The Philoctetes was produced at the Great Dionysia, late in March, 409 B.C., and gained the first prize1. Sophocles, according to the tradition, would then have been eighty-seven. Able critics have favoured the view that his choice of this subject was in some way connected with the return of Alcibiades2. It was in 411 B.C. that Thrasybulus had prevailed on the democratic leaders at Samos to send for Alcibiades, and to elect him one of the ten generals3,—a measure by which, as Grote says, ‘he was relieved substantially, though not in strict form,’ from the penalties of banishment. In 410 Alcibiades had been the principal author of the Athenian victory at Cyzicus. Thus, at the date of the Philoctetes, men's minds had already been prepared for his formal restitution to citizenship—which took place on his return to Athens in 407 B.C. It is easy to draw a parallel between the baffled army at Troy, with their fate hanging on an estranged comrade, and the plight of Athens, whose hopes were centred on an exile. Nay, even the passage where Philoctetes learns who have perished, and who survive, in the Greek army has been read as a series of allusions to dead or living Athenians. Then Neoptolemus is Thrasybulus: and the closing words of Heracles (“εὐσεβεῖν τὰ πρὸς θεούς”) convey a lesson to the suspected profaner of the Mysteries. Now, to suppose that Sophocles intended a political allegory of this kind, is surely to wrong him grievously as a poet. At the same time it must be recognised that the coincidence of date is really remarkable. It is not impossible that his thoughts may have been first turned to this theme by the analogy which he perceived in it to events of such deep interest for his countrymen4. But the play itself is the best proof that, having chosen his subject, he treated it for itself alone.
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1 See the second Argument to the play, p. 4.
2 Sch Ad.öll, Sophokles. Sein Leben und Wirken. (Frankfort, 2nd ed. 1870.) Lenormant Ch., in the Correspondant of July 25, 1855. M. Patin (Sophocle, p. 125) mentions, as the earliest expression of such a view, an art. by M. Lebeau jeune in the Mém. de l' Acad. des Inscriptions, vol. XXXV.
4 There is one passage in the Philoctetes, which, though it should not be regarded as a direct allusion to recent events, might certainly suggest that they were present to the poet's mind: see commentary on vv. 385 ff.