Philocetetes, and why he is important to us.
Philocetetes reached inside of me and held on tight. After reading Susan Sutclifes version of his story, Black ships Before Troy, I wanted to know why this Greek character had a hold on me. This is no minor role player yet he is put off on and island because he was bitten on the toe by the dragon/serpent he slew. This caused him to scream constantly, and have a wound that smelled and oozed. The black ship he was on put him off on Limnos to continue on to Troy.
I was struck that Philocetetes was left on the island for ten years. I began to imagine: what would a wounded part of me hidden for a number of years look and feel like? I might not have been ready to deal with it at the time it occurred so I suffered it away or a better way of putting it for me is I kept eating to keep it at bay. Maybe it was so traumatic all I could do was to bury it. At some point I must face that wound, heal that part of me. That part of me I call the child of awe. From an early age I was not given the light to shine but shamed and abused wounds I could not comprehend but felt. In my case it was an ulcer at age nine.
This immense war with Troy is not going well for the Greeks. The Greeks talk to their soothsayer that tells them to bring Philocetetes back from Lemnos. I am sure this is not what the kings had in mind to turn the tide of battle. They send two of their best warriors to fetch him: Diomedes (Divine Cunning) and Odysseus (Trouble Maker) It takes much strength, and yes deception and time to face our wounds. When the two men face Philocetetes, he does not recognize them. They raise their arms to show no harm will be done. Two strong men humbled. It is a survival skill to push a wound away but left in the dark it is hard to recognize yourself.
Philocetetes carries the bow of Hercules, a gift. Now this gift rests in a place we would not usually go to for the sake of winning a battle or in my case to get up in front of my family to speak my truth about our parents, and to read poetry at gatherings about my parents. What the wounded part of ourselves brings forth heals us.
They bring Philocetetes back with them. But note how they handle him. There is tenderness even with defeat on the horizon. He is bathed and his wound tended to. This is the hero’s journey. We need to think of our wounded ness as a royal blessing. The gift: the bow and arrow and poison tipped. This is Philocetetes gift and he has to use it his own way; some of the soldiers do not want this poison. There will always be a part of us that will be skeptical of our wounded ness, hold those feelings very gently. There are parts of me that struggle with how I should teach or read a poem surrounded in wounded ness but it is mine and I must claim it, and claiming is a comfort and a process.
Even with ten years of shooting birds on Limnos the shot to take out Paris glances his hand, not the shot of great bowman. The poison becomes more the necessity for this glancing strike. It also lets the story go on as Paris dies a painful death.
Philocetetes has done his job but it is like he fell off the beach, we don’t know if he is ever totally healed or continues to have this wound. In many stories about healing you will run across this, the character does his job and exits. Philocetetes received much to come and turn the tide of war but I put my imagination into him, what would he do next? I would continue to monitor the wound. It is much deeper than the oozing. I would go to the soothsayer and ask about the circumstances that brought him to such a place. Any counselor worth there salt knows, like I said earlier, that this healing takes time. How we use that time to get healthy, to get to a place of healing. My Goodness! A gift lost then found- what else might this important work produce? Philocetetes needed the poison, at some point I feel that he will not need the poison or the bow to do his healing work. Phielo means to love. Ctetos means something that can be gained. I know I have more then one gift wrapped in my wounded ness.
Look to these old stories and myths for healing they are there as well as many islands to explore.