Chapter

<i>Philoctetes</i>: moral complexity

Lauren J. Apfel

in The Advent of Pluralism

Published in print April 2011 | ISBN: 9780199600625
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191724985 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199600625.003.0009

Series: Oxford Classical Monographs

Philoctetes: moral complexity

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This chapter explores Sophocles' Philoctetes, the most morally complex of all of his extant tragedies. Philoctetes involves the interrelation of three characters and, as such, presents an array of dilemmas and disagreements. The chapter focuses on each character in turn. Odysseus, it is argued, is more a reflection of his Homeric prototype than a villainous sophist. This is an assessment which has important implications for the rest of the play. Philoctetes is the monistic hero, moulded in the style of his Iliadic and Sophoclean predecessors and animated by hatred and anger. In this role, Philoctetes comes into conflict with Odysseus over the fate of the young Neoptolemus, a conflict which mirrors the ancient antithesis between Achilles and Odysseus. Neoptolemus undergoes a moral transformation through the course of the play, ultimately coming into conflict with both Odysseus and Philoctetes as he embraces a new kind of ethics that does not sit easily with the heroic code. Finally, the chapter contends that the play closes with a ‘double’ ending of sorts that perfectly highlights the impossibility of resolving singularly any of the conflicts at hand.

Keywords: Sophocles; Philoctetes; conflict; Philoctetes; Odysseus; Achilles; Neoptolemus; Heroic code; double ending

Chapter.  16449 words. 

Subjects: Classical Philosophy

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