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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 395

Euripides's Ion was first performed in the approximate year of 412 BCE. This means that it was produced in the middle to later part of Euripides's career as a playwright (after the famous Medea and before the equally famous Bacchae). The play tells the story of Apollo's son, Ion (in alternate versions, he is Xuthus's biological son). In Euripides's version, the god Hermes narrates the backstory to the audience at the opening of the play, which is as follows: Phoebus Apollo had an affair with the mortal woman, Creusa, who bore a son, Ion, in secret. Creusa, fearing the punishment of her father, King Erectheus, left the son in a basket in a cave, expecting he would die.

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The action of the play picks up with Ion (whose name happens to be Greek for "going") sweeping the temple of Apollo at Delphi, home of a famous oracle. Creusa and her mortal husband, Xuthus, have come to pray for the birth of a child. While Xuthus is inside the chamber consulting the oracle, Creusa (as a ruse) describes to Ion the circumstances of "her friend" who gave birth to a son by Apollo but was forced to expose him. In smiler fashion, Ion admits that he was raised in the temple as an orphan, and he longs to know his mother.

After consulting the oracle, Xuthus immediately adopts Ion as a son, advised by the oracle that the next person he meets upon exiting the shrine is his son. Creusa is angry because she assumes that Ion is Xuthus's son by a slave woman. She plots to have a tutor poison Ion, but the plot is revealed when a bird accidentally drinks his poisoned wine at a banquet.

Creusa is incriminated by the tutor but realizes that Ion is her son when she sees the basket in which she exposed him and which Ion brought to Athens from the temple where the priestess of Apollo gave it to him. Once she recognizes him, Creusa embraces Ion as her son. She has to convince him by means of identifying the contents of the basket without looking inside (a weaving of a Gorgon's head, a pair of serpents, and an olive branch). After the revelation, Athena appears and verifies that Apollo (and not Xuthus) is in fact Ion's father, but they all agree to keep the secret from Xuthus.

Summary

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 992

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 Xuthus must be his father if Apollo so decrees, begs to remain an attendant in the temple rather than become the unwelcome and suspicious heir to the throne of Athens—for Creusa will surely resent a son she did not bear. Xuthus understands his anxiety and agrees to hide his identity; however, he insists that Ion accompany him to Athens, even if only in the role of distinguished guest. He then gives orders for a banquet of thanksgiving and commands that the handmaidens to Creusa keep their silence on pain of death. As they depart to prepare the feast, Ion expresses the hopes that his mother might still be found and that she might be an Athenian.

Accompanied by the aged slave of her father, Creusa reappears before the temple and demands from her handmaidens an account of the revelation Xuthus received from Apollo. Only under relentless cross-examination do the fearful servants reveal what passed between Xuthus and Ion. Overcome by a sense of betrayal, Creusa curses Apollo for his cruelty but dares not act upon the old slave’s suggestion that she burn the temple or murder the husband who was, after all, kind to her.

Murder of the usurper, Ion, however, is another matter. After some deliberation Creusa decides upon a safe and secret method of eliminating the rival of her lost son. From a phial of the Gorgon’s blood that Athena gave to Creusa’s grandfather and that was passed down to her, the old slave is to pour a drop into Ion’s wineglass at the celebration feast. Eager to serve his master’s daughter, the slave departs, and the chorus chants the hope for success.

Some time later a messenger comes running to warn Creusa that the authorities are about to seize her and submit her to death by stoning, for her plot was discovered. He describes how at the feast a flock of doves dipped down to drink from Ion’s cup and died in horrible convulsions and how Ion tortured a confession out of the old slave. The court of Delphi sentences Creusa to death for attempting murder of a consecrated person within the sacred precincts of the temple of Apollo. The chorus urges Creusa to fling herself upon the altar and remain there in sanctuary.

A short time later Ion arrives at the head of an infuriated crowd, and he and Creusa begin to hurl angry charges and counter-charges at each other. Suddenly the priestess of the temple appears, bearing the cradle and the tokens with which the infant Ion was found years before. Slowly and painfully the truth emerges: Ion is the lost son of Creusa and Apollo. Creusa is seized with a frenzy of joy, but the astounded Ion remains incredulous. As he is about to enter the temple to demand an explanation from Apollo himself, the goddess Athena appears in midair and confirms the revelation. She urges that Xuthus not be told the truth so that he might enjoy the delusion that his own son is to be his heir, while Creusa and Ion can share their genuine happiness. Creusa renounces all her curses against Apollo and blesses him for his ultimate wisdom. As she and Ion depart for Athens, the chorus calls upon everyone to reverence the gods and take courage.

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