Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Years before, Phoebus Apollo raped Creusa, daughter of King Erechtheus, who subsequently and in secret gave birth to a son. By Apollo’s command she hid the infant in a cave, where Hermes was sent to carry him to the temple of Apollo. There he was reared as a temple ministrant. Meanwhile, Creusa married Xuthus as a reward for his aid in the Athenian war against the Euboeans, but the marriage remained without issue. After years of frustration, Xuthus and Creusa decided to make a pilgrimage to Delphi and ask the god for aid in getting a son.
At dawn Ion emerges from the temple of Apollo to sweep the floors, chase away the birds, set out the laurel boughs, and make the usual morning sacrifice. Creusa’s handmaidens come to admire the temple built upon the navel of the world and to announce the imminent arrival of their mistress. At the meeting of Creusa and Ion, Creusa confirms the story that her father was drawn from the earth by Athena and was swallowed up by the earth at the end of his life. The credulous Ion explains that his own birth, too, is shrouded in mystery, for he appeared out of nowhere at the temple and was reared by the priestess of Apollo. The greatest sorrow of his life, he says, is not knowing who his mother is. Creusa sympathizes and cautiously reveals that she has a friend with a similar problem, a woman bore a son to Apollo, only to have the infant disappear and to suffer childlessness for the rest of her life.
Ion, shocked and outraged at the insult to his god, demands that Creusa end her accusation of Apollo in his own temple, but the anguished woman assails the god with fresh charges of injustice, breaking off only at the arrival of her husband. Xuthus eagerly takes his wife into the temple, for he was assured by the prophet Trophonius that they would not return childless to Athens. The perplexed Ion is left alone to meditate on the lawlessness of gods who seem to put pleasure before wisdom.
Xuthus, emerging from the temple, falls upon the startled Ion and attempts to kiss and embrace him. He shouts joyfully that Ion must be his son, for the oracle said that the first person he would see upon leaving the temple would be his son by birth. Stunned and unconvinced, Ion demands to know the identity of his mother, but Xuthus can only conjecture that possibly she is one of the Delphian women he encountered at a bacchanal before his marriage. Ion, reluctantly conceding that...
(The entire section is 992 words.)
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