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J R Soc Med. 2004 February; 97(2): 99–100.
PMCID: PMC1079313


Dr Horton Johnson, in his appraisal of Philoctetes' foot (October 2003 JRSM1), perhaps does not take sufficient account of the malevolence of centaurs. The arrows given by Heracles to Philoctetes, having been exposed to envenomation from the Lernaean hydra, had also been exposed to Charon's cloaka centaur not disposed to look favourably on the leading bowman of the day. Although osteomyelitis is a likely cause, and horsepox can confidently be ruled out, the underlying cause of the condition was quite probably the epizootic lymphangitis Histoplasma (formerly Cryptococcus) farciminosum, perhaps coupled with the cause of farcy, Burkholderia mallei.

Of course, whether Neoptolemus wanted to give a fair account of lower leg injury, bearing in mind his father Achilles' problems in that area, might be open to question. And Sophocles himself was thinking of his own mortality, with his death only three years away.


1. Johnson HA. The foot that stalled a thousand ships: a controversial case from the 13th century BCE. J R Soc Med 2003:96; 507-8 [PMC free article] [PubMed]

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