This talk examines Sophocles’ Philoctetes from an ecofeminist perspective, arguing that the setting of the island of Lemnos is crucial to the play’s depiction of its central figure. Philoctetes is deeply entangled with not only the material ecology of the island, but also its mythic ecology, in particular the stories of the murderous (and in some versions, odiferous) Lemnian Women, the god Hephaestus and his malodorous forge, and of the indigenous Pelasgians. All of these elements coalesce to present Philoctetes as a repulsive, smelly menstruating woman, one whose porous body transgresses boundaries and therefore must be isolated and purified.
The talk concludes with a discussion of what Prof. Haselswerdt terms the play’s “pharmacological reception,” the emergence of “Lemnian Earth” as a popular remedy in the Greco-Roman medical tradition, one that is employed to manage porous, dripping, and unruly bodies – that is, feminized bodies – in particular those afflicted by excessive menstruation and snakebites. The commodification of Lemnian Earth as a pharmakon will correlate with a profound shift in the way Roman authors construct narratives around the hero Philoctetes.
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