Ancient Athenian Drama

Euripides: Ion

5th century BC, Ancient Greek.

So this is what happened to the soul of the baby, Creusa’s baby, that was exposed to wild beasts in a cave at Athens.

There are a number of possibilities that can explain the circumstances of the curious situation that is unfolding before me. The first is that the youth who since early boyhood has been a child of this temple of Apollo at Delphi is truly a son of Apollo. His story would then be this: that he was fathered upon the Athenian maiden Creusa against her will in a cave in Athens – fathered by this immortal god Apollo. Following his birth, his mother took him secretly back to the cave and left him there to die. He was then taken by Hermes to the Temple precinct at Delphi and, discovered by the priestess, taken in and fostered, as it were, by the god himself. Here he has lived ever since. And now his mother has arrived seeking guidance from Apollo. But, of course, she and the boy have no knowledge of each other.

If this sounds far-fetched, then another possibility, of course, is that Hermes, the conductor of souls, carried the soul of the boy to Delphi. Only his soul. His body was exposed to wild beasts in the cave and he died, and Hermes conducted his soul in some mysterious way to Delphi. This would allow the utterance of the priestess of Apollo, which are the sacred words of Apollo himself, to be true. For she has just told Creusa’s husband that he, Xuthus, has a son and that his son is the first person he will see as he leaves the Temple confines and walks back into the sunlight. Creusa’s husband has already done this and the first person he has seen is the temple youth who sweeps the floors and stops the birds from fouling the sacred stones and has done so for as long as he can remember. Xuthus has claimed him as his son, naming him Ion. And so, if the oracle of Apollo is to be believed, Ion is the long lost son of Creusa’s husband Xuthus, fathered, Xuthus believes, during a drunken orgy on a mountain slope near Delphi during a festival of Dionysus that he once attended as a youth. So this is what happened to the soul of the baby, Creusa’s baby, that was exposed to wild beasts in the cave at Athens.

But then, there is another possibility: that the child was fathered upon the Athenian maiden Creusa by Xuthus in the cave and the infant was later exposed by the maiden Creusa, fearing her mother's reproaches, in the same cave and carried miraculously to Delphi as flesh and blood, just as Hermes relates. But then that carries the implication that Creusa's husband Xuthus is Apollo, and I find such things too much for my head, not yet having had the privilege of initiation into the Mysteries.

Story fragment retold from: Vellacott, Philip, 1954, revised 1973. Euripedes: The Bacchae and other plays (Penguin Classics). Translated from Ancient Greek with an introduction. Penguin Books Limited. Ion, pp 41–88.


Euripides – Wikipedia

Delphi – Wikipedia

Euripides: Ion – English translation, Internet Classics Archive (download plain text version)


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