Tragedies of Sophocles (Plumptre 1878)/Philoctetes

For other English-language translations of this work, see Philoctetes (Sophocles).
The Tragedies of Sophocles  (1878)  translated by Edward Hayes Plumptre

This text is the heavily revised second edition of Plumptre's translation.

From the Preface: "I have indicated by brackets [] lines which are looked on by one or more critics of repute as spurious, and by an asterisk (*) the more prominent passages in which the text is so uncertain, or the construction so difficult, that the rendering must be looked on as, at best, somewhat uncertain." The line numbers at right refer to the Greek text, not to the translation.

See also the rhymed choral odes from this play in the Appendix



Philoctetes, son of Pœas, king of the Malians, of Œta, in Thessaly, wooed Helena, the daughter of Tyndareus; and her father having bound him and the other suitors by an oath, to defend her in case of wrong, he joined the great expedition of the Hellenes against Troïa. And as he landed at Chryse, treading rashly on the sacred ground of the nymph from whom the island took its name, he was bitten in the foot by a snake; and the wound became so noisome, and the cries of his agony so sharp, that the host could not endure his presence, and sent him in charge of Odysseus to Lemnos, and there he was left. And nine years passed away, and Achilles had died, and Hector, and Aias, and yet Troïa was not taken. But the Greeks took prisoner Helenos, a son of Priam, who had the gift of prophecy, and they learnt from him that it was decreed that it should never be taken but by the son of Achilles, and with the bow of Heracles. Now, this bow was in the hands of Philoctetes, for Heracles loved him, because he found him faithful; and when he died on Œta, it was Philoctetes who climbed up the hill with him, and prepared the funeral pyre, and kindled it: therefore Heracles gave him his arrows and his bow. The Hellenes, then, first sent to Skyros to fetch Neoptolemos, the son of Achilles, and then, when he had arrived, they despatched him with Odysseus to bring Philoctetes from Lemnos.

Dramatis Personæ.

Neoptolemos, son of Achilles.


SCENE—The Shore of Lemnos. Rocks and a Cave in the background.

Enter Odysseus, Neoptolemos, and Attendant, followed by Chorus of Sailors, who remain in the background.

Odys. Here, then, we reach this shore of sea-girt isle,
Of Lemnos, by the foot of man untrod,
Without inhabitant, where, long ago,
(O thou who growest up to man's estate,
Sprung from a father noblest of the Greeks,
Son of Achilles, Neoptolemos,)
I set on shore the Melian, Pœas' son,
His foot all ulcerous with an eating sore,
Sent on this errand by the chiefs that rule;
For never were we able tranquilly
To join in incense-offerings, nor to pour
Libations, but with clamour fierce and wild
He harassed all the encampment, shouting loud,10
And groaning low. What need to speak of this?
It is no time for any length of speech,
Lest he should hear of my approach, and I
Upset the whole contrivance wherewithal
I think to take him. But thy task it is
To do thine office now, and search out well
Where lies a cavern here with double mouth,
Where in the winter twofold sunny side
Is found to sit in, while in summer heat
The breeze sends slumber through the tunnelled vault;
And just below, a little to the left,20
Thou may'st perchance a stream of water see,
If still it flow there. Go, and show in silence
If he is dwelling in this self-same spot,
Or wanders elsewhere, that in all that comes
Thou may'st give heed to me, and I may speak,
And common counsels work for good from both.

Neop. [Clambering on the rocks.] Ο King Odysseus, no
far task thou giv'st;
For such a cave, methinks, I see hard by.

Odys. Above thee or below? for this I see not.

Neop. *Here, just above; yet footstep there is none.

Odys. Look to it lest he chance to sleep within.30

Neop. I see an empty cave untenanted.

Odys. *Are there no household luxuries within?

Neop. Some leaves pressed down as for some dweller's use.

Odys. Is all else empty? nought beneath the roof?

Neop. A simple cup of wood, the common work
Of some poor craftsman, and this tinder stuff.

Odys. His precious store it is thou tell'st me of.

Neop. [Starting back.] Ah! . . . And here, too, these
rags are set to dry,
Full of some foul and sickening noisomeness.

Odys. Clearly the man is dwelling in this spot,40
And is not distant. How could one so worn
With that old evil in his foot go far?
But either he is gone in search of food,
Or knows perchance some herb medicinal;
And therefore send this man to act the scout,
Lest he should come upon me unawares,
For he would rather seize on me than take
All other Argives. [Exit Attendant.

Neop. He is gone to watch
The path. If aught thou needest, speak again.

Odys. Now should'st thou prove thyself, Achilles' son,50
Stout-hearted for the task for which thou cam'st,
Not in thy body only, but if thou
Should'st hear strange things, by thee unknown till now,
Still give thy help, as subaltern to me.

Neop. What dost thou bid me?

Odys. Thou must cheat and trick
The heart of Philoctetes with thy words;
And when he asks thee who and what thou art,
Say thou 'rt Achilles' son, (that hide thou not,)
And that thou sailest homeward, leaving there
The Achæans' armament; with bitter hate
Hating them all, who having sent to beg
Thy coming with their prayers, as having this60
Their only way to capture Ilion's towers,
Then did not deign to grant thee, seeking them
With special claims, our great Achilles' arms,
But gave them to Odysseus. What thou wilt
Say thou against me to the utmost ill:
In this thou wilt not grieve me; but if thou
Wilt not do this, on all the Argive host
Thou wilt bring sorrow; for, unless we get
His bow and arrows, it will not be thine
To sack the plain of Dardanos. And how
I cannot have, and thou may'st have access70
To him both safe and trustworthy, learn thus;
For thou hast sailed as bound by oath to none,[1]
Not by constraint, nor with the earlier host,
But none of all these things can I deny;
So, if he sees me while he holds his bow,
I perish, and shall cause thy death as well.
But this one piece of craft thou needs must work,
That thou may'st steal those arms invincible.
I know, Ο boy, thy nature is not apt
To speak such things, nor evil guile devise;80
But sweet it is to gain the conqueror's prize;
Therefore be bold. Hereafter, once again,
We will appear in sight of all as just.
But now for one short day give me thyself,
And cast off shame, and then, in time to come,
Be honoured, as of all men most devout.

Neop. The things, Ο son of Lartios, which I grieve
To hear in words, those same I hate to do.
I was not born to act with evil arts,
Nor I myself, nor, as they say, my sire.
Prepared am I to take the man by force,90
And not by fraud; for he with one weak foot
Will fail in strength to master force like ours;
And yet, being sent thy colleague, I am loth
To get the name of traitor; but I wish,
Ο king, to miss my mark in acting well,
Rather than conquer, acting evilly.

Odys. Ο son of noble sire, I, too, when young,
Had a slow tongue and ready-working hand;
But now, by long experience, I have found
Not deeds, but words prevail at last with men.

Neop. But what is all thou bidd'st me say but lies?100

Odys. I bid thee Philoctetes take with guile.

Neop. And why by guile, when suasion might succeed?

Odys. He will not hearken, and by force thou can'st not.

Neop. Has he so dread a strength whereto he trusts?

Odys. His darts unerring, bringing swiftest death.

Neop. Is it not safe, then, e'en to speak with him?

Odys. Not so, unless, as I repeat, in guile.

Neop. Dost thou not count it base to utter lies?

Odys. Not so, when falsehood brings deliverance.

Neop. But with what face can one such falsehoods speak?110

Odys. When acts bring gain, it is not well to shrink.

Neop. What gain for me that he should come to Troïa?

Odys. This bow and this alone shall Troïa take.

Neop. Am I not destined, as thou said'st, to take it?

Odys. Nor thou from these, nor these from thee apart.

Neop. If so it stands, then we must hunt for them.

Odys. So doing thou shalt gain two gifts of price.

Neop. What are they? Learning them I shall not shrink.

Odys. Thou shalt be known at once as wise and good.

Neop. Come, then, I'll do it, casting off all shame.120

Odys. Rememb'rest thou the counsel that I gave?

Neop. Be sure of that, when I have once agreed.

Odys. Do thou, then, here abiding, wait for him,
And I will go, lest I be seen with thee,
And send our scout to yon ship back again.
And if ye seem to me to linger long,
The self-same man will I send back, in guise
Of seaman's dress, his form disguising so
That he may come unknown; and thou, my son,
When he speaks craftily, do thou receive130
The things that profit in each word he drops:
Now to the ship I go, and trust to thee;
And Hermes, God of Guile, who sends us on,
And Victory, e'en Athena Polias,[2]
Who saves me ever, lead us on to win. [Exit.

Chorus advances.

Stroph. I.

Chor. What, what is meet, my prince,
For me, a stranger in a land that 's strange,
To utter or conceal,
With one so prone to look suspiciously?
Tell me, I pray; his art
All other art and counsel still excels,
Whose hands the sceptre wield
That Zeus assigns from heaven to them that rule;140
And thou, my son, hast gained
This glory of the old ancestral past;
Tell me, then, tell, I pray,
What service 'tis our work to do for thee.

Neop. Now, it may be, thou dost wish
To see the place where he lies
Far off. Take courage, and look;
But when he appears who went forth,
Wayfarer dread from this home,
Then come thou at my beck,
And strive to render thy help
As each present need may demand.

Antistroph. I.

Chor. Thou tellest, Ο my king,150
Of what has been full long a care to us,
To watch that eye of thine
For thine especial need; but tell, I pray,
What kind of home is his,
And in what spot he now may chance to be.
'Tis not unmeet to know,
Lest he should fall upon me unawares.
What place, what seat has he,
What path, or near, or far, does he now tread?

Neop. Thou see'st this dwelling with its double door,
Its chamber in the rock.160

Chor. And where is that poor sufferer absent now?

Neop. To me it is plain that he treads
This path near, hunting for food.
For this is the fashion of life,
So rumour runs, that he leads,
With swift darts shooting the game,
Wretched, and wretchedly fed,
And that here none wendeth his way,
As friend and healer of ills.

Stroph. II.

Chor. I pity him, for one,
Thinking how he, with none to care for him,170
Seeing no face of friend,
Ever, poor wretch, in dreary loneliness,
Suffers from sore disease,
And wanders on in sore perplexity
At every urgent need.
Oh, how, yea, how can he his sorrows bear?
*O handiwork of Gods!
Ο wretched men, who miss their life's true mean?

Antistroph. II.

He, born of ancient house,
And falling short of none of all the line,180
Now stript of all the things
That make up life, lies here, apart from all,
With dappled deer, or beasts
With shaggy manes, still dwelling in his pain,
In hunger fierce, with grief
That none can heal; and Echo far and wide,
With ever-babbling cry,
Repeats his wail of bitter, loud lament.190

Neop. I wonder at none of these things;
If I err not, they come from a God,
From Chryse, ruthless of soul.[3]
And now the woes that he bears,
With none to care for him near,
From some God needs must they come,
That he may not Troïa destroy
With darts of Gods none can resist,
Ere the time run on to its close,
When, as they say, it is doomed
To be by those weapons subdued.200

Chor. Hush, hush, Ο boy!

Neop. What is this?

Chor. The sounds of step we heard,
As of some man who drags his weary way,
Or here or there around;
There falls, ah yes, there falls upon my ears
Clear sound of one who creeps,
Slow and reluctant, on the well-worn track.
It is not hid from me
That bitter cry that cometh from afar,
Wearing man's strength away;
For very clearly comes his wailing cry.
But now, Ο boy, 'tis time . . . . . 210

Neop. For what?

Chor. For thoughts and counsels new,
For lo! the man is not far off, but near;
No note of reed-pipe his,
As shepherd roaming idly through the fields,
But stumbling, for sheer pain,
He utters a lament that travels far,
Or seeing this our ship
Lying anchored in the bay inhospitable;
For sharp and dread his cry.

Enter Philoctetes, in worn and tattered raiment.

Phil. Ho, there, my friends!
Who are ye that have come to this our shore,220
And by what chance? for neither is it safe
To anchor in, nor yet inhabited.
What may I guess your country and your race?
Your outward guise and dress of Hellas speak,
To me most dear, and yet I fain would hear
Your speech and draw not back from me in dread,
As fearing this my wild and savage look,
But pity one unhappy, left alone,
Thus helpless, friendless, worn with many ills.
Speak, if it be ye come to me as friends:
Nay, answer me, it is not meet that I230
Should fail of this from you, nor ye from me.

Neop. Know this then first, Ο stranger, that we come,
Of Hellas all; for this thou seek'st to know.

Phil. Ο dear-loved sound! Ah me! what joy it is
After long years to hear a voice like thine!
What led thee hither, what need brought thee here?
Whither thy voyage, what blest wind bore thee on?
Tell all, that I may know thee who thou art.

Neop. By birth I come from sea-girt Skyros' isle,
And I sail homeward, I, Achilles' son,240
Named Neoptolemos. Now know'st thou all.

Phil. Ο son of dearest father, much-loved land,
Thou darling boy of Lycomedes old,
Whence sailing, whither bound, hast thou steered hither?

Neop. At present I from Ilion make my voyage.

Phil. What say'st thou? Thou wast surely not with us
A sailor when the fleet to Ilion came?

Neop. What? Did'st thou, too, share that great enterprise?

Phil. And know'st thou not, Ο boy, whom thou dost see?

Neop. How can I know a man I ne'er beheld?250

Phil. And did'st thou never hear my name, nor fame
Of these my ills, in which I pined away?

Neop. Know that I nothing know of what thou ask'st.

Phil. Ο crushed with many woes, and of the Gods
Hated am I, of whom, in this my woe,
No rumour travelled homeward, nor went forth
Through any clime of Hellas! But the men
Who cast me out in scorn of holiest laws
Laugh in their sleeve, and this my sore disease
Still grows apace, and passes into worse.
My son, Ο boy that call'st Achilles sire,260
Lo! I am he, of whom perchance thou heard'st,
That I possess the arms of Heracles,
The son of Pœas, Philoctetes, whom
Our generals twain and Kephallene's king[4]
Basely cast forth thus desolate, worn out
Through fierce disease, with bite of murderous snake,
Fierce bite, sore smitten; and with that, Ο boy,
Thus desolate they left me, when they touched
From sea-girt Chryse in their armament;270
And when they saw me, tired and tempest-worn,
Asleep in vaulted cave upon the shore,
Gladly they went, and left me, giving me
Some wretched rags that might a beggar suit,
And some small store of food they chanced to have.
And thou, my son, what kind of waking-up
Think'st thou I had, when I arose from sleep,
And found them gone,—what bitter tears I wept,
What groans of woe I uttered? when I saw
The ships all gone, with which till then I sailed,
And no man on the spot to give me aid,280
Nor help me struggling with my sore disease;
And, looking all around, I nothing found
But pain and torment, and of this, my son,
Full plenteous store. And so the years went on,
Month after month, and in this lowly cell
I needs must wait upon myself. My bow
Found what my hunger needed, striking down
The swift-winged doves, but whatsoe'er the dart,
Sent from the string, might hit, to that poor I290
Must wend my way, and drag my wretched foot,
Even to that; and if I wanted drink,
Or, when the frost was out in winter time,
Had need to cleave my firewood, this poor I
Crept out, and fetched. And then no fire had I,
But rubbing stone with stone I brought to light,
Not without toil, the spark deep hid within;
And this e'en now preserves me; for a cell
To dwell in, if one has but fire, provides
All that I need, except release from pain.
And now, my son, learn thou this island's tale:300
No sailor here approaches willingly,
For neither is there harbour, nor a town,
Where sailing he may profit gain, or lodge.
No men of prudence make their voyage here;
Yet some, perchance, may come against their will;
(Such things will happen in the lapse of years;)
And these, my son, when they do come, in words
Show pity on me, and perchance they give
Some food in their compassion, and some clothes;
But none is willing, when I mention that,310
To take me safely home, but here poor I
Wear out my life, for nine long years and more,
In hunger and distress this eating sore
Still nursing. Such the deeds th' Atreidæ did,
And great Odysseus. May the Olympian Gods
Give them to bear like recompense for this!

Chor. I seem, Ο Pœas' son, to pity thee
As much as any stranger that has come.

Neop. And I myself am witness to thy words,
And know that they are true, for I have found320
The Atreidæ and the great Odysseus base.

Phil. What! Hast thou too a grudge against those vile ones,
The Atreidæ, that thy wrongs have stirred thy rage?

Neop. Would it were mine some day to glut my rage!
That Sparta and Mykenæ both might know,
That Skyros, too, is mother of brave men.

Phil. Well said, Ο boy! And what offence has caused
This mighty wrath with which thou comest here?

Neop. I'll tell thee, Pœas' son, though scarce I can,330
What I endured of outrage at their hands;
For when the Fates decreed Achilles' death, . . . .

Phil. Ah me! Speak nothing further till I learn
This first; and is the son of Peleus dead?

Neop. Dead is he, not by any man shot down,
But by a God,—by Phœbos, as they say.[5]

Phil. Well, noble He that slew, and he that fell;
And I, my son, am much in doubt, if first
To ask thy sufferings, or to mourn for him.

Neop. Thine own misfortunes are enough, I trow;
Thou need'st not sorrow o'er thy neighbour's lot.340

Phil. Thou sayest well, and therefore tell again
That business in the which they outraged thee.

Neop. There came for me in ship all gaily decked,
High-born Odysseus, and my father's friend,[6]
Who reared his youth, and said, or true or false,
That since my father's death none else but me
Might take the Towers. And so with words like these,
Ο stranger, no long time they kept me there
From sailing quickly; chiefly in my love,
My longing love for him who lay there dead,350
That I might see him yet unsepulchred,
For never had I known him. Next to this,
Promise full fair there was that I should go,
And take the Towers that over Troïa hang.
And as I sailed our second morning's voyage,
With prospering oar Sigeion's shore I reached,
Full bitter to me; and forthwith the host,
All standing round, with one voice greeted me,
E'en as I landed, swearing that they saw
Achilles who was gone, alive again;
He then lay there, and I, poor hapless boy,
Wept over him, and not long after went360
To those Atreidæ as my friends, (for so
'Twas meet to think them,) and of them I asked
My father's arms, and all things else of his.
And they spake out, ah me! a shameless speech:
"Ο offspring of Achilles, all the rest
That was thy father's it is thine to choose;
But of those arms another now is lord,
Laertes' son." And I with many a tear
Rise up in hot displeasure, and I say,
In my fierce wrath, "Ο wretch! and have ye dared
To give my arms, before ye learnt my mind,370
To any but to me?" And then there spake
Odysseus, for he chanced to stand hard by,
"Yea, boy; most justly have they given them me,
For I, being with him, saved both him and them."
And I, being angry, hurled all evil words
Straight in his teeth, and nothing left unsaid,
Should he deprive me of those arms of mine.
And he at this point, though not prone to wrath,
Stung to the quick, thus answered what he heard:
"Thou wast not where we were, but stood'st aloof
Where thou should'st not; and since thou speak'st to us,
So bold of tongue, with these thou ne'er shalt sail380
To Skyros back." And hearing words like these.
And foul reproaches, now I homeward sail,
Out of mine own rights cheated by a man
Base-born, Odysseus, basest of the base.
And yet I blame not him so much as those
Who reign supreme; for all a city hangs,
And all an army, on the men that rule;
And they who wax unruly in their deeds
Come to be base through mood of those that guide.
Now my whole tale is told, and he who hates
The Atreidæ, may he be my friend and God's!390

Chor. O Goddess Earth, that reignest on the hills,[7]
Giver of food to all;
Mother of Zeus himself,
Who dwellest where the full Pactolos rolls[8]
Its streams o'er golden sands;
There also, dreaded Mother, I invoked thee,
When all the scorn of the Atreidæ fell
On him who standeth here,
When they his father's weapons gave away
(O Holy One, who sittest on thy car,400
On lions fierce that slay the mighty bulls!)
To Lartios' son a glory and a prize.

Phil. 'Twould seem that you have hither sailed, my friends,
With sorrow's friendship-token, and with mine
Your voice accords, so that I see these deeds
Are by the Atreidæ and Odysseus done:
For well I know that he with that glib tongue
Leaves no base speech or subtlety untouched,
From which nought right shall in the issue spring.
At this I marvel not, but much to think410
The elder Aias should have seen and borne it.

Neop. He was not living, friend. Had he but lived,
I had not then been plundered of these things.

Phil. What say'st thou? Is he also dead and gone?

Neop. Think thou of him as seeing light no more.

Phil. Ah, wretched me! That son to Tydeus born,
That child of Sisyphos that Lartios bought,[9]
They will not die;—for they ought not to live.

Neop. Not dead are they, be sure: but, lo! they live,
And now are mighty in the Argives' host.420

Phil. And what of that old worthy, my good friend,
Nestor of Pylos; for he still was wont
With his wise counsels to restrain their ill.

Neop. He, too, fares badly, since Antilochos,
His dear-loved son, has left him and is dead.

Phil. Ah, me! These two that thou hast told me of,
Were those whose deaths I least had wished to hear.
Fie on it! fie! and whither can one look,
When these men die and here Odysseus lives,
Who ought in their stead to be named a corpse?430

Neop. A crafty foe is he, yet craftiest schemes,
Ο Philoctetes, oft a hindrance find.

Phil. Now tell me, by the Gods, and where is he,
Patroclos, whom thy father loved so well?

Neop. He too is dead, and I, in one short speech,
Will tell thee this, that war ne'er wills to take
One scoundrel soul, but evermore the good.

Phil. I bear thee witness, and for that same reason
I'll ask thee now of one of little worth,
But open-mouthed and crafty, how he fares.440

Neop. And who is this thou speak'st of but Odysseus?

Phil. I mean not him, but one, Thersites named,
Who never was content to speak but once,
When no man asked him,—know'st thou if he lives?

Neop. I saw him not, but heard that still he lived.

Phil. Well may he live, for nothing bad will die,
So well the Gods do fence it round about;
And still they joy to turn from Hades back
The cunning and the crafty, while they send
The just and good below. What thoughts can I450
Of such things form, how offer praise, when still,
Praising the Gods, I find the Gods are base?

Neop. I, Ο thou son of sire whom Œta knows
I, for the future, with a far-off glance
At Ilion and the Atreidæ, stand on guard;
And where the worse o'erpowers the better man,
And good things perish, and the coward wins,
These men, and such as these, I ne'er will love;
But rocky Skyros shall in time to come[10]
Suffice for me to take mine ease at home.460
Now to my ship I go. And thou, Ο son
Of Pœas, fare thee well, good luck be thine,
And may the Gods release thee from thy pain,
As thou desirest! Now then let us start;
When God fair weather gives us, then we sail.

Phil. And do ye start already?

Neop. Yes; the time
Bids us our voyage think near, and not far off.

Phil. By thy dear sire and mother, I, my son,
Implore thee as a suppliant, by all else
To thee most dear, thus lonely leave me not,470
Abandoned to these evils which thou see'st,
With which thou hearest that I still abide;
But think of me as thrown on you by chance:
Right well I know how noisome such a freight;
Yet still do thou endure it. Noble souls
Still find the base is hateful, and the good
Is full of glory. And for thee, my son,
Leaving me here comes shame that is not good;
But doing what I ask thee thou shalt have
Thy meed of greatest honour, should I reach
Alive and well the shores of Œta's land.
Come, come! The trouble lasts not one whole day:480
Take heart; receive me; put me where thou wilt,
In hold, or stern, or stem, where least of all
I should molest my fellow-passengers.
Ah, by great Zeus, the suppliant's God, consent;
I pray thee, hearken. On my knees I beg,
Lame though I be and powerless in my limbs.
Nay, leave me not thus desolate, away
From every human footstep. Bring me safe,
Or to my home, or where Chalkodon holds[11]
His seat in fair Eubœa: thence the sail
To Œta and the ridge of Trachis steep,490
And fair Spercheios is not far for me,
That thou may'st shew me to my father dear,
Of whom long since I've feared that he perchance
Has passed away. For many messages
I sent to him by those who hither came,
Yea, suppliant prayers that he would hither send,
Himself, to fetch me home. But either he
Is dead, or else, as happens oft with men
Who errands take, they holding me, 'twould seem,
In slight account, pushed on their homeward voyage.
But now, for here I come to thee as one
At once my escort and my messenger,500
Be thou my helper, my deliverer thou,
Seeing all things full of fear and perilous chance,
Or to fare well, or fall in evil case;
And one that's free from sorrow should look out
For coming dangers, and, when most at ease,
Should then keep wariest watch upon his life,
Lest unawares he perish utterly.

Chor. Have pity, Ο my prince, for he hath told
Of sorrows which, I pray
No friend of mine may know.
But if, Ο prince, the Atreidæ, rough and fierce,510
Thou hatest in thy soul,
I, reckoning on the profit-side for him
The evil they have done, would take him home,
And on my good ship swift
Make for the haven which his heart desires,
Escaping thus the righteous wrath of Gods.

Neop. Take heed lest thou be very pliant now,
But when thou hast thy fill of that foul pest,520
Should'st shew no more at one with these thy words.

Chor. Far be that from me! Thou shalt ne'er have cause
With that reproach to vilify my name.

Neop. Right shameful were it I more loth should seem
Than thou to help a stranger in his need:
But, if it please you, let us sail at once.
And let him too be quick to start with us;
Our ship will take him, will not say him nay.
This only pray I, that the Gods may bring us
From this land safe to where we seek to sail.

Phil. Ο day best loved by me, and man most dear,530
And ye, my sailor friends, how best may I
Show in my acts the grateful love I feel?
Come, let us go, my son, and bid farewell
To that my homeless home, that thou may'st learn
What way I lived, and how I was by nature
Full stout of heart. Another man, I trow,
Would hardly even bear, with glance of eye,
To look on such a sight. But I have learnt,
Through sheer constraint, to acquiesce in ills.

Chor. [To Neoptolemos.] Stop; let us learn. Two
men draw near, the one
A sailor from thy ship, the other seems540
A stranger. Ask of them, and then go in.

Enter Attendant, disguised as a trader, and a Sailor.

Attend. Son of Achilles, this thy shipmate here,
Who with two others o'er the ship kept watch,
I bade to tell where thou might'st chance to be;
For so I met him, not intending it,
But to the self-same harbour brought by chance.
For I, as owner of my little boat,
Was sailing home from Ilion to the shores
Of Peparêthos, where the grapes grow fair;[12]
And when I heard that all those sailors there
Had sailed with thee, I deemed it well to wait550
Silent no longer, but to tell thee all,
And then to sail with what my news deserves:
For thou know'st nought of what concerns thee much,
The new plans which the Argives form for thee;
Nor are they plans alone, but of a truth
Are being done, no longer tarrying.

Neop. I owe thee thanks for this thy forethought, friend,
And if I be not base those thanks will last.
But tell me what thou mean'st, that I may know
What new device thou from the Argives bring'st.560

Attend. They with good show of ships pursue thee now,
The aged Phœnix and great Theseus' sons.

Neop. By force to bring me back, or by their words?

Attend. I know not; what I heard, I come to tell.

Neop. And can it be that Phœnix and his mates
Make such good speed for those Atreidæ's sake?

Attend. Know that this is being done and lingers not.

Neop. How was it then Odysseus did not come,
A volunteer, self-summoned? Did he fear?

Attend. He and the son of Tydeus went their way570
To seek another, when I started forth.

Neop. And who was this for whom Odysseus sailed?

Attend. There was a man, . . . . but tell me first who this
I see may be, and what thou say'st, speak low.

Neop. This, friend, is Philoctetes, known to fame.

Attend. Ask me no more, but with thine utmost speed
Hasten thy way, and from this island sail.

Phil. What saith he, boy, and why with darkling words
Does he, that sailor, traffic in my life?

Neop. I know not what he says, but all he speaks580
He must speak out to thee, and me, and these.

Attend. Ο son of great Achilles, charge me not
Before the host with saying things I ought not;
For I, doing them good service, (far at least
As poor man can,) get good return for it.

Neop. I am the Atreidæ's foe, and this man here
Is my best friend, because he hates them too;
And thou, who comest as a friend to me,
Should'st not hide from us aught of what thou heard'st.

Attend. Take heed, Ο boy.

Neop. Long since I'm on the watch.

Attend. I'll hold thee guilty.

Neop. Hold, but tell thy tale.590

Attend. That will I tell. It is to bring this man
Those twain, whose names thou knowest, Tydeus' son
And great Odysseus, sail, by oath fast bound
That they will either bring him back, with words
Persuading him, or else with force and arms;
And all the Achæans heard Odysseus speak
This clearly out. More confident was he
That he should do it than the other was.

Neop. And for what cause, so long a time elapsed,
Did those Atreidæ turn to seek this man
Whom for so long they had in exile left?600
Whence came this yearning? Can it be the power
And vengeance of the Gods who wrong requite?

Attend. All this, for thou perchance hast heard it not,
I now will tell. A certain noble seer,
A son of Priam, Helenos his name,
There was, whom this man, going forth alone
By night (I mean Odysseus, full of craft,
On whom all words of shame and baseness fall)
As prisoner took, and where the Achæans meet
As goodly spoil displayed him. And he then,
Both all the rest to them did prophesy,610
And that they should not take the Towers that hang
O'er Troïa, till, with words persuading him,
They fetched the man who in this island dwells.
And when Laertes' offspring heard the seer
Say this, he straightway promised he would bring
This man, and to the Achæans show him there,
And that he thought to do it with his will,
But, will or nill, to bring him; and he gave
Full leave to any man to take his head
If he should fail. And now, boy, thou hast heard
All that I know, and I must counsel speed620
For thee and him, and any man thou lov'st.

Phil. Ah, woe is me! Did he, that utter mischief,
Swear to persuade me, and to bring me back
To those Achæans? Just as soon would I
Be moved, when dead, from Hades to return
To light of day, as that man's father did.[13]

Attend. Of this I know not. To my ship I go,
And now God send you all his choicest gifts. [Exit.

Phil. And is it not, boy, dreadful that this man,
The son of Lartios, should expect to bring me
With glozing words, and show me from his ship
To all the crowd of Argives? Nay, not so:630
For rather would I listen to the voice
Of that dread viper which my soul most hates,
That made me thus disabled. But his soul
Will say all, dare all, and I know full well
That he will come. But now, boy, let us go,
That a wide sea may part us from the ship
Odysseus sails in. Oft hath timely haste,
When toil hath ceased, brought slumber and repose.

Neop. Were it not well, when this head-wind shall cease,
Then to sail on, for now 'tis in our teeth?640

Phil. 'Tis all fair sailing when thou flee'st from ill.

Neop. *I know it, but the wind retards them too.

Phil. There is no wind retards the pirate's work,
When time is come for theft and plundering.

Neop. Well, if it please thee, let us go, but first
Take what thou needest and desirest most.

Phil. Some things there are I need, though small the choice.

Neop. What is there which thou find'st not on my ship?

Phil. A herb there is with which I mostly lull
My wound's sharp pain, and make it bearable.650

Neop. Well, bring it out. What else desirest thou?

Phil. If from my quiver aught has chanced to drop
Through my neglect, that no man find it here.

Neop. Is this that thou dost bear the far-famed bow?

Phil. This, and none other hold I in my hands.

Neop. And may I have a nearer view of it,
And hold it, and salute it, as a God?

Phil. Thou shalt have this, my son, and if aught else
Of mine shall please thee, that too shall be thine.

Neop. I wish and long, and yet my wish stands thus;660
I fain would, were it right; if not, refuse.

Phil. Thou askest but thy due, and it is right,
My son, who only giv'st me to behold
The light of day, and yon Œtæan shore,
My aged father, and my friends,—whose arm,
When I was trodden down, has raised me up
Above my foes. Take heart: it shall be thine
To touch them, yea, and give them back to me,
And boast that thou, alone of all that live,
Hast, for thy virtue's sake, laid hands on them:
For I too gained them by good deeds I did.670

Neop. I grieve not now to see thee as a friend,
And take thee with me, for a man that knows,
Receiving good, to render good again,
Would be a friend worth more than land or goods;
Go thou within.

Phil. And I will take thee too:
My ailment makes me crave to have thy help.

[Exeunt into the cavern.

Stroph. I.

Chor. I know the tale, though these eyes saw it not,
Of him who came too near
The marriage-bed of Zeus,
*How him, a prisoner bound on whirling wheel,
The son of Kronos smote, omnipotent;[14]680
But never have I seen or heard of one
Of mortal men that met
A gloomier fate than his,
Who having done no wrong to life or goods,
But just among the just,
Was brought thus low, in doom dishonourable:
And wonder holds my soul,
How he, still hearing in his loneliness
The dashing of the breakers on the shore,
Endurèd still to live
A life all lamentable;690

Antistroph. I.

Where he alone was neighbour to himself,
Powerless to move a limb,
And having on this isle
No habitant, companion in his grief,
With whom to wail his sharp and bleeding pain,
In echoing burst of lamentation loud,
With none to stanch or soothe
(When such ill came on him)
The scalding blood that oozed from cankering sore
Of that envenomed foot,
With healing herbs, or fetch them from the earth
That giveth food to all;700
But ever like a child without its nurse,
Now here, now there, he dragged his writhing limbs,
Wending his way for ease,
When the pain respite gave:

Stroph. II.

Never from out the lap of sacred earth710
The seed-corn gathering,
Nor aught that we, who live by work, enjoy,
But only what perchance
He gained, the pangs of hunger to appease,
With those swift-wingèd darts
That travelled straight and far.
Ο soul deep plunged in woe,
Who never, in the space of ten long years,
Did know the wine-cup's joy,
But still did go, where eager glance might guide,
To drink of standing pool;

Antistroph. II.

But now, thou, meeting one from heroes sprung,
Shalt end in being great,720
And prosper well after those woes of thine;
Who now, the long months passed,
Art borne in ship that travels o'er the waves
To that thy father's home,
Where wander Malia's nymphs,
And by Spercheios' banks,
Where he who bore the brazen shield, though man,[15]
Draws near, a God, to Gods,
Bright with the fire that flashes from the sky,
High above Œta's slopes.

Enter Philoctetes and Neoptolemos from the cavern.

Neop. Come, if thou wilt. But why, without a cause,730
Stand'st thou so silent and astonishèd?

Phil. [Groaning heavily.] Ah! ah! ah!

Neop. What means this cry?

Phil. 'Tis nought, my son; go on.

Neop. Art thou in pain from onset of disease?

Phil. Not so, not so; I think 'tis easier now.
Ye Gods! ye Gods!

Neop. Why groan'st thou thus, and callest on the Gods?

Phil. That they may come with power to soothe and save.
Ah! ah! ah! [Groaning in agony.]

Neop. What ails thee? Wilt thou thus thy silence keep,740
And wilt not tell? 'Tis clear some ill is on thee.

Phil. I perish, Ο my son, and cannot hide
The evil from thee. Oh, it darts, it darts.
Ο misery! Ο miserable me!
I perish, Ο my son; it eats me up.
[Gasps with suppressed agony.
Oh! by the Gods, my son, if thou hast there
A sword at hand, smite thou this foot of mine,
And lop it off at once. Care not for life:
Come, boy, be quick. . . . .

Neop. And what new sudden grief750
Is this for which thou mak'st this wailing and lament?

Phil. Thou know'st, my son.

Neop. What is 't?

Phil. Thou knowest, boy.

Neop. What is it? I know not.

Phil. How can it be
Thou dost not know it well? Ah me! Ah me!

[Gasping, as before.

Neop. Sore is the growing weight of thy disease.

Phil. Yea, sore beyond all words: nay, pity me.

Neop. What shall I do then?

Phil. Do not in thy fear
Desert me, for it now is come, perchance,
*After long time, retreating when 'tis sated.

Neop. Ah! miserable one, most miserable,760
All worn with many woes, dost thou then wish
That I should hold thee, touch thee?

Phil. Nay, not so:
But take my bow and arrows, which but now
Thou asked'st for, and keep them till the force
Of the sharp pain be spent; yea, guard them well,
For slumber takes me, when this evil ends;
Nor can it cease before: but thou must leave me
To sleep in peace; and should they come meanwhile,
Of whom we heard, by all the Gods I charge thee,
Nor with thy will, nor yet against it, give770
These things to them, by any art entrapped,
Lest thou should'st deal destruction on thyself,
And me who am thy suppliant.

Neop. Take good heart,
If forethought can avail. To none but thee
And me shall they be given. Hand them me,
And good luck come with them!

Phil. [Giving his bow and arrows to Neoptolemos.]
Lo there, my son!
Receive thou them, but first adore the Power
Whose name is Jealousy, that they may prove
To thee less full of trouble than they were
To me, and him who owned them ere I owned.

Neop. So be it, Ο ye Gods, to both of us;
And may we have a fair and prosperous voyage780
Where God thinks right, and these our ships are bound.

Phil. I fear, Ο boy, lest all thy prayers be vain;
For now the dark blood, oozing from the depths,
Drops once again, and I await a change.
Ah! ah! ah me!
Fie on thee, foot, what evil wilt thou work?
It creeps, it comes again on me. Ah me!
Ο miserable me! Ye know it now:
Flee ye not from me—flee ye not, I pray!
Ο Kephallenian friend, would God this pain790
Might fasten on thy breast, and pierce thee through!
Ah me! Once more, ah me! Ye generals twain,—
Thou, Agamemnon, Menelaos, thou,—
Would God ye both might bear this fell disease,
As long a time as I! Woe, woe is me!
Ο Death! Ο Death! why com'st thou not to me,
Thus summoned day by day continually?
And thou my son, brave boy, come, cast me in,
Consume me in this Lemnian fire,[16] dear boy,800
By me so oft invoked. I too of old,
For these his arms which now thou cherishest,
Thought meet to do this for the son of Zeus.
What say'st thou, boy? what say'st thou? Why not speak?
Where go thy thoughts now?

Neop. Troubled sore long since,
Lamenting thy misfortunes.

Phil. Nay, Ο boy,
Be of good cheer. It comes upon me sharply,
And quickly goes away. Nay, leave me not,
I pray thee, here alone.

Neop. Fear not; we'll stay.

Phil. And wilt thou stay?

Neop. Deem that beyond all doubt.810

Phil. I do not care to bind thee by an oath.

Neop. I may not go from hence apart from thee.

Phil. Give me thy hand as pledge.

Neop. I give it thee
As pledge of our remaining.

Phil. [Starting in agony.] Take me there,
There, there, I say.

Neop. But whither meanest thou?

Phil. Above. . . . .

Neop. [Laying hold on Philoctetes.] Why ravest
thou, and why dost gaze
Upon yon vault above us?

Phil. Let me go,
I tell thee; let me go!

Neop. Where shall I leave thee?

Phil. Leave me, I say, a while.

Neop. It may not be.

Phil. If thou but touch me, thou wilt work my death.

Neop. [Releasing him.] And I will let thee go, if thou, indeed,
Art calmer now.

Phil. [Throwing himself on the ground.] Ο Earth, receive
me here,
Just as I am, half-dead. This sore disease
No longer lets me hold myself upright. 820[Falls asleep.

Neop. Sleep, so 'twould seem, would make the man its own
In no long time; for, lo! his head droops back,
And drops of sweat from all his body fall,
And the dark vein from out his instep breaks,
Bursting with blood. But let us leave him here
In peace, that he may fall on sleep at last.


Chor. Come, blowing softly, Sleep, that know'st not pain,
Sleep, ignorant of grief,
Come softly, surely, kingly Sleep, and bless;
Keep still before his eyes
*The band of light which lies upon them now.830
Come, come, thou healing one:
And thou, my son, take heed
How thou or stand or stir,
And what new counsels lie before us now;
Thou see'st him: wherefore, then,
Do we delay to act?
Occasion guiding counsel, in all things,
If used at once, gains prize of victory.

Neop. [In an altered tone, as if chanting an oracle.] He,
indeed, heareth nought, and well I see that all vainly,
Sailing off without him, we gain the spoil of his weapons.840
His are the glory and crown, him the God bade us bring with us;
And sore disgrace will it be, false boasting of task-work unfinished.


Chor. For this, my son, God's will shall well provide;
But what thou speak'st again
Speak gently, Ο my son, speak gently now
With 'bated breath, speak low.
To all whom pain and sickness make their own,
Sleep is but sleepless still,
And quick to glance and see.
But now, with all thy power,
Look thou to that, to that, all secretly,850
See how thou best may'st work.
Thou know'st well whom I serve;
And if thy measures be the same as his,
*Then men of judgment look for troubles sore.


The time is come, my son, the time is come.
All sightless, void of help,
The man in darkness lies,
(Right sound is sleep beneath the burning sun,)
And stirs nor hand, nor foot, nor any limb,860
But seems like one in Hades stretched full length.
Look to it well, and think if thou dost speak
The things that suit the time.
Far as my mind can grasp,
The toil that brings no fear holds highest place.

Neop. I bid you hush, nor lose your wits in fear;
The man has oped his eyes, and lifts his head.

Phil. [Waking.] Ο light that follow'st sleep! Ο help,
my thoughts
Had never dared to hope for from these strangers!
For never had I dreamt, Ο boy, that thou
With such true pity would'st endure to bear
All these my sorrows, and remain, and help.870
The Atreidæ ne'er had heart to bear with them,
As well as thou hast borne. Brave generals they!
But thou, my son, who art of noble heart,
And sprung from noble-hearted ones, hast made
But light of all, though every sense be filled
With stench and shrieks. And now, since respite seems
At hand, and some refreshment after pain,
Do thou, my son, upraise me, steady me,
That when the pain shall leave me, we may make880
Straight for the ship, and tarry not to sail.

Neop. Right glad am I to see, beyond all hopes,
That thou dost live and breathe, as free from pain;
For, measured by the nature of thine ills,
Thy symptoms were of one who breathes no more.
But now rise up, or, if it please thee best,
These men shall bear thee, nor will grudge their toil,
Since this seems right to thee and me to do.

Phil. I thank thee, boy. Do thou, as thou dost say,
Upraise me; but for these men, let them be,
Lest they too soon be sickened with the stench;890
To dwell with me on board is bad enough.

Neop. So shall it be; but rise, and lean on me.

[Philoctetes rises, with the help of Neoptolemos,
and walks, leaning on his arm.]

Phil. Be not afraid; long use will keep me straight.

Neop. [Suddenly starting.] Ο heavens! what now remains
for me to do?

Phil. What ails thee, Ο my son? What words are these?

Neop. I know not how to speak my sore distress.

Phil. Distress from what? Speak not such words, my son.

Neop. And yet in that calamity I stand.

Phil. It cannot be my wound's foul noisomeness900
Hath made thee loth to take me in thy ship?

Neop. All things are noisome when a man deserts
His own true self, and does what is not meet.

Phil. But thou, at least, nor doest aught nor say'st,
Unworthy of thy father's soul, when thou
Dost help a man right honest.

Neop. I shall seem
Basest of men. Long since this tortured me.

Phil. Not from thy deeds, but from thy words I shrink.

Neop. What shall I do, Ο Zeus? Once more be found
A villain, hiding things I should not hide,
And speaking words most shameful?

Phil. This man seems,
Unless my judgment errs, about to sail,910
Betraying and deserting me.

Neop. Not so;
'Tis not deserting thee that tortures me,
But lest I take thee to thine own distress.

Phil. What means this, boy? I do not grasp thy scope.

Neop. I will hide nought. Thou must to Troïa sail,
To those Atreidæ and the Argive host.

Phil. Ah me! what say'st thou?

Neop. Groan not till thou know.

Phil. What knowledge? What meanest thou to do with me?

Neop. To save thee from this evil first, and then
With thee to go and ravage Troïa's plains.920

Phil. And dost thou think, indeed, to do all this?

Neop. A stern necessity compels; and thou,
Hear me, and be not angry.

Phil. I am lost,
Ah me! betrayed. What hast thou done to me,
Ο stranger? Give me back my bow again.

Neop. That may not be. To list to those that rule
Both with the right, and mine own good accords.

Phil. Thou fire, thou utter mischief, masterpiece
Of craft most hateful, how thou treated'st me,
Yea, how deceived'st! Art thou not ashamed,
Thou wretch, to look on me thy suppliant,930
Fleeing to thee for succour? Taking these,
My arrows, thou dost rob me of my life;
Restore them, I beseech thee, I implore,
Restore them, Ο my son. By all the Gods
Thy fathers worshipped, rob me not of life.
Ah, wretched me! He does not answer me,
But looks away as one who will not yield.
Ο creeks! Ο cliffs out-jutting in the deep!
Ο all ye haunts of beasts that roam the hills,
Ο rocks that go sheer down, to you I wail,
(None other do I know to whom to speak,)
To you who were my old familiar friends,
The things this son of great Achilles does;940
Swearing that he would take me to my home
He takes me off to Troïa; giving me
His right hand as a pledge, he keeps my bow,
The bow of Heracles, the son of Zeus,
And fain would show me to the Argive host.
He takes me off by force, as though I were
In my full strength, and knows not that he slays
A dead, cold corpse, a very vapour's shade,
A phantom worthless. Never, were I strong,
Had he o'erpowered me; even as I am
He had not caught me but by fraud; but now
I have been tricked most vilely. What comes next?
What must I do? . . . Nay, give them back to me.
Be thyself once again. . . . What sayest thou?950
Thou 'rt silent . . . I, poor I, am now as nought.
Ο cave with double opening, once again
I enter thee stript bare, my means of life
Torn from me. I shall waste away alone
In this my dwelling, slaying with this bow
Nor wingèd bird, nor beast that roams the hills;
But I myself, alas, shall give a meal
To those who gave me mine, and whom I chased
Now shall chase me; and I, in misery,
Shall pay in death the penalty of death
By me inflicted; and all this is done
By one who seemed to know no evil thought:960
Destruction seize thee. . . . Nay, not yet, till I
Have learnt if thou wilt once more change thy mood;
If not, then may'st thou perish miserably!

Chor. [To Neoptolemos.] What shall we do? It rests
with thee, Ο prince,
To bid us sail, or with his words comply.

Neop. Not for the first time now, but long ago
Has a strange pity seized me for this man.

Phil. Have mercy on me, boy, by all the Gods,
And do not shame thyself by tricking me.

Neop. What shall I do? Ah, would I ne'er had left
My Skyros! so great evils press on me.970

Phil. Thou art not base thyself, but from the base
Learning foul evil, thou, 'twould seem, did'st come:
Now leaving it to those whom it befits,
Sail on thy way . . . but first give back my arms.

Neop. [To Chorus.] What shall we do, friends?

Enter Odysseus, suddenly appearing from behind.

Odys. Wretch, what doest thou?
Wilt not go back, and give the bow to me?

Phil. Ah! Who is this? Do I Odysseus hear?

Odys. Know well, it is Odysseus that stands here.

Phil. Woe! woe! I am entrapped, I am undone;
And was it he who snared me, filched mine arms?

Odys. I and none other. I avow the deed.980

Phil. [To Neoptolemos.] Dear boy, restore it; give
me back my bow.

Odys. That he shall not do, even though he wish;
Thou too go'st with them, or these men shall force thee.

Phil. What? me? thou basest and all-daring one;
And shall they force me?

Odys. Yea, unless thou go
Of thine own will.

Phil. Ο land of Lemnos' isle,
Ο mightiest Fire by great Hephaestos wrought,[17]
Can it be borne this man should bear me off
By force from thy dominions?

Odys. Zeus, 'tis Zeus,
Know thou this well, that rules this land,—that Zeus
Who wills these things; I but his servant am.990

Phil. Ο hateful wretch, what bold device is this?
Sheltering thyself behind the Gods, thou mak'st
The Gods as liars.

Odys. Nay, not so, but true;
At any rate this journey thou must go.

Phil. No, that I will not.

Odys. Yes, thou shalt: obey!

Phil. Ah, miserable me! 'Tis clear our sire
Begat us not as freemen, but as slaves.

Odys. Nay, nay, not so, but equal with the best,
With whom thou too must Troïa take and sack,
And raze it to the ground.

Phil. [Rushing to a projecting point of the cliff.] That ne'er shall be,
Not though I needs must suffer every ill,
While yet this beetling crag is left to me.1000

Odys. What wilt thou do?

Phil. From this rock throw myself,
And dash my head upon the rock below.

Odys. [To the Sailors.] Quick, hold him fast. Prevent his doing it.

[Sailors seize Philoctetes, and bind his
hands behind his back

Phil. O hands! What shame ye suffer, lacking now
The bow-string that ye loved so well, and thus
Made prisoners by this man! Ο thou, whose soul
Has never known a generous, healthy thought,
How hast thou tricked me, ta'en me in a snare,
Putting this boy I knew not, as thy blind,
Unmeet for thee, for me of meetest mood,
Who nothing knew except to do his task:1010
And, clearly, now he grieves, sore vexed at heart,
At all his faults, at all my sufferings.
But thy base soul, that ever peeps and spies
Through chinks and crannies, taught him but too well,
Guileless and all unwilling as he was,
The subtlety of fraud. And now thou think'st,
Ο wretch, to bind and take me from these shores,
Where thou did'st cast me forth, in friendless case,
Lonely and homeless, dead to all that live.
Perdition seize thee! That I oft have prayed,
But since the Gods grant nought that pleases me,1020
Thou laugh'st and liv'st, and I am vexed at heart
At this same thing, that I live on in woe
With many evils, flouted at by thee,
And those two chiefs, the Atreidæ whom thou serv'st:
And yet thou sailed'st with them by constraint,
By tricks fast bound, while me, poor wretch, (who sailed
With seven good ships, of mine own will,) they cast,
(So thou say'st, but they say the deed was thine,)
Dishonoured forth. And now why take ye me?
Why drag me off? What aim have ye in this?
I, who am nothing, long since dead to you,1030
Yea, am I not, Ο thou abhorred of Gods,
Lame, and ill-savoured? How, if I should sail,
Could ye unto the Gods burn sacrifice,
Or pour libation? 'Twas on that pretence
Ye cast me forth. Perdition seize you all!
And it shall seize you, seeing ye have wronged
Him who stands here, if yet the Gods regard
Or right, or truth. And full assured am I
They do regard them. For ye ne'er had come
On this your errand for a wretch like me,
Unless the pricks of heaven-sent yearning for him
Had spurred you on. But, Ο my fatherland,
And all ye Gods who look on me, avenge,1040
Avenge me on them all in time to come,
If ye have pity on me. Piteously
As now I live, if I could see them smitten,
I then should deem my long disease was healed.

Chor. Sore vexed is he; sore words the stranger speaks,
Not yielding, Ο Odysseus, to his ills.

Odys. I might say much in answer to his words,
If there were time. Now this one word I speak:
Where men like this are wanted, such am I;
But when the time for good and just men calls,1050
Thou could'st not find a godlier man than me.
In every case it is my bent to win;
Except with thee. To thee of mine own will
I yield the victory. Ho, leave him there!
Lay no hand on him, let him here remain.
With these thy arms we have no need of thee:
Teucros is with us, skilled in this thine art;
And I, too, boast that I, not less than thou,
This bow can handle, with my hand shoot straight;
What need we thee? In Lemnos walk at will;1060
And let us go. And they perchance will give
As prize to me what rightly thou might'st claim.

Phil. Ah me! And what shall I, unhappy, do?
And wilt thou then among the Argives go,
Equipped with my arms?

Odys. Speak thou not a word
To me, who stand in very act to go.

Phil. And thou, Achilles' son, shall I remain
Without a word from thee? Dost thou thus go?

Odys. [To Neoptolemos.] Go thou, and look not on
him, lest, though noble,
Thou ruin our success.

Phil. [To Chorus.] And will ye leave,
Ο strangers, will ye leave me, pitying not?1070

Chor. [To Philoctetes.] This youth is our commander,
and whate'er
He speaks to thee, the same we also say.

Neop. [To Chorus, pointing to Odysseus.] I shall be
told, I know, by our chief here,
That I am piteous and of melting mood;
Yet, spite of this, remain, if so he will,
At least a while, until the sailors put
Our sailing gear in order, and we have made
Due prayers unto the Gods. So he, [pointing to
Philoctetes] perchance,
Meantime may cherish better thoughts of us.
Now then, let us depart, and ye, be quick,
When we shall call you, to proceed with us.1080

[Exeunt Neoptolemos and Odysseus.

Stroph. I.

Phil. Ο cave of hollow rock,
Now hot, now icy cold,
And I was doomed, ah me!
To leave thee never more;
But e'en in death thou still wilt be to me
My one true helping friend.
Ο woe, woe, woe!
Ο home most full of grief,
My grief, me miserable!
What now shall come to me
As day succeeds to day?
Whence shall I, in my woe,
Find hope of food to live?1090
Ah, now the swift-winged birds
*Will soar in loftiest flight,
*High through the whistling wind;
For I am powerless.

Chor. Thou, thou thyself, Ο man of many woes,
Hast brought them on thyself;
It is not from a Power above thine own
This ill fate falls on thee,
Since thou, when wisdom was at hand, didst choose,
Thy better genius scorned, to praise the worse.1100

Antistroph. I.

Phil. O miserable me!
Outraged with foulest wrong,
Who for the years to come
In woe, no helper near,
Shall henceforth, dwelling here, consume away,
(Ah me! ah me!)
Gaining no food for life
From those my swift-winged darts,
With firm hands grasping them;1110
But unsuspected words
Of guileful mind deceived;
Would I might see the man
Whose heart devised these things,
Bearing these pains of mine
As long as I have borne!

Chor. Fate was it, fate that cometh of the Gods,
Not guile, that brought thee thus
Within my power; on others launch thy curse,1120
Baleful, and fraught with ill
This is the care that I have most at heart,
That thou should'st not true friendship thrust aside.

Stroph. II.

Phil. Ah, woe is me! he sits,
Where the shore is white with waves,
And laughs within himself,
And tosses in his hands
What fed my wretched life,
By none else borne till now.
Ο bow, of me beloved,
Torn from my loving grasp,
Surely, if thou can'st feel,
Thou lookest piteously1130
On me, the bosom friend of Heracles,
Who never more shall bend thee as of old;
But now thou changest hands,
Art wielded by a man of many wiles,
And seest foul deceits,
A man thou needs must loathe and execrate,
Ten thousand plots from shameful deeds upspringing,
*Such as none else contrived.

Chor. 'Tis a man's part to say that good is right,1140
But having said it out,
Not to thrust forth his carping grief in speech.
He was but one, by many set to work,
And yielding to their will,
Hath wrought a common good for all his friends.

Antistroph. II.

Phil. Ο all ye wingèd game,
And tribes of bright-eyed deer,
Who on these high lawns fed,
No more from this my home
Will ye allure me forth.
I wield not in my hands1150
The strength I had of old
(Ah me!) from those my darts;
Full carelessly this place
Is barred against you now,
No longer fearful; come ye, now 'tis well
That ye in turn should glut your ravenous maw
With this my spotted flesh.
Soon I shall end my life; for whence can I
Find means withal to live?
Who thus can feed upon the empty winds,1160
Gaining no more what earth brings forth to men,
The giver of their life?

Chor. Ah, by the Gods, if thou dost still regard
A true friend's claim on thee,
Draw near to him who draweth near to thee
With every word of friendliness; but know,
Know well, it rests with thee
To 'scape from this thy grief.
Sad is 't to feed that woe,
And, yet unschooled, to bear the thousand ills
That with it company.

Phil. Again, again thou hintest at a grief1170
That vexed me sore long since;
Thou best of all that ever tarried here,
Why did'st thou lay me low? why work my doom?

Chor. Why speak' st thou thus?

Phil. In that thou thought'st to take me once again
To Troas, which I hate.

Chor. This seems to me far better.

Phil. Leave me; leave.

Chor. Welcome, right welcome are the things thou say'st.
And we desire to do them. Let us go,
Come, let us go, and each his own set place1180
Take in our ship.

Phil. By Zeus, who hears
The prayers of those that curse, go not, I pray.

Chor. Be calm, be calm.

Phil. Ο friends, by all the Gods,
I pray you tarry.

Chor. Why this eager cry?

Phil. Ah me! ah me! Ο God, Ο God, I die,
Die in my misery!
Ο foot, Ο foot, what shall I do with thee
Henceforth in this my woe?
Ο friends, come back, and tarry once again.1190

Chor. What should we come to do
With any hope of altered purpose here,
Other than that thou showed'st to us before?

Phil. Ye must not be too wroth
That one so tempest-tost with stormy grief
Should speak against his better, truer thoughts.

Chor. Come, then, poor sufferer, as we bid thee come.

Phil. Never, yea, nevermore, be sure of that;
Not though the fiery thunderbolt that falls
With sudden blaze of light,
Should burn me with its dreaded lightning-flash.
Yea, perish Ilion; with it perish there1200
Those that could dare cast forth this foot of mine.
But oh, my friends, grant me at least one prayer.

Chor. What is 't thou askest?

Phil. Give me but a sword,
If thou hast one, or axe, or any weapon.

Chor. What deed of prowess wilt thou work with them?

Phil. I will strike off my head, and lop my limbs;
My soul thirsts eagerly for blood, for blood.

Chor. But why is this?

Phil. Lo, I my father seek.1210

Chor. Where wilt thou go?

Phil. To Hades, for he lives
No longer in this light.
Ο city, city of my fathers, fain,
All wretched though I be,
Fain would I see thee still!
I who thy sacred stream[18]
Did leave to help my foes the Danai;
And now I am as nought.

Chor. Long since had I been making for my ship,
Had I not seen Odysseus drawing nigh,1220
And, coming with him, great Achilles' son.

[Philoctetes retires into his cave.

Enter Neoptolemos, followed by Odysseus.

Odys. Wilt thou not tell me why so quick thou speed'st,
Turning thy steps upon a backward way?

Neop. I go to undo the wrongs I did before.

Odys. Thou speakest strangely. And what wrong was there?

Neop. That I, obeying thee and all the host . . . .

Odys. What did'st thou do that was not right for thee?

Neop. I tricked a man with shameful fraud and guile.

Odys. Think what he was. What fancy strange is this?

Neop. 'Tis no strange fancy, but to Pœas' son . . . . 1230

Odys. What wilt thou do? A fear comes over me.

Neop. From whom I took this bow, to him again . . . .

Odys. O Zeus, what now? Thou wilt not give it him?

Neop. Yea, for I gained it basely, not of right.

Odys. By all the Gods, dost thou say this to mock me?

Neop. If it be mockery but to speak the truth.

Odys. Son of Achilles, what is this thou say'st?

Neop. Shall I then twice or thrice repeat the words?

Odys. I had not wished to hear them even once.

Neop. Know, thou hast heard whatever I had to say.1240

Odys. There is one, yea, there is, will stop thy deed.

Neop. What say'st thou? Who shall stop my doing it?

Odys. The whole Achæan host, and I with them.

Neop. Wise though thou be, thou dost not wisely speak.

Odys. Thou neither speakest wise things nor devisest.

Neop. If they be just, then are they more than wise.

Odys. And how can it be just to cast away
That which my counsels gave thee?

Neop. Having sinned
A shameful sin, I now would make amends.

Odys. And fear'st thou not the Achæan host, doing this?1250

Neop. My cause being just, I share not that thy fear;
[Odysseus prepares to attack Neoptolemos.
Nor will I yield to this thy violence.

Odys. Not with the Troïans, then, I fight, but thee.

Neop. What must be, let it.

Odys. [Laying hand on his sword.] Ha! And dost thou see
My right hand grasp the hilt?

Neop. [Drawing his sword.] See then that I
Can do the same as thou, in act, not threat.

Odys. I then will let thee go, but to the host
I will tell this, and they shall punish thee.

Neop. Thou'rt wise in time; and should'st thou keep that mind,
Thou may'st perchance thy foot keep out of harm.1260
[Odysseus retires.
Ho, Philoctetes! Ho there, Pœas' son,
Come forth, and leave this rocky roof of thine.

Phil. What noise of shouting make ye at my cave?
Why call ye me? What want ye, strangers, here?
Alas, 'tis something evil. Are ye come
To bring fresh evils upon evils on me?

Neop. Be of good cheer, and list to what I speak.

Phil. Nay, but I fear: 'twas by fair words before
That I fared foully, by thy words deceived.

Neop. And is repentance, then, impossible?1270

Phil. Such wast thou then, when thou did'st steal my bow,
Faithful in words, within all treacherous.

Neop. But not so now: I wish to hear from thee,
Whether thy mind is fixed to tarry here,
Or sail with us.

Phil. Stop, stop; not one word more:
All that thou speakest will be said in vain.

Neop. Is this thy mind?

Phil. Yet stronger than I speak.

Neop. I would that thou had'st hearkened to my words;
But if I chance to speak unseasonably,
I hold my peace.

Phil. Thou wilt say all in vain,1280
For never shalt thou turn my mind to thee,
Who, taking from me that which gave me life,
Did'st basely rob me of it, and now com'st,
And givest me thy counsel, basest son
Of noblest father. May ye perish all,
And chiefly the Atreidæ; after them,
Laertes' son and thou!

Neop. [Holding out the bow.] Curse thou no more,
But from my hand receive these weapons back.

Phil. How say'st thou? Are we tricked a second time?

Neop. No, by the holy might of highest Zeus!

Phil. Ο words most welcome, if they be but true!1290

Neop. Our acts shall make them clear; do thou put forth
Thy right hand, and be master of thine arms.

[As he is giving the bow, Odysseus appears
from behind

Odys. That I forbid, the Gods my witnesses,
In name of the Atreidæ, and the host.

Phil. Whose voice, my son, was that? What? Did I hear
Odysseus speak?

Odys. E'en so, thou see'st him near,
Who by main force will bear thee off to Troy,
Whether Achilles' son shall please or no.

Phil. [Bending his bow.] But to thy cost, if this dart
does not miss.

Neop. [Staying his arm.] Oh, by the Gods, I pray thee,
shoot it not!1300

Phil. Let loose my hand, I pray thee, dearest boy.

Neop. I will not let thee go.

Phil. Fie on thee! Why
Did'st hinder me from slaying with my dart
A man I hate, my bitter enemy?

[Odysseus steals away.

Neop. That were not good for me, nor yet for thee.

Phil. Know this then, that the chief of all the host,
The Achæans' lying heralds, they are cowards
In brunt of fight, though overbold of speech.

Neop. Well, be it so. But thou hast now thy bow,
And hast no cause for wrath or blaming me.

Phil. I own it. Thou, dear boy, hast shown the stock1310
From which thou springest, not from Sisyphos,
But from Achilles, who alive was held
Of highest fame, and is so with the dead.

Neop. It gives me joy to hear thee praise my father,
Praising me also; but what now I wish
Hear thou, I pray thee. Mortals needs must bear
The chances which the Gods on high shall give;
But those who fall upon self-chosen ills,
As thou hast fallen, they have little claim
To pardon or compassion. Thou art fierce,1320
And wilt not list to one who counsels thee;
And if one give advice in pure good will,
Thou hatest him, and deemest him a foe.
Yet I will speak, invoking holy Zeus,
The guardian of all oaths. Be sure of this,
And write it in the tablets of thy mind,
Thy pain has come to thee by heaven-sent chance,
In that thou cam'st too near to Chryse's guard,
The serpent who in secret keeps his watch
Over the unroofed precincts of her shrine;
And know that thou shalt find no respite here
From this thy sore disease, while yet yon sun1330
Rises on this side, sets again on that,
Until thou journey of thine own free will
To Troïa's plains, and meeting there with those
Who call Asclepios father,[19] shalt be healed
Of thy disease, and shalt with these thy darts,
And with my help, lay low its ancient Towers.
And I will tell thee how I know these things
Stand thus ordained; for we a prophet have,
Taken from Troïa, noblest seer of all,
And Helenos his name, who clearly saith
That these things so must be; and further yet,
That it is doomed, this very harvest tide,1340
That Troïa should be taken utterly;
And should he prove false prophet, in our hands
He placed his life. And since thou knowest this,
Of thy free will consent; for great the gain,
Being judged the noblest one of Hellenes all,
To find skilled hands to heal thee, and to gain,
Sacking loud-wailing Troïa, highest praise.

Phil. Ο hateful life, why, why detain'st thou me
In day's clear light, and dost not let me go
To Hades dark? Ah me! what shall I do?
How shall I prove distrustful to his words,1350
Who gives me counsel out of kindly thought?
Yet must I yield? And how shall I, ill-starred,
Do this, and then look up? From whom shall I
Hear greeting kind? How will ye, Ο mine eyes,
That watch all varying chances of my life,
How will ye bear to see me living on
With those Atreidæ who have ruined me,
Or with that vilest son of Lartios?
It is not now the sorrow of the past
That chiefly gnaws, but what I seem to see
With prophet's glance I yet am doomed to bear
From these same foes; for those whose soul becomes1360
Mother of evil, them it trains to be
Evil in all things. And 'tis this that moves
My wonder at thee; for 'twas meet that thou
Should'st ne'er to Troïa come thyself, and next
Should'st keep us from them who so outraged thee,
And robbed thee of thy father's treasured arms,
[And slighting Aias, to Odysseus gave them;]
*And art thou their ally, and wilt constrain
Me to their will? Nay, nay, not so, my son;
But, as thou swarest, send me to my home,
While thou, in Skyros tarrying, leavest them,
Evil of heart, to die an evil death.
And thus wilt thou gain double thanks from me,1370
And double from my father, nor wilt seem,
Helping the base, to be as base thyself.

Neop. Thou speakest what shows fair, and yet I wish
That thou should'st trust the Gods, and these my words,
And sail from these shores, I thy friend with thee.

Phil. What! with this wretched foot to Troïa's plains,
And Atreus' son, my bitterest foe of all?

Neop. Nay, but to those who'll free thy ulcerous foot
From pain, and save thee from thy sore disease.

Phil. What mean'st thou, friend, who givest counsel strange?1380

Neop. That which I see works best for both of us.

Phil. Hast thou no awe of Gods, who say'st such words!

Neop. What cause of shame is there in gaining good?

Phil. And speak'st thou of the Atreidæ's good, or mine?

Neop. Thine, for I am thy friend, and such my speech.

Phil. How so, when thou would'st give me to my foes?

Neop. Learn thou, my friend, to be less rash in ills.

Phil. I know thou wilt destroy me with these words.

Neop. Nay, nay, not so; thou dost not understand.

Phil. Do I not know the Atreidæ cast me forth?1390

Neop. But if they save, who cast thee forth, look to it.

Phil. Ne'er with my will shall I on Troïa look.

Neop. What then remains, if we, with all our words,
Still fail to move thee? Easiest course it were
For me to cease from speaking, and that thou
Should'st live, as now, without deliverance.

Phil. Leave me to suffer what I suffer must;
But what thou swarest, thy right hand as pledge,
To lead me to my home, that do, my son,
And linger not, nor further mention make1400
Of Troïa to me. I have had my fill
Of wailing and lament.

Neop. If this thy will,
Come, let us go.

Phil. Now speak'st thou noble words.

Neop. Plant thy foot firm.

Phil. With what small strength I have.

Neop. How shall I 'scape the Achasans' blame?

Phil. Despise it.

Neop. And what if they shall lay my country waste?

Phil. I shall be there.

Neop. What would thy help avail?

Phil. With these the darts of Heracles. . . .

Neop. What then?

Phil. I will restrain their coming.

Neop. On then, take
Thy farewell of this island.

Heracles appears, descending from the sky, in glory.

Hera. Nay, not yet;
Not till thou hear ouf words,
Thou son of Pœas old;1410
Own that thou hear'st the voice of Heracles
And look'st upon his face.
Lo, for thy sake I come,
Leaving my heavenly home,
To tell thee of the thoughts of Zeus on high,
And to close up the way
On which thou journeyest now.
List thou to these my words:
And first my own life's chances I will tell,
The labours I endured, through which I passed
And gained immortal greatness as thou see'st:1420
And this, be sure, shall be thy destined lot,
After these woes to live a noble life;
And going with this youth to Troïa's town,
First thou shalt respite find from thy sore plague,
And for thy valour chosen from the host,
Shalt with my arrows take away the life
Of Paris, who was cause of all these ills,
And shalt sack Troïa, and shalt send its spoils
To thine own dwelling (gaining highest prize
Of valour in the army) by the plains
Of Œta, where thy father Pœas dwells.1430
And all the spoils thou gainest in this war,
As true thank-offerings for these darts of mine,
Lay thou upon my grave. And now [To Neoptolemos] to thee,
Achilles' son, I this declare;—nor thou,
Apart from him, nor he apart from thee,
May Troïa take. But ye, as lions twain
That roam together, guard thou him, he thee.
And I will send, [To Philoctetes] as healer of thy wounds,
Asclepios to Ilion. Yet once more
By this my bow must it be captured. Then,
(Give heed to this,) when ye the land lay waste,1440
Shew all religious reverence to the Gods;
For all things else our father Zeus counts less;
[Religion e'en in death abides with men;
Die they or live, it does not pass away.]

Phil. Ο thou, who utterest voice,
By me long yearnèd for,
Who now at length art seen,
I will not to thy words rebellious prove.

Neop. I too give my assent.

Hera. Delay not now to act;
For time and wind press on,1450
And speed you on your way.

Phil. Come, then, I leave this isle,
And speak my parting words:
Farewell, Ο roof, long time
My one true guard and friend;
And ye, Ο nymphs that sport
In waters or in fields;
Strong roar of waves that break
On jutting promontory,
Where oft my head was wet,
(Though hid in far recess,)
With blasts of stormy South;
And oft the mount that bears
The name of Hermes[20] gave
Its hollow, loud lament,1460
Echoing my stormy woe;
And now, ye streams and fount,
Lykian, where haunt the wolves,
We leave you, leave you now,
Who ne'er had dreamt of this.
Farewell, Ο Lemnos, girt by waters round,
With fair breeze send me on
Right well, that none may blame,
Where Fate, the mighty, leads,
Counsel of friends, and God,
Who worketh this in might invincible.

Chor. On then, with one accord,
To the sea Nymphs offering our prayer,
That they come as helpers and friends,
In the voyage of the homeward bound.

  1. For the suitors of Helena, who followed Agamemnon because of the oath with which her father Tyndareus had bound them, it would have been disgraceful to leave the army. Neoptolemos was under no such obligation, and this would give a probability to his story which, with any other of the host, would be wanting.
  2. The form of the invocation connected itself with the sanctuaries of Athens. Besides the temple built to her as Athena Polias, there was a statue of her in the Acropolis in the character of Victory.
  3. In one form of the legend, Chryse was enamoured of Philoctetes, and, failing to gain his love, cursed him, and caused the serpent to avenge her.
  4. Kephallene is named, rather than Ithaca, as implying a greater scorn, the Kephallenians being of ill repute both as traders and as pirates.
  5. "As they say;" for the arrow, though guided by Apollo, was shot by Paris.
  6. Phœnix, who, as the legend ran, went with Odysseus to Skyros to fetch the son of Achilles.
  7. The Goddess, Earth (Ge) is here, as in the later form of Greek mythology, identified (1.) with the Cretan Rhea, the mother of Zeus, and (2.) with the Phrygian Kybele, riding on her lions, the Goddess of the land where the Atreidæ had done their wrong.
  8. The Pactolos flowed from Mount Tmolos, the head-quarters of the worship of Kybele.
  9. See note on Aias, 188.
  10. The proverbial poverty and insignificance of the island gave the resolve of Neoptolemos a special emphasis. "Even Skyros, poor as it is."
  11. Chalkodon, son of Abas, had been the ally of Heracles; so Philoctetes might therefore naturally look for a welcome from him. In Athenian legends, Elephenor, the son of Chalkodon, was the friend of Theseus.
  12. Peparêthos, almost as famous as Chios for its wine, would naturally be one of the chief sources of supply for the Hellenes who were besieging Troïa. In the time of Demosthenes, its produce was exported as far as Pontus.
  13. Sisyphos, who is spoken of as the real father of Odysseus, had, it was said, begged Persephone to allow him to return to the world of the living that he might punish his wife, Merope, for leaving him unburied, and then refused to go back again to Hades.
  14. Ixion's guilt, in the old Greek legends, was, first, that of treacherous murder, and then, when Zeus had compassion upon the madness and misery that followed, the crime here referred to, for which Zeus bound him for ever to a fiery, never-resting wheel in Tartaros.
  15. The man who bore the brazen shield is, of course, Heracles, the friend of Philoctetes, from whom, though as yet neither he nor the Chorus dream of it, his deliverance is at last to come.
  16. The "Lemnian fire" is that of the volcano Mosychlos, which had become the type-instance of burning mountains to the Athenians after the conquest of the island by Miltiades. In what follows, Philoctetes refers to his kindling the funeral pyre of Heracles on Mount Œta.
  17. The "fire" is again that of the volcano, which was believed to come from the forge at which Hephæstos laboured in the heart of the mountain.
  18. The "sacred stream" is the Spercheios. Comp. l. 726.
  19. The two sons of Asclepios, Machaon and Podalelrios, appear in the Iliad (ii. 731) as the great surgeons of the Hellenic army.
  20. Hermes, as one of the Cabeiri, the special deities of Lemnos and Imbros.