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Did Euripides with his Ion expect his audience to feel pride in their myths of national origins?

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Introduction

Did Euripides with his Ion expect his audience to feel pride in their myths of national origins? As a playwright Euripides always had a tendency to explore less popular tragic myths, or to look at uncommon versions of popular tragic tales, such as he did with Helen. In Ion however, Euripides takes this idea even further and totally rewrites the myth of Ion. According to Athenian Myth, Hellen was the eldest son of Deucalion and Pyrrha and he married the nymph Orseis, by whom he had three sons, Dorus, Aeolus and Xouthos. Dorus and Aeolus gave their names to the Dorian and Aeolians respectively, whilst Xouthos married the Athenian princess Kreousa, having two children with her before dying in exile in the northern Peloponnese. The first of these sons, Achaeus, returned to Thessaly, his father's homeland, whilst the second son, Ion, was recalled to Athens where he died leading the Athenian forces against the Eleusians. His people were later driven from the Peloponnese and founded the Ionian colonies in the East. This is probably all the Athenians knew about the man named Ion, not much more than a name in their histories. Euripides however, presents a completely different story. Kreousa is the son of Erectheus, who sacrificed his other daughter to the gods on order to ensure a victory over King Eumolpus of Eleusis. Xouthos is a Thessalian, a son of Aeolus, and allied to Athens in a war against Chalcis, a town on the island of Euboea, and is married to Kreousa as a reward for his services to Athens. ...read more.

Middle

This is very similar to the stories of Oedipus Rex, in Sophocles play, Cyrus, and several other mythological Greek figures. The plot development is also very similar to his other plays, especially Electra and Helen. The plays involve lost siblings, mother / son, father / daughter, husband / wife etc who meet after a separation of many years and fail to recognise each other. Usually after they recognise each other but sometimes before there is usually a plot to kill those who they feel are in the wrong or to escape to some safe place. Ion is unusual in this since the Kreousa is plotting to kill Ion, whom she has not yet recognised, but abandons her plot when she realises who he is. The story Hermes tells at the beginning of the play about the rape of Kreousa by Apollo, and the life of the young Ion is told in such a manner that it recalls many of the foundation myths of Athens. The first of these is the myth of Cecrops, first King of Athens. He was said to be, autochthonus (which translates literally as born of the very earth), and half man - half snake. Secondly, the myth of Ericthonius who was also believed to be autochthonus and given, in a chest, to the daughters of Cecrops to guard by Athene with strict instruction not to look inside. ...read more.

Conclusion

That Ion's half brothers, sons of Kreousa and Xouthos will found the Achaean and Dorian peoples, and that Ion's sons will found the four Athenian tribes. This reminds the Athenians of their patronage by Athena, and therefore of the mythical competition between Athena and Poseidon for patronage of the city. Athenians must have felt pride in this since two great Gods were fighting over their city, which should have proved how great it was to the other Greeks. The four Attic tribes descending from Ion also allows the Athenians to claim descent from another God, Apollo, who was the father of Ion. Finally, Athenian society at the time was very conscientious of racial purity, and a number of laws had been introduced to keep the citizenship of Athens pure. This again indicates pride in what they believed their origins to be, since they were trying to keep those who they saw as lesser people away from them. Had they not been proud of their origins they would probably would not have been so keen to keep other people out of Athens, since they could claim some kinship with those they let in and share in their origins. Also, many of their more famous foundation myths were painted on vases, erected as statues or decorations on temples, and generally readily visible to anyone who was looking. A country with no pride in its origins would not make those origins so easy for its citizens or its visitors to see. ...read more.

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