Research for a series of site responsive theatre performances of Philoctetes.

Philoctetes in the Island of Lemnos, James Barry

James Barry

Study for 'Philoctetes on the Island of Lemnos' 1770 James Barry 1741-1806 Purchased as part of the Oppé Collection with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund 1996

James Barry,  1770

The Myth…

in return for lighting Heracles funeral pyre
Philoctetes is bequeathed his bow and arrows

en route to Troy
he is incapacitated by a snakebite
and left behind by the Greeks
on the island of Lemnos

after a seer reveals that Troy can be taken
only with the aid of Heracles’ bow and arrows
Odysseus and either Diomedes or Neoptolemus
return to Philoctetes and persuaded or trick him to
rejoin their campaign against Troy

after his return
Philoctetes is healed of his wound
and with his bow kills Paris

The Fragments…

Sophocles tragedy of Philoctetes survived intact
yet his Philoctetes in Troy survives with only a few fragments

Only do not be distressed by the smell of me!
But death is the last healer of sicknesses.
Uttering harsh and discordant cries…
And a staff of Hermes
like that of a herald
with a dragon’s head at each end…

Aeschylus and Euripides also wrote a Philoctetes
this work also exists only in fragments


O river Spercheius, and you haunts where cattle graze!

Where the wind allows one neither to remain nor to sail out.
Hanging the bow on a dark-leaved pine tree.

For the serpent did not let go,
but fearsomely fixed and embedded its fangs in me,
so as to maim my foot.

The malignancy that is eating the flesh of my foot.

O Death the Healer,
do not disregard my prayer that you come!
For you are the only physician for ills that are beyond remedy:
pain cannot touch a dead man.