Who Is Going to Heal Philoctetes?—On Ancient Greek Concepts of Healing Hands and Good Healers

Project: National Science and Technology CouncilNational Science and Technology Council Academic Grants

Project Details


It seems a negligible inconsistence in Sophocles’ Philoctetes: according to Heracles, Asclepius will be the ultimate healer for Philoctetes (Phil 1409-44) while Neoptolemus believes Philoctetes’ wound will be utterly cured by ‘the sons of Asclepius’ (Phil 1333-34). But this striking discrepancy exactly bears a testament to the formation of ancient Greek medicine, the institution of earliest Greek healing societies, the spread of Asclepius temple medicine, and the advancement of medical knowledge and technology. The problem who is going to heal Philoctetes reflects not only how the religious, cultural, ethical, political and epistemological perspectives of a disease are fleshed out but also how the rational medicine such as the Hippocratic School and the irrational medicine such as the temple medicine emerged and developed almost hand in hand from the fifth century BCE onwards. My research will be conducted under two major rubrics: First, who will cure Philoctetes? Second, where is the best healing place? The first aspect involves an investigation of the transition of the healing figures from the heroic period to the classical period in ancient Greek world and the second one addresses the problem pertaining to the healing space—including homestead restoration, wartime battlefield care, sanctuary incubation, Hippocratic bench, special rehabilitation and the like. The aims of his projects are threefold: to analyze why Asclepius was elevated to the status of a healing god during the age of Hippocrates rather than the age of Homer, to articulate how in antiquity the good doctors or good healers [ἰητῆρ᾽ ἀγαθὼ] shared the image of a blameless physician portrayed in Homer’s Iliad, and to explore how the betterment of the healing hands [παιωνίας ἐς χεῖρας] is always a must—not only in ancient Greece but also in modern society. I will attempt to cast a light on how the healing divinities are associated with the concepts of the divinity of diseases and medical arts and technology and how the conscientious attitude has impact not only on the shaping of good doctors but also on the institution of healing activities.

Project IDs

Project ID:PE10107-0197
External Project ID:NSC101-2410-H182-021
Effective start/end date01/08/1231/07/13


  • Philoctetes
  • Asclepius
  • Divine Healing
  • Good Healers [ἰητῆρ᾽ ἀγαθὼ] and Healing Hands [παιωνίας ἐς χεῖρας]
  • Healing Space


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