Philoctetes and the Great Healer at Troy

The Iliad is the epic of Ilios, the modern western Turkey. Yet the Iliad tells us of the long lasting war in Ilios, around Troy and Troy gets destroyed at the end of the Iliad. This used to confuse me. Homeros himself was also from Illios, why did he write an epic on the destruction of his land ?

Today a very wise woman has told me that the Iliad was about the deeds of the people who later get punished for waging war against and destroying Troy. That is why the Iliad is read together with Odessey. Odessus gets lost in the seas, rowing from one island to the other; Agamemnon gets murdered by his wife and her lover only to be revenged by his son Orestes and mourned eternally by his daughter Electra.

One of those who fought at Troy and was in turn punished for it was Philoctetes. He was already renowned for he was bestowed Heracles’ bow and arrows that never miss. During a battle, Philoctetes was wounded at his leg. His wound never healed, even caught infection. No ointment, no cure, nothing ever worked for him. It worsened each day. It also had a horrible smell, it was very hard to stand this smell so people began to shy away from him. On his homeward voyage Philoctetes anchored his ship at the thyme and olive rich island of Lemnos. He ordered his crew to land on this island for hunting meat to keep them for the journey. His crew tricked Philoktetes for they wanted to get rid of him. The smell from his wound was so bad that they all decided to forsake him on the island all alone. They left in secret and all that Philoctetes could see was his ship leaving the shore…

Heracles’ magic bow and arrows helped him to survive all his days on Lemnos. Yet his wound and infection worsened and worsened… He did not die but he lived with it. He lived with the pain and smell.

Over the course of years his wound turned so bad that its smell could be felt from distance. Ships had to change their routes and avoid the winds from Lemnos for they carried the smell of Philoctetes’ unhealing wound.

It was never forgotten that Philoctetes carried Heracles’ magic bow and arrows. Fetching them from a dying man was an attractive idea. Yet even the desire to own such great weapons was not enough to drive men closer to the island for they always, always turned away from the smell. No one could stand it.

On a warm summer day, a ship approached Lemnos. Its prov was braving the waves and its sails loved Lodos, the south-east winds. There was a band of determined theives coming to steal Hereacles’ weapons. As they neared Lemnos, the smell got worse and worse… They withdrew one by one. At last they forced their youngest for the task. Poor boy he had no choice. He pressed rag to his face and took the small boat and landed on the golden sands at Lemnos. The smell was utterly unbearable on the island… yet the boy looked for Philoctetes. The boy roamed the island for three days and nights. At last he found the old dying man lying under a great olive tree. Philoctetes was lying there all alone, in pain. Something stirred the boy’s heart, he forgot about the bow and arrows. The smell was still present but he did not mind it. He ran to a stream to fetch water for Philoktetes. The old man drank. Then the boy carried him to the small boat and together they sailed for the Great Healer Aesclepius at Troy.

The reason Philoctete’s wound never healed itself was the guilt of his deeds at Troy. He was guilty and the gods (his consciousness and unconscious) knew it. It is guilt that blocks our own healing mechanisms so the wound never heals and it gets even worse. It is guilt that makes life and growth impossible for us. It is guilt that isolates us from the world. Once another person joins the scene and witnesses our pain and lets us make a connection with the rest of the world, healing may begin. Philoctetes’ healing lies where his guilty deeds were.

3 thoughts on “Philoctetes and the Great Healer at Troy

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  1. I am Anuradha Chaganti, working as a teacher at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s Public School, Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad, India.

    The grade I to IV students of my school are to going to dramatize Iliad and Odyssey in December/January. Can anyone help me in selecting the important scenes from the above epics so that the show goes on well.
    PLEASE DO REPLY IF YOU HAVE ANY IDEAS .

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    1. Hello,

      In the Odyssey, I guess one of the most important scenes is when Odysseus has to pass through the sea of Sirens. He makes his sailor bind him to the mast of the ship. He still sees and hears the sirens but he only observes them. This is when he faces his own fears, beliefs and nightmares. He observes them only and they pass.

      Picking a scene from the Illiad is harder because it is mostly battle scenes and very cryptic. Why don’t you play the scene where Prince Paris has to make a choice among the Three Goddesses ? It is not included in the Illiad but it is a very defining scene prior to the events of the Illiad.

      Lots of luck to you from Turkey, where the epics once took place.

      I hope one day I can visit India!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you Begum. The scene you have described is really very important. I am training my grade I to IV on these epics. I am planning to setup scene wise show.
        Any more points you would like to reflect, please do share.
        I am also working on Iliad. If you can suggest anyone whom I can contact, please direct me.
        Thank you for the warm wishes. Glad to converse with you.
        India is a beautiful place to visit. A blend of history and modernisation.

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