Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Ion (I-on), the son of Apollo and Creusa, a princess of Athens. At his birth he was, by Apollo’s command, hidden in a cave. Unknown to Creusa, Hermes carried the infant from the cave to Delphi. There, he was nurtured in the temple. As keeper of the temple, he leads a happy life, marred only by his ignorance of his origin. At the beginning of the play, Creusa and Xuthus, to whom she has been given in marriage because of his military aid to Athens, come to the temple to seek Apollo’s aid because they are childless. Ion and Creusa meet outside the temple, and an immediate sympathy is born between them: Creusa is childless and Ion lacks knowledge of his background. Creusa tells him her own story, alleging it to be that of another woman on whose behalf she wants to question Apollo. Ion, in his sheltered innocence, is shocked that Apollo could have behaved as he did to Creusa and tries to make excuses for him. This is the first contact of Ion’s cloistered virtue with worldliness; it is continued through the play, and he quickly acquires self-confidence and strength of will. Apollo gives Ion to Xuthus as his own son and the two, as father and son, leave to celebrate this gift of the god. Creusa, thinking that an alien will come to rule Athens, plots to kill Ion. He learns of her attempts and leads the Delphians to stone her, but she takes refuge at the altar of Apollo. A priestess of Apollo appears with the cradle in which she found Ion, and Creusa recognizes it. Ion suspects a trick to save her life but, after she describes certain tokens left in the cradle, he acknowledges that she is his mother. Athena appears to assure Ion that Apollo is his father (though the fact is to be kept from Xuthus), that he will rule Athens, and that his four sons will sire the tribes that will dwell on the coasts and on the isles of the Aegean Sea.


(The entire section is 776 words.)

Ion Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Burnett, Anne Pippin. Catastrophe Survived: Euripides’ Plays of Mixed Reversals. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1971. Distinguishes Ion from Euripides’ other plays because its multiple actions play out simultaneously. Creusa dominates a revenge plot with “catastrophe interrupted,” and Ion illustrates the theme of a return to wealth and power.

Conacher, D. J. Euripidean Drama: Myth, Theme and Structure. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1967. Classifies Ion as “romantic tragedy” and praises its technical virtuosity and characterizations. Identifies irony as the dominant tone and the key to the play’s interpretation. Situates Ion and Xuthus in the political context of the day.

Decharme, Paul. Euripides and the Spirit of His Dramas. New York: Macmillan, 1906. Divided into a section on Euripides’ critical spirit and another on his art. Analyzes the artistry, the religious traditions, and the philosophical views in the plays. Discusses the recognition scene in Ion.

Euripides. “The Bacchae” and Other Plays. Translated by Philip Vellacott. Rev. ed. New York: Penguin Books, 1973. Paperback edition with Vellacott’s excellent introduction. Argues that Ion is “the son of some visitor to the Bacchic mysteries” and defends Euripides against the common charge that he was a misogynist.

Grube, G. M. A. The Drama of Euripides. N.Y.: Barnes & Noble Books, 1941. Judges Ion a delightful play that at some points achieves genuine tragic effects. Calls the old retainer more comic than tragic. Finds Xuthus to be “slightly ridiculous” and assumes that the secret of Ion’s birth will be kept from Xuthus.