Philoctetes

Whose deed delivered Heracles at last
(For on the pyre that he had built he cast
Himself, desiring to be free from pain:
His wound was mortal: he couldn’t best this bane)?
Philoctetes was he that took the fire
And set alight the hero’s funeral pyre.
The sword of Vulcan, beneficial flame,
Did, at last, the pain of Heracles tame.
To Philoctetes, the hero gave his bow;
Then, deified, to heaven did he go.
The arrow points with poison were still tipped
(Into the hydra’s blood had they been dipped).
But with Philoctetes, Hera made war,
As also with Heracles she had before;
He set sail for Troy: but from Hera, a snake
Bit him in his foot; such a wound did it make:
It festered and gave off such a foul stench,
That burned in men’s noses and made them blench;
Odysseus said to leave him behind,
So Philoctetes set hate in his mind.
Alone he was left, upon Lemnos’ shore,
To tend to himself, vexed, crippled, and poor;
He hunted his food with Heracles’ bow,
And ate it in sorrow and bitter woe;
Ten years did he pass, and lived in a cave,
To his foot’s sickness, both weak and a slave.
Then, Odysseus learned they must have the arms
Of Heracles, so besought he with charms
Neoptolemus, who was Achilles’ son:
But with dishonor, he’d not be undone;
Though first Odysseus’ persuasion prevailed,
At last, the heart of Achilles’ son failed;
For Philoctetes, in a moment of pain
Had given to him, what he’d hoped to gain:
He had the weapon, to Odysseus’ joy,
But Achilles’ son couldn’t bear to destroy
Philoctetes: he gave back what he should:
Odysseus too received what was good;
For though Philoctetes raged at the first,
He suffered them not in the end to be cursed;
He sailed with them to Troy: there was he healed,
And this done, with his arms, he took the field.
He hid in the horse they left to deceive,
Then mothers of sons at night did bereave;
They slaughtered the Trojans, and set the fire
That made all of Troy a funeral pyre.
So, healed of disease, the hero arose
And rained down upon Troy a hail of blows;
He’d borne the wound that the serpent had struck,
Though bitter and cursing his wretched luck;
He’d laboured in sorrow until the day,
He sailed for Troy’s shores, and entered the fray:
Then like a hero, he behaved on the field,
Strengthened by suffering, and by hardship steeled.
Then, in time to come, like also his friend
Heracles, men upward to him did send
Prayers, and they offered libations as one
Who fought to the end, and surrendered to none.

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