On some accounts, Sophocles’ Philoctetes is most notable for what it lacks: alone among the extant Attic tragedies, there are no women in the dramatis personae; alone among the extant plays of Sophocles, no characters die; and the chorus plays a relatively diminished role, adhering most closely to Aristotle’s injunction in the Poetics that a chorus should take on the role of an actor. But when viewed through the lens of ecocritical feminism and vibrant materialism, notably the work of Donna Haraway, Mel Chen, Jane Bennett, and Anna Tsing, the play’s landscape, the island of Lemnos, comes to life; and it teems with feminine energies as well as compromised and complicated animacies, while the chorus serves as an empathic focalizer and world-builder. This paper argues that in addition to animating the island’s material ecosystem, Sophocles conjures Lemnos’ mythic ecosystem, most notably the tale of the notorious, murderous, and malodorous Lemnian Women. All of these elements cohere to characterize Philoctetes as an abject, sterile menstruator. Furthermore, the chorus’s brief, strange Hymn to Gaia encapsulates the play’s tension between a masculine, heroic, teleological narrative and the feminine, primordial, bestial world of Lemnos. These dynamics are further considered through the lens of fifth-century Athenian colonization, the story of the indigenous Lemnian Pelasgians, and a colonial reading of the Odyssey’s Cyclopeia. Finally, the paper explores the close, mutually constitutive relationship between text, landscape, and body via the popularity, in later antiquity, of pharmacological applications of Lemnian Earth, used to treat, among other ailments, snakebites and menstruation.

You do not currently have access to this content.