Some Study/Discussion Questions on Sophocles Philoctetes
1.) Is Philoctetes' refusal to change an expression of a great tragic truth that life is suffering and we can't escape it?
2.) Is the play a problem of morality, a conflict between a practical and ambitious politician like Odysseus and a more idealistic, altruistic one like Neoptolemus? Are there modern parallels here?
3.) Many ancient Greeks would see in Neoptolemus someone who is clinging to old values of loyalty and friendship while Odysseus is a sophist who says that the only important thing is success, that it is O.K. to abandon your friends (Philoctets) in order to succeed in your goals (capturing Troy). What messages about loyalty and friendship do you see in this play?
4.) What about the generational conflict between a young man (Neoptolemus) and an older one (Odysseus)? Neoptolemus admires Odysseus but realizes that to imitate Odysseus means abandoning values on which Neoptolemus was raised.
5.) Can you read the play as one of maturation, as a dramaticization of the maturation of a young man who learns about the difficult choices involved in growing up?
6.) What is the situation at the end of the play, before the appearance of Heracles? What has Neoptolemus done in giving the bow back to Philoctetes? Does this represent a complete breakdown in communication between Neoptolemus and Odysseus?
7.) Then there is Heracles, whose appearance as deus ex machina at the end of the play is miraculous. What is Heracles' relationship with Philoctetes? With Neoptolemus? What is the meaning of this miraculous ending? Does it suggest that humankind cannot resolve its differences without divine intervention?