Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art
Page: 152The oracles, silent so long, now announced that Troy could never be taken without the poisoned arrows of Hercules, then in the keeping of Philoctetes (p. 238). This hero had started with the expedition, but had been put ashore on the Island of Lemnos on account of a wound in his foot, which had become so offensive that none of the ship’s company could endure his presence on board.
Ten long years had already elapsed since then, and, although a party of Greeks immediately set out in search of him, they had [Pg 331] but little hope of finding him alive. They nevertheless wended their way to the cave where they had deposited him, where, to their unbounded surprise, they still found him. The wound had not healed, but he had managed to exist by killing such game as came within reach of his hand.
Deserted and forlorn he lies;
No friend or fellow-mourner there,
To soothe his sorrows, and divide his care;
Or seek the healing plant, of power to ’suage
His aching wound, and mitigate its rage.”
Sophocles (Francklin’s tr.).
Incensed by the Greeks’ former cruel desertion, no entreaty could now induce Philoctetes to accompany the messengers to Troy, until Hercules appeared to him in a dream, and bade him go without delay, for there he would find Machaon (p. 64), Æsculapius’ son, who was to heal his wound.
The dream was realized. Philoctetes, whole once more, joined the Greek host, and caused great dismay in the enemy’s ranks with his poisoned arrows. One of his deadly missiles even struck Paris, and, as the poison entered his veins, it caused him grievous suffering. Paris then remembered that his first love, Œnone, who knew all remedies and the best modes of applying them, had once told him to send for her should he ever be wounded. He therefore sent for Œnone; but she, justly offended by the base desertion and long neglect of her lover, refused her aid, and let him die in torture. When he was dead, Œnone repented of this decision; and when the flames of his funeral pyre rose around him, she rushed into their midst, and was burned to death on his corpse.
The ring of faces redden’d by the flames
Infolding that dark body which had lain
Of old in her embrace, paused—and then ask’d
Falteringly, ‘Who lies on yonder pyre?’
[Pg 332] But every man was mute for reverence.
Then moving quickly forward till the heat
Smote on her brow, she lifted up a voice
Of shrill command, ‘Who burns upon the pyre?’
Whereon their oldest and their boldest said,
‘He, whom thou would’st not heal!’ and all at once
The morning light of happy marriage broke,
Thro’ all the clouded years of widowhood,
And muffling up her comely head, and crying
‘Husband!’ she leapt upon the funeral pile,
And mixt herself with him and past in fire.”
Two of Priam’s sons had already expired, and yet Troy had not fallen into the hands of the Greeks, who now heard another prophecy, to the effect that Troy could never be taken as long as the Palladium—a sacred statue of Minerva, said to have fallen from heaven—remained within its walls (p. 60). So Ulysses and Diomedes in disguise effected an entrance into the city one night, and after many difficulties succeeded in escaping with the precious image.