Artwork > Books

Philoctetes at Lemnos
Philoctetes at Lemnos
Riograph Book
4.25" x 5.5"

Philoctetes is a Greek tragedy by Sophocles about a man left alone for 10 years on the Island of Lemnos during the Trojan War. He had sustained a horrible wound that would not heal, and the men on his ship could not deal with his incessant moaning. Also, and it feels unkind to say this, the stink of his wound was overwhelming. Eventually, the Greeks realized they could not win the war without him, and so two men, Odysseus and Neoptolomus, sailed to Lemnos to convince him to return and end the war. He resisted out of anger at his treatment, but in the end, he agreed to their request.

I first read this play thirty years ago after having been run over by a car. The driver hit me and then proceeded to run over both of my legs. Luckily (I guess) only one leg suffered lasting damage; the weight of the car snapped my right femur in half. In this first reading of Philoctetes, I read it with the eye of one with an injury. I ached with his pain, and although I knew it was hard for Philoctetes to give up his anger at being left behind, I rejoiced that he might find some kind of healing ahead of him.

When Philoctetes was originally written, theatre was used to discuss the issues of the day. It was considered a civic duty to attend, and if you could not afford it, a ticket would be provided for free. The message of this play is that we must grow beyond our individual feelings. Sometimes we must put aside our anger for the sake of society and do what needs to be done for the betterment of all.

As I watched COVID-19 wax and wane (and wax and wane again and again) I, and other immunocompromised people, were unwillingly left on our own islands, and if we wanted to return to society, we could only do so with a great deal of risk. I read Philoctetes again, but this time I did not understand how he could give up his anger, and then I realized maybe he didn’t. I felt there was a missing part of the play - a section where he reconciles a return to society. Not to give the Greeks a victory, but to end his unfathomable loneliness. And so I wrote this play that is a poem. Or maybe it is a poem that is a play.

In war (or pandemic) what do we owe the state? What does the state owe us? What do we owe each other?