Sophocles’ “Philoctetes”
The meaning of the “wound”
in the Hero’s Life and in Our Own

In Greek Mythology, Philoctetes was a hero, famous for his archery. He escorted the Greeks to their famous expedition of the Trojan War, but he was stranded on a deserted island by his comrades and his leaders before they had all arrived in Troy.
According to Sophocles’ Philoctetes, the hero had accidentally stepped on some sacred ground on Chryse, and he had thus been bitten on the foot by a snake. His wound, emanating a horrible odor, had left him in constant agony; so the Greeks, unable to tolerate his anguish, carelessly abandoned him, all alone, on the island of Lemnos.
Ten years later, the Greeks learned from the seer Helenus that they cannot capture Troy without the sacred bow and arrows of Heracles, which were in the possession of Philoctetes. So they sent Odysseus and Achilles’ son Neoptolemus to shamefully force the hero to join them in Troy so that they can use both him and his weapons, which Philoctetes had once received as a gift by showing kindness to Heracles.

In this presentation, we will follow Sophocles’ dramatic treatment of the myth, and we will explore the meaning of the obsessive intensity by which the poet describes the hero’s wound and his loneliness. In doing so, we will seek to understand the symbolic significance of the WOUND not only for the hero’s life but for our own as well.