Philoctetes was the son of King Poeas in Greek mythology, a Greek hero who participated in the Trojan War. He first appeared in the story of Heracles' demise; the great hero had worn the tainted Shirt of Nessus which gave him insufferable pain. He then proceeded to build his own funeral pyre, but no one would light it up. In the end, Philoctetes stepped up and lit the fire, thus gaining the deified hero's favour. Before his death, Heracles offered him his fabled bow and poisoned arrows as a gift.

Philoctetes was also one of the suitors of Helen, the princess of Sparta. Having sworn the Oath of Tyndareus, by which he was bound to protect her and her future husband, whoever that would be, he was asked to participate in the Trojan War. On the way to Troy, though, the fleet stopped at the island of Lemnos and left Philoctetes stranded there. There are different accounts on why this happened; some say that Hera had sent a venomous snake to punish Philoctetes for helping Heracles. The snake bit him on the foot and the wound festered and smelled bad, thus compelling his companions to leave him ashore. Another account says that Philoctetes would not verbally reveal the location of Heracles' ashes as was asked by his fellow Greeks. Instead, he took them to the spot and placed his foot on top. Immediately, he was wounded on the foot as soon as he touched the ground. There are other versions about this, but in any case, Philoctetes was really angry that his comrades decided to strand him, a proposal that had been made by Odysseus. He stayed in Lemnos for ten years.

When the Greeks captured Helenus, the Trojan seer, he was forced to tell them that in order to capture Troy, one of the requirements was to retrieve the bow and arrows of Heracles, which were in Philoctetes' possession. Odysseus and a few men returned to Lemnos, thinking the man would have died by now. However they found him alive, and Odysseus devised a plan to trick him out of his bow and arrows. Nevertheless, Diomedes, one of the companions, refused to take the weapon by trickery and leave Philoctetes stranded. Heracles, who was already a god by now, descended from Olympus and told Philoctetes to join the Greek army, adding that he would be healed permanently by one of Asclepius' sons.

When the party reached Troy, either Machaon or Podalirius, both physicians and sons of the god Asclepius, treated Philoctetes' festered wound, and healed him. In one of the accounts, he was the one who killed Paris, by throwing four arrows against him. He was then chosen as one of the soldiers to go into the Trojan horse and participated in the sack of Troy.

See Also: Heracles, Shirt of Nessus, Trojan War, Tyndareus, Helen, Hera, Odysseus, Helenus, Asclepius, Paris

Philoctetes Q&A

Who was Philoctetes?

Philoctetes was the son of King Poeas in Greek mythology, a Greek hero who participated in the Trojan War. He first appeared in the story of Heracles' demise.

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