Empathy and Commitment as the Basis for Trust
In Philoctetes by Sophocles, Odysseus commands Neoptolemos to abandon justice and base a relationship with Philoctetes on dishonesty to gain his trust and ultimately his bow. However, Neoptolemos acknowledges a similar burden plagues Philoctetes that becomes the basis of trust between them. Neoptolemos attempts to reconcile with Odysseus’ orders by stealing the bow and abandoning Philoctetes. Unable to fulfill the orders, Neoptolemos returns to Philoctetes indicating his commitment and his lack of trust with the Atreidai. Therefore, Sophocles challenges that trust is based on empathy and commitment as evident in Philoctetes’ and Neoptolemos’ relationship.
Empathy forms the basis for trust to exist between Neoptolemos and Philoctetes.
Neoptolemos encounters Philoctetes and recounts the injustice committed by Odysseus and the Greeks against him as “You monsters-you have dared to give to someone/other than me/the arms that by rights are my own” in order to gain his trust and steal his bow (ln.365-367). Neoptolemus’ initial portrayal of the hierarchy of the Atreidai as “monsters” represents the inhuman and untrustworthy nature of leaders such as Odysseus. It is difficult for human beings to establish a common ground to trust one another; whereas with “monsters” alienation devastates the existence of any common ground. Neoptolemos’ description reflects his alienation with Greeks and Odysseus. The Atreidai and Odysseus define their values as unjust and based apathy by denying Neoptolemos “the arms that by rights are [his]”. Odysseus’ entrustment of the armor Hephaestus crafted for Achilles and not Neoptolemos reflects the Atreidai’s lack of respect for sacred belongings and obligations surrounding inheritance. In his account to Philoctetes, Neoptolemos implies the Atreidai view Herakles’ bow and Philoctetes privilege to it with the same lack of respect as they view Achilles’ armor. Neoptolemos begins to empathize with Philoctetes and his situation as he recounts “I was infuriated…since he was going to rob me of/the arms that were mine” (ln.376-377). Neoptolemos recognizes the theft of Herakles’ bow parallels his loss of Achilles’ armor. The “fury” of Neoptolemos is the result of the cognizance of apathy and injustice as honored values of Odysseus and the Greeks. Odysseus becomes a common enemy for Neoptolemos and Philoctetes as the armor and bow are ultimately obtained by the values of Odysseus. Neoptolemos alludes to his inevitable resentment of Odysseus by stating “those in power; for the entire city, the whole army/is in the hands of those who rule; those men who are/wanting/in the discipline become evil by example of their/teachers” (ln.385-390). Neoptolemos amends for his swift acceptance of Odysseus’ ability to ignore shame by stating “men…become evil by example of their/teachers” in order to prevent the corruption of his character by preserving qualities that differentiate him from the Greeks....