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The Advent of PluralismDiversity and Conflict in the Age of Sophocles$
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Lauren J. Apfel

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199600625

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199600625.001.0001

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Philoctetes: moral complexity

Philoctetes: moral complexity

Chapter:
(p.311) IX Philoctetes: moral complexity
Source:
The Advent of Pluralism
Author(s):

Lauren J. Apfel

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199600625.003.0009

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

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