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an analysis of the play by Euripides

The following essay on Ion was originally published in The Tragic Drama of the Greeks. A.E. Haigh. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1896. pp. 304-5.

The date of the Ion is very uncertain; but the style of the versification, and other slight indications, would seem to show that it belongs to the period immediately following the Sicilian expedition. The discovery of the parentage of Ion, the son of Apollo and Creusa, forms the subject of the plot. According to common tradition Ion was not the son of Apollo, but of Xuthus, a stranger who had taken refuge at Athens, and married the king's daughter. This was undoubtedly the original form of the legend; and the substitution of Apollo as his father, and as ancestor of the Ionians, must have been the result of national vanity. The innovation has sometimes been ascribed to Euripides, but it is more probable that the story had already begun to exist in a vague form, and that he was merely the first to invest it with precise details.

The Ion derives much of its interest from the skilful complexity of the plot, which is constructed after the modern fashion. But apart from this particular excellence, it is one of the most beautifully written plays of Euripides; and the fine conception of the leading characters, and the tenderness and pathos of the various scenes, give a peculiar charm to the whole composition. It has been suggested that the chief motive of Euripides, in writing this play, was to attack the Delphic oracle; and it is true that the nature of the action gives him many opportunities for revealing his sentiments on this subject. But the sanctity of the oracle is gloriously vindicated at the close; and the harmless fraud perpetrated by Apollo at the commencement of the play seems to have been contrived, not so much for the purpose of bringing the deity into disrepute, as in order to mislead the audience, and add to the surprise and excitement of the catastrophe.

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