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Sophocles' Philoctetes begins with their arrival on the island. Odysseus explains to Neoptolemus that he must perform a shameful action in order to garner future glory - to take Philoctetes by tricking him with a false story while Odysseus hides. Neoptolemus is portrayed as an honorable boy, and so it takes some persuading to get him to play this part. To gain Philoctetes's trust, Neoptolemus tricks Philoctetes into thinking he hates Odysseus as well. Neoptolemus does this by telling Philoctetes that Odysseus has his father's (Achilles) armor. He tells Philoctetes that this armor was his right by birth, and Odysseus would not give it up to him. After gaining Philoctetes' trust and offering him a ride home, Neoptolemus is allowed to look at the bow of Heracles.
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Published by Sovereign Classic
First published in 2015
Copyright © 2015 Sovereign Classic
ULYSSES, King of Ithaca
NEOPTOLEMUS, son of Achilles
PHILOCTETES, son of Poeas and Companion of HERCULES
CHORUS, composed of the companions of ULYSSES and NEOPTOLEMUS
A lonely region on the shore of Lemnos, before a steep cliff in which is the entrance to PHILOCTETES’ cave. ULYSSES, NEOPTOLEMUS and an attendant enter.
ULYSSES At length, my noble friend, thou bravest son
Of a brave father- father of us all,
The great Achilles- we have reached the shore
Of sea-girt Lemnos, desert and forlorn,
Where never tread of human step is seen,
Or voice of mortal heard, save his alone,
Poor Philoctetes, Poeas’ wretched son,
Whom here I left; for such were my commands
From Grecia’s chiefs, when by his fatal wound
Oppressed, his groans and execrations dreadful
Alarmed our hosts, our sacred rites profaned,
And interrupted holy sacrifice.
But why should I repeat the tale? The time
Admits not of delay. We must not linger,
Lest he discover our arrival here,
And all our purposed fraud to draw him hence
Be ineffectual. Lend me then thy aid.
Surveying round thee, canst thou see a rock
With double entrance- to the sun’s warm rays
In winter open, and in summer’s heat
Giving free passage to the welcome breeze?
A little to the left there is a fountain
Of living water, where, if yet he breathes,
He slakes his thirst. If aught thou seest of this
Inform me; so shall each to each impart
Counsel most fit, and serve our common cause.
NEOPTOLEMUS (leaving ULYSSES a little behind him) If I mistake not,
I behold a cave,
E’en such as thou describst.
ULYSSES Dost thou? which way?
NEOPTOLEMUS Yonder it is; but no path leading thither,
Or trace of human footstep.
ULYSSES In his cell
A chance but he hath lain down to rest:
Look if he hath not.
NEOPTOLEMUS (advancing to the cave) Not a creature there.
ULYSSES Nor food, nor mark of household preparation?
NEOPTOLEMUS A rustic bed of scattered leaves.
ULYSSES What more?
NEOPTOLEMUS A wooden bowl, the work of some rude hand,
With a few sticks for fuel.
ULYSSES This is all
His little treasure here.
NEOPTOLEMUS Unhappy man!
Some linen for his wounds.
ULYSSES This must be then
His place of habitation; far from hence
He cannot roam; distempered as he is,
It were impossible. He is but gone
A little way for needful food, or herb
Of power to ‘suage and mitigate his pain,
Wherefore despatch this servant to some place
Of observation, whence he may espy
His every motion, lest he rush upon us.
There’s not a Grecian whom his soul so much
Could wish to crush beneath him as Ulysses.
(He makes a signal to the Attendant. who retires.)
NEOPTOLEMUS He’s gone to guard each avenue; and now,
If thou hast aught of moment to impart
Touching our purpose, say it; I attend.
ULYSSES Son of Achilles, mark me well! Remember,
What we are doing not on strength alone,
Or courage, but oil conduct will depend;
Therefore if aught uncommon be proposed,
Strange to thy ears and adverse to thy nature,
Reflect that ‘tis thy duty to comply,
And act conjunctive with me.
NEOPTOLEMUS Well, what is it?
ULYSSES We must deceive this Philoctetes; that
Will be thy task. When he shall ask thee who
And what thou art, Achilles’son reply-
Thus far within the verge of truth, no more.
Add that resentment fired thee to forsake
The Grecian fleet, and seek thy native soil,
Unkindly used by those who long with vows
Had sought thy aid to humble haughty Troy,
And when thou cam’st, ungrateful as they were.
The arms of great Achilles, thy just right,
Gave to Ulysses. Here thy bitter taunts
And sharp invectives liberally bestow
On me. Say what thou wilt, I shall forgive,
And Greece will not forgive thee if thou dost not;
For against Troy thy efforts are all vain
Without his arrows. Safely thou mayst hold
Friendship and converse with him, but I cannot.
Thou wert not with us when the war began,
Nor bound by solemn oath to join our host,
As I was; me he knows, and if he find
That I am with thee, we are both undone.
They must be ours then, these all-conquering arms;
Remember that. I know thy noble nature
Abhors the thought of treachery or fraud.
But what a glorious prize is victory!
Therefore be bold; we will be just hereafter.
Give to deceit and me a little portion
Of one short day, and for thy future life
Be called the holiest, worthiest, best of men.
NEOPTOLEMUS What but to hear alarms my conscious soul,
Son of Laertes, I shall never practise.
I was not born to flatter or betray;
Nor I, nor he- the voice of fame reports-
Who gave me birth. What open arms can do
Behold me prompt to act, but ne’er to fraud
Will I descend. Sure we can more than match
In strength a foe thus lame and impotent.
I came to be a helpmate to thee, not
A base betrayer; and, O king! believe me,
Rather, much rather would I fall by virtue
Than rise by guilt to certain victory.
ULYSSES O noble youth! and worthy of thy sire!
When I like thee was young, like thee of strength
And courage boastful, little did I deem
Of human policy; but long experience
Hath taught me, son, ‘tis not the powerful arm,
But soft enchanting tongue that governs all.
NEOPTOLEMUS And thou wouldst have me tell an odious falsehood?
ULYSSES He must be gained by fraud.
NEOPTOLEMUS By fraud? And why
Not by persuasion?
ULYSSES He’ll not listen to it;
And force were vainer still.
NEOPTOLEMUS What mighty power
Hath he to boast?
ULYSSES His arrows winged with death
NEOPTOLEMUS Then it were not safe
E’en to approach him.
ULYSSES No; unless by fraud
He be secured.
NEOPTOLEMUS And thinkst thou ‘tis not base
To tell a lie then?
ULYSSES Not if on that lie
Depends our safety.
NEOPTOLEMUS Who shall dare to tell it
Without a blush?
ULYSSES We need not blush at aught
That may promote our interest and success.
NEOPTOLEMUS But where’s the interest that should bias me?
Come he or not to Troy, imports it aught
ULYSSES Troy cannot fall
Without his arrows.
NEOPTOLEMUS Saidst thou not that I
Was destined to destroy her?
ULYSSES Without them
Naught canst thou do, and they without thee nothing.
NEOPTOLEMUS Then I must have them.
ULYSSES When thou hast, remember
A double prize awaits thee.
NEOPTOLEMUS What, Ulysses?
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