Ion of Chios Analysis


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Ion (yawn of KI-ahs) lived on Chios and in Athens, visiting elsewhere. He seems to have been a supporter of Athens during its wars with Sparta, favoring the conciliatory conservative politician Cimon and disliking the democratic Pericles for boastfulness and pride. As a resident alien, he competed about ten times against native Athenians in fields of tragedy, comedy, and dithyrambic choruses. It was said that after winning in both tragedy and dithyramb, he gave a measure of free wine to all Athenian citizens. After his death, Aristophanes in his comedy Eirīnī (421 b.c.e.; Peace, 1837) showed Athens’ gratitude by punning that Ion had become the immortal morning star, Aoion. A later critic said his dramas were polished but lacked fire. Like his other writings, the plays are lost.


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Ion is best remembered for brief, vivid recollections of great Athenian personalities: Sophocles, Aeschylus, Cimon, Pericles, Archelaus, Socrates, perhaps Themistocles. Plutarch, who quotes Ion’s sketches in his Bioi paralleloi (c. 105-115 c.e.; Parallel Lives, 1579), twits him for a theatrical need to give serious matters a comic ending but appreciated how Ion described an individual’s appearance and character in situations blending culture with humor. Though slight, they were among the earliest Western attempts at biography. In his works, which were famous for an overwhelming variety of format, Ion undoubtedly presented new models for later authors to imitate and perfect.

Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Benediktson, D. Thomas. Literature and the Visual Arts in Ancient Greece and Rome. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000.

Dover, K. J. “Ion of Chios.” The Greeks and Their Legacy. New York: Blackwell, 1988.

West, M. L. “Ion of Chios.” Bulletin of the Institute for Classical Studies of the University of London 32 (1885): 71-78.