Philoctetes (drama)

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Adolf von Hildebrand : Philoctetes (1886)

Philoctetes ( Greek  Φιλοκτήτης ) is a tragedy by the Greek playwright Sophocles from Athens (496/497 BC – 406/405 BC) from the year 409 BC. Chr.


The piece is based on the Philoctetes myth, which takes place during the Trojan War .

Philoctetes was abandoned by his companions on the way to Troy because of an incurable, festering foot injury on the lonely island of Lemnos and left to himself, where he spent nine years under great privation. Only bows and arrows - gifts from Heracles - provided the skilled marksman with what was absolutely necessary, hatred of his former companions kept him going.

The piece begins with the arrival of Odysseus and Achilles' son Neoptolemus in front of the cave on the island of Lemnos , where Odysseus had left the sick person a decade earlier and where he is still living. The devious Odysseus explains to Neoptolemus the plan how one can deceive the hero from his weapons without exposing himself to his infallible bow; Philoctetes would voluntarily neither come along nor lay down his arms. But this is necessary to fulfill the prophecy of the gods, according to which Troy would only fall with the help of Philoctetes and his weapons.

Neoptolemus, who is portrayed as an upright young man in the following dialogue, is said to creep into the embittered Philoctetes' trust by lying that he too is disappointed in the leaders of the Greek army and is therefore on his way home; Above all, Odysseus had withheld from him the weapons of his deceased father Achilles and was therefore hated by him.

Neoptolemus resists the imposition, but plays the role of Philoctetes who is now appearing - Odysseus has since withdrawn - the role so convincingly that Philoctetes entrusts him with his weapon when one of his attacks of pain attacks him; The young man witnesses how unspeakable pain brings the man down before his eyes to the point of fainting, how homesickness and illness have tortured him for a decade now; He felt pity.

The attack has hardly passed when Odysseus steps in and declares the deception to have been successful; With Neoptolemus and the weapons he had stolen, he wants to return to Troy - Philoctetes may or may not come with him. Philoctetes is beside himself, but as a defenseless invalid he has to put up with the ridicule of Odysseus.

Pity and shame move the young man, before the eyes of the terrified Odysseus, to give the sick man his weapons back and to enlighten him about the whole intrigue. Philoctetes now wants to kill Odysseus immediately, but he escapes.

In the dialogue that now begins, Neoptolemus tries to persuade the seriously ill to forget his resentment and to return to the army of his own free will in order to secure victory for the Greeks. But not even the sure prospect of healing by the divine doctors in the army can dissuade the inaccessible and hated Philoctetes from his plan to leave for his home country Greece.

Hercules hands Philoctetes his bow down from the stake. Grave relief from the Museum Carnuntinum , 2nd century AD

He even succeeds in persuading the ashamed Neoptolemus to come home with him, which would result in a break with the Greeks, shame and war; Odysseus' mission would have failed, Philoctetes himself would remain terminally ill and suffering, and the young Neoptolemus would become an outsider in the community of Greeks.

At the last moment, when both are already leaving for the coast, the deceased Heracles enters the scene as Deus ex machina and proclaims the divine saying that Philoctetes must bow to fate and go to Troy. There is now nothing left for him but to bow to the authority of his old brother in arms and so far the only conqueror of the city - because only Heracles had so far succeeded in conquering Troy built by the gods - to overcome his resentment and together with Neoptolemus to return to the Greek army.

The piece ends with a poetic farewell to Philoctetes from the island of Lemnos, which has housed him for so long.

Evaluation, classification

Sophocles wrote the play, for which he won a first prize in 409 and whose dating is therefore considered certain, at the age of almost ninety. With its powerful dramatic structure and the psychologically convincing plot, it is considered one of the author's most mature pieces. In many respects, there are parallels to Elektra in the structure of persons and actions .

With the introduction of the figure of Neoptolemus, which myth was not intended in this form - according to legend, Neoptolemus was brought in separately from Philoctetes - Sophocles succeeded, the calculating, only success-oriented Odysseus and the honest, but selfish Philoctetes in the outer Confronting a third person with the principle of compassion, responsibility and a deeper sense of justice.

Ultimately, only a higher authority can mediate between the three instances “understanding”, “right” and “feeling”, there is no right or wrong, each person has its own truth. Only the supernatural appearance of Heracles - in the seven surviving tragedies of Sophocles the only appearance of a deus ex machina - finally resolves the hopeless stalemate by pointing to a power over man. This should not only express the deeply religious streak of the author, which his biographers emphasize several times, but also the cathartic insight that there are limits to man despite all individuality and personal freedom. In this respect, despite its conciliatory outcome, the drama can be described as a tragedy in the classical sense: it depicts the insoluble entanglement of man in his fate.

Text transmission

Philoctetes is one of the author's few surviving pieces - seven of a total of 123 - and, due to the lack of ancient texts, there are almost no fragments in papyria - mainly passed down in medieval manuscripts.

The Greek writer Dion Chrysostomos († before 120 AD) compared the now lost Philoctetes dramas by Aeschylus and Euripides with that of Sophocles (still preserved today).


  • Otto Nitzsch: Translation of the Sophokleischen Philoctet. 2 parts, Velhagen & Klasing, Bielefeld 1891–92 (school program; digitized ).
  • Sophoclis Fabulae. Recognoverunt brevique adnotatione critica instruxerunt H [ugh] Lloyd-Jones et N [igel] G [uy] Wilson. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1990, ISBN 0-19-814577-2 .
  • Sophocles: Works in 2 volumes. Translated from the Greek, edited and commented on by Dietrich Ebener . Structure, Berlin 1995, ISBN 3-351-02324-3 .
  • Sophocles: Dramas. Greek and German. Edited and translated by Wilhelm Willige, revised by Karl Bayer . With comments and an introduction by Bernhard Zimmermann . 4th edition. Artemis & Winkler, Düsseldorf / Zurich 2003, ISBN 3-7608-1631-2 , pp. 453-545.
  • Sophocles, Philoctetes. With the 52nd speech of Dion Chrysostom ("The Arch of Philoctetes"). Translated and ed. by Paul Dräger. Reclam Stuttgart 2012. ISBN 978-3-15-018973-3 .


  • Heiner Müller : Philoctetes. 1965.
  • Tom Stoppard : Neutral Ground. 1968.
  • Seamus Heaney : The Cure at Troy. 1991.
  • Bryan Doerris: The Philoctetes Project. 2005 (uses the Philoktet material to cope with post-traumatic illnesses in American soldiers, e.g. returnees from Iraq and Afghanistan).


Web links

Wikisource: Philoctetes (Greek)  - Sources and full texts


  1. ^ Egidius Schmalzriedt : Philoctetes. In: Kindlers New Literature Lexicon. Volume 13, Munich 1991, pp. 752-754.
  2. ^ Carl Andresen et al. (Ed.): Lexicon of the Old World . Volume 2, Artemis, Zurich / Munich 1990, ISBN 3-7608-1034-9 , Sp. 2075.
  3. According to legend, the conquest of Troy depended on three prerequisites: 1. the robbery of the Pallas-Athene statue ( Palladion ) from the city; 2. the bringing about of Philoctetes and his weapons - he later killed Paris ; 3. The bringing about of the Achilles son Neoptolemus (actually Pyrrhos ) from Skyros - he hid in the Trojan horse and later killed King Priam . All three tasks were solved by Odysseus - partly in collaboration with Diomedes and Phoinix .
  4. Eckart Lobsien, on the other hand, with reference to André Gide (1899) emphasizes the possibility of Philoctetes to choose freely after giving up his bow, cf. Odysseus. In: Maria Moog-Grünewald (Ed.): Mythenrezeption. The ancient mythology in literature, music and art from the beginnings to the present (= Der Neue Pauly . Supplements. Volume 5). Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2008, ISBN 978-3-476-02032-1 , pp. 485-499, here p. 493.
  5. Frank Bezner sees in it "the aporia constitutive for the piece", cf. Heracles. In: Maria Moog-Grünewald (Ed.): Mythenrezeption. The ancient mythology in literature, music and art from the beginnings to the present (= Der Neue Pauly . Supplements. Volume 5). Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2008, ISBN 978-3-476-02032-1 , pp. 326–343, here p. 329.
  6. According to Egidius Schmalzriedt “that everything that happens in the human world is an event that is directed by the hand of the gods”, cf. Philoctetes. In: Kindlers New Literature Lexicon. Volume 13, Munich 1991, pp. 752-754, here p. 753.
  7. A detailed list in Manfred Landfester: Sophokles. In: Manfred Landfester (ed.): History of ancient texts. Lexicon of authors and works (= Der Neue Pauly . Supplements. Volume 2). Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2007, ISBN 978-3-476-02030-7 , pp. 552-556.
  8. Sophoclis Fabulae. Oxford 1990, p. Vi.
  9. Dio Chrysostom 52.
  10. ^ Project website .