enjoy yourself                                                   
   strolling here on Lemnos. Weíll be on our way.
   Your prize may quickly bring me honours
   which should belong to you.

                                                         No, not that!
   You are going to march among the Argives
   equipped with weapons which belong to me?

   Donít argue with me anymore. Iím going.

   Son of Achilles, am I going to hear                                                  
   your voice say anything to me? Are you
   about to leave without another word? 

ODYSSEUS [to Neoptolemus]
   Move on. Donít look at him. You may well be
   a noble man, but donít ruin our good luck.

PHILOCTETES [to the Chorus]
And you, my guests, will you leave me like this                                     [1070]
   and not feel pity?

                                           The boy commands our ship.
   What he says to youóthatís what we say, as well.

NEOPTOLEMUS [to the Chorus]
Odysseus will say I am too sensitiveó
   but you stay here, if thatís all right with him,
   until the sailors have prepared the ship                                         
   and we have offered prayers up to the gods.
   Philoctetes may quickly change his mind
   and soon think better of us. But we two
   are leaving now. When we call for you,                                                    
   make sure you leave from here at once.

[Neoptolemus and Odysseus leave]

PHILOCTETES [addressing his cave]
   You cavern in this hollow rock,
   always freezing cold or else too hot.
   In my illness, then, it does seem true,
   itís never been my fate to leave you,
   and so youíll also watch me die.                                                      
   Alas, for me! Yes, for me!
   Sad cave so full of painful cries
   wrung from me in my agony,
   what will each day bring to me now?
   Where will I find my nourishment                                                            
   or any hope of getting food?
   Wild pigeons will cross overhead 
   and fly on past through piercing windsó
   I can no longer shoot them down.

   Youíve brought this on yourself,                                                      
   ill-fated manóyour grievous luck
   arises from no other source,
   nor from a man with greater strength.
   You could have been more sensible.
   But noóyouíd rather have a grimmer fate
   when you might have chosen better.                                                        

   Then Iím a miserable man,
   truly miserable, beaten down
   by hardships Iíve been through.           
   So from now on Iíll live and die,                                                      
   a suffering man, with no one else.
   Alas, for all my pain!
   I can no longer bring my food
   to where I dwell, no longer
   can I hold my feathered weapons
   in my strong hands. A crafty mind
   has tricked me with deceiving lies.
   I wish that I might see the man
   who planned this scheme condemned
   to bear my pain for just as long!                                                      

   This is your fate set by the gods.
   Youíve not been tricked by hands of mine.
   So aim your dreadful fatal curse                                                                
   at other men. What most concerns me
   is if you now cease to be my friend.

   Alas for me! I see him nowó
   sitting beside the salt white ocean shore,
   laughing at me, as he waves the bow
   which fed me in my wretched life,
   which no one else had ever held.                                                     
   O my lovely bow, my friend,
   wrenched from these loving hands,
   if you had power to understand,                                                               
   youíd feel such pity as you looked on me,
   for Herculesí friend no more
   will from now on be using you.
   Another man will handle you,
   a man of much deceit. Youíll see
   his shameless tricks, his hateful face,
   that enemy whom I despise,                                                            
   whose plans have injured me so much,
   the effects of his disgraceful skill.
   O Zeus!

                A man should say whatís right and useful,                                 
   and, as he does, his tongue should never speak
   malicious, hurtful slurs. Odysseus
   was made the single representative
   for many men, and, at their command,
   has brought his friends a common benefit.

   You feathered birds, you flocks of bright-eyed beasts
   who graze up on the hillside slopes,                                               
   no longer will you spring from me
   and run away from your own dens.                                                           
   My hands no longer grip those shafts
   which gave me power before,
   and now my plight is desperate.
   Youíre free to roam around at will,
   with nothing more to make you fear.
   And now you should take blood for blood,
   yes, take your time and gorge yourself 
   on my contaminated flesh.                                                               
   My life Iíll give up soon enough.
   Where can I find my nourishment?
   For who can feed himself on winds,                                                         
   once he no longer has those things
   which earth, who gives us life, provides?

   If you feel you can respect
   a stranger who comes up to you
   with all good will, then, by the gods, 
   approach the man more closely.                                                      
   But know thisóand keep it well in mindó                                  
   itís up to you to evade that fate.
   To nourish it with your own flesh
   is pitiful, and thereís no way
   you can endure the countless pains
   that live within your body.

   You remind me one more time again
   of that old agonizing thought,                                                                   
   though you are nicer than those men
   who visited this place before.
   Why have you destroyed my life?                                                   
   What have you done to me?

   What do you mean?

   You hoped to take me off to Troy,
    a land which I despise.

   I think that would be best.

   Then go away. Leave me at once.

   Well, thatís all right with meóin fact,
   I like the order you just gave.
   Iíll do it willingly. Letís go.
   Letís be offóand every sailor move                                                
1530     [1180]
   to his own station onboard ship. 

[The CHORUS turns and starts moving off]

   No, donít go. Iím begging you,
   in the name of Zeus, the god
   who hears menís curses.

                                           Calm down.

   O strangers, by the gods, stay here.

   Why are you calling?

                                           Aaaaiiii . . . aaaaiiii . . . 
   That demonís killing me . . . savage god . . . 
   my foot . . . this foot of mine . . . 
   how shall I deal with you
   in what remains to me of life?                                                         
   O friends, return to me again.                                                                   
   Come back!

                                   What should we do?
   Do you have something else in mind
   that alters what you said before?  

   You should not grow indignant
   when someone in a storm of pain
   says things that make no sense.

   Then, you unhappy man, come with us,
   as we are asking you.

                                               Never! Never!
   That you can be sure of! No, not even                                            
   if the lord of blazing lightning comes
   ready to blast me with his fiery thunder.
   Damn Troy and all those warriors there,                                                 
   before the city, who dared throw away
   this poor lame foot of mine. But, friends,
   please grant me one request I have.

   What request is that?

                                   Give me a sword,
   if you have one there, or else an axeó
   any weapon will do.

                                 What is your plan? 
   Some drastic act?

                                           Hack at my flesh                                        
   and cut these bones apart, all of them.
   To die, yes, my mind now thinks on death.

   But why do that?                                                                                    &nb sp;     

                                To find my father.

   Where does he live?

                                             He is in Hades.
   He cannot still be living in the light.
   O my city, city of my fathers,
   how I wish that I could see you nowó
   I brought myself such misery
   the day I left your sacred river, 
   to help Danaans, my enemies.                                                         
   Iím nothing anymore, nothing.

[PHILOCTETES exits into his cave, leaving the CHORUS alone on stage]

   Iíd have left you here some time ago
   and gone back to my ship, if Iíd not seen
   Odysseus coming and bringing with him                                                
   Achillesí son. Theyíre getting close to us.

[Enter NEOPTOLEMUS and ODYSSEUSNEOPTOLEMUS is still carrying Philoctetesí bow and arrows]

   Why are you coming back along this path
   at such a rapid pace?

                                 I was wrong before.
   I have to fix all those mistakes I made.

   You sound odd. What mistakes are those?

   When I obeyed you and the entire army.                                       

   What error did you make that shamed you so?

   I used disgraceful lies and sly deceit
   to catch a man.

                                      What sort of man? Oh, oh.
   Are you devising some foolhardy scheme?

   No, nothing rash.
  But with Poeasí son . . .                                               [1230]

ODYSSEUS [interrupting]
   What are you going to do? A certain fear
   has just occurred to me . . . 

                           . . . whose bow I took . . .
   return it.

                            By Zeus, what are you saying?
   You donít intend to hand it back to him?

 I got it in a shameful manner,                                                  1590
   and itís not right for me to keep it.

   By the gods, are you saying this to mock me?

   Only if itís mockery to speak the truth.

   Son of Achilles, what are you saying?
   What do you mean?

                                                        †† Do I really need
   to say the same thing two or three times over?

   I did not want to hear it even once.

   Well, you must clearly understand it nowó                                           
   for youíve heard all I have to say.         

                                             There are those
   who will prevent you carrying that out.                                         

   What are you saying? Who will try to stop me?

   The whole Achaean armyóincluding me.

   You were born wise, but thereís no wisdom now
   in what you say.

                                        But these words of yours
   and what you plan to do are most imprudent.

   But if theyíre right, then theyíre more powerful
   than wisdom.

                                      How can it be right and just,
   to give back what you won thanks to my plan?

   I made a mistake and lost my honouró
   I must try to get it back.

                                                    If you do try,                                                
   arenít you afraid of the Achaean troops?                                        

   With justice at my side, I do not fear
   the danger you describe.

                                                          [Your justice!

   My hand will make that justice bend to me.]

   Even so, I wonít obey those arms of yours.
   I wonít do what you ask.

                                      Well, then, our fight
   is not against the Trojans but with you.

   If thatís what it has to be, so be it.

   Do you see my right hand resting on my sword?

   Youíll see me doing the same. I wonít hesitate.                            

   All right, for now Iíll leave you. But Iíll go                 
   and tell the army what is happening here.
   And they will punish you.

                                         Now youíre reasonable.
   If you keep up this frame of mind in future,                                  
   perhaps you will not wander into trouble.                                              

[Odysseus moves away, as if leaving for the ship, but conceals himself and observes what now happens]

NEOPTOLEMUS [calling up to the cave]
   You there, son of Poeas . . . Iím calling you.
   Philoctetes . . . Come out. Leave that rock
   you call your home.

PHILOCTETES [from inside the cave]
                               Now whoís standing there
   making an unruly noise outside the cave?
   Why are you calling me? What do you want?                               

[PHILOCTETES partly emerges from the cave and sees Neoptolemus]

   O no! This is a wretched business.                     
   Are you here to bring me some new trouble
   on top of all the others?

                                                  Donít despair.
   Listen to the news I bring.

                                                          Iím afraid.
   Fine words brought me disaster once before,
   when I trusted what you said.

                                                            But now
   is there no way I can apologize?                                                                

   You used words like that and stole my bow.
   You won my confidence, but secretly
   you worked for my destruction.                                                      

   But now Iím not like that. I wish to learn                  
   whether you want to stay on living here,
   enduring these conditions, or sail with us.

   Stop there. Do not speak any more. Your words
   will all be wasted.

                              You are quite sure of that.

   Yes, I amómore sure than any words can say.

   I wish my words could have persuaded you.
   But if thereís nothing I can say to help,
   then I will stop. 

                           Everything you say is useless.                                            
   Youíll never win my confidence, not now                                      
   youíve taken away my livelihood, robbed me               
   and with a trick. Then you come over here
   to give me your advice, you shameless son
   of such a noble father. May you all dieó
   the sons of Atreus first, then Laertesí son,
   then you.

                        Stop making all those curses,
   and take these weapons from my hand.

   What do you mean? Am I being tricked again?

 I swear by the sacred majesty of Zeus.

   Such welcome words, if what you say is true.                               
1660     [1290]

   My actions will show that. Put out your hand              
   and take your weapons back.

[As Neoptolemus hands the bow to Philoctetes, Odysseus re-emerges from his hiding place and moves forward]

   In the name of the sons of Atreus
   and the whole army, Iím telling you no,
   as gods are witnesses for me!

                                                                My lad,
   who was that speaking? Was it Odysseus?

ODYSSEUS [moving forward]
   Yes. It is me. Now you can see up close
   the man whoíll take you off to Troy by force,
   whether Achillesí son wants that or not.

PHILOCTETES [putting an arrow to his bow string]
That wonít bring you any joy, if this arrow                                    1670
   flies straight, directly to its mark.                       

[ODYSSEUS moves away to hide again. NEOPTOLEMUS grabs PHILOCTETES to stop him shooting his arrow]

   By the gods, donít shoot that arrow off.                                                   

   In the name of the gods, dear lad, let go.

NEOPTOLEMUS [continuing to restrain Philoctetes]
   No, I wonít.

                                   Alas! Why did you spoil
   my chance to use this bow of mine to kill 
   that enemy I hate?

                                                 That would mean disaster
   for both of us, for you and me.

                                                             You should know
   the armyís leaders, lying spokesmen for the Greeks,
   though bold in speech, are cowards in a fight. 

   That may be true. But now you have the bow,                              
   you have no reason to be angry with me                   
   or complain about my conduct.

                                                             I agree.                                                 
   My lad, youíve shown the family lineage
   you sprang from. Your father was not Sisyphus.
   No, you come from Achilles, who, in his life,
   had the finest reputation of them all,
   just as he now has among the dead.

   Iím pleased to hear you praise my father
   and me, as well. But pay attention now
   to what Iíd like from you. Men must endure                                 
   those fortunes given to them by the gods.                  
   But when they insist on injuring themselves,
   the way youíre doing now, then itís not right
   to pity or excuse them. Youíve become                                                    
   a savage man, rejecting all advice.
   If someone whoís a friend of yours speaks up
   and says youíre doing wrong, you hate the man.
   You call him your enemy, a traitor.
   But still, Iíll speak to you, invoking Zeus,
   who punishes the men who break their oaths.                             
   Keep these words in mind. Write them on your heart.
   Youíve been suffering from this affliction
   as fate sent from the gods, because you went
   too close to Chryseís secret sentinel,
   the snake which keeps watch where she lives and guards
   her sacred precinct open to the sky.
   Know this, tooóyou will never find an end
   to this distressful agony of yours,
   not while the sun still rises in the east                                                    
   and then sets in the west, until you come,                                    
   of your own free will, to the Trojan plain,                  
   and there, among us, meet Asclepiusí sons,
   find relief from this disease, and with help
   from me and from that bow be known to all
   as the man who smashed the towers of Troy.
   Iíll tell you how I come to know these things.
   We took a Trojan man called Helenus,   
   an excellent prophet, who clearly states
   these things must happen and, in addition ,
   predicts we will seize Troy this coming summer.                        
1720     [1340]
   If his words prove false, heíll offer himself,                 
   quite willingly, for slaughter.
 And so now
   you understand these things, you should be willing
   to concede. Itís one more splendid honour.
   Youíll be judged the most exceptional man 
   among the Greeksófirst, for coming there
   to hands which healed you, then, more than that,
   for capturing Troy, the source of so much grief.
   Youíll win the very highest fame there is.

   O hateful life, why keep me here above,                                        
   gazing at the light? Why not release me,                   
   send me down to Hades? What shall I do?                                              
   Alas! How can I distrust what this man says?
   Heís giving me advice as a good friend.
   So, then, do I relent? If I do yield,
   how can I, given my unhappy fate,
   appear in public view? Who do I talk to?
   You eyes of mine, whoíve witnessed everything
   Iíve had to go through, how could you bear it,
   to see me socializing with those men,                                           
   the sons of Atreus, who ruined me?                      
   Or with Laertesí all-destroying son?

[Philoctetes addresses Neoptolemus directly]

   Itís not the pain of what I have endured
   that gnaws at meóI seem to see ahead
   all the things Iíll have to suffer from them
   from now on. Once a manís mind has become                                        
   the mother of evil acts, it trains him
   to deceive in everything that follows.
   And in this matter Iím surprised at you.
   You must never return to Troy yourself                                         
   and should prevent me going there. Those men             
   did you an injury by taking away
   your fatherís weapons, when, in that contest
   for his arms, they judged heart-broken Ajax
   inferior to Odysseus. After that,
   will you fight as their ally and force me
   to do so, too? Do not do it, my son,
   but take me home, as you have sworn to do.
   Then you should keep yourself on Scyros
   and leave those evil men to be destroyed                                      
   in their own cruel way. If you do that,                                                      
   youíll get double gratitude from me
   and from my father, too. And you wonít seem
   because of how you helped those wicked men
   to have an inbred nature just like theirs.

   What you say makes good sense. But nonetheless,
   Iíd like you to rely upon the gods
   and my own words and sail away from here
   with me, your friend.

                                   You mean I should set off
   with this disgusting foot to the Trojan plain                                 
   and that abominable son of Atreus?                     

 You should go to those whoíll end the pain
   in that pus-filled foot of yours. Theyíll save you
   from your sickness.

                                   The advice youíre giving                                             
   is frightening me. What are you saying?

   I recognize whatís best for you and me.                                        

   When you say that, you donít feel any shame
   before the gods?

                            How can a man feel shame
   when heís helping out a friend of his?

   Are you talking about some benefit                                               
   for me or for the sons of Atreus?                         

   For you, of course.
 Iím your friend. What I say
   is spoken in friendship.

                                 How can that be true?
   You want to hand me to my enemies.

   My dear man, in such troubles you must learn
   not to be so stubborn.

                                                Youíll ruin me
   with these words of yours. I know that.

   No, I wonít. But you donít understandó
   thatís what Iím saying.

                                             Donít I understand
   how those sons of Atreus threw me aside?                                    
1790     [1390]

   Yes, they cast you off, but you should see                 
   if they will rescue you again.

   Not if I must agree to go to Troy.

   What can I do then, if what I say
   will not convince you? The easiest thing
   for me is to say no more, and then you
   can go on living as youíre doing now,
   without being rescued.

                                      Let me keep suffering
   whatever I must suffer. But those things
   you swore to me, with your right hand in mineó                        
   to take me homeódo that for me, my son,                 
   and donít hold back or keep reminding me                                             
   about Troy any more. Iíve had enough
   of howling lamentations here.

                                                           All right,
   if thatís what you truly want, letís leave.

   Ah, such noble words!

[PHILOCTETES starts to move down from his cave]

                              Plant your feet firmly.

   I willóas firmly as my strength allows.

   How will I escape being blamed for this
   by the Achaeans?

                               Forget about those men.

   What if they destroy my country?

                                        Iíll be there . . .                                               

NEOPTOLEMUS [interrupting]
   What assistance will you give?

                                                      . . . with these arrows                       
   which come from Hercules . . . 

                                     What are you saying?

   Iíll stop them coming in.

                                                  Then letís depart,
   once you have bid your island home farewell.

[HERCULES appears above the stage]25

   Not yet, son of Poeas, not until youíve heard
   the words that I shall utter.
 Know thisó                                                [1410]
   youíre listening to the voice of Hercules
   and youíre gazing on his face. For your sake
   I have left the throne of heaven and come
   to announce to you the purposes of Zeus                                      
   and to stop the journey youíre proposing.                  
   So pay attention now to what I say.
   First, I will inform you of my exploits, 
   for by struggling with so many labours
   and by seeing my work through to the end,
   I won immortal glory for myself,                                                              
   as you can see. As for you, you must know
   it is your destiny that, from these troubles,
   you make your life something men honour.
   With this man you will reach the Trojan city,                               
   where, first, your savage illness will be cured,               
   then youíll be chosen as the finest man
   from all the warriors, and with my bow,
   will cut short the life of Paris, the man
   who is the cause of all this wickedness.
   You will ransack Troy and from the army
   carry off the prize for utmost bravery,
   and take it home with you to Oeta,
   in your native mountains, to the great joy                                              
   of Poeas, your father. Whatever prizes                                           
   you get from the army, select from them                   
   an offering for my bow and carry it
   to my funeral pyre. Son of Achilles,
   this advice Iím giving is for you, as well.
   You are not strong enough to capture Troy
   without this man, and heís not strong enough
   without you there. Like a pair of lions
   stalking prey on common ground, the two of you
   must guard each otherís life. To cure your illness,
   Iíll send Asclepius to Troy, which is doomed                                
   to fall a second time thanks to my arrows.
   But remember thisówhen you lay waste that land,                              [1440]
   show reverence to the gods, for Father Zeus
   thinks of all other things as less than that.
   And when men perish, piety does notó
   whether theyíre alive or dead, it does not die.

   O that voice I have longed to hear, my friend
   who stands revealed to me after so long!
   I will not disobey what you have said.

   And I, too, will consent to this, as well.                                         

   Then do not spend a long time waiting here.                 
   A stern wind will blow to urge you onward.                                           
   The time is right to sail.

                                      All right, then,
   let me salute this land as I depart.
   Farewell, you cave that shared my vigil,
   and farewell, you nymphs of streams and meadows,
   you pounding headlands beaten by the sea,
   where in the inner spaces of my den
   the blasts from South Wind often soaked my head,
   where Mount Hermaea often echoed                                             
1870     [1460]
   the cries I screamed out in my storms of pain.                   
   But now, you Lycian streams and waters,
   I am leaving you, going away at last,
   beyond all hopes I ever entertained.
   Farewell, you sea-encircled land of Lemnos,
   send me away content on a fair voyage,
   to the place ordained by mighty Fate,
   by opinions of my friends, and by the god
   who conquers all and has brought this about.

   Letís all leave in a group, once we have prayed
   to the ocean nymphs, so they will come                                        
1880     [1470]
   and guide us safely on our journey home.

[They all move off together] 



1In the text below the speaking label CHORUS designates all speeches spoken by the Chorus collectively, the Chorus Leader, individual member of the Chorus, and special sub-groups of the entire Chorus. In any production of the play, the director would have to determine the speaker(s) for each speech. [Back to Text]

2The two commanders of the Argive expedition to Troy were the brothers Agamemnon and Menelaus. [Back to Text]

3Dardanus, a son of Zeus, was the legendary founder of Troy. [Back to Text]

4Many Greek warrior leaders had made an oath to assist whichever one of them was lucky enough to marry Helen, daughter of Tyndareus, king of Sparta, if he ever needed their help. When Paris of Troy abducted Helen, her husband, Menelaus, called upon the Achaean leaders to honour their promise by joining an expedition to attack Troy. Odysseus was very reluctant to join the expedition and had to be tricked into going. [Back to Text]

5The Achaean forces had learned by prophecy that they needed Neoptolemus and the bow of Philoctetes to capture Troy. [Back to Text]

6Chryse refers to the nymph who punished Philoctetes with the snake bite for desecrating her shrine. It is also the name of a small island close to Troy. [Back to Text]

7Cephallenia was an island in Odysseusí kingdom, but the name is often applied to his territory generally (and his soldiers are commonly called the Cephallenians).[Back to Text]

8Menelaus is king of Sparta, and Agamemnon is king of Mycenae. Neoptolemus was born and raised on the island of Scyros. [Back to Text]

9Sigeum was a prominent coastal location northwest of Troy. [Back to Text]

10Pactolus was a river in Asia Minor celebrated for its rich deposits of gold. The detail about lions slaughtering bulls seems to suggest (according to Jebb) that the goddess is riding on lions or that her throne is a chariot drawn by lions. [Back to Text]

11Sisyphus, the founder of Corinth, was famous for his devious ways. According to one story very popular among Odysseusí enemies, he was the father of Odysseus and sold his mother to Laertes while Odysseus was still in the womb. Diomedes was a close comrade of Odysseus. [Back to Text]

12Thersites, the only common soldier described in detail in Homerís Iliad, was well known for his abuse of his superiors. He gives a lengthy speech insulting Agamemnon. [Back to Text]

13Tydeusí son is a reference to the famous Greek warrior Diomedes, a frequent companion of Odysseus on various adventures. [Back to Text]

14The reference here is to Sisyphus who ordered his wife not to bury him. When he came to Hades, he complained about his wifeís conduct and was given permission to go back to punish her. Once out of Hades, Sisyphus stayed on earth. Calling Sisyphus the father of Odysseus here is the second reference to the insulting story that Sisyphus sold Odysseus while he was still in his motherís womb to Laertes (see line 5o1 above). [Back to Text]

15The virtuous act Philoctetes is referring to is lighting the funeral pyre for Hercules. [Back to Text]

16The whirling wheel is a reference to Ixion, the first mortal charged with murder. Zeus pardoned his crime. But then Ixion attempted to seduce Zeusí wife Hera in her own bed. Zeus had Ixion tied onto a wheel of fire in Hades. [Back to Text]

17These lines are a reference to Hercules who was burned alive at his own request on top of Mount Oeta. Hercules was a mortal son of Zeus and, because of his amazing exploits, he was taken up into heaven as a god. [Back to Text]

18This is a reference to Hercules, who also suffered a great deal in life and had an agonizing death. Philoctetes is reminding Neoptolemus that whoever owns the bow seems to get punished by the gods who are jealous of any manís possessing such a weapon. [Back to Text]

19Lemnian fire, Jebb notes, seems to be a reference to a volcanic mountain called Mosuchlos on the east coast of Lemnos, near Philoctetesí cave. Hercules was taken up to the top of Mount Oeta by Hyllus, his son, who helped construct the pyre but would not set it alight. Philoctetes did so and, as a reward, got Herculesí bow.[Back to Text]

20The Chorus is advising Neoptolemus to take the bow and leave and thus abandon what he is presently intending (to take Philoctetes on board his ship). The trouble they are talking about is what might happen on board once Philoctetes learns that he is going to Troy rather than back home. For them the easiest course seems to be to take the bow and abandon Philoctetes[Back to Text]

21Philoctetes is contrasting his willingness to go along on the expedition to Troy with Odysseusí reluctance to join in. When the messenger came to enlist his support, Odysseus pretended to be mad, ploughing with an ox and an ass yoked together. The messenger placed Odysseusí infant son in front of the plough. Odysseus stopped before he could injure his son, thus revealing that his madness was a pretense. [Back to Text]

22Teucer, a character in Homerís Iliad, is one of the finest archers in the Greek forces. Archery is not normally a skill associated with the most important warriors, other than Odysseus (in the Odyssey). [Back to Text]

23This short speech of Odysseus is a conjecture based on Jebbís commentary to supply a line which is apparently missing from the manuscript. [Back to Text]

24Asclepius was the Greek hero (or god) associated with medicine. In the Iliad, his sons are the most important healers in the Greek forces at Troy. [Back to Text]

25This sudden appearance of a divine figure near the end of the play (the deus ex machina) may have had Hercules lowered from above or he may have appeared on a platform above the stage. Hercules was a mortal son of Zeus, but after his death he was made a god. [Back to Text]

26Hercules himself had in earlier times attacked the king of Troy, Laomedon, and captured the city.  [Back to Text]



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