• Sarah Covington


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.


Seventeenth Century Body Politic Ritualize Execution Metaphoric Power Bodily Abrasion 
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© Sarah Covington 2009

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