44 pages 1 hour read

Ed. John C. Gilbert, Euripides


Fiction | Play | Adult | BCE

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Symbols & Motifs


Serpents figure into Ion during several critical moments. First, the poison that Creusa uses to attempt to kill Ion comes from the serpent hair of the Gorgon Medusa. However, snakes are not necessarily negatively connotated, and here they stand as a symbol for the city of Athens. Specifically, snakes decorate the crib in which Creusa exposed her infant son in a cave, and Creusa put miniature necklaces in the shape of snakes within the crib. Some scholars think that adorning children with infant snake necklaces was a widespread custom in classical Athens. Indeed, in this play the necklaces serve as a token through which Creusa proves her identity as Ion’s biological mother. Thus, the serpent transforms from a harbinger of death to a symbol of the connection between mother and son.


Oracles are a familiar motif in ancient literature, and Ion is no exception. Oracles were notoriously ambiguous, and consequently problematic, in the ancient world. Specifically, oracles were known for supplying partial information that may mislead the listener. This tendency is fully exhibited in Ion in two places. First, when the oracle at the shrine of Trophonius tells Xuthus that neither he nor