While Ion is intimately bound to Apollo’s temple, they can approach the god only as postulants seeking a solution through the obscure prophecy of the Pythia, Apollo’s earthly voice.
Hermes, who speaks the introduction, has already told us about Creusa’s rape by Apollo—a violent one—her concealment of it, and her exposure of the child in the cave where the god had inseminated her.
As presented here, the drama revolves around family issues: the desolation of childlessness, the anonymity (or lack of personhood) of growing up as a slave without a family, a possibly barren wife’s terror of her loss of security at the appearance of an illegitimate son and heir to the throne, the affinity between a threatened woman’s behavior and that of slaves, and the function of legitimacy and inheritance in the Athenian royal family’s establishment of the Attic people’s right to their land and eventually, through Ion, of the Ionian coastal cities of Asia Minor.
This may strike you as a rather strange belief to come from Athens, the cradle of democracy, and in this production it seems convincing—largely because Elizabeth Heintges’ Creusa is such an appealing and sympathetic figure.
Following Athena’s confirmation of their relationship, Creusa and Ion accept each other as son and mother, and the future of Athens’ royalty and their descendants through Ion—the Ionians—is settled.
The foreigner Xuthus, however, will be left under the delusion that Ion is his natural son, as he believed at first, lest he resort to any of the desperate acts impulsively set in motion by Creusa.
Our appreciation of Ion has grown considerably since the mid-twentieth century, because of the more open, relativistic, anti-canonical taste which his arisen over the past generation and because of a growth of scholarly interest in the body of local Attic myth that lies behind its subject—not because of a renaissance on the stage.
Helene Foley, Professor of Greek at Barnard (Faculty advisor to the Ancient Drama Group) in her Sather Lectures, Reimagining Greek Tragedy on the American Stage, mentions only one straight production of Ion, by the Shakespeare Theare Company of Washington, DC in the spring of 2009.
The story begins with a childless couple—a lamentable, if not tragic situation for Greeks ancient and modern—and a youth who does not know who his parents are—also a painful situation, greatly compromising a person’s social status.
Ion is a temple servant, a slave, but the slave of the great god Apollo, whom he reveres.