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The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles' Philoctetes

3.99  ·  Rating Details  ·  372 Ratings  ·  39 Reviews
The Cure at Troy is Seamus Heaney's version of Sophocles' Philoctetes. Written in the fifth century BC, this play concerns the predicament of the outcast hero, Philoctetes, whom the Greeks marooned on the island of Lemnos and forgot about until the closing stages of the Siege of Troy. Abandoned because of a wounded foot, Philoctetes nevertheless possesses an invincible bow ...more
Paperback, 96 pages
Published December 4th 1991 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1990)
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Richard Derus
Jun 28, 2014 Richard Derus rated it really liked it
Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: The Cure at Troy is Seamus Heaney's version of Sophocles' Philoctetes. Written in the fifth century BC, this play concerns the predicament of the outcast hero, Philoctetes, whom the Greeks marooned on the island of Lemnos and forgot about until the closing stages of the Siege of Troy. Abandoned because of a wounded foot, Philoctetes nevertheless possesses an invincible bow without which the Greeks cannot win the Trojan War. They are forced to return to Lemno
Jun 21, 2014 Zanna rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, drama, greece
I read this today on the train and was transported by the opening stage direction (A sea shore. Spacious fetch of sea light…) to Lemnos. The language is absolutely crystalline, the simple story and ethical sophistication of Sophocles' award winning (first prize at the festival of Dionysus, 409BC, apparently) rendered sublimely by the poet.

I love Greek drama, less because it's 'timeless' than because it renders a particular time, place and culture with extraordinary vividness and depth, throwing
Apr 15, 2016 Jane rated it really liked it
Not so much a translation of Philoctetes but Heaney's imaginative and very readable adaptation into modern English, using both prose and poetry. I enjoyed this play and recommend highly: the story of Philoctetes, the Greek warrior. Having walked on sacred land and been cursed with an injured foot, in pain he has been marooned on an island, by those going to fight the Trojan War. A Trojan soothsayer prophesies that if the Greeks can't coax Philoctetes to come to Troy, the Greeks will never win ...more
Mar 18, 2014 Prima rated it it was amazing
When reading Seamus Heaney one is struck by the magic of his language, its sensual embrace of one's spirit and it is no different here in his poem about pain and trauma, redemption and salvation (cure).

Heaney speaks of the role of the chorus in the play and likens it to the role of poetry in our lives:

I hate it, I always hated it, and I am
A part of it myself.
And a part of you,
For my part is the chorus, and the chorus
Is more or less a borderline between
The you and the me and the it of it
Dec 29, 2013 John rated it really liked it
Leaving aside questions of faithfulness to Sophocles, Heaney here has a great little scene that has enormous consequences. He begins with a sort of apology for enabling a fetishizing of damage:
"People so staunch and true, they're fixated,
Shining with self-regard like polished stones.
And their whole life spent admiring themselves
For their own long-suffering.
Licking their wounds
And flashing them around like decorations.
I hate it, I always hated it, and I am
A part of it myself."
Philoctetes is da
Aug 02, 2010 Vladislav rated it really liked it
The agon between pride and duty is sharper, and Philoctetes’ intransigence seems to resound at a much higher pitch. Missing, I feel, is the attempt, clearly present in some of the other translations by classicists, to hint at the possibility of meta-theatric sleight-of-hand in the final deus ex machina scene. The number of actors limited to three being a convention of Sophoclean theater, with the actors playing Philoctetes and Neoptolemus present on stage, it must have occurred to the original a ...more
Laura Vo
Dec 04, 2007 Laura Vo rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Most of the time, when presented with classic Greek and Roman literature, I find myself finding it interesting but not enjoyable. I mainly blame this on the fact that a lot of people doing the translating have lost some of the character of the original piece. In fact it often comes off as being so dry that it's hard to imagine a fun and sport loving group of people to have ever tolerated it in performance. Then the work gets relegated to the world of "scholarly" or "those of us who wish to appea ...more
Mar 12, 2015 Lillian rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classic
In this gorgeous translation by Seamus Heaney, an archer, Philoctetes, has been abandoned on the island of Lemnos by the rest of the Greek army on their way to Troy. After learning they cannot win the war without Philoctetes’s bow, cunning Odysses and Neopotolemus return to Lemnos to retrieve him and the bow through treachery.
See how a theatre company in Brooklyn New York uses the Greek Tragedies of Sophocles to treat soldiers with PTSD. Literature of the Greeks is timeless!

Samir Rawas Sarayji
Apr 12, 2016 Samir Rawas Sarayji rated it really liked it
Shelves: nobel-laureat, play, own
Heaney's version zooms in on the moral dilemma of Neoptolemus and makes for a great drama.
Sep 18, 2011 Kathleen rated it liked it
I really liked the themes of candor v. canniness and private morality v. public duty. The translation was very well phrased and elegant as well. All good things, but as is the way of most Greek drama, this is some guys talking about stuff. The talking is very well done, the emotion comes across as very real for all the artful verse, but--call me a philistine--more could happen, really.
Mar 20, 2012 Matthieu rated it really liked it
Not a proper translation. This is Heaney's idea of what Philoctetes should be like. Once I reread the Grene translation (and maybe consult the Greek), I'll be able to review this.
Leila Anani
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 26, 2008 Rick rated it it was amazing
Shelves: drama
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 28, 2009 Lanea rated it really liked it
If you have any love of Irish drama or Irish dramatists, you need to read this. I've been kicking myself for years for never having seen the original performance, though I had no idea this translation of the play existed until I was, well, not in high school like I was in 1990.

Heaney has proved himself a fine translator. Tackling both Beowulf and Sophocles is no task for a coward. In this translation of the play, we find Philoctetes as a possible symbol for the injured nationalist Ireland--trul
John Wiswell
May 22, 2008 John Wiswell rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Classics readers, people interested in the Trojan War, poetry readers, philosophy readers
"That's the borderline that poetry operates on, too. Always in-between what you would like to happen and what will, whether you like it or not."

"History says don't hope on this side of the grave."

Damn, Heaney knows how to find great phrases in dead languages and polishes them like no other.

This is the second translation I've read from Seamus Heaney, the first being the Anglo-Saxon classic Beowulf. That was my favorite translation of Beowulf, and while I've only read this translation of Philoctet
Victor Davis
May 29, 2014 Victor Davis rated it it was ok
Very emotionally intelligent story. If I was familiar with the myth, I could critique Seamus Heaney's take of the story and not just the story itself. I really can never appreciate "high" dialog so I have trouble with ancient lit.
Apr 26, 2008 David rated it it was amazing
Saw this at the Seattle Repertory Theater last night. I may be a sucker for Greek Tragedy - I am - but I loved it, and through the production was really well done and effective, and that Boris McGiver (who plays everybody's nightmare boss in season four of The Wire) was right on as poor old Philoctetes (again, Wire fans can think of him as sort of like Bubbles - completely undeserving of his crappy life). I had really good catharsis at a few different scenes, which is the point of all this, or s ...more
Jun 08, 2014 Chris rated it really liked it
Heaney's poetry is brilliant. His version of Sophocles' play makes a parable for our age.
Dec 18, 2012 Cheryl rated it liked it
Heaney's version, in play form, of the story of Philoctetes. Philoctetes sailed with the Greeks to Troy but received a foot wound along the way. The wound and his resulting painful wailing was so distracting the Greeks marooned Philoctetes on the island of Lemnos and forgot about him until nearly the end of the Trojan war when they realized they needed him and his bow to finally defeated the Trojans. So the Greeks send Odysseus and Neoptolomus (Achille's son) to retrieve the bow. It was a fairly ...more
Jan 09, 2009 Tasha rated it it was amazing
I just read this play for the first time and loved it. And for anyone who doubts Seamus Heaney is the man:

"Human beings suffer,
They torture one another,
The get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.
History says, Don't hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
Is reachable
Sheila Gunter
Aug 11, 2015 Sheila Gunter rated it it was amazing
What a really genius translator Heaney is (was)! I miss Heaney.
Nov 23, 2008 Art rated it liked it
Shelves: recently-read
The interpretation/translation of this play brings the characters closer to life than in the original. (This is not to say that it is better than the original translations). In this version Philoctetes comes across as a bigger pain in the ass than in the original, Neoptolemus as old fashioned with outdated ideals and Odysseus as the representative of the "new" man that embodies the qualities needed to succeed in the "new" world.
Dec 30, 2008 Kent rated it it was amazing
Heaney points out that this isn't really a translation of Philoctetes, more like a version. I suppose this is true in that it isn't a close, literal translation. The result is a more flat and wily Odysseus. And a more sensitive Neoptolemus. And, as though it were even possible, a more bitter Philoctetes. You can almost smell the wound in the Heaney.
Sep 21, 2007 Jose added it
Human beings suffer
they torture one another
they get hurt and get hard
no poem, play or song
can fully right a wrong
inflicted and endured.

My friend Will Gressman played Philoctetes, he had an injured foot too, the timing was just brilliant.
I was the Chorus, a chorus of one... weird, ain't it?
J. Nunn
Nov 12, 2013 J. Nunn rated it it was amazing
A quick and easy read, written by my favorite poet. I saw a list of Bill Clinton's Five Favorite Books once, and this one was on there, otherwise I may have never found this book.

It's a retelling of a fifth century BC story about a soldier and an invincible bow...
More Heaney than Sophocles, I suspect.
Jun 18, 2012 LemontreeLime rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
Some nice turns of phrase towards the end. I'm a Sophocles fan, but I might not have read this if it weren't retold by Heaney.
Jul 25, 2011 Jamie rated it it was ok
Not bad, definitely Heaney. I preferred the Paul Roche translation, though. I'd rather a prose feel than a poetry one.
Sep 29, 2013 Helen rated it liked it
An excellent translation, although I can't imagine Odysseus saying "shilly-shally" in any context.
Gary D.
Jan 07, 2012 Gary D. rated it liked it
If you've read another version of Philoctetes, it isn't essential to read this one.
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Seamus Justin Heaney was an Irish poet, writer and lecturer from County Derry, Ireland. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995, "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past."

Heaney on Wikipedia.
More about Seamus Heaney...

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“Now it’s high watermark
and floodtide in the heart
and time to go.
The sea-nymphs in the spray
will be the chorus now.
What’s left to say?

Suspect too much sweet-talk
but never close your mind.
It was a fortunate wind
that blew me here. I leave
half-ready to believe
that a crippled trust might walk

and the half-true rhyme is love.”
“Believe that a further shore is reachable from here.” 4 likes
More quotes…