HE.S.T.A.F.T.A. - Scientific Society of Mental Health Professionals


    • ancient Greek tragedy
    • psychology
    • psychology
    • systemic psychotherapy
    • Philoctetes
    • Sophocles
    • Sophocles

    (I recommend that you read the tragedy—I found it extremely interesting!)


    I will describe the  _Philoctetes _ tragedy as a type of systemic therapy process.

    The tragedy begins with Odysseus’ and Neoptolemus’ attempt to defraud Philoctetes in order to persuade him to go to Troy and help to end the Trojan War.

    Through dialogue and the relationship cultivated between the two heroes (Philoctetes and Neoptolemus), a gradual change occurs, a co-evolution of both. Philoctetes changes his inflexible attitude without moving from his values​​ and Neoptolemus abandons deceit and invents a synthetic solution to the benefit of all. Hercules in the role of supervisor-god consolidates these two parallel changes, commenting on a meta-level in a narrative, experiential way.

    The role of the Chorus is also important, and often acts as a reflective team.

    Can we claim this tragedy to be the first description of a psychotherapeutic process in human history?

    Keywords : Philoctetes, Sophocles, ancient Greek tragedy, psychology, systemic psychotherapy

    All tragedians have written about Philoctetes. However, the tragedy of Sophocles is the only one to have survived in full, whereas of the other tragedians’ plays (Aeschylus, Euripides) only fragments survive.


    Sophocles’ generation coincides historically with the peak of Athenian power. He shone more often than any other tragic poet—even at the age of 87, in 409 BC, with  Philoctetes  (1417 lines). He was well-liked and sociable, and had many friends.

    He placed man in the center of all, filling his tragedies with conflicting duties, with debates on behaviors and ways of living. There is not a single one among his surviving plays where we don’t come across a moral issue in its full extent. Sophocles is a witness of the evolution that complemented the social evolution in Athens, leading to an explosion of diverse ideas. His characters raise questions and embody an ideal that requires more and more from an individual who is gradually established as the sole judge of his own duties.

    In Sophocles’ work, individuals determine their value according to how they react to the challenge. This is the kind of dramaturgy that inspires admiration and profound faith in men and love for life.

    The personality of Philoctetes has been studied, from a psychoanalytic point of view, by Norman Austin (2011) as well as by Lacan who focused on the heroic side of Philoctetes’ character (1992).

    My “reading” of Philoctetes was as the process of a two-way psychotherapeutic process, in other words the roles of therapist-patient alternated, with an obvious co-evolution. I will consider the evolution of the tragedy as a gradual transition of youngster Neoptolemus, on the one hand, and on the other hand, of the therapy of Philoctetes’ that suddenly (?) occurs in the end, following his conscious decision to be cured, after the intervention of Hercules–father–god.

    The  Iliad  has Philoctetes joining the Greeks and crusading to Troy with seven ships. However, he never got there, as on the way he was bitten by a sacred water-snake on the island of Chryse. The Atreidai (Agamemnon and Menelaus) banished Philoctetes on the island of Lemnos, because they couldn’t bear the terrible odor coming out of his wound and his moans of pain that disturbed the entire camp. For ten years Philoctetes lives stranded in a cave, all alone and sick, equipped only with Hercules’ bow and arrows, a gift of the hero when Philoctetes saved him. In the  Iliad , Philoctetes is mentioned as absent from the Trojan War. The exile excluded him from the heroic narratives; he was left out of the heroic world.

    Philoctetes is not only the loneliest character of Sophocles but also a victim of the most cruel injustice (Koutalopoulos, 2003). He would rather stay on Lemnos and die of hunger than give in. His hatred against his enemies, the Atreidai and Odysseus, who banished him on the island, will not die out. He won’t help himself if that will also benefit his enemies.

    Unfolding in parallel with Philoctetes’ drama is that of young Neoptolemus (son of Achilles, who never met his father), who is forced to act against his “nature” (as Sophocles perceives it) but eventually manages to become himself again through a painful course (Koutalopoulos, 2003).

    As the myth unfolds, it seems that Neoptolemus gradually changes due to his contact with Philoctetes; although the latter had not planned to change the mind of young Neoptolemus, his honest and spontaneous behavior exerts a decisive influence on the youngster's soul  (Koutalopoulos, 2003) and “cures” Neoptolemus. On the other hand, Philoctetes is slowly reintegrated in the society of humans and loses the stiffness of his character by allowing the Greeks to help him heal, as well as through the father-son relation he develops with Neoptolemus, which also enables him to go to Troy and find the “sons of Asclepius” who will cure his chronic wound from the snake bite.

    The methods used in this tragedy are deceit, violence and persuasion. Deceit fails, violence fails and persuasion, when finally attempted, also seems to fail at first, due to the earlier deceit and violence (Koutalopoulos, 2003).

    The tragedy of  Philoctetes  unfolds on the island of Lemnos. Odysseus and Neoptolemus arrive there from Troy (the Trojan War has been going on for ten years with an uncertain outcome) so that Neoptolemus can persuade Philoctetes to follow them to Troy, since, according to the prediction of oracle Helenos, the Greeks will only win the war with Hercules’ unbeatable arrows, which are now in Philoctetes' possession. Odysseus advises Neoptolemus on how to talk Philoctetes into coming along with him to Troy. Philoctetes must not see Odysseus, so Neoptolemus has to fulfill the task of deceit all by himself: according to Odysseus, he is new to the war and it will be easier for him to win Philoctetes’ trust. Odysseus urges Neoptolemus to defy his conscience for once and deceive Philoctetes.

    Neoptolemus on the other hand, faces an inner dilemma (or a double bind?). While unwilling to succeed through deceit, he does not wish to be called a traitor of the Greeks, either. He wants to succeed by using persuasion (Therapy? Possibly, because, in order for Philoctetes to be persuaded to follow Neoptolemus, he will have to be cured and therefore abandon the rigid position dictated by both his values and his hatred for the Atreidai. This hatred must be cured, so that Philoctetes can go to Troy and have his wound healed).

    The Chorus empathizes with both characters. They want to help Neoptolemus, but also feel sympathy for Philoctetes, with genuine human feelings, and conclude “alas for the man so heavily tortured by fate”. Further down they say “exiled away from men, doomed in pain and hunger, he is mobbed by his suffering in the ever resounding echo of his own sighs”. It is no accident that Philoctetes’ pain and drama occur on a deserted island—a psychological metaphor for the experience of suffering (C. Fred Alford, 2002).

    The prologue ends with the Chorus drawing the attention of Neoptolemus on the pain of Philoctetes, as if focusing on pain (both psychological and physical).

    The first episode starts with Philoctetes asking the strangers where they come from; he expresses his yearning to hear a human voice out there in his exile. He introduces and describes himself in three ways: first, as the owner of Hercules’ weapons (possessing the arrows is a constituent of his identity); according to his descent; and as a man abandoned by the Greeks (Kalogeropoulou, 2009). Philoctetes tells his story and talks about his despair, his pain, his life in the wilderness, but also about his reconciliation with his suffering. He asks Neoptolemus to try to imagine how he had felt the moment he had realized his plight, when he woke up at the exile where the people of Argos had left him helpless. He asks him to try to imagine being in his shoes and adds that those who stopped at the island these ten years have only offered compassion and charity but no cure (they wouldn’t take him back to his homeland where he can join his family and be cured). In the end, he curses the Atreidai for his misfortune, as he does repeatedly throughout the tragedy. Again, the chorus sympathizes.

    Later on, Neoptolemus tries to cultivate his relation with Philoctetes, telling his own (fictitious) story of injustice by the Atreidai, and castigates those in power as a bad example for the rest of the people. This narrative is intended to bring him closer to Philoctetes.

    The Chorus here sympathizes with Neoptolemus, commenting on the “injustice” that brings the two characters close.

    Next comes a dialogue in which Philoctetes asks Neoptolemus about various figures of the Trojan War. The enumeration of dead heroes works on multiple levels, establishing a relation of trust between Philoctetes and Neoptolemus. But the means used by Neoptolemus is deceit. Nevertheless, a framework of collaboration is cultivated, a therapeutic framework; the “therapeutic relationship” is created and the system of values of the characters is also specified, with the two characters, having become allies, looking for parallel sequences. Once Neoptolemus has clearly expressed his choices and values and gained Philoctetes’ trust, he announces his —fake— departure (first departure). This is an interesting point. Does he expect this to make Philoctetes express his request? Ask for help? Call him back? Philoctetes does express his request, asking for Neoptolemus’ help and telling him to put himself in his shoes.

    Once again the Chorus shows compassion and sides with the weak, ill man. Neoptolemus now poses the question: can we bear to be in the presence of illness? Can we bear this dysfunction, or does it render us inhuman, as it did the Atreides who exiled Philoctetes? When the chorus answers yes, Neoptolemus agrees to save Philoctetes and take him along. Philoctetes thanks Neoptolemus for his decision, but wishes first that they go together and bid farewell to the cave which had been his home all these years.

    At this point enters the merchant (one of Neoptolemus’ men) to reveal, at first privately to Neoptolemus, then publically (after Neoptolemus urges him to speak aloud) the true purpose of their coming. Neoptolemus feigns ignorance, asking why the Atreides were suddenly so concerned about the man they had cast off for so many years, thus effectively siding with Philoctetes. Upon hearing this, Philoctetes becomes enraged and urges Neoptolemus to leave immediately (leaving, Philoctetes took the bows with him and, although Neoptolemus pretends to be uninterested, he hints that he wishes to touch them; Philoctetes, after praising his virtues, tells him that he alone can touch them, for only those who do good have that right). Again, the chorus shows compassion towards Philoctetes, recounting his difficult life and his struggle as well as the injustice he has suffered.

    As they leave, Philoctetes’ illness relapses and he begins to moan with pain. Though he attempts to hide it at first, he later reveals it and tells Neoptolemus to not fear the illness or betray him (the scene is the same as when he was abandoned on Lemnos by the Atrides, and his future is similarly at stake: is this a repetition— corrective experience?). Neoptolemus shows compassion, and this compassion helps Philoctetes reconnect with the human world (C. Fred Alford, 2002). Philoctetes then entrusts him with the bows, to keep them safe and not give them to anyone else for the duration of the seizure. This is an extraordinary gesture, an extreme act of trust (Kalogeropoulou, 2009). Neoptolemus promises and Philoctetes warns him to be wary of the bows lest they bring him sorrows, as they have to everyone else (‘bow to envy!’). The pain returns sharply and Philoctetes expresses the wish to die. Neoptolemus falls silent. Here is the first silence we have seen. Why does Neoptolemus remain silent? The answer is because he commiserates—but is it just that? Philoctetes fears he might abandon him and expresses his doubts. Neoptolemus reassures him. As the seizure peaks, Philoctetes falls asleep.

    The Chorus then enters with something like a (therapeutic?) lullaby, once again sympathizing with Philoctetes and wishing him to be cured; it then tells Neoptolemus, without taking sides, simply to choose with care the right moment to act and decide how far he is willing to go.

    Neoptolemus begins to reconsider, to feel shame for the lies he has told. Here the Chorus becomes impressively systemic, addresses Neoptolemus and tells him to reflect deeply on the issue, to find some syntheticsolution: ‘that deed is the best, which causes fear to none!’

    Philoctetes awakens recovered, and praises Neoptolemus for being able to endure the illness (‘unbelievable and unexpected, the presence of strangers’). As they leave together, for the first time Neoptolemus hesitates. Once again, the obstacle is pain. This time, however, it is Neoptolemus who is in pain—an intense internal anguish, equal to Philoctetes’ physical pain. His cry (‘papai=alas!’) sounds as an echo of Philoctetes’ cry (Koutalopoulos, 2003). The hero’s horrible illness, the dignity with which he has borne it for so many years, the gratitude and trust he showed moved the young man deeply, and he cannot go on with this cruel deception. Compassion and shame cause an unbearable inner pain. He is totally at a loss (Koutalopoulos2003)and hints at his internal dilemma, his inner conflict, without openly expressing it. Philoctetes wonders and Neoptolemus finally reveals his true purpose, which is to take him to Troy. Philoctetes explodes, curses Neoptolemus and tells him to return the bows, for he will not go to Troy. Neoptolemus refuses, and Philoctetes tries everything from open challenge, to self-pity, degradation and finally curses to get him to turn around. Neoptolemus falls silent (for the second time). He expresses his sympathy for Philoctetes in his predicament and the choice he has to make.

    Here Odysseus enters the scene. The moment Neoptolemus is willing to return the bows to Philoctetes, Odysseus tries to stop him and take the situation into his own hands. He tells Philoctetes that he will employ every measure, good or bad, to bring him along, for that was the will of Zeus. There follows a dialogue between Odysseus and Philoctetes, during which Odysseus tries with threats and positive reframing to convince him to come to Troy, while Philoctetes pours out all his rage, analyzing all the injustice he has suffered and expressing all his hatred to Odysseus; at an impasse, he declares he will kill himself.

    Odysseus in turn apologizes but at the same time defends his position, saying that his ability to adapt to circumstances and his desire to always win are innate traits to him, and he does not intend to change tactics now (in opposition to Philoctetes’ inflexibility). He declares defiantly that they don’t need him, that they can win without him and claim the glory which rightfully belonged to Philoctetes. Philoctetes begs Neoptolemus to speak (Neoptolemus’ third silence) and now he too wonders what to do, as Odysseus leaves and calls out to Neoptolemus to follow so as not to spoil the plan. Philoctetes calls upon the sailors to sympathize with him. Here for the first time the crew-chorus openly sides with Neoptolemus, declaring that they will stay with him. Neoptolemus tells the Chorus to remain, in case Philoctetes should change his mind (he is given a time margin).

    There follows a dialogue between Philoctetes and the Chorus (sailors) in which Philoctetes bemoans his wretched plight, alone on a deserted island without the weapons which provided him with food and protection. The Chorus responds, saying that this was clearly his own choice, that he chose the worst rather than the best option for himself. Philoctetes continues in the same strain, grieving and pitying himself and cursing his enemies. The Chorus, again systemic, agrees that it is good for him to openly express what he believes, but not to allow his words to generate hatred, and that, ultimately, what they suggested would benefit everyone. Philoctetes continues to grieve, while the chorus tells him with tenderness and compassion: 'understand this well, it is in your power to rid yourself of a horrible fate, which, no matter how long you shepherd it, will never manage to contain the countless passions, which drag themselves along with it.'  It is as though the chorus is saying to him that, as long as he grieves and does not change his own fate, his passions will continue to trouble him. Philoctetes stubbornly refuses to change his way of thinking, continues to condemn others and grieve, though he acknowledges the chorus' good intentions, while the chorus tells him that what it suggests is for his own good. In the end, Philoctetes tells the Chorus to leave, but as they turn to go Philoctetes calls them back. The Chorus says to him, 'moderate your passion and you will see it is unnecessary.' The Chorus asks him if he is willing to change his mind. It is then that Philoctetes begins to take responsibility for his position: 'I'm talking nonsense.'

    The Chorus returns, and Philoctetes resumes his inflexible stance, the product of his hatred of his enemies, and begs the Chorus for a knife so that he may kill himself. The Chorus asks, 'for what reason?'. The question sounds paradoxical (what effect could this paradox have had upon Philoctetes? He does not mention suicide again.) As Philoctetes explains (saying he would go to Hades to find his father) the Chorus makes no remarks, does not try to change his mind, leaves the responsibility to him, and changes the subject, apparently unconcerned.

    A repentant Neoptolemus returns hurriedly to make up for his sins, as he says. He wishes to return the bows to Philoctetes—it was wrong of him to take them with deceit. Odysseus attempts to talk him out of it and threatens him, and ultimately exits the stage.

    Neoptolemus asks Philoctetes for his decision; will he stay or go with them? Philoctetes refuses to change his mind. Neoptolemus admits his failure to convince him with words, accepts Philoctetes' decision and decides to return the bows.

    Odysseus reappears and exchanges curses with Philoctetes; Philoctetes tries to kill Odysseus, while Neoptolemus attempts to separate them and tells Philoctetes that killing Odysseus would do no good. Philoctetes allows Neoptolemus to intervene and the trust between them is restored. Neoptolemus then makes one last attempt to persuade Philoctetes, mirroring him and placing the responsibility with him, saying that: 'those who come upon disasters which they themselves sought, deserve no pity or forgiveness,’ remarking also upon his inflexibility and distrust. Philoctetes slightly changes his attitude and goes into an inner dialogue: he trusts Neoptolemus, but cannot imagine himself living amongst the children of Atreus. Neoptolemus begs for his trust, saying that this would be best for them both. He proceeds to tell him, 'learn, my friend, to be less proud in the midst of calamity.' Philoctetes, consumed by his hatred for the Atrides, does not want to go to Troy, though Neoptolemus now urges him to see that they want to rescue him. Philoctetes refuses to go, and Neoptolemus accepts his failure to persuade him and that all that remains now is to leave him in his desolation, with no hope for salvation (a therapeutic double bind?) Philoctetes then asks him to keep his word and take him back to his home, and Neoptolemus asks him 'what will I do when they come hunting me down?' Philoctetes promises to help him using his bows.

    Up to this point, the 'therapist' Neoptolemus has accepted his failure, accepted the decision of the 'patient' Philoctetes, but has not managed to find a systemic solution; the situation remains at an impasse. At this critical moment, Hercules enters as a Deus ex machina to help with the healing process. Is he in a supervisor’s role? He narrates experientially, referring to his own toils and stressing the value of cooperation and inter-dependency (no one can take Troy all alone, it requires the cooperation of them both, both generations, so that one may guard the other), as well as the value of respect, superior to humans, whether they live or die. What is he doing, then? He invokes the highest values so that the previous conflict loses all meaning, and forces the two heroes to cooperate towards a common goal. Philoctetes is vindicated, he is cured of the inertia to which he had condemned himself and goes to seek physical healing as well. Philoctetes, like Hercules, bids farewell to the place which served as his home, and hails the power of life! He does not fail, however, to mention that he goes wherever Fate, the opinions of friends and the divine powers lead him.

    Some thoughts on the tragedy

    This is a tragedy in which dialectic is juxtaposed to violence and deception (Kalogeropoulou, 2009). The tragedy operates on many different levels at once. It focuses upon man and his struggle. Sophocles is considered a master of the art of depicting his characters without analyzing them (de Romilly, 1997). Each character is distinguished in accordance with the importance they invest in one or another value (ethics) and by the emphasis they place on it, thus reflecting their character (psychology). They represent nothing but their own choices, their own will, their own human judgment. In other words, psychology begins with ethics. Ethics is what first open the paths of the internal (de Romilly, 1997). Sophocles is dealing with the issue of his time, ‘nature or nurture—which of the two prevails?’ This, of course, brings to mind the ‘genes or environment’ dispute. ‘Nature’, for Sophocles, is existence at its most fundamental, it is that upon which we can depend. ‘Nature’ for Sophocles is always good and omnipresent, latent and weakened by circumstance, yet back to strength at the decisive moment (de Romilly, 2000). Does this not resemble the faith placed by therapists in the potential strength of their patients? (Need we carry a small Sophocles within us?)

    Odysseus is identified with the Sophists and their teachings on skill, and is burdened with all the petty grudges which the influence of the Sophists had stirred up in Athens (de Romilly, 2000). If ethics provide a purpose, rhetoric and the dialectic provide one with the means with which to proceed to detailed analysis. Psychology emerges at the point where these two approaches meet. Sophocles’ characters have a deep understanding of each other. The contrasts between the characters make each more sensitive to the other; deep inner understanding emerges from these external observations (de Romilly, 1997). Here we may speak of co-evolution. Neoptolemus starts to forge a relation with Philoctetes, albeit in a deceitful way. This relation makes Philoctetes trust Neoptolemus, and reflect back to him a good ‘nature’, which in turn causes changes within Neoptolemus, and this, again, causes Philoctetes’ inflexible disposition to change. Sophocles portrays these changes through actions, making them understandable without analyzing them psychologically or openly stating the internal conflict. Neoptolemus here is the living image of the power of good nature, when it resists the influence of tutors who wish to corrupt it (de Romilly 2000).

    Sophocles raises political issues, poses questions about values (friendship, cooperation, compassion, justice) and links them to illness and suffering, but also to healing—a healing process with many dimensions, both literally and metaphorically. It is an amazing lesson in empathy. It portrays the process of maturation from adolescence through the change in Neoptolemus. The story of Philoctetes depicts the difficulty and struggle for survival outside the bounds of human society. Sophocles devotes many verses to Philoctetes’ speech, to describe the ten years he lived in the cave, on uninhabited Limnos (a novelty of Sophocles’), far from any help, without anyone to know of his fears, his bitterness, his joys, his triumphs.

    Other people’s memories of us are the proof that we existed. Before he leaves Limnos, he wishes to see his life mirrored in the eyes of another, and so he invites Neoptolemus to see his cave before they abandon it together (Kalogeropoulou, 2009).

    What do we observe? Here we see a twofold therapy, a co-evolution. The young Neoptolemus seeks the father he never had. He is the son of the legendary Achilles, whom he had never had the chance to meet. At first, Odysseus craftily misleads him, but the father figure of Philoctetes, who remains true to his principles, will help him soothe and heal his internal conflict through his compassion for Philoctetes. All changes within Neoptolemus occur offstage (de Romilly, 2000) (beyond the healing process—it becomes a matter of free will, of freedom to make one’s own decision); on stage, they manifest themselves in an impressive way through the silences. The healing process occurs outside the therapy sessions, and the unconscious changes help the individual become more responsible and increase his personal choices. Here, as de Romilly says, in a paradoxical way, Sophocles comes closer to the psychology of the Unconscious, and closer than Euripides to Freud (or perhaps closer to systemic thinking).

    In Philoctetes’ case we see a wound which will not heal, a chronic illness exacerbated by extreme loneliness. He lives with unbelievable inner pain, a chronic grief from the trauma of loss, and becomes fixated with his physical pain, experiencing an unbearable repetition of his internal pain in his body (Manolopoulos, 2014). Yet despite his suffering he remains inflexible and deaf to all offers of salvation. He is trapped by hatred in a state of dysfunction and illness. In due course, healing will come, once the grieving process has been completed, that is, by acknowledging and coming to terms with reality (Manolopoulos, 2014).

    Neoptolemus, as therapist, attempts to show him the way by returning the bows, and Philoctetes begins to trust him again. However, only Hercules truly succeeds in doing so, as he himself exists outside the system, and is Philoctetes’ ‘symbolic’ father. Suffering connects Philoctetes and Hercules. It is he who possesses authority, he whom Philoctetes trusts, because he belongs to a past unsullied by betrayal; it is he who recounts his own story, and, through it, identifies himself with Philoctetes, gives him value, perspective, healing. It is Hercules’ position, not his words, which make the difference, seeing as Neoptolemus too has said exactly the same things to Philoctetes. Still, it is his relation with Neoptolemus which prepares Philoctetes for his change of attitude. Hercules reduces the conflict and finds a way out of the deadlock of the situation, remarking on it on a meta- level.

    The Chorus and its role

    There is nothing similar to be found in any other form of theatre. Not quite within the same space as the actors, it hears them, sees them, converses and remarks upon what they do and what they undergo. No other form of theatre has shown at once the unfolding action between the protagonists and the commentary of public opinion, unable to participate in all that occurs but whose opinions are noted at various points (de Romilly, 2000). The Chorus creates a broader sense of space and a resonance which further amplifies it.

    Here one easily recalls the group behind the mirror or the reflective team.

    The Chorus, which exists above the level of action, expresses the deeper meaning behind events and draws conclusions from the lives of humans. Ultimately, however, what is most important is not what the Chorus states but the questions it raises (de Romilly, 2000), the processes it sets in motion, the resonance it creates in the audience, the framework it broadens. It is the intermediary between the author and the audience. The Chorus wonders, seeks out causes, invokes the gods, strives to understand. It is for this reason that it often recalls the past, to draw from past experiences. It offers the audience new perspectives in their thinking. The reflections of the chorus give another dimension to the action (de Romilly, 1997). In Philoctetes, the Chorus places itself in the position of both heroes, it heightens emotion and each time expands upon the issues which arise from the dialogue.

    The Oracles

    There are many oracles in Sophocles’ work, but they are ambiguous, obscure, often elusive, and leave a large margin for error and hope (de Romilly, 2000).

    Throughout the tragedy (except at the end, when Hercules expresses the oracle in a clear and categorical way) oracles do not cease to be but human interpretations. During the entire play we hear variations of paraphrasing and misinterpretation of oracles (Kalogeropoulou, 2009). The course of the oracle undergo runs parallel to that of Neoptolemus towards maturity. Clarity and understanding are only attained at the end of the play, both for the oracle and Neoptolemus. Whereas at first the oracle concerned all Greeks, ultimately it affects only Philoctetes and to a degree Neoptolemus (Kalogeropoulou, 2009).

    However, if we see the oracle as a treatment guideline by some ‘wise therapist’, what do we observe? We see that it annuls itself, as in each case it takes on the meaning each character in the drama gives it. Furthermore, its value lies in the dialogue it stimulates and the changes it causes on the characters of the tragedy, as if it’s content were of no value.


    If we assume that Sophocles is depicting two parallel ‘treatments’ (would it be possible to claim that it is the first depiction of a psychotherapeutic process in human history?), what was it which operated therapeutically? Was it the relation between the drama’s two heroes, which developed gradually, regardless if for one of them the initial purpose was deceit? Indeed, this relation did prove therapeutic, for ultimately it was based upon deep trust and faith in the ability of man to resist and turn dysfunction into health, physical and psychological.


    Sophocles,  Philoctetes

    de Romilly, Jacqueline,  La Tragédie grecque, PUF, 1970 ; Greek edition Kardamitsas, 1997

    de Romilly, Jacqueline,  Patience, mon cœur: l'essor de la psychologie dans la littérature grecque classique , Greek edition Asty, 1997

    de Romilly, Jacqueline,  Le Temps dans la tragédie grecque , Greek edition Asty, 2000

    Kalogeropoulou, Ε.,  Ο μύθος του Φιλοκτήτη και οι Τραγικοί ποιητές  του 5 ου  και 4 ου αιώνα  πΧ , University of Patras, Postgraduate Studies Programme on Ancient Greek Drama, 2009

    Koutalopoulos, A.,  Φιλοκτήτης , Patakis, 2003

    C. Fred Alford, Levinas the Frankfurt School and Psychoanalysis, SAGE, 2002

    Norman Austin,  Sophocles’ Philoctetes and the Great Soul Robbery , University of Wisconsin Press, 2011

    Lacan, J.,  The Ethics of Psychoanalysis 1959-1960 , “The Seminar of Jacques Lacan”, Vol. VII, 1992, EditedbyJacques-AlainMiller

    Manolopoulos, S., (personal communication) 2014

    Read the next article:

    ARTICLE 4/ ISSUE 4, April 2014

    Institutions: When your bed is the only refuge

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