Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Ion, by Euripides

If there isn't incest, murder, fratricide
and at least eighty percent of the
characters being fathered by Zeus, is it
really an Ancient Greek play?
"When our oppressor is all powerful, where shall we fly for justice?" 

Ion, an Ancient Greek play by Euripides, was supposed to have been written between 414 and 412 B.C and is defined as a tragedy, although it's definitely not as tragic as a majority of Euripides plays. Ion shares common themes with other plays written by Euripides such as religious scepticism, the clash of God's and men, the injustices suffered by women, and features Greek Gods (Hermes, Apollo) which is another common thread that is weaved into not just Euripides plays, but plays by other Greek playwrights as well.

Ion opens with Hermes, a Greek God, detailing how Apollo raped an Athenian woman named Creusa in a cave under the Acropolis. Creusa, not being able to live with what Apollo did to her, left her son (Ion) in a basket in the cave where Apollo raped her, expecting that the child would be devoured by beasts. I've been an avid reader of Greek Mythology for a long time, and I knew of this story, but I was still horrified with Apollo raping Creusa, and Creusa leaving her child to be eaten by beasts. Later in the play, Euripides put doubt in the mind of the reader/viewer that Apollo raped Creusa, and subtly suggests that something even darker happened (Creusa being raped by another man) but he leaves it up to the reader to decide which of these events they want to believe.

After this opening, the play moves to Apollo's temple in Delphi where the child of Creusa lives and works. Ion is sweeping outside the temple when Creusa arrives, having made the journey to Delphi with her husband to pray to Apollo to give them children. Creusa meets Ion, not knowing he is her son, outside the temple and talk about various subjects, including the injustices women suffer at the hands of men and God's. Cruesa expresses her outrage to Ion about how women are viewed and judged:

"Life is harder for women than for men: they judge us, good and bad together, and hate us. That is the fate we are born to"

The injustices women suffer is a major theme in Ion, as well as several of Euripides other plays (Women of Troy, Helen, Medea). For an Ancient Greek play, it's rather progressive for it's time from a feminist standpoint. Euripides, oddly, has a reputation as a misogynist, but perhaps I just haven't gotten to his misogynist plays yet. It's a sad fact that, two and a half thousand years after Ion was written, women and minorities still suffer similar injustices as they did in Ancient Greece. Forget sad, it's rather horrifying.

Another major theme in Ion is religious scepticism, which I imagine was rather controversial in Ancient Greece. Through Creusa and Ion, Euripides expresses his outrage at how hypercritical the Gods are and at how immoral they are, yet they hold humans to a high standard and punish men for committing similar acts:

"If you are to pay to men the lawful indemnity for every rape you commit, you will empty your temples to pay for your misdeeds. It is unjust for you Apollo, and Poseidon and Zeus, to call men bad for copying what you find acceptable."

Although called Ion, this play is more about Creusa and her plight. I truly loved this play, and felt very sympathetic towards Creusa and her tragic life. It is, like all of Euripides' plays that I have read, very well written and is packed full of raw emotion. I really felt what the characters were feeling and those kind of plays are the ones I love the most. The plays that make you feel right down to the marrow in your bones. I would definitely recommend this for anyone who loves the play form, Ancient Greek plays, Greek Mythology and texts about women and the injustices they suffer.

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(Ion is the first play in the Penguin Classics collection The Bacchae and Other Plays, written by Euripides. I've read the second play, the Women of Troy, and that review will be coming soon. I'm also currently reading Helen which I am loving. I can safely say that Euripides is one of my favourite playwrights, not just from Ancient Greece, but across time.)

2 comments :

  1. I was so excited when I saw the title of this post come up in my blogroll. Yes, call me a Greek-geek! ;-)

    I wonder who labelled Euripides a misogynist (what era)? I find Sophocles very sympathetic towards women in the way he portrays Antigone, so I wonder if sometimes moderns are simply too hard on ancients without understanding the context.

    In any case, I loved your review and can't wait for more of them. I'm also reminded that I need to get back to Ovid one of these days.

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    1. I have a love for the Greeks, their plays are everything I'm about: I love tragedy, I love mythology, I love plays that show the human spirit and make you think long after the play ends. The Greeks have all that in spades.

      Apparently he was regarded as a misogynist in Ancient Greece. So much so that he apparently wrote his play Helen because people criticised him for not having a virtuous and sympathetic female in his plays. From what I've read that is strange but as I said I haven't read them all so we'll see.

      Ahhh yes Ovid. He is on my list for this year. After I tackle the Iliad/the Odyssey. Lot's of Ancient Greek and Ancient Roman texts this year. Can't wait.

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