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Philoctetes, Trackers
The Women of Trachis
By Sophocles (497-405 B.C.)
Philoctetes..|..Women of Trachis..|..Trackers..|..Biography of Sophocles..|..Greek Theater (Structure)
Greek Drama Terms..|..Gods of Mount Olympus
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By Michael J. Cummings 2003
Philoctetes
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Date Written: Probably about 409 B.C.
Who He Was: Philoctetes, the son of Poeas, was an outstanding Greek archer. After Heracles (Hercules) died, Poeas lit the great hero's funeral pyre. For this service, he was given Heracles' bow and poisoned arrows. Poeas, in turn, gave the the bow and arrows to his son, Philoctetes.
Characters: Odysseus (Ulysses), Neoptolemus (son of Achilles), Philoctetes, spy, Heracles (Hercules), chorus of friends of Odysseus and Neoptolemus.
Themes: (1) Society often makes outcasts of persons who are defective in some way. In this play, Philoctetes is an outcast who has been rejected by fellow soldiers because of a physical defect, a gaping wound that makes him a burden on others. (2) Man is a social creature; he is not meant to be an island unto himself. Philoctetes' joy at seeing another human being, Neoptolemus, after years of isolation demonstrates this theme. 
Role of the Chorus : The chorus generally had the following roles in the plays of Sophocles: (1) to explain the action, (2) to interpret the action in relation to the law of the state and the law of the Olympian gods, (3) to foreshadow the future, (4) to serve as an actor in the play,  (5) to sing and/or dance, and (6) to give the author's views. In some ways, the chorus is like the narrator of a modern film or like the background music accompanying the action of the film. In addition, it is like text on the film screen that provides background information or identifies the time and place of the action.
Terminology Used in Greek Drama: For a complete list of Greek drama terms, click here.
Setting as the Play Opens: Shore of Lemnos before a cliff.
CompleteText:..MIT: Translation by Thomas Francklin

Plot Summary and Background

Background
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......Before the Greeks go to war against the Trojans, the greatest of the Greek archers, Philoctetes, suffers a snakebite on his foot. While he is at sea on his way to Troy, his pus-ridden wound becomes so foul-smelling and his cries of pain so piercing that his shipmates abandon him on the island of Lemnos in the Aegean Sea. 

Summary
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......Sophocles' play begins in the ninth year of the Trojan War. At that time, the cunning Greek warrior Odysseus travels to Lemnos, a lonely island in the northern Aegean Sea, with Neoptolemus, the son of mighty Achilles, to find the greatest of the Greek archers, Philoctetes, and return with him to Troy. The Greeks desperately need Philoctetes, for a seer has warned that only his bow and poisoned arrows—weapons that once belonged to Heracles (Hercules)—can end the Trojan War. 
......After their arrival on the island, Neoptolemus and Odysseus discover the abode of Philoctetes, a cave in which he sleeps on leaves and eats from a crude wooden bowl. Philoctetes himself is not there. No doubt, Odysseus says, his is out foraging for food or for herbs to treat his wound.
......Odysseus realizes that Philoctetes will seethe with anger at the sight of any of the Greeks who abandoned him and may draw his deadly bow against them. So the ever resourceful Odysseus devises a scheme: Neoptolemus will approach Philoctetes and pretend to be a Greek warrior ill-used by Odysseus, then offer to return with Philoctetes to Greece. Honest Neoptolemus refuses at first, saying it is not in his nature to stoop to base trickery. But silver-tongued Odysseus tells him that it is his duty to sacrifice his individual ideals to benefit the welfare of the Greek community as a whole. Moreover, Odysseus says, Neoptolemus will be revered for ages to come as a wise and courageous warrior if he sets in motion a course of action that results in a Greek victory. Neoptolemus agrees to play the deceiver.
......All goes well when Neoptolemus meets with Philoctetes. However, after a time, Neoptolemus, is deeply moved Philoctetes' misery. Neoptolemus says (in the Thomas Francklin translation of the play):

............Alas! I pity him. Without a friend, 
............Without a fellow-sufferer, left alone, 
............Deprived of all the mutual joys that flow 
............From sweet society- distempered too! 
............How can he bear it? O unhappy race 
............Of mortal man! doomed to an endless round 
............Of sorrows, and immeasurable woe! 

......Consequently Neoptolemus confesses the truth to him, telling everything, but nevertheless tries to persuade Philoctetes to accompany him to Troy. When Odysseus appears, Neoptolemus declares asks forgiveness for his subterfuge and invites Philoctetes to come back with him to be healed and  to contribute to the Greek cause in the war. Philoctetes agrees to return—not because of the importunities of Neoptolemus but because of a mandate issued by Heracles, who appears deus ex machina and announces that Philoctetes and Neoptolemus must join forces to take Troy. When he returns to Troy, Heracles says, his wound will heal.

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Women of Trachis (Alternate Titles: Trachiniae, The Trachinian Women)
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Date Written: Probably about 413 B.C.
Significance of Title: Members of the chorus were women from Trachis.
Characters: Deianira, Heracles (Hercules), nurse, Hyllus (son of Deianira and Hercules), messenger, Lichus (herald of Hercules), old man, chorus of Trachinian women).
Role of the Chorus : The chorus generally had the following roles in the plays of Sophocles: (1) to explain the action, (2) To interpret the action in relation to the law of the state and the law of the Olympian gods, (3) to foreshadow the future, (4) to To serve as actor actor in the play,  (5) To sing and/or dance, and (6) to give the author's views. In some ways, the chorus is like the narrator of a modern film or like the background music accompanying the action of the film. In addition, it is like text on the film screen that provides background information or identifies the time and place of the action.
Pride as a Character Flaw: Pride was considered a grave sin because it placed too much emphasis on individual will, thereby downplaying the will of the state and endangering the community as a whole. Because pride makes people unwilling to accept wise counsel, they act rashly and make bad decisions. Great pride, such as that of Oedipus (Oedipus Rex) or Creon (Antigone), is referred to as hybris or hubris.
Terminology Used in Greek Drama: For a complete list of Greek drama terms, click here.
Characteristics of Sophoclean Tragedy: (1) It is based on events that already took place and with which the audience is familiar. (2) The protagonist is a person of noble stature. (3) The protagonist has a weakness and, because of it, becomes isolated and suffers a downfall. (4) Because the protagonist's fall is not entirely his or her own fault, the audience may end up pitying him or her. (5) The fallen protagonist gains self-knowledge. He has a deeper insight into himself and understands his weakness. (6) The audience undergoes catharsis, a purging of emotions, after experiencing pity, fear, shock and other strong feelings. The people go away feeling better. (7) The drama usually unfolds in one place in a short period of time, usually about a day.
Difference Between Tragedy and Comedy: A tragedy focuses on a great and noble character; a comedy usually does not. Also, in a comedy, the author usually pokes fun at the characters. Finally, a comedy does not end tragically.
Setting: Trachis before the house of Heracles.
Plot: To be posted soon.
Theme: (1) Heracles' cruel insensitivity arouses jealousy in his wife, Deianira; (2) Deianira's jealousy causes the unintential death of Heracles. After Heracles (Hercules) sends home a captive woman as a concubine, his wife Deianira becomes jealous. She then sends him a betwitched robe that supposedly will enkindle anew the fire of his love for her. However, the robe--poisoned by a malicious centaur--kills Heracles. 
Text:.MIT: Translation by Sir Richard Jebb
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Trackers (Ichneutae)
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Date Written: Probably about 460 B.C.
Characters:  Hermes (Mercury in Roman mythology), the wing-footed messenger god; chorus of satyrs, horned deities with the upper body of a man and the lower body of a goat. Satyrs loved wine and debauchery.
Type of Play: Satyr play, a type of burlesque, satire, or parody that tragedians such as Sophocles staged after presenting their tragedies during competiton in Athens. Satyr plays were so called because they featured a chorus of eleven men dressed as satyrs. 
Terminology Used in Greek Drama: For a complete list of Greek drama terms, click here.
Difference Between Tragedy and Comedy: A tragedy focuses on a great and noble character; a comedy usually does not. Also, in a comedy, the author usually pokes fun at the characters. Finally, a comedy does not end tragically.
Background and Plot: Only 400 lines of this play survive. The plot focuses on the exploits of Hermes (Mercury in Roman mythology), the wing-footed messenger god and patron of travel, theft, cleverness, music, eloquence, and commerce. He also escorted the dead to the underworld, according to Homer's Odyssey. In the play, the chorus of eleven satyrs is trying to track down cattle that Hermes stole from the god Apollo. During their quest, Hermes charms them with an instrument of his own invention, a kithara. A kithara is a type of lyre (stringed instrument) with as few as three strings and as many as twelve stretched over a soundboard. However, Hermes stretched the strings of his kithara over the shell of a tortoise.
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