Composers and their stage works 


(Ion, ca. 411 B.C.).


Although called a tragedy, this play appears to be a precursor of the Greek New Comedy.


In an unusually long prologue, spoken by Hermes, it is revealed that Creusa, daughter of King Erechtheus of Athens, had some years before borne a son to the god Apollo and, to hide her shame, had abandoned the baby in a basket in a cave outside Athens. The baby, Ion, was found by the priestess of Apollo at Delphi, who, unaware of his origins, brought him up. Now he has become the shrine attendant at Delphi.

Meanwhile, believing her abandoned child to be dead, Creusa has married Xuthus, now King of Athens. Because they are childless, they come to consult the oracle of Delphi. It is revealed to Xuthus that the first man he sees on leaving the temple will be his son. His first encounter is with Ion, whom he believes to be the offspring of a youthful liaison in Delphi, and Xuthus therefore persuades Ion to return to Athens with him. Creusa then consults the oracle, who prophesies that she will never hold a child in her arms again. In her grief, she reveals that she had once had a child by Apollo. Hearing that Xuthus has honoured Ion as his son, Creusa becomes angered that the throne of Athens (inherited by Xuthus from her father) is to pass to a stranger. She attempts to have Ion poisoned, but is found out. Ion, knowing only that she wishes him dead, is about to have her killed in revenge, when the high priestess appears with the basket in which the infant Ion had been found. Recognising the basket and other tokens of Ion's infancy, Creusa joyfully claims Ion as her son.

Although Ion now accepts her as his mother, he is reluctant to believe that Apollo, whom he serves, could have been capable of the mortal lust that fathered him. The goddess Athena now appears ex machina to confirm that Apollo, who has declined to appear in person for fear of recriminations, was Ion's father. As mother and son are reconciled, Athena also reveals that Ion will inherit the throne of Athens and be the founder of the Ionian line. Creusa and Xuthus, the goddess predicts, will have two other sons, and all Greece will be ruled by them.