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Introduction

  • Sarah Covington
Chapter
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Abstract

In a book that explores the symbolic and metaphoric power of woundedness, one might well begin with the story of the warrior Philoctetes. Suffering from a grievous and seemingly incurable snakebite injury on the foot, Philoctetes is abandoned on an island by his men to the pain that results “from the warm body flux of the trickling ulcers.” Equipped with “bloody rags,” anesthetizing herbs, and a unique sword he has inherited, Philoctetes is seized with an unexpected spasm of pain, from a wound that constitutes a literary character in its own right—a parasitical life form feeding off its incapacitated and “soul-corroded” host. “Oh! It pierces, it pierces! Ill-fated, O wretched am I … this gory blood trickles for me from the deep [part of the sore], and I expect some new attack. Oh! Alas! Oh, dreadfully! O foot!”1 The abscess of Philoctetes not only festers and explodes unexpectedly, but, in an important aspect of woundedness, so does it leak abhorrent vapors and blood from “a black bleeding vein of the extremity of his foot,” leaving Philoctetes almost postcoitally depleted and oblivious to all else, as the pain recedes and he falls asleep. But as the other characters recognize, there is something heroic about Philoctetes’ endurance in the face of such an onslaught, and one that merits a degree of awe. On the one hand, Philoctetes’ suffering, as Drew Leder has written, tells us that “the world itself is not in harmony,” that the world, like his wounds, is “senseless.

Keywords

Seventeenth Century Body Politic Ritualize Execution Metaphoric Power Bodily Abrasion 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Sophocles, Philoctetes, in Four Plays, ed. T.H. Banks (Oxford, 1966), 140 and idem. See also Oscar Mandel, Philoctetes and the Fall of Troy: Documents, Iconography, Interpretations (Lincoln: NE, 1981).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Drew Leder, “Illness and Exile: Sophocles’ Philoctetes,,” Literature and Medicine 9 (1990), 1–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    See also Roselyne Rey, who writes, “When pain is at its worse, Philoctetes is in a sort of delirious state where he can neither recognize nor communicate with those closest to him.” Roselyn Rey, The History of Pain, trans. Louise Elliott Wallace (Cambridge: MA, 1995).Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    See, for example, the classic accounts: A. O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being (Cambridge: MA, 1936)Google Scholar
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    Nigel Spivey, Enduring Creation: Art, Pain, and Fortitude (Berkeley: CA, 2001), Spivey, 28.Google Scholar
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    Caroline Bynum, The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-1336 (New York, 1994), 161, 224.Google Scholar
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  24. 81.
    For Calvin on Christ’s wounds, see John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John, trans. W. Pringle (Grand Rapids: MI, 1979), 2: 265Google Scholar

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© Sarah Covington 2009

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  • Sarah Covington

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