Martha Nussbaum


ODYSSEUS IN
SOPHOCLES' PHILOCTETES

Odysseus invokes an oddly-matched pair of divinities on behalf of his project: "May Hermes god of guile, the escort, guide us, and Victory—Athena, guardian of the city, my constant protector" ( 133-4). 1 His scheme of getting control of Philoctetes and the bow is to be supported by the god of deceit and by the god who promotes the common welfare of all citizens, here identified with Victory, daughter of Zeus. Guileful Hermes seems a suitable backer for Odysseus' devious stratagem, and Athena is well known to be that hero's patroness and protector. But the significance of her being invoked in her capacity as guardian of citizens, and of her conflation in that capacity with Nike, is more obscure. In no pre-Sophoclean treatment of the exploits of Odysseus, as far as we know, does he invoke this particular Athena. We would not expect him to, since she presumably earned her title by deeds which postdate those recorded here. If this is not to be seen simply as an audience-pleasing anachronism, we must look further for an explanation. What connection is there, in Odysseus' view, between the use of guile and the protection of citizens, and how are both related to his project?

The Odysseus of Euripides' lost Philoctetes is an egocentric seeker after glory, always courting new risks in order to maintain and enhance his reputation. In deciding whether to adopt a certain course of action, he considers what its outcome will be for his own fame, and it is because of his constant concern with self-advancement that he is careless of the rights and interests of others. 2 In contrast to this character with his coherent, though deficient, standard of behavior, the Sophoclean figure strikes us as faceless, and has been called by one recent critic a man with "no standards of any kind." 3 It seems to me, however, that he does hold a coherent view of some interest, and that it is one of the play's main purposes to examine this view and the difficulties it presents.

In beginning to elicit the nature of Odysseus' moral view, we might consider an acute observation made by a recent critic, S. Benardete: "In Sophocles' Philoc

____________________
From Philosophy and Literature I, No. I (Fall 1976): 29-39.

-203-

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Odysseus/Ulysses
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Odysseus/ Ulysses *
  • Contents *
  • The Analysis of Character ix
  • Editor's Note xv
  • Introduction i
  • Critical Extracts 7
  • The Odyssey and the Western World 89
  • The Name of Odysseus 103
  • Homer and Hamlet 118
  • Kazantzakis: Odysseus and the "Cage of Freedom" 133
  • Shakespeare's Ulysses and the Problem of Value 144
  • The Fugitive from the Ancestral Hearth: Tennyson's "Ulysses" 161
  • Seeds for the Planting of Bloom 176
  • Dante's Ulysses: from Epic to Novel 189
  • Odysseus in Sophocles' Philoctetes 203
  • Joyce and Homer 214
  • The Platonic and Christian Ulysses 228
  • The Philosophy of Th E Odyssey 249
  • Odysseus and the Suitors 273
  • Chronology 289
  • Contributors 291
  • Bibliography 293
  • Acknowledgments 299
  • Index 303
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