Friday, October 31, 2014

“Not yet, son of Poeas!”

[“Trick or Treat?” Illustration by Hannah Isabel Gay. October 31, 2014. Used with permission. Click for a larger view.]

What a wonderful thing to step into a classroom and find this illustration on the blackboard. It’s the work of my student Hannah Isabel Gay. Major props, Hannah.

The scene is from the final moments of Sophocles’s Philoctetes. The Greek warrior Philoctetes, son of Poeas, suffers from a foul-smelling, never-healing wound. His fellow Greeks abandoned him on the island of Lemnos as they sailed to Troy. But now, nine years later, the Greeks need Philoctetes and his magic bow (a gift from Heracles) if they are to take Troy. Odysseus and Neoptolemus (Achilles’s son) travel to Lemnos to bring Philoctetes back. But how? By force? persuasion? deceit? And will Neoptolemus go along with Odysseus’s plans? At the play’s end, as Neoptolemus prepares to take Philoctetes home, Heracles appears above the entrance to Philoctetes’s cave and declares that Philoctetes must go to Troy, where his wound will be healed and he will win great honor in battle.

The classicist and director Peter Meineck offers an inspired suggestion: because the actor who played Odysseus would now be playing Heracles, perhaps “Heracles” is Odysseus in disguise, and the divine command just one more Odyssean deception. Treat? Or trick?

And thus this picture.

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comments: 2

stefan said...

What a wonderful image! By coincidence, I mentioned this in a letter I just sent you this morning, Michael, but you and Ms. Gay might be interested in Wyatt Mason's article about using Sophocles--Philoctetes is one of the plays mentioned--to help soldiers suffering from PTSD. The article is in the Oct. issue of Harper's and is called "You Are not Alone across Time." (I'm jealous, by the way, that your classrooms still have real blackboards. If you'll forgive the pun, whiteboards are a pale substitute.)

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks, Stefan. I didn’t know about this article, but I’ve already given the students an article about the Philoctetes Project, now known as Theater of War (Bryan Doerries’s work), staged readings of Ajax and Philoctetes for military audiences.

I wish we had real slate — so smooth. But I’ll take what we have. Like you, I find whiteboards awful. And the markers. And their smell.