Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 887

Two issues dominate criticism of Ion: what genre it belongs to and who Ion’s father is. The answer to the first issue can only be that it is neither comedy nor tragedy; it is simple melodrama. After confusion and misunderstandings, the characters work out their differences and are happily reconciled. In this regard, the play is comic. The anger that the characters feel throughout so much of the play, however, establishes a mood that distracts from a comic, festive finale. For example, how can an audience desire a happy ending for Creusa after she plots to poison Ion? Her intention reveals a cruel nature that alienates an audience.

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When the flock of doves dies in convulsions after sipping from the cup meant for Ion, the old slave confesses under duress, and Creusa is sentenced to die. Here again, although Ion has cause to beat the old slave in order to obtain the truth, acts of torture coarsen the tone of the play, and they work against the lighthearted tone expected in comedy.

The deception that the characters engage in also detracts from any sympathy felt for them. When Xuthus thinks that he is Ion’s father, he accepts Ion’s wish to keep their relationship secret from Creusa, even though Xuthus insists that Ion come with him to Athens. When Xuthus organizes a banquet to celebrate his honored guest—the role that Ion agrees to play—he threatens Creusa’s servants with death if they reveal the truth. Creusa does learn the truth and curses Apollo, although she does not dare to burn Apollo’s temple or to kill her husband.

The second major deception occurs at the end when the priestess materializes and asserts that Ion is, indeed, the lost son of Creusa and Apollo. To make this public knowledge, however, will rob Xuthus of his conviction that he is the biological father of Ion, and so Athena urges Creusa and Ion to enjoy their knowledge in secret. Creusa then retracts all her blasphemies against Apollo, and she thanks him for his superior wisdom. The play ends with a happiness structured upon falsehoods, and the gods are praised for this solution.

The second question concerns Ion’s father, Apollo or Xuthus? Greeks of Euripides’ day will answer this question according to how they feel about the gods. The pious answer would be that Apollo is truly the father and that Ion was raised just as Hermes explains in the prologue. This is not a difficult story to accept, given the history and reputation of the gods.

The other answer, rational and obvious to anyone skeptical of religious explanations, says that Xuthus—or some other young man—fathered the boy. For a young woman to have an illegitimate child whom she leaves in a cave to die—the same cave, perhaps, where the child is fathered—must have been possible. Apollo’s reasoning in the conclusion, then, can be interpreted this way: Creusa suffered enough for abandoning her child. What will make everyone happy? Convince her that this child is really hers, as he apparently is, and let her believe that Apollo is his father if that rationalization helps her; then, let Xuthus keep on thinking that the child is his.

In this way, youthful folly is repaired, Ion and his mother find each other, and Xuthus has the son that fulfills his aspirations. This interpretation attributes genuine benevolence to the gods; however, all three characters remain...

(The entire section contains 887 words.)

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