A Few Notes on nosos and Language in Sophocles Philoctetes


This article aims at an investigation of the motif of Philoctetes’ nosos in relation to the way the characters interact through the means of language. A central issue is how Philoctetes’ nosos effectively jeopardizes Neoptolemus’ capability to speak, marking a dividing line between divine and human speech. Emphasis is placed on the crisis of Neoptolemos’ logos in lines 865-909: Neoptolemus, deeply sympathetic for Philoctetes’ pain, is no longer able to deceive the infected hero with his words. The language of Neoptolemus does not fall into aporia (895-897) merely because it has been used wrongly: his aporia seems to con­cern the nature itself of signs as a warrant of the unity of signifier and signified. Finally, in the light of Heracles’ epiphany, we are not warranted to claim that divine language or my­thos is truer than human language or logos, but rather that the two cannot be compared: they are incommensurable linguistic systems, even though their vocabulary and syntax coincide.

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