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.1
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.2
His foot was dripping with infectious sores, 10
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 20
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. 30
[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.
Or below? I donít see it.
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 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. 40
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 50
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 60
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 70
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. 80
If we donít get our hands on that manís bow,
youíll never capture Troy successfully,
never destroy the realm of Dardanus.3
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.4
But I was, and I canít deny the fact.
If he sees me while he still has his bow, 90
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 100
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. 110
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
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. 120
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, 130
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? 140
Yes, but you need them, and they need you.5
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. 150
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. 160
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 170
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 180
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, 190
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 200
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, 210
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.
for all we know, is just as good
as any member of the finest clan. 220
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 
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.6
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 
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 . . .
Iíve just been thinking. 250 
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.
You there, you strangers,
what country are you from? Why land here, 260 
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. 270
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. 280
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 290
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, 300
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. 310
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.7
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 320
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, 330
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, 340
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 350
I 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. 360
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, 370
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 
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,
that Scyros is the mother of brave men.8
Good for you, my lad. But whatís your reason?
Why are you so angry? Whatís the grudge 390
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 . . .
Whatís that? Stop there. Answer this question firstó
is Achilles, son of Peleus, dead?
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.
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 410
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. 420
Well, we rowed and had a favorable wind,
so on my voyage by the second day
we had reached Sigeum, that bitter place.9
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 430
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 440
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. 450
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 460
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 470
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 
on your splendid decorated throne,
where carved-out lions slaughter bulls.10
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. 490
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, 500
son of Sisyphus (so people say), sold
to Laertes still in his motherís womb,
theyíll not die, for they donít deserve to live.11
No they wonít. Thatís something you can count on.
In fact, right now within the Argive army 
those two are really thriving.
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. 510
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. 520
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 
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?12
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. 540
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 550
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. 560
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?
Yes. 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 
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 580
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, 590
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, 600
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 700
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 710
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. 720
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. 730
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 740
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, 750
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 760
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 
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 780
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.13
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. 790
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, 800
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 810
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 820
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, 830
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, 840
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. 850
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.14
I donít know about all that.
But Iím going back to my own ship. I pray 860
that somehow god brings you the best of help.
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. 870
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.
No. 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. 890
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 900
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 910
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 
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. 920
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.16
But from all Iíve heard and seen 
I know no other mortal man
whoís run into a fate as harsh 930
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, 940
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 950
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 960
eventually would subside.
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, 970
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.
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, 980
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.17
[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.
Itís nothing serious, my boy. 990
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 . . . 1000
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. 1010
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, 1020
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?
No. 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. 1030
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.
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, 1040
in case this bow brings you much suffering,
as it has me and the man who owned it
before I did.18
Gods grant us both successó
a prosperous quick trip to any place 
we come to on our trip which god thinks right.
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 . . . 1050
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 1060
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 
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? 1070
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 1080
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?
the opening to the cave above them]
Up there . . . in there!
Is this another fit?
Why roll your eyes up at the sky?
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. 1090
Iím close to deathóO Earth, embrace me now!ó
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, 1100
and bring him happiness.
Hold before his eyes that light 
which shines around them now.
Come down, I pray, and heal him.
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. 1110
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 1120
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 1130
then there are surely going to be
some desperate problems facing us,
which a shrewd man could well foresee.20
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 1140
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 1150
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, 1160
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. 1170
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. 1180
I donít know how I need to frame my words . . .
Itís so confusing . . .
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 1190
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 1200
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.
What are you saying?
Donít start wailing,
not until you learn what itís about. 1210
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
give it back to me right now!
I canít do that. 1220
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. 1230
By your fathersí gods, donít rob me of my life!
[NEOPTOLEMUS remains silent and cannot look at PHILOCTETES]
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 1240
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, 1250
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, 
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, 1260
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. 1280
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.
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. 1290
Whoís that? Do I hear Odysseusí voice?
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. 1300
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, 1310
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.
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 1320
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.
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, 1330
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 1340
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 
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.21
A complete disaster! They threw me out, 1360
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? 1370
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 
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 1390
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.22
So am I, and I believe itís possible 1400
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 1410
your voice say anything to me? Are you
about to leave without another word?
Move on. Donít look at him. You may well be
a noble man, but donít ruin our good luck.
And you, my guests, will you leave me like this 
and not feel pity?
The boy commands our ship.
What he says to youóthatís what we say, as well.
Odysseus will say I am too sensitiveó
but you stay here, if thatís all right with him,
until the sailors have prepared the ship 1420
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]
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. 1430
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, 1440
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, 1450
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! 1460
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. 1470
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, 1480
whose plans have injured me so much,
the effects of his disgraceful skill.
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, 1490
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. 1500
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 1510
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? 1520
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 
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.
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? 1540
O friends, return to me again. 
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.
That you can be sure of! No, not even 1550
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 1560
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. 1570
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 ODYSSEUS. NEOPTOLEMUS 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. 1580
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 . . . 
What are you going to do? A certain fear
has just occurred to me . . .
. . . whose bow I took . . .
By Zeus, what are you saying?
You donít intend to hand it back to him?
Yes. 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. 1600
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
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? 1610
With justice at my side, I do not fear
the danger you describe.
My hand will make that justice bend to me.]23
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. 1620
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]
up to the cave]
You there, son of Poeas . . . Iím calling you.
Philoctetes . . . Come out. Leave that rock
you call your home.
inside the cave]
Now whoís standing there
making an unruly noise outside the cave?
Why are you calling me? What do you want? 1630
[PHILOCTETES partly emerges from the cave and sees Neoptolemus]
This is a wretched
Are you here to bring me some new trouble
on top of all the others?
Listen to the news I bring.
Fine words brought me disaster once before,
when I trusted what you said.
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. 1640
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 1650
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,
Stop making all those curses,
and take these weapons from my hand.
What do you mean? Am I being tricked again?
No. I swear by the sacred majesty of Zeus.
Such welcome words, if what you say is true. 1660 
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!
who was that speaking? Was it Odysseus?
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.
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.
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, 1680
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 1690
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. 1700
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, 1710
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.24
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 
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, 1730
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, 1740
the sons of Atreus, who ruined me?
Or with Laertesí all-destroying son?
[Philoctetes addresses Neoptolemus directly]
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 1750
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 1760
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 1770
and that abominable son of Atreus?
No. 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 1780
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 
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 1800
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.
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 . . . 1810
What assistance will you give?
. . . with these arrows
which come from Hercules . . .
What are you saying?
Iíll stop them coming in.
[HERCULES appears above the stage]25
Not yet, son of Poeas, not until youíve heard
the words that I shall utter. Know thisó 
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 1820
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, 1830
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 1840
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 1850
to fall a second time thanks to my arrows.26
But remember thisówhen you lay waste that land, 
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. 1860
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 
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 
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]