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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Philoctetes

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PHILOCTETES, in Greek legend, son of Poeas king of the Malians of Mt Oeta, one of the suitors of Helen and a celebrated hero of the Trojan War. Homer merely states that he was distinguished for his prowess with the bow; that he was bitten by a snake on the journey to Troy and left behind in the island of Lemnos; and that he subsequently returned home in safety. These brief allusions were elaborated by the "cyclic" poets, and the adventures of Philoctetes formed the subject of tragedies by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. In the later form of the story Philoctetes was the friend and armour-bearer of Heracles, who presented him with his bow and poisoned arrows as a reward for kindling the fire on Mt Oeta, on which the hero immolated himself. Philoctetes remained at Lemnos till the tenth year of the war. An oracle having declared that Troy could not be taken without the arrows of Heracles, Odysseus and Diomedes (or Neoptolemus) were sent to fetch Philoctetes. On his arrival before Troy he was healed of his wound by Machaon, and slew Paris; shortly afterwards the City was taken. On his return to his own country, finding that a revolt had broken out against him, he again took ship and sailed for Italy, where he founded Petilia and Cremissa. He fell fighting on the side of a band of Rhodian colonists against some later immigrants from Pallene in Achaea. His tomb and sanctuary were shown at Macalla, on the coast of Bruttium.

Of the Aeschylean and Euripidean tragedies only a few fragments remain; of the two by Sophocles, one is extant, the other, dealing with the fortunes of Philoctetes before Troy, is lost. Some light is thrown upon the lost plays by Dio Chrysostom, who in one of his discourses (52) describes his reading of the three tragedies, and in another (59) gives a prose version of the opening of the Philoctetes of Euripides. Philoctetes was also the subject of tragedies by Achaeus of Eretria, Euphorion of Chalcis and the Roman tragedian Accius. According to F. Marx (Neue Jahrbucher fur dos klassische Altertum, 1904, p. 673–685), Philoctetes did not appear in the original legend of Troy. He is a form of the Lemnian Hephaestus, who alighted on the island when flung out of Olympus by Zeus. Like him, he is lame and an outcast for nine years; like him, he is brought back in time of need. His connexion with the fall of Troy indicates that the fire-god himself set fire to the city; in like manner no other than the fire-god was thought worthy to kindle the pyre of Heracles.
See Homer, Iliad, ii 718, Odyssey, iii. 190, viii. 219; Sophocles, Philoctetes, and Jebb's Introduction; Diod. Sic. iv. 38; Philostratus, Heroica, 6; Strabo vi. 254; Hyginus, Fab. 36, 102.