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By Sophocles
Commentary: Many comments have been posted about Philoctetes.

Download: A 63k text-only version is available for download.


By Sophocles

Written 409 B.C.E

Translated by Thomas Francklin

Dramatis Personae

ULYSSES, King of Ithaca
NEOPTOLEMUS, son of Achilles
PHILOCTETES, son of Poeas and Companion of HERCULES
CHORUS, composed of the companions of ULYSSES and NEOPTOLEMUS


A lonely region on the shore of Lemnos, before a steep cliff in which is the entrance to PHILOCTETES' cave. ULYSSES, NEOPTOLEMUS and an attendant enter.

At length, my noble friend, thou bravest son
Of a brave father- father of us all,
The great Achilles- we have reached the shore
Of sea-girt Lemnos, desert and forlorn,
Where never tread of human step is seen,
Or voice of mortal heard, save his alone,
Poor Philoctetes, Poeas' wretched son,
Whom here I left; for such were my commands
From Grecia's chiefs, when by his fatal wound
Oppressed, his groans and execrations dreadful
Alarmed our hosts, our sacred rites profaned,
And interrupted holy sacrifice.
But why should I repeat the tale? The time
Admits not of delay. We must not linger,
Lest he discover our arrival here,
And all our purposed fraud to draw him hence
Be ineffectual. Lend me then thy aid.
Surveying round thee, canst thou see a rock
With double entrance- to the sun's warm rays
In winter open, and in summer's heat
Giving free passage to the welcome breeze?
A little to the left there is a fountain
Of living water, where, if yet he breathes,
He slakes his thirst. If aught thou seest of this
Inform me; so shall each to each impart
Counsel most fit, and serve our common cause.

NEOPTOLEMUS leaving ULYSSES a little behind him
If I mistake not, I behold a cave,
E'en such as thou describst.

Dost thou? which way?

Yonder it is; but no path leading thither,
Or trace of human footstep.

In his cell
A chance but he hath lain down to rest:
Look if he hath not.

NEOPTOLEMUS advancing to the cave
Not a creature there.

Nor food, nor mark of household preparation?

A rustic bed of scattered leaves.

What more?

A wooden bowl, the work of some rude hand,
With a few sticks for fuel.

This is all
His little treasure here.

Unhappy man!
Some linen for his wounds.

This must be then
His place of habitation; far from hence
He cannot roam; distempered as he is,
It were impossible. He is but gone
A little way for needful food, or herb
Of power to 'suage and mitigate his pain,
Wherefore despatch this servant to some place
Of observation, whence he may espy
His every motion, lest he rush upon us.
There's not a Grecian whom his soul so much
Could wish to crush beneath him as Ulysses.
He makes a signal to the Attendant. who retires.

He's gone to guard each avenue; and now,
If thou hast aught of moment to impart
Touching our purpose, say it; I attend.

Son of Achilles, mark me well! Remember,
What we are doing not on strength alone,
Or courage, but oil conduct will depend;
Therefore if aught uncommon be proposed,
Strange to thy ears and adverse to thy nature,
Reflect that 'tis thy duty to comply,
And act conjunctive with me.

Well, what is it?

We must deceive this Philoctetes; that
Will be thy task. When he shall ask thee who
And what thou art, Achilles'son reply-
Thus far within the verge of truth, no more.
Add that resentment fired thee to forsake
The Grecian fleet, and seek thy native soil,
Unkindly used by those who long with vows
Had sought thy aid to humble haughty Troy,
And when thou cam'st, ungrateful as they were.
The arms of great Achilles, thy just right,
Gave to Ulysses. Here thy bitter taunts
And sharp invectives liberally bestow
On me. Say what thou wilt, I shall forgive,
And Greece will not forgive thee if thou dost not;
For against Troy thy efforts are all vain
Without his arrows. Safely thou mayst hold
Friendship and converse with him, but I cannot.
Thou wert not with us when the war began,
Nor bound by solemn oath to join our host,
As I was; me he knows, and if he find
That I am with thee, we are both undone.
They must be ours then, these all-conquering arms;
Remember that. I know thy noble nature
Abhors the thought of treachery or fraud.
But what a glorious prize is victory!
Therefore be bold; we will be just hereafter.
Give to deceit and me a little portion
Of one short day, and for thy future life
Be called the holiest, worthiest, best of men.

What but to hear alarms my conscious soul,
Son of Laertes, I shall never practise.
I was not born to flatter or betray;
Nor I, nor he- the voice of fame reports-
Who gave me birth. What open arms can do
Behold me prompt to act, but ne'er to fraud
Will I descend. Sure we can more than match
In strength a foe thus lame and impotent.
I came to be a helpmate to thee, not
A base betrayer; and, O king! believe me,
Rather, much rather would I fall by virtue
Than rise by guilt to certain victory.

O noble youth! and worthy of thy sire!
When I like thee was young, like thee of strength
And courage boastful, little did I deem
Of human policy; but long experience
Hath taught me, son, 'tis not the powerful arm,
But soft enchanting tongue that governs all.

And thou wouldst have me tell an odious falsehood?

He must be gained by fraud.

By fraud? And why
Not by persuasion?

He'll not listen to it;
And force were vainer still.

What mighty power
Hath he to boast?

His arrows winged with death

Then it were not safe
E'en to approach him.

No; unless by fraud
He be secured.

And thinkst thou 'tis not base
To tell a lie then?

Not if on that lie
Depends our safety.

Who shall dare to tell it
Without a blush?

We need not blush at aught
That may promote our interest and success.

But where's the interest that should bias me?
Come he or not to Troy, imports it aught
To Neoptolemus?

Troy cannot fall
Without his arrows.

Saidst thou not that I
Was destined to destroy her?

Without them
Naught canst thou do, and they without thee nothing.

Then I must have them.

When thou hast, remember
A double prize awaits thee.

What, Ulysses?

The glorious names of valiant and of wise.

Away! I'll do it. Thoughts of guilt or shame
No more appal me.

Wilt thou do it then?
Wilt thou remember what I told thee of?

Depend on 't; I have promised- that's sufficient.

Here then remain thou; I must not be seen.
If thou stay long, I'll send a faithful spy,
Who in a sailor's habit well disguised
May pass unknown; of him, from time to time,
What best may suit our purpose thou shalt know.
I'll to the ship. Farewell! and may the god
Who brought us here, the fraudful Mercury,
And great Minerva, guardian of our country,
And ever kind to me, protect us still!
ULYSSES goes out as the CHORUS enters. The following lines are chanted responsively between NEOPTOLEMUS and the CHORUS.

strophe 1

Master, instruct us, strangers as we are,
What we may utter, what we must conceal.
Doubtless the man we seek will entertain
Suspicion of us; how are we to act?
To those alone belongs the art to rule
Who bear the sceptre from the hand of Jove;
To thee of right devolves the power supreme,
From thy great ancestors delivered down;
Speak then, our royal lord, and we obey.

systema 1

If you would penetrate yon deep recess
To seek the cave where Philoctetes lies,
Go forward; but remember to return
When the poor wanderer comes this way, prepared
To aid our purpose here if need require.

antistrophe 1

O king! we ever meant to fix our eyes
On thee, and wait attentive to thy will;
But, tell us, in what part is he concealed?
'Tis fit we know the place, lest unobserved
He rush upon us. Which way doth it lie?
Seest thou his footsteps leading from the cave,
Or hither bent?

NEOPTOLEMUS advancing towards the cave
systema 2

Behold the double door
Of his poor dwelling, and the flinty bed.

And whither is its wretched master gone?

Doubtless in search of food, and not far off,
For such his manner is; accustomed here,
So fame reports, to pierce with winged arrows
His savage prey for daily sustenance,
His wound still painful, and no hope of cure.

strophe 2

Alas! I pity him. Without a friend,
Without a fellow-sufferer, left alone,
Deprived of all the mutual joys that flow
From sweet society- distempered too!
How can he bear it? O unhappy race
Of mortal man! doomed to an endless round
Of sorrows, and immeasurable woe!

antistrophe 2

Second to none in fair nobility
Was Philoctetes, of illustrious race;
Yet here he lies, from every human aid
Far off removed, in dreadful solitude,
And mingles with the wild and savage herd;
With them in famine and in misery
Consumes his days, and weeps their common fate,
Unheeded, save when babbling echo mourns
In bitterest notes responsive to his woe.

systema 3

And yet I wonder not; for if aright
I judge, from angry heaven the sentence came,
And Chrysa was the cruel source of all;
Nor doth this sad disease inflict him still
Incurable, without assenting gods?
For so they have decreed, lest Troy should fall
Beneath his arrows ere the' appointed time
Of its destruction come.

strophe 3

No more, my son!

What sayst thou?

Sure I heard a dismal groan
Of some afflicted wretch.

Which way?

E'en now
I hear it, and the sound as of some step
Slow-moving this way. He is not far from us.
His plaints are louder now.

antistrophe 3

Prepare, my son!

For what?

New troubles; for behold he comes!
Not like the shepherd with his rural pipe
And cheerful song, but groaning heavily.
Either his wounded foot against some thorn
Hath struck, and pains him sorely, or perchance
He hath espied from far some ship attempting
To enter this inhospitable port,
And hence his cries to save it from destruction.
PHILOCTETES enters, clad in rags. He moves with difficulty and is obviously suffering pain from his injured foot.

Say, welcome strangers, what disastrous fate
Led you to this inhospitable shore,
Nor haven safe, nor habitation fit
Affording ever? Of what clime, what race?
Who are ye? Speak! If I may trust that garb,
Familiar once to me, ye are of Greece,
My much-loved country. Let me hear the sound
Of your long wished-for voices. Do not look
With horror on me, but in kind compassion
Pity a wretch deserted and forlorn
In this sad place. Oh! if ye come as friends,
Speak then, and answer- hold some converse with me,
For this at least from man to man is due.

Know, stranger, first what most thou seemst to wish;
We are of Greece.

Oh! happiness to hear!
After so many years of dreadful silence,
How welcome was that sound! Oh! tell me, son,
What chance, what purpose, who conducted thee?
What brought thee thither, what propitious gale?
Who art thou? Tell me all- inform me quickly.

Native of Scyros, hither I return;
My name is Neoptolemus, the son
Of brave Achilles. I have told thee all.

Dear is thy country, and thy father dear
To me, thou darling of old Lycomede;
But tell me in what fleet, and whence thou cam'st.

From Troy.

From Troy? I think thou wert not with us
When first our fleet sailed forth.

Wert thou then there?
Or knowst thou aught of that great enterprise?

Know you not then the man whom you behold?

How should I know whom I had never seen?

Have you ne'er heard of me, nor of my name?
Hath my sad story never reached your ear?


Alas! how hateful to the gods,
How very poor a wretch must I be then,
That Greece should never hear of woes like mine!
But they who sent me hither, they concealed them,
And smile triumphant, whilst my cruel wounds
Grow deeper still. O, sprung from great Achilles!
Behold before thee Poeas' wretched son,
With whom, a chance but thou hast heard, remain
The dreadful arrows of renowned Alcides,
E'en the unhappy Philoctetes- him
Whom the Atreidae and the vile Ulysses
Inhuman left, distempered as I was
By the envenomed serpent's deep-felt wound.
Soon as they saw that, with long toil oppressed,
Sleep had o'ertaken me on the hollow rock,
There did they leave me when from Chrysa's shore
They bent their fatal course; a little food
And these few rags were all they would bestow.
Such one day be their fate! Alas! my son,
How dreadful, thinkst thou, was that waking to me,
When from my sleep I rose and saw them not!
How did I weep! and mourn my wretched state!
When not a ship remained of all the fleet
That brought me here- no kind companion left
To minister or needful food or balm
To my sad wounds. On every side I looked,
And nothing saw but woe; of that indeed
Measure too full. For day succeeded day,
And still no comfort came; myself alone
Could to myself the means of life afford,
In this poor grotto. On my bow I lived:
The winged dove, which my sharp arrow slew,
With pain I brought into my little hut,
And feasted there; then from the broken ice
I slaked my thirst, or crept into the wood
For useful fuel; from the stricken flint
I drew the latent spark, that warms me still
And still revives. This with my humble roof
Preserve me, son. But, oh! my wounds remain.
Thou seest an island desolate and waste;
No friendly port nor hopes of gain to tempt,
Nor host to welcome in the traveller;
Few seek the wild inhospitable shore.
By adverse winds, sometimes th' unwilling guests,
As well thou mayst suppose, were hither driven;
But when they came, they only pitied me,
Gave me a little food, or better garb
To shield me from the cold; in vain I prayed
That they would bear me to my native soil,
For none would listen. Here for ten long years
Have I remained, whilst misery and famine
Keep fresh my wounds, and double my misfortune.
This have th' Atreidae and Ulysses done,
And may the gods with equal woes repay them!

O, son of Poeas! well might those, who came
And saw thee thus, in kind compassion weep;
I too must pity thee- I can no more.

I can bear witness to thee, for I know
By sad experience what th' Atreidae are,
And what Ulysses.

Hast thou suffered then?
And dost thou hate them too?

Oh! that these hands
Could vindicate my wrongs! Mycenae then
And Sparta should confess that Scyros boasts
Of sons as brave and valiant as their own.

O noble youth! But wherefore cam'st thou hither?
Whence this resentment?

I will tell thee all,
If I can bear to tell it. Know then, soon
As great Achilles died-

Oh, stay, my son!
Is then Achilles dead?

He is, and not
By mortal hand, but by Apollo's shaft
Fell glorious.

Oh! most worthy of each other,
The slayer and the slain! Permit me, son,
To mourn his fate, ere I attend to thine.

Alas! thou needst not weep for others' woes,
Thou hast enough already of thy own.

'Tis very true; and therefore to thy tale.

Thus then it was. Soon as Achilles died,
Phoenix, the guardian of his tender years,
Instant sailed forth, and sought me out at Scyros;
With him the wary chief Ulysses came.
They told me then (or true or false I know not),
My father dead, by me, and me alone
Proud Troy must fall. I yielded to their prayers;
I hoped to see at least the dear remains
Of him whom living I had long in vain
Wished to behold. Safe at Sigeum's port
Soon we arrived. In crowds the numerous host
Thronged to embrace me, called the gods to witness
In me once more they saw their loved Achilles
To life restored; but he, alas! was gone.
I shed the duteous tear, then sought my friends
Th' Atreidae friends I thought 'em!-claimed the arms
Of my dead father, and what else remained
His late possession: when- O cruel words!
And wretched I to hear them- thus they answered:
"Son of Achilles, thou in vain demandst
Those arms already to Ulysses given;
The rest be thine." I wept. "And is it thus,"
Indignant I replied, "ye dare to give
My right away?" "Know, boy," Ulysses cried,
"That right was mine. and therefore they bestowed
The boon on me: me who preserved the arms,
And him who bore them too." With anger fired
At this proud speech, I threatened all that rage
Could dictate to me if he not returned them.
Stung with my words, yet calm, he answered me:
"Thou wert not with us; thou wert in a place
Where thou shouldst not have been; and since thou meanst
To brave us thus, know, thou shalt never bear
Those arms with thee to Scyros; 'tis resolved."
Thus injured, thus deprived of all I held
Most precious, by the worst of men, I left
The hateful place, and seek my native soil.
Nor do I blame so much the proud Ulysses
As his base masters- army, city, all
Depend on those who rule. When men grow vile
The guilt is theirs who taught them to be wicked.
I've told thee all, and him who hates the Atreidae
I hold a friend to me and to the gods.

CHORUS singing
O Earth! thou mother of great Jove,
Embracing all with universal love,
Author benign of every good,
Through whom Pactolus rolls his golden flood!
To thee, whom in thy rapid car
Fierce lions draw, I rose and made my prayer-
To thee I made my sorrows known,
When from Achilles' injured son
Th' Atreidae gave the prize, that fatal day
When proud Ulysses bore his arms away.

I wonder not, my friend, to see you here,
And I believe the tale; for well I know
The man who wronged you, know the base Ulysses
Falsehood and fraud dwell on his lips, and nought
That's just or good can be expected from him.
But strange it is to me that, Ajax present,
He dare attempt it.

Ajax is no more;
Had he been living, I had ne'er been spoiled
Thus of my right.

Is he then dead?

He is.

Alas! the son of Tydeus, and that slave,
Sold by his father Sisyphus, they live,
Unworthy as they are.

Alas! they do,
And flourish still.

My old and worthy friend
The Pylian sage, how is he? He could see
Their arts, and would have given them better counsels.

Weighed down with grief he lives, but most unhappy,
Weeps his lost son, his dear Antilochus.

O double woe! whom I could most have wished
To live and to be happy, those to perish!
Ulysses to survive! It should not be.

Oh! 'tis a subtle foe; but deepest plans
May sometimes fail.

Where was Patroclus then,
Thy father's dearest friend?

He too was dead.
In war, alas- so fate ordains it ever-
The coward 'scapes, the brave and virtuous fall.

It is too true; and now thou talkst of cowards,
Where is that worthless wretch, of readiest tongue,
Subtle and voluble?


Thersites, ever talking, never heard.

I have not seen him, but I hear he lives.

I did not doubt it: evil never dies;
The gods take care of that. If aught there be
Fraudful and vile, 'tis safe; the good and just
Perish unpitied by them. Wherefore is it?
When gods do ill, why should we worship them?

Since thus it is, since virtue is oppressed,
And vice triumphant, who deserve to live
Are doomed to perish, and the guilty reign.
Henceforth, O son of Poeas! far from Troy
And the Atreidae will I live remote.
I would not see the man I cannot love.
My barren Scyros shall afford me refuge,
And home- felt joys delight my future days.
So, fare thee well, and may th' indulgent gods
Heal thy sad wound, and grant thee every wish
Thy soul can form! Once more, farewell! I go,
The first propitious gale.

What! now, my son?
So soon?

Immediately; the time demands
We should be near, and ready to depart.

Now, by the memory of thy honoured sire,
By thy loved mother, by whate'er remains
On earth most dear to thee, oh! hear me now,
Thy suppliant! Do not, do not thus forsake me,
Alone, oppressed, deserted, as thou seest,
In this sad place. I shall, I know it must, be
A burthen to thee. But, oh! bear it kindly;
For ever doth the noble mind abhor
Th' ungenerous deed, and loves humanity;
Disgrace attends thee if thou dost forsake me,
If not, immortal fame rewards thy goodness.
Thou mayst convey me safe to Oeta's shores
In one short day; I'll trouble you no longer.
Hide me in any part where I may least
Molest you. Hear me! By the guardian god
Of the poor suppliant, all- protecting Jove,
I beg. Behold me at thy feet, infirm,
And wretched as I am, I clasp thy knees.
Leave me not here then, where there is no mark
Of human footstep- take me to thy home!
Or to Euboea's port, to Oeta, thence
Short is the way to Trachin, or the banks
Of Spercheius' gentle stream, to meet my father,
If yet he lives; for, oh! I begged him oft
By those who hither came, to fetch me hence-
Or is he dead, or they neglectful bent
Their hasty course to their own native soil.
Be thou my better guide! Pity and save
The poor and wretched. Think, my son, how frail
And full of danger is the state of man-
Now prosperous, now adverse. Who feels no ills
Should therefore fear them; and when fortune smiles
Be doubly cautious, lest destruction come
Remorseless on him, and he fall unpitied.

CHORUS singing
Oh, pity him, my lord, for bitterest woes
And trials most severe he hath recounted;
Far be such sad distress from those I love!
Oh! if thou hat'st the base Atreidae, now
Revenge thee on them, serve their deadliest foe;
Bear the poor suppliant to his native soil;
So shalt thou bless thy friend, and 'scape the wrath
Of the just gods, who still protect the wretched.

Your proffered kindness, friends, may cost you dear;
When you shall feel his dreadful malady
Oppress you sore, you will repent it.

Shall that reproach be ours.

In generous pity
Of the afflicted thus to be o'ercome
Were most disgraceful to me; he shall go.
May the kind gods speed our departure hence,
And guide our vessels to the wished-for shore!

O happy hour! O kindest, best of men!
And you my dearest friends! how shall I thank you?
What shall I do to show my grateful heart?
Let us be gone! But, oh! permit me first
To take a last farewell of my poor hut,
Where I so long have lived. Perhaps you'll say
I must have had a noble mind to bear it.
The very sight to any eyes but mine
Were horrible, but sad necessity
At length prevailed, and made it pleasing to me.

One from our ship, my lord, and with him comes
A stranger. Stop a moment till we hear
Their business with us.
The Spy enters, dressed as a merchant. He is accompanied by one of NEOPTOLEMUS'men.

Son of great Achilles,
Know, chance alone hath brought me hither, driven
By adverse winds to where thy vessels lay,
As home I sailed from Troy. There did I meet
This my companion, who informed me where
Thou mightst be found. Hence to pursue my course
And not to tell thee what concerns thee near
Had been ungenerous, thou perhaps meantime
Of Greece and of her counsels naught suspecting,
Counsels against thee not by threats alone
Or words enforced, but now in execution.

Now by my virtue, stranger, for thy news
I am much bound to thee, and will repay
Thy service. Tell me what the Greeks have done.

A fleet already sails to fetch thee back,
Conducted by old Phoenix, and the sons
Of valiant Theseus.

Come they then to force me?
Or am I to be won by their persuasion?

I know not that; you have what I could learn.

And did the' Atreidae send them?

Sent they are,
And will be with you soon.

But wherefore then
Came not Ulysses? Did his courage fail?

He, ere I left the camp, with Diomede
On some important embassy sailed forth
In search-

Of whom?

There was a man- but stay,
Who is thy friend here, tell me, but speak softly.

NEOPTOLEMUS whispering to him
The famous Philoctetes.

Ha! begone then!
Ask me no more- away, immediately!

What do these dark mysterious whispers mean?
Concern they me, my son?

I know not what
He means to say, but I would have him speak
Boldly before us all, whate'er it be.

Do not betray me to the Grecian host,
Nor make me speak what I would fain conceal.
I am but poor- they have befriended me.

In me thou seest an enemy confest
To the Atreidae. This is my best friend
Because he hates them too; if thou art mine,
Hide nothing then.

Consider first.

I have.

The blame will be on you.

Why, let it be:
But speak, I charge thee.

Since I must then, know,
In solemn league combined, the bold Ulysses
And gallant Diomede have sworn by force
Or by persuasion to bring back thy friend:
The Grecians heard Laertes' son declare
His purpose; far more resolute he seemed
Than Diomede, and surer of success.

But why the' Atreidae, after so long time,
Again should wish to see this wretched exile,
Whence this desire? Came it from th' angry gods
To punish thus their inhumanity?

I can inform you; for perhaps from Greece
Of late you have not heard. There was a prophet,
Son of old Priam, Helenus by name,
Hlim, in his midnight walks, the wily chief
Ulysses, curse of every tongue, espied;
Took him. and led him captive. to the Creeks
A welcome spoil. Much he foretold to all,
And added last that Troy should never fall
Till Philoctetes from this isle returned.
Ulysses heard, and instant promise gave
To fetch him hence; he hoped by gentle means
To gain him; those successless, force at last
Could but compel him. He would go, he cried,
And if he failed his head should pay th' forfeit.
I've told thee all, and warn thee to be gone,
Thou and thy friend, if thou wouldst wish to save him.

And does the traitor think he can persuade me?
As well might he persuade me to return
From death to life, as his base father did.

Of that know not: I must to my ship.
Farewell, and may the gods protect you both!
The Spy departs.

Lead me- expose me to the Grecian host!
And could the insolent Ulysses hope
With his soft flatteries e'er to conquer me?
No! Sooner would I listen to the voice
Of that fell serpent, whose envenomed tongue
Hath lamed me thus. But what is there he dare not
Or say or do? I know he will be here
E'en now, depend on't. Therefore, let's away!
Quick let the sea divide us from Ulysses.
Let us be gone; for well-timed expedition,
The task performed, brings safety and repose.

Soon as the wind permits us we embark,
But now 'tis adverse.

Every wind is fair
When we are flying from misfortune.

And 'tis against them too.

Alas! no storms
Can drive back fraud and rapine from their prey.

I'm ready. Take what may be necessary,
And follow me.

I want not much.

My ship will furnish you.

There is a plant
Which to my wound gives some relief; I must
Have that.

Is there aught else?

Alas! my bow
I had forgot. I must not lose that treasure.
PHILOCTETES steps into the cave, and brings out his bow and arrows.

Are these the famous arrows then?

They are.

And may I be permitted to behold,
To touch, to pay my adoration to them?

In these, my son, in everything that's mine
Thou hast a right,

But if it be a crime,
I would not; otherwise-

Oh! thou art full
Of piety; in thee it is no crime;
In thee, my friend, by whom alone I look
Once more with pleasure on the radiant sun-
By whom I live- who giv'st me to return
To my dear father, to my friends, my country:
Sunk as I was beneath my foes, once more
I rise to triumph o'er them by thy aid:
Behold them, touch them, but return them to me,
And boast that virtue which on thee alone
Bestowed such honour. Virtue made them mine.
I can deny thee nothing: he, whose heart
Is grateful can alone deserve the name
Of friend, to every treasure far superior.

Go in.

Come with me; for my painful wound
Requires thy friendly hand to help me onward.
They go into the cave.

CHORUS singing
strophe 1

Since proud Ixion, doomed to feel
The tortures of th' eternal wheel,
Bound by the hand of angry Jove,
Received the due rewards of impious love;
Ne'er was distress so deep or woe so great
As on the wretched Philoctetes wait;
Who ever with the just and good,
Guiltless of fraud and rapine, stood,
And the fair paths of virtue still pursued;
Alone on this inhospitable shore,
Where waves for ever beat and tempests roar,
How could he e'er or hope or comfort know,
Or painful life support beneath such weight of woe?

antistrophe 1

Exposed to the inclement skies,
Deserted and forlorn he lies,
No friend or fellow-mourner there
To soothe his sorrows and divide his care,
Or seek the healing plant of power to 'suage
His aching wound and mitigate its rage;
But if perchance, awhile released
From torturing pain, he sinks to rest,
Awakened soon, and by sharp hunger prest,
Compelled to wander forth in search of food,
He crawls in anguish to the neighbouring wood;
Even as the tottering infant in despair
Who mourns an absent mother's kind supporting care.

strophe 2

The teeming earth, who mortals still supplies
With every good, to him her seed denies;
A stranger to the joy that flows
From the kind aid which man on man bestows;
Nor food, alas! to him was given,
Save when his arrows pierced the birds of heaven;
Nor e'er did Bacchus' heart-expanding bow!
For ten long years relieve his cheerless soul;
But glad was he his eager thirst to slake
In the unwholesome pool, or ever-stagnant lake.

antistrophe 2

But now, behold the joyful captive freed;
A fairer fate, and brighter days succeed:
For he at last hath found a friend
Of noblest race, to save and to defend,
To guide him with protecting hand,
And safe restore him to his native land;
On Spercheius' flowery banks to join the throng
Of Malian nymphs, and lead the choral song
On Oeta's top, which saw Alcides rise,
And from the flaming pile ascend his native skies.
NEOPTOLEMUS and PHILOCTETES enter from the cave. PHILOCTETES is suddenly seized with spasms of pain. He still holds in his hand the bow and arrows.

Come, Philoctetes; why thus silent? Wherefore
This sudden terror on thee?


Whence is it?

Nothing, my son; go on!

Is it thy wound
That pains thee thus?

No; I am better now.
O gods!

Why dost thou call thus on the gods?

To smile propitious, and preserve us- Oh!

Thou art in misery. Tell me- wilt thou not?
What is it?

O my son! I can no longer
Conceal it from thee. Oh! I die, I perish;
By the great gods let me implore thee, now
This moment, if thou hast a sword. oh! strike,
Cut off this painful limb, and end my being!

What can this mean, that unexpected thus
It should torment thee?

Know you not, my son?

What is the cause?

Can you not guess it?


Nor I.

That's stranger still.

My son, my son

This new attack is terrible indeed!

'Tis inexpressible! Have pity on me!

What shall I do?

Do not be terrified,
And leave me. Its returns are regular,
And like the traveller, when its appetite
Is satisfied, it will depart. Oh! oh!

Thou art oppressed with ills on every side.
Give me thy hand. Come, wilt thou lean upon me?

No; but these arrows take; preserve 'em for me.
A little while, till I grow better. Sleep
Is coming on me, and my pains will cease.
Let me be quiet. If meantime our foes
Surprise thee, let nor force nor artifice
Deprive thee of the great, the precious trust
I have reposed in thee; that were ruin
To thee, and to thy friend.

Be not afraid-
No hands but mine shall touch them; give them to me.

Receive them, son; and let it be thy prayer
They bring not woes on thee, as they have done
To me and to Alcides.
PHILOCTETES gives him the bow and arrows.

May the gods
Forbid it ever! May they guide our course
And speed our prosperous sails!

Alas! my son,
I fear thy vows are vain. Behold my blood
Flows from the wound? Oh how it pains me! Now
It comes, it hastens! Do not, do not leave me!
Oh! that Ulysses felt this racking torture,
E'en to his inmost soul! Again it comes!
O Agamemnon! Menelaus! why
Should not you bear these pangs as I have done?
O death! where art thou, death? so often called,
Wilt thou not listen? wilt thou never come?
Take thou the Lemnian fire, my generous friend,
Do me the same kind office which I did
For my Alcides. These are thy reward;
He gave them to me. Thou alone deservest
The great inheritance. What says my friend?
What says my dear preserver? Oh! where art thou?

I mourn thy hapless fate.

Be of good cheer,
Quick my disorder comes, and goes as soon;
I only beg thee not to leave me here.

Depend on 't, I will stay.

Wilt thou indeed?

Trust me, I will.

I need not bind thee to it
By oath.

Oh, no! 'twere impious to forsake thee.

Give me thy hand, and pledge thy faith.

I do.

PHILOCTETES pointing up to heaven
Thither, oh, thither lead!

What sayst thou? where?


What, lost again? Why lookst thou thus
On that bright circle?

Let me, let me go!

NEOPTOLEMUS lays hold of him
Where wouldst thou go?

Loose me.

I will not.

You'll kill me, if you do not.

NEOPTOLEMUS lets him go
There, then; now
Is thy mind better?

Oh! receive me, earth!
Receive a dying man. Here must I lie;
For, oh! my pain's so great I cannot rise.
PHILOCTETES sinks down on the earth near the entrance of the cave.

Sleep hath o'ertaken him. See, his head is lain
On the cold earth; the balmy sweat thick drops
From every limb, and from the broken vein
Flows the warm blood; let us indulge his slumbers.

CHORUS singing
Sleep, thou patron of mankind,
Great physician of the mind,
Who dost nor pain nor sorrow know,
Sweetest balm of every woe,
Mildest sovereign, hear us now;
Hear thy wretched suppliant's vow;
His eyes in gentle slumbers close,
And continue his repose;
Hear thy wretched suppliant's vow,
Great physician, hear us now.
And now, my son, what best may suit thy purpose
Consider well, and how we are to act.
What more can we expect? The time is come;
For better far is opportunity
Seized at the lucky hour than all the counsels
Which wisdom dictates or which craft inspires.

He hears us not. But easy as it is
To gain the prize, it would avail us nothing
Were he not with us. Phoebus hath reserved
For him alone the crown of victory;
But thus to boast of what we could not do,
And break our word, were most disgraceful to us.

CHORUS singing
The gods will guide us, fear it not, my son;
But what thou sayst speak soft, for well thou knowst
The sick man's sleep is short. He may awake
And hear us; therefore let us hide our purpose.
If then thou thinkst as he does- thou knowst whom-
This is the hour. At such a time, my son,
The wisest err. But mark me, the wind's fair,
And Philoctetes sleeps, void of all help-
Lame, impotent, unable to resist,
He is as one among the dead. E'en now
We'll take him with us. 'Twere an easy task.
Leave it to me, my son. There is no danger.

No more! His eyes are open. See, he moves.

O fair returning light! beyond my hope;
You too, my kind preservers! O my son!
I could not think thou wouldst have stayed so long
In kind compassion to thy friend. Alas!
The Atreidae never would have acted thus.
But noble is thy nature, and thy birth,
And therefore little did my wretchedness,
Nor from my wounds the noisome stench deter
Thy generous heart. I have a little respite;
Help me, my son I I'll try to rise; this weakness
Will leave me soon, and then we'll go together.

I little thought to find thee thus restored.
Trust me, I joy to see thee free from pain,
And hear thee speak; the marks of death were on thee,
Raise thyself up; thy friends here, if thou wilt,
Shall carry thee, 'twill be no burthen to them
If we request it.

No; thy hand alone;
I will not trouble them; 'twill be enough
If they can bear with me and my distemper
When we embark.

Well, be it so; but rise.

Oh I never fear; I'll rise as well as ever.

NEOPTOLEMUS half to himself
How shall I act?

What says my son?

I know not what to say; my doubtful mind-

Talked you of doubts? You did not surely.

That's my misfortune.

Is then my distress
The cause at last you will not take me with you?

All is distress and misery when we act
Against our nature and consent to ill.

But sure to help a good man in misfortunes
Is not against thy nature.

Men will call me
A villain; that distracts me.

Not for this;
For what thou meanst to do thou mayst deserve it

What shall I do? Direct me, Jove! To hide
What I should speak, and tell a base untruth
Were double guilt.

He purposes at last,
I fear it much, to leave me.

Leave thee! No!
But how to make thee go with pleasure hence,
There I'm distressed.

I understand thee not;
What means my son?

I can no longer hide
The dreadful secret from thee; thou art going
To Troy, e'en to the Greeks, to the Atreidae.

Alas! what sayest thou?

Do not weep, but hear me.

What must I hear? what wilt thou do with me?

First set thee free; then carry thee, my friend,
To conquer Troy.

Is this indeed thy purpose?

This am I bound to do.

Then am I lost,
Undone, betrayed. Canst thou, my friend, do this?
Give me my arms again.

It cannot be.
I must obey the powers who sent me hither; justice enjoins- the common cause demands it,

Thou worst of men, thou vile artificer
Of fraud most infamous, what hast thou done?
How have I been deceived? Dost thou not blush
To look upon me, to behold me thus
Beneath thy feet imploring? Base betrayer!
To rob me of my bow, the means of life,
The only means- give 'em, restore 'em to me!
Do not take all Alas Alas! he hears me not,
Nor deigns to speak, but casts an angry look
That says I never shall be free again.
O mountains, rivers, rocks, and savage herds!
To you I speak- to you alone I now
Must breathe my sorrows; you are wont to hear
My sad complaints, and I will tell you all
That I have suffered from Achilles' son,
Who, bound by solemn oath to bear me hence
To my dear native soil, now sails for Troy.
The perjured wretch first gave his plighted hand,
Then stole the sacred arrows of my friend,
The son of Jove, the great Alcides; those
He means to show the Greeks, to snatch me hence
And boast his prize, as if poor Philoctetes,
This empty shade, were worthy of his arm.
Had I been what I was, he ne'er had thus
Subdued me, and e'en now to fraud alone
He owes the conquest. I have been betrayed!
Give me my arms again, and be thyself
Once more. Oh, speak! Thou wilt not? Then I'm lost.
O my poor hut! again I come to thee
Naked and destitute of food; once more
Receive me, here to die; for now, no longer
Shall my swift arrow reach the flying prey,
Or on the mountains pierce the wandering herd:
I shall myself afford a banquet now
To those I used to feed on- they the hunters,
And I their easy prey; so shall the blood
Which I so oft have shed be paid by mine;
And all this too from him whom once I deemed
Stranger to fraud nor capable of ill;
And yet I will not curse thee till I know
Whether thou still retainst thy horrid purpose,
Or dost repent thee of it; if thou dost not,
Destruction wait thee!

We attend your pleasure,
My royal lord, we must be gone; determine
To leave, or take him with us.

His distress
Doth move me much. Trust me, I long have felt
Compassion for him.

Oh then by the gods
Pity me now, my son, nor let mankind
Reproach thee for a fraud so base.

What shall I do? Would I were still at Scyros!
For I am most unhappy.

O my son!
Thou art not base by nature, but misguided
By those who are, to deeds unworthy of thee.
Turn then thy fraud on them who best deserve it;
Restore my arms, and leave me.

Speak, my friends,
What's to be done?
ULYSSES enters suddenly.

Ah! dost thou hesitate?
Traitor, be gone! Give me the arms.

Ah me!
Ulysses here?

Aye! 'tis Ulysses' self
That stands before thee.

Then I'm lost, betrayed!
This was the cruel spoiler.

Doubt it not.
'Twas I; I do confess it.

O my son!
Give me them back.

It must not be; with them
Thyself must go, or we shall drag thee hence.

And will they force me? O thou daring villain!

They will, unless thou dost consent to go.

Wilt thou, O Lemnos! wilt thou, mighty Vulcan!
With thy all-conquering fire, permit me thus
To be torn from thee?

Know, great Jove himself
Doth here preside. He hath decreed thy fate;
I but perform his will.

Detested wretch,
Mak'st thou the gods a cover for thy crime?
Do they teach falsehood?

No, they taught me truth,
And therefore, hence- that way thy journey lies.
Pointing to the sea

It doth not.

But I say it must be so.

And Philoctetes then was born a slave!
I did not know it,

No; I mean to place thee
E'en with the noblest, e'en with those by whom
Proud Troy must perish.

Never will I go,
Befall what may, whilst this deep cave is open
To bury all my sorrows.

What wouldst do?

Here throw me down, dash out my desperate brains
Against this rock, and sprinkle it with my blood.

Seize, and prevent him!
They seize him.

Manacled! O hands!
How helpless are you now! those arms, which once
Protected, thus torn from you!
Thou abandoned,
Thou shameless wretch! from whom nor truth nor justice,
Naught that becomes the generous mind, can flow,
How hast thou used me! how betrayed! Suborned
This stranger, this poor youth, who, worthier far
To be my friend than thine, was only here
Thy instrument; he knew not what he did,
And now, thou seest, repents him of the crime
Which brought such guilt on him, such woes on me.
But thy foul soul, which from its dark recess
Trembling looks forth, beheld him void of art,
Unwilling as he was, instructed him,
And made him soon a master in deceit.
I am thy prisoner now; e'en now thou meanst
To drag me hence, from this unhappy shore,
Where first thy malice left me, a poor exile,
Deserted, friendless, and though living, dead
To all mankind. Perish the vile betrayer!
Oh! I have cursed thee often, but the gods
Will never bear the prayers of Philoctetes.
Life and its joys are thine, whilst I, unhappy,
Am but the scorn of thee, and the Atreidae,
Thy haughty masters. Fraud and force compelled thee,
Or thou hadst never sailed with them to Troy.
I lent my willing aid; with seven brave ships
I ploughed the main to serve them. In return
They cast me forth, disgraced me, left me here.
Thou sayst they did it; they impute the crime
To thee. And what will you do with me now?
And whither must I go? What end, what purpose
Could urge thee to it? I am nothing, lost
And dead already. Wherefore- tell me, wherefore?-
Am I not still the same detested burthen,
Loathsome and lame? Again must Philoctetes
Disturb your holy rites? If I am with you
How can you make libations? That was once
Your vile pretence for inhumanity.
Oh! may you perish for the deed! The gods
Will grant it sure, if justice be their care
And that it is I know. You had not left
Your native soil to seek a wretch like me
Had not some impulse from the powers above,
Spite of yourselves, ordained it. O my country!
And you, O gods! who look upon this deed,
Punish, in pity to me, punish all
The guilty band! Could I behold them perish,
My wounds were nothing; that would heal them all.

Observe, my lord, what bitterness of soul
His words express; he bends not to misfortune,
But seems to brave it.

I could answer him,
Were this a time for words; but now, no more
Than this- I act as best befits our purpose.
Where virtue, truth, and justice are required
Ulysses yields to none; I was not born
To be o'ercome, and yet submit to thee.
Let him remain. Thy arrows shall suffice;
We want thee not! Teucer can draw thy bow
As well as thou; myself with equal strength
Can aim the deadly shaft, with equal skill.
What could thy presence do? Let Lemnos keep thee.
Farewell! perhaps the honours once designed
For thee may be reserved to grace Ulysses.

Alas! shall Greece then see my deadliest foe
Adorned with arms which I alone should bear?

No more! I must be gone.

Son of Achilles,
Thou wilt not leave me too? I must not lose
Thy converse, thy assistance.

Look not on him;
Away, I charge thee! 'Twould be fatal to us.

Will you forsake me, friends? Dwells no compassion
Within your breasts for me?

He is our master;
We speak and act but as his will directs.

I know be will upbraid me for this weakness,
But 'tis my nature, and I must consent,
Since Philoctetes asks it. Stay you with him,
Till to the gods our pious prayers we offer,
And all things are prepared for our departure;
Perhaps, meantime, to better thoughts his mind
May turn relenting. We must go. Remember,
When we shall call you, follow instantly.
NEOPTOLEMUS, still with the bow in his hands, goes out with ULYSSES. The lines in the following scene between PHILOCTETES and the CHORUS are chanted responsively.

O my poor hut! and is it then decreed
Again I come to thee to part no more,
To end my wretched days in this sad cave,
The scene of all my woes? For whither now
Can I betake me? Who will feed, support,
Or cherish Philoctetes? Not a hope
Remains for me. Oh! that th' impetuous storms
Would bear me with them to some distant clime!
For I must perish here.

Unhappy man!
Thou hast provoked thy fate; thyself alone
Art to thyself a foe, to scorn the good,
Which wisdom bids thee take, and choose misfortune.

Wretch that I am, to perish here alone!
Oh! I shall see the face of man no more,
Nor shall my arrows pierce their winged prey,
And bring me sustenance! Such vile delusions
Used to betray me! Oh! that pains like those
I feel might reach the author of my woes!

The gods decreed it; we are not to blame.
Heap not thy curses therefore on the guiltless,
But take our friendship.

PHILOCTETES pointing to the sea-shore
I behold him there;
E'en now I see him laughing me to scorn
On yonder shore, and in his hands the darts
He waves triumphant, which no arms but these
Had ever borne. O my dear glorious treasure!
Hadst thou a mind to feel th' indignity,
How wouldst thou grieve to change thy noble master,
The friend of great Alcides, for a wretch
So vile, so base, so impious as Ulysses!

justice will ever rule the good man's tongue,
Nor from his lips reproach and bitterness
Invidious flow. Ulysses, by the voice
Of Greece appointed, only sought a friend
To join the common cause, and serve his country.

Hear me, ye winged inhabitants of air,
And you, who on these mountains love to feed,
My savage prey, whom once I could pursue;
Fearful no more of Philoctetes, fly
This hollow rock- I cannot hurt you now;
You need not dread to enter here. Alas!
You now may come, and in your turn regale
On these poor limbs, when I shall be no more.
Where can I hope for food? or who can breathe
This vital air, when life-preserving earth
No longer will assist him?

By the gods!
Let me entreat thee, if thou dost regard
Our master, and thy friend, come to him now,
Whilst thou mayst 'scape this sad calamity;
Who but thyself would choose to be unhappy
That could prevent it?

Oh! you have brought back
Once more the sad remembrance of my griefs;
Why, why, my friends, would you afflict me thus?

Afflict thee- how?

Think you I'll e'er return
To hateful Troy?

We would advise thee to it.

I'll hear no more. Go, leave me!

That we shall
Most gladly. To the ships, my friends; away!
Obey your orders.

PHILOCTETES stops them
By protecting Jove,
Who hears the suppliant's prayer, do not forsake me!

CHORUS returning
Be calm then.

O my friends! will you then stay?
Do, by the gods I beg you.

Why that groan?

Alas! I die. My wound, my wound! Hereafter
What can I do? You will not leave me! Hear-

What canst thou say we do not know already?

O'erwhelmed by such a storm of griefs as I am,
You should not thus resent a madman's frenzy.

Comply then and be happy.

Never, never!
Be sure of that. Tho' thunder-bearing Jove
Should with his lightnings blast me, would I go?
No! Let Troy perish, perish all the host
Who sent me here to die; but, O my friends!
Grant me this last request.

What is it? Speak.

A sword, a dart, some instrument of death.

What wouldst thou do?

I'd hack off every limb.
Death, my soul longs for death.

But wherefore is it?

I'll seek my father.


In the tomb;
There he must be. O Scyros! O my country!
How could I bear to see thee as I am-
I who had left thy sacred shores to aid
The hateful sons of Greece? O misery!
He goes into the cave.

Ere now we should have taken thee to our ships,
But that advancing this way I behold
Ulysses, and with him Achilles' son.
NEOPTOLEMUS enters still carrying the bow; he is followed closely by ULYSSES.

Why this return? Wherefore this haste?

I come
To purge me of my crimes.

Indeed! What crimes?

My blind obedience to the Grecian host
And to thy counsels.

Hast thou practised aught
Base or unworthy of thee?

Yes; by art
And vile deceit betrayed th' unhappy.

Alas! what mean you?

Nothing. But the son
Of Poeas-