The Center for Hellenic Studies

A Magnificent Birthday Party in an Artful Pavilion: Lifestyle and Leadership in Euripides’ Ion (on and off stage)

Lucia Athanassaki, University of Crete
Γρηγόρι’, ὦ φίλε, σοὶ Λουκία συνήδομ’ ἑταίρωι
ὀγδoίης δεκάδος δοῦσα τόδ’ ἀρχομένωι
Euripides’ Ion is a play about identity, citizenship and leadership. These interrelated issues, fiercely debated throughout the play, receive an authoritative answer from Athena who appears ex machina and proclaims Ion the son of Apollo and Creusa, rightful ruler of Athens, progenitor of the Ionians, and half-brother of the Dorians and the Achaeans (1560–94), thus broadening and strengthening the sphere of Athenian influence. Ion’s identity and promising future in Athens and beyond is known to Euripides’ audience right from the beginning thanks to Hermes’ prologue. What captivates the audience’s interest, therefore, is not the outcome, but the process whereby Ion discovers who he is and what role he is destined to play.
This paper explores Ion’s portrayal as the future leader of Athens and progenitor of the Ionians, focusing on his status in Delphi and the ways in which his upbringing in the Panhellenic sanctuary is shown to have influenced his outlook and his lifestyle. I argue that (a) Euripides represents the future leader of the house of Erechtheus as an expert in Delphic cult and ritual, a friend of natives and foreigners and a lover of the arts and high-style entertainment and (b) to the extent that the play reflects contemporary Athenian concerns about proper and effective leadership, Ion embodies positive qualities and grand-style traditions fitting for the leader of a city that aspires to a leading role in Greece. [1]
The first three sections focus on the depiction of Ion’s lifestyle onstage, whereas the fourth explores its relation with Athenian traditions and late fifth-century attitudes and concerns. In section 1 (Status in Delphi: χρυσοφύλαξ and ταμίας πάντων πιστός), I discuss the significance of Ion’s double office in Delphi for his characterization as somebody whose promise as a future leader of Athens is guaranteed by the upbringing and training that manifest themselves in the grand-style party he organizes, which is discussed in detail in section 3. In section 2 (A cosmopolitan outlook) I examine all those intellectual and personal qualities that reveal Ion’s cosmopolitan attitude, which is in sharp contrast to the Athenocentric attitude of the Chorus, the Pedagogue and Creusa. I argue that, unlike the attitude of Creusa’s milieu, always fearful and suspicious toward strangers, Ion’s constant exposure to ever new foreigners in the Panhellenic sanctuary has shaped his keen interest in different people and places and their art and cult. In section 3 (A magnificent style of entertainment), I examine the significance of Ion’s status in Delphi for the grand-style birthday party he throws for all Delphians, focusing on the gold and silver vessels he uses and the huge tent he constructs for it, borrowing Apollo’s resources. This section concludes with comparison of Ion’s tent with the tent that Xerxes left at Plataea. In section 4 (Ion’s lifestyle in the light of Athenian traditions), I summarize the conclusions of sections 1–3 and I examine the play as a colorful tapestry, to use a metaphor from one of the play’s intriguing ekphraseis, that represents, in mythical guise, Athenian traditions of leadership involving grand-style entertainment and big architectural projects. I connect Ion’s tent both with the Periclean Odeion, which the ancients thought was modeled after Xerxes’ tent, and the notorious tent of Alcibiades at Olympia. I suggest that (a) the Periclean Odeion was the visible offstage analogue of the tent that Euripides’ audience was asked to imagine and I explore the political significance of this association for the relation of Athens and its allies. I also suggest that (b) in comparison to the criticism voiced against Alcibiades’ extravaganza at Olympia, the treatment of Ion’s high-style entertainment offers a different perspective on expenditure and an alternative modus operandi by shifting the focus from ownership to honest and trustworthy management. To the extent that Ion’s modus vivendi et operandi is paradigmatic for Athenian imperial leadership, the play offers a different, if utopian, model of the proper use of imperial venues and resources for the common benefit of Athenians and their allies.

1. Status in Delphi: χρυσοφύλαξ and ταμίας πάντων

Until the moment Xuthus comes out of Apollo’s temple and pronounces Ion his son, Ion has stressed time and again that he is an orphan (ἀμήτωρ ἀπάτωρ τε γεγώς) and a servant of Apollo. [2] The last time he designates himself as a servant of the god is when he introduces himself to Creusa: I am called slave of the god, Lady, and I am (τοῦ θεοῦ καλοῦμαι δοῦλος, εἰμί τ’, ὦ γύναι, 309). His insistence on his being τοῦ θεοῦ δοῦλος has to do with his ignorance and fear of his origin. It is worth noting, however, that he draws attention to the difference between being a slave of mortals and a servant of immortals (133). [3] The latter condition is designated as καλός, κλεινός, and εὔφαμος πόνος (130). Almost in the same breath he declares, unwittingly but emphatically, that Phoebus is his father: Φοῖβός μοι γενέτωρ πατήρ·τὸν βόσκοντα γὰρ εὐλογῶ, τὸν δ’ ὠφέλιμον ἐμοὶ πατέρος ὄνομα λέγω Φοῖβον τὸν κατὰ ναόν (136–40).
Unlike the dramatis personae, Euripides’ audience knows from Hermes that Phoebus is indeed Ion’s father and is therefore fully aware that the youth’s persistent use of the term δοῦλος and synonym expressions can be misleading, as soon becomes evident from Creusa’s reaction. When Ion tells her that he is called and is indeed τοῦ θεοῦ δοῦλος, she spontaneously asks him: “are you a city’s dedication, or somebody’s purchase?” (ἀνάθημα πόλεως ἤ τινος πραθεὶς ὕπο; 310). Ion’s insistence also obfuscates the fact that he enjoys a very high status in the Delphic sanctuary, for, as is already clear from Hermes’ prologue, upon reaching manhood the Delphians appointed him guardian of the god’s treasures (ἔθεντο χρυσοφύλακα τοῦ θεοῦ, 54) and trusted steward of all (ταμίαν τε πάντων πιστόν, 55). Ταμίας is certainly not a low office. In the Medea, for instance, Zeus is designated as ταμίας ἐν Ὀλύμπωι (1415) and a ταμίας ὄρκων (170). [4] Ion’s duties as ταμίας are not specified, but the ritual instructions he gives throughout the play suggest that he oversees cultic and ritual etiquette, an expertise that will prove crucial for his survival in due course. [5] His duties as χρυσοφύλαξ are also important, but for different reasons. As we shall see, his familiarity with and access to the treasures of the sanctuary will enable him to organize a magnificent banquet, worthy of the city he is destined to rule.
Ion’s self-designation as τοῦ θεοῦ δοῦλος misleads not only Creusa, but the Chorus too. When asked by the Pedagogue who is the son given to Xuthus by Apollo, Creusa’s servants respond that it is the youth who was sweeping the temple (Χο. οἶσθ’, ὦ φίλη δέσποινα, τὸν νεανίαν ὃς τόνδ’ ἔσαιρε ναόν; οὗτός ἐσθ’ ὁ παῖς. 794-95). We do not know, of course, how Euripides staged Ion during the parodos. [6] But as we shall see in a moment, the last part of Ion’s monody suggests that he has put down the broom and picked up his bow. For this reason, unless we assume that when the Chorus entered, Ion put down his bow and picked up the broom again, neither Creusa nor her servants could have seen Ion sweeping. But even if the Chorus had seen Ion holding the broom, they certainly had not listened to his monody and watched his acts on stage. The Chorus’ misperception of Ion’s status results from their ignorance of the ritual significance of Ion’s activities and from Xuthus’ plan to keep the identity of Ion secret from Creusa rather than from his appearance and action on stage.
Ion’s appearance on stage, a crowned youth in fine robes, is suitable to his high office. This is certainly Creusa’s first impression when, puzzling over his status, she observes: “You must have means, for you are well dressed” (ἔχεις δὲ βίοτον· εὖ γὰρ ἤσκησαι πέπλοις, 326). Ion’s answer is in keeping with the image of the god’s servant that he has projected all along: “I am adorned with the garments of the god whom I serve” (τοῖς τοῦ θεοῦ κοσμούμεθ’ ὧι δουλεύομεν, 327). A little later, when Xuthus attempts to embrace him, Ion stops him short out of fear that he may break the god’s crown with his hand (παῦε, μὴ ψαύσας τὰ τοῦ θεοῦ στέμματα ῥήξηις χερί, 522).
Unlike the Chorus, the play’s audience, who were already informed by Hermes and had seen Ion in action, knew that Ion was not simply sweeping the floor. To the extent that we can reconstruct the spectacle and atmosphere on the basis of the text, Ion’s monody indicates that what he performs on stage is ritual purification rather than basic cleanliness. In the opening anapaests he delineates the context of his utterance. It is daybreak. The smoke of frankincense fills the temple and the Pythia has already sat on the holy tripod. Ion then turns to Apollo’s servants, who must have entered the stage as Ion comes out of the temple, and gives them ritual instructions. [7] He asks them to go and sprinkle themselves with pure water from Castalia (καθαραῖς δὲ δρόσοις ἀφυδρανάμενοι στείχετε ναούς), come back and abstain from ill-omened speech in their conversations with those who have come to inquire of the god. [8] Once the instructions have been given, Ion describes his role in the ceremony. He will purify the holy entrance of the temple with laurel boughs (πτόρθοισι δάφνης στέφεσίν θ’ ἱεροῖς ἐσόδους Φοίβου καθαρὰς θήσομεν), sprinkle the floor (ὑγραῖς τε πέδον ῥανίσιν νοτερόν, 105), and scare away the birds lest they disgrace the holy offerings. Evidently this is not an ordinary day. It is the appointed day of the consultation of the oracle, and, as Xuthus asserts later, the sacrifice has been performed and shown that the day is propitious for consultation (418–21). [9] To go back to Ion’s description of ritual preparations, the Pythia has taken her seat and will communicate Apollo’s prophecies to the Greeks (θάσσει δὲ γυνὴ τρίποδα ζάθεον/ Δελφίς, ἀείδουσ’ Ἕλλησι βοάς,/ ἃς ἂν Ἀπόλλων κελαδήσηι, 91–93).
Religious diction pervades the hymn to Phoebus that the youth sings while performing the purification rite (114–140). [10] As is clear from the melic anapaests that follow the hymn, he puts down the laurel bough (ἀλλ’ ἐκπαύσω γὰρ μόχθους δάφνας ὀλκοῖς, 142–43) and takes hold of a golden urn in order to make a libation of Castalian water (χρυσέων δ’ἐκ τευχέων ῥίψω γαίας παγάν, ἃν ἀποχεύονται Κασταλίας δῖναι, νοτερὸν ὕδωρ βάλλων, 144–4?). His self-referential statement (ὅσιος ἀπ’εὐνᾶς ὤν, 148) indicates that sexual purity is a prerequisite for this rite. Throughout the monody Ion emphasizes the pleasure he derives from serving the god. The audience of the play, who already know from Hermes that Ion is the ταμίας πιστός πάντων in the sanctuary, can appreciate why the πόνος is καλός, κλεινός, and εὔφαμος. Ion is a top-rank servant in Delphi. The golden urn he holds in his hands is a reminder, probably visual, of his capacity as χρυσοφύλαξ.
Ion’s final task, to keep the birds away from Apollo’s golden temple, is more significant for its visual effect and the plot than the purification ritual (αὐδῶ μὴ χρίμπτειν θριγκοῖς μηδ’ ἐς χρυσήρεις οἴκους, 156–57). His warnings to the birds sound funny rather than serious, not least because he instructs the second bird to go and breed at the Alpheus and at the Isthmus so that Phoebus’ temple and offerings do not suffer any harm (174–78). This is a joke pointing to inter-sanctuary rivalry, for Ion urges the birds to head to the sites of the sanctuaries of Zeus and Poseidon respectively, where they will presumably do precisely what he tries to prevent them from doing in Delphi. In the end his threats give way to pity because, as he observes, birds reveal the divine will to mortals (179–81). This is yet another insightful statement that will apply to him too in due time. The birds will be the catalysts in the revelation of the plot, but Ion’s initial encounter with them serves another purpose as well. As many have suggested, the image of the youth drawing his bow on stage brings out his visual likeness to Apollo, a resemblance that would not escape the notice of the play’s audience. [11] Moreover, Ion’s reference to the temple as χρυσήρεις οἴκους is yet another reminder of his duties as χρυσοφύλαξ.
Ion’s responses and instructions to the Chorus, Xuthus and Creusa in the first episode further elucidate his responsibilities as ταμίας. Assuming that the Chorus has come to inquire of the god, he explains to them oracular procedure, i.e. the offering of a cake on the altar outside and the sacrifice of sheep inside (226–229). [12] When Xuthus asks him who acts as intermediary to the god (τις προφητεύει θεοῦ; 413) he responds that ten prominent Delphians, chosen by lot, sit near the tripod inside, whereas he is in charge of the activities outside of the temple (ἡμεῖς τά γ’ ἔξω, 414). Such an activity is to render the service of proxenia to visitors, a service that he offered to Creusa a little earlier, when she expressed the wish to ask Apollo about the secret matter (ἡμεῖς τἄλλα προξενήσομεν, 335). [13] But when he hears the question that she wants him to ask the god on her behalf, he refuses to grant her wish. It is futile to force the gods to give answers against their will either by offering sacrifices or interpreting bird omens, he tells Creusa (369–77). This is clearly a response that transcends cultic and ritual etiquette and touches on broader religious issues, such as the limits of divination, proper worship, and the expectations that mortals can reasonably have of immortals.
Ion may have instructed Creusa on divination and worship, but on second thought, he concludes that Phoebus is also in need of some advice (νουθετητέος δέ μοι Φοῖβος, 436–37). As is in Creusa’s case, Apollo’s specific misdeed gives him the opportunity to broaden the issue of divine behavior and theorize on the paradigm that immortals should set for mortals. Is it right those who have set the rules to us mortals to sin against these laws, he asks, and goes on to point out that if Apollo, Zeus, and Poseidon had to pay reparations for their sins, they would have to empty their temples of their treasures (442–49).
The idea of the three gods giving away the treasures of their temples to mortals to make reparations is one of the many comic thoughts in this play, but it sounds even funnier in view of the fact that Ion is the χρυσοφύλαξ of Apollo’s temple. It is also worth noting that Ion ponders the repercussions of such a reversal of divine fortunes as he is getting ready to make another libation, holding a golden jug in his hand (ἀλλὰ χρυσέαις πρόχουσιν ἐλθὼν εἰς ἀποῤῥαντήρια δρόσον καθήσω, 434–36).

2. A cosmopolitan outlook

We may now turn to Ion’s portrayal as a youth who has made the most out of growing up in an artful and serene Panhellenic environment. He meets ever new foreigners, observes their reactions, and learns from his conversations with them. His taste in art also shows a broad, Panhellenic, perspective. In what follows, I discuss the basic features of Ion’s cosmopolitan outlook, which, I argue, is in sharp contrast to the Athenocentric perspective of the Chorus, the pedagogue, and to some extent Creusa. [14]
Ion’s first encounter with Creusa reveals his interest in and knowledge of foreign places, people, their history and customs. His initial surprise at Creusa’s reaction at the sight of the temple is due to his experience of visitors’ usual responses to the sanctuary. Creusa’s reaction is in his view peculiar, for all other viewers derive pleasure from the sight of the temple (244–46). When he learns she is Athenian, he wants to verify a story he has heard (ὡς μεμύθευται βροτοῖς, 265), i.e. whether Erichthonius sprang from the earth. Once Creusa has verified this story, Ion probes the accuracy of a visual representation of the story that he has apparently seen (ὥσπερ ἐν γραφῆι νομίζεται, 271), i.e. whether Athena gave Erichthonius to the Cecropids in a covered basket. [15] The visual representation seemingly did not tell the whole story, so Ion has already correlated it with another story he has heard (ἤκουσα, 273): did the maidens open the basket? Creusa affirms the truthfulness of this story and supplies their sad end (274). The end of this story gives rise to another round of questions. Ion wants to verify the truthfulness of accounts concerning Erechtheus’ family, now that he has met one of its members (τι δαὶ τόδ’; ἆρ’ ἀληθές, ἢ μάτην λόγος; 275): did Erechtheus sacrifice Creusa’s sisters? And how you alone were saved? And is it true (ἀληθῶς) that the earth opened and swallowed your father? (276–82).
Once Creusa answers these questions, Ion asks her about the location Makrai, a place that is of important, albeit different, significance to each of the two interlocutors, as is clear from their dialogue. Creusa’s reaction shows that the mention of Makrai comes as a painful surprise, because it brings back the memory of her union with Apollo in the cave (284, 286, 88). [16] But the reasons for Ion’s interest in this locale are totally different as it becomes clear from his response to Creusa: it is a placed honored by the Pythian Apollo and his lightning-flashes (τιμᾶι σφε †Πύθιος† ἀστραπαί τε Πύθιαι, 285). Ion’s reference is to the Pythais, the distinctly Athenian theoria commemorating the essential role of Athens in the installation of Apollo in Delphi. [17] It was not a regular, but an occasional and rather infrequent sacred embassy which was dispatched only when the priests who were watching from the sanctuary of Zeus Asteropaeus in the direction of Harma on Mount Parnes on certain days during the summer saw lightning flashes. As Verrall suggested long ago, “Apollo ‘honored’ the place by causing the lightning to be seen from it”. [18] The traumatized Creusa may suspect that Ion alludes to her “shameful” experience, but Euripides’ audience would have no difficulty to catch the allusion to the Pythais and its aition.
From a dramatic point of view, the effect of the allusion to the Pythais is ironic, for it reminds the audience of the ancient ties between Athens and Delphi that will prove even stronger in the end, but which Creusa, full of shame and frustration, overlooks. In terms of Ion’s characterization, his knowledge of Athenian ritual practice is in keeping with his natural curiosity about stories, art and cult in Delphi, Athens, and beyond. He has already mentioned the sanctuaries of Apollo at Delos, of Zeus at Olympia, of Poseidon at Isthmus and has drawn attention to their treasures. When Creusa informs him that her husband has stopped at the sanctuary of Trophonius he asks: πότερα θεατής, ἢ χάριν μαντευμάτων; (301). Clearly, unlike the Chorus, Ion does not think that impressive buildings and sculptures are to be found only in Delphi.
Ion is also well versed in genealogy, geography, and politics. When Creusa tells him the name of her husband, he immediately knows that Xuthus is a foreigner (293). When she mentions Euboea, he adds that it is reported to be an island (ὡς λέγουσι). These are stories he has presumably heard from the foreigners with whom he comes in contact in the serene sanctuary and whose company he enjoys, as he tells Xuthus later (638–41).
The choice of woven fabrics for the decoration of his tent is yet another indication of his cosmopolitan attitude. [19] The tapestry he chooses for the roof is Heracles’ dedication of a spoil he took from the Amazons. Its decorative theme, i.e. the heavens, the stars and the alternation of day and night, is the cosmos that governs the lives of Greeks and barbarians alike. The identity of the dedicator is also significant. Ion chooses for the roof of his tent the dedication of the Dorian Heracles, not of the Athenian Theseus, a choice that points up his cosmopolitan outlook. For the sides of his tent he chooses tapestries of oriental provenance (βαρβάρων ὑφάσματα, 1159). It is pointless to ask whether these tapestries are spoils dedicated by Greeks or gifts of oriental donors, such as the legendarily generous Croesus. The choice of oriental tapestries underlines the cosmopolitan character of the environment in which Ion has been brought up and the influence it has exercised on him. It is noteworthy that the patterns of these fabrics are neither Athenocentric nor even Hellenocentric, but a blend of topics relevant to Greeks and non-Greeks alike: naval battles between Greeks and barbarians, monsters half-beast half-human, a deer-hunt with horses, and lion hunts. For the entrance of the tent Ion chooses the dedication of an Athenian, probably a bronze group featuring the half-serpent Cecrops and his daughters. [20] The placement of an emblem of Athenian autochthony at the entrance defines the tent as an Athenian construction inviting the audience to ponder the significance of the decorations chosen for the roof and the sides, which are not related to Athens in any particular way but feature themes that are popular among Greeks and barbarians. In other words, Ion constructs a tent whose entrance emblematizes Athenian autochthony, but whose interior decoration reflects the cosmopolitan ambience of Delphi.
Ion’s broad horizon is in sharp contrast to the limited perspective of the Chorus whose keen interest in art and cult is also dramatized in this play. It has often been observed that the artifacts the Chorus singles out for mention are sights they would have seen in Athens. [21] This is certainly true of the Gigantomachy they describe in the parodos: it decorated the peplos offered to Athena which was the subject of the central scene (V) of the frieze that decorated the façade of the Parthenon. [22] The Gigantomachy was also the theme of the metopes of the façade of the Parthenon. [23] Indeed all three gods that the Chorus chooses for mention have been identified with reasonable certainty as subjects of the Parthenon metopes. The central metope (8) features Zeus attacking a giant, while on the left side metopes from the viewer’s point of view (2 and 4 respectively) Dionysus and Athena are represented attacking one opponent each. [24] The Chorus’ preoccupation with familiar sights is consistent with their predilection for Athenian rites and points up their rather limited perspective, evident in their surprised reaction at their discovery that it is not only Athens that has nice temples and altars (184–87).
The Chorus’ obsession with Athenian themes and sights would be obvious to those in Euripides’ audience who were familiar with the temple of Apollo. As has often been observed the Gigantomachy was the sculptural theme of the West pediment, which the Chorus could not see from the East side of the temple, where they stood. I have argued elsewhere that this is yet another instance of dramatic irony [25] . The Chorus, obsessed with the Gigantomachy that is closely associated with the provenance of Creusa’s poison in this play, remains oblivious to the façade of the temple featuring Apollo’s arrival in Delphi. Some four decades earlier Aeschylus in the opening of the Eumenides had associated the façade with the key role of the Athenians in Apollo’s installation in Delphi, which was the aition of the Pythais. Ion’s reference to the Pythais and its ironic effect has already been discussed. Creusa, preoccupied with her own troubles, misunderstands Ion’s reference and causes him surprise. Ion, in turn, wonders why she hates something that is so dear to the god (287). This may not be Ion’s only reference to the Pythais. Ion starts his monody with a reference to this chariot: ἅρματα μὲν τάδε λαμπρὰ τεθρίππων (82). What follows, ἥλιος ἤδη λάμπει κατὰ γῆν (83), suggests that the reference is to the Sun’s chariot, but those in the audience who were familiar with the temple of Apollo would inevitably associate it with the mounted god in the temple’s marble façade. [26] The temple of Apollo, the focal point of ritual worship, owed its brilliant façade to the Alcmaeonids, and was for this reason of special interest to the Athenians. Euripides could clearly count on the familiarity with the temple of those who had visited Delphi as competitors or theoroi and of those who had heard descriptions. [27]
Unlike the Chorus, neither Creusa nor the Pedagogue shows any interest in the temple’s art and treasures. The Pedagogue’s only reference to the temple is when he admonishes Creusa to burn it down (974). The phrase σεμνὰ χρηστήρια indicates that the Oracle inspires awe in him, but other than this general assessment he makes no further comments. Creusa, on the other hand, is moved to tears at the sight of the temple. Does she see the Gigantomachy, as the Chorus does, or is it the image of the mounted god that triggers this reaction? There is nothing in the text to suggest an answer, but it is tempting to see dramatic irony in play in this instance too. [28] On the whole, however, Creusa’s thoughts are dominated by the Gigantomachy more than any other dramatic character: as a child she weaves the Gorgon, as an adult she wears the golden bracelet passed on to her by Erechtheus, an artifact directly related to the Gigantomachy that gives her the idea and the means to fight the Apolline plan. [29]
In terms of outlook, the basic difference between Ion and the Athenian contingent is that, whereas Creusa, the Chorus and the Pedagogue are preoccupied with stories, rites and sights that are familiar to them, Ion is clearly not. His many questions to Creusa undoubtedly heighten the dramatic irony, but are simultaneously important for the characterization of the son of Apollo and Creusa as a learned youth with genuine curiosity for foreign people and places. Life in Delphi entails constant contact with xenoi and therefore knowledge and appreciation of the “other”. It is certainly not accidental that he chooses to decorate his tent with a selection of dedications, which had been chosen as offerings by the most celebrated Dorian hero, an unnamed Athenian, barbarians, and/or people in contact with barbarians. The provenance as well as the themes of the selected items epitomize his cosmopolitan outlook.

3. A magnificent style of entertainment

Toward the end of the Second Episode, Xuthus announces his intention to perform the long overdue birthday sacrifices and offer a banquet for all in honor of Ion at Delphi (ἄρξασθαι κοινῆς τραπέζης, δαῖτα πρὸς κοινὴν πεσών, 652). Xuthus’ plan is to take Ion to Athens not as his son, but as a sightseer (θεατής), in order not to cause Creusa pain but in the hope to persuade her in due course to allow Ion inherit Xuthus’ rule. Αt the end of his speech, he gives the youth the name Ion and instructs him to invite all his friends to the birthday banquet (ἀλλὰ τῶν φίλων πλήρωμ’ ἀθροίσας, 663–64). He concludes by ordering the Chorus to keep silent and threatens them with the death penalty if they reveal what they have heard to Creusa. Despite Xuthus’ warning, the Chorus break their silence, but they give Creusa an enhanced account of what they heard. They tell her and the Pedagogue that Xuthus plans a secret banquet that will take place in a sacred tent (παιδὸς προθύσων ξένια και γενέθλια σκηνὰς ἐς ἱερὰς τῆσδε λαθραίως πόσις, κοινὴν ξυνάψων δαῖτα παιδὶ τῶι νέωι, 804–6). Despite the fact that the banquet takes place in a tent, it is worth noting that Xuthus had not mentioned this detail. At this point it is definitely the Chorus’ assumption that results from the secrecy that Xuthus has imposed on them. [30] The Chorus also understands that the banquet is meant as a secret event too. Whether Xuthus intended to host a secret banquet or not, Ion opted for a magnificent public event as becomes clear later. But the Chorus’ assessment influences the Pedagogue who suspects a conspiracy against Creusa and volunteers to go to the chamber where the banquet will take place and kill Ion (καὶ συμφονεύειν παῖδ’ ἐπεισελθὼν δόμους οὗ δαῖθ’ ὀπλίζει, 851–52). He makes a similar suggestion after Creusa’s confession, but this time he thinks that a bigger, armed group should attack Ion in the tent where he is feasting his friends (ἱεραῖσιν ἐν σκηναῖσιν οὗ θοινᾶι φίλους, 982). The Chorus and the Pedagogue are thinking all along of a secret banquet with friends, but the Servant’s description offers a different picture. As has already been mentioned, it is unclear whether Xuthus had a secret banquet in mind or not. All he tells Ion before leaving the stage is to erect a tent and, in case he is delayed, to go ahead and feast those of his friends who are present (θύσας δὲ γενέταις θεοῖσιν ἢν μακρὸν χρόνον / μείνω, παροῦσι δαῖτες ἔστωσαν φίλοις, 1130–31).
As is clear from the Servant’s speech, Ion has no intention of hosting a secret feast or of inviting only his friends. On the contrary, once he has finished with the construction and the decoration of the tent he issues a public invitation to all Delphians through a herald (ἐν δ’ ἄκροισι βὰς ποσὶν /κῆρυξ ἀνεῖπε τὸν θέλοντ’ ἐγχωρίων/ ἐς δαῖτα χωρεῖν, 1166–68). This decision shows that Ion is conscious of his high status at Delphi and presumably of the expectations that people have from a high-ranking servant. A multitude accepts the invitation, for as the Servant reports Ion’s huge tent filled up (ὡς δ’ ἐπληρώθη στέγη, / στεφάνοισι κοσμηθέντες εὐόχθου βορᾶς / ψυχὴν ἐπλήρουν, 1168–70). According to the Servant, Ion constructed a tent of 10,000 square-feet, about 930 square meters because he wanted to invite all the people of Delphi to the feast (πλέθρου σταθμήσας μῆκος εἰς εὐγωνίαν, / μέτρημ’ ἔχουσαν τοὐν μέσωι γε μυρίων /ποδῶν ἀριθμόν, ὡς λέγουσιν οἱ σοφοί, / ὡς πάντα Δελφῶν λαὸν ἐς θοίνην καλῶν [1137–40]). [31]
The stylish interior space is decked out with many gold craters (χρυσέους τ’ ἐν μέσωι συσσιτίωι / κρατῆρας ἔστησ, 1165–66) and gold wine cups for all the guests (χρυσέων τ’ ἐκπωμάτων, 1175). The Servant’ special attention to the precious material and decoration of the cups that Ion has provided is remarkable. He reports that the big cups that replace the small ones are made of gold and wrought silver (ἀργυρηλάτους / χρυσέας τε φιάλας, 1181–82); the Pedagogue chooses the most remarkable of them (ἐξαίρετον, 1182) and offers it to Ion. This cup is extraordinary both it terms of form and content, for it contains the poison that comes from Creusa’s golden bracelet (χρύσωμ’, 1030). Interestingly, from this point onward the Servant no longer mentions the dazzling look of cups and craters. Once Ion orders to pour the wine onto the ground and to repeat the rite, the crater is qualified as ερός and the content comes to the center of attention (πῶμα). It is the moment that the focus of the report shifts from the magnificent banquet organized by Ion as χρυσοφύλαξ of the temple to his expertise in ritual etiquette as a disciple of good seers (ὡς ἐν ἱερῶι μάντεσίν τ’ ἐσθλοῖς τραφείς, 1190) and ταμίας πάντων. [32]
Alföldi has pointed out the similarities of Ion’s tent with the tent of Xerxes, which the Greeks found at Plataea, whose magnificent luxury astounded Pausanias: [33]
Λέγεται δὲ καὶ τάδε γενέσθαι, ὡς Ξέρξης φεύγων ἐκ τῆς Ἑλλάδος Μαρδονίῳ τὴν κατασκευὴν καταλίποι τὴν ἑωυτοῦ. Παυσανίην ὦν ὁρῶντα τὴν Μαρδονίου κατασκευὴν χρυσῷ τε καὶ ἀργύρῳ καὶ παραπετάσμασι ποικίλοισι κατεσκευασμένην κελεῦσαι τούς τε ἀρτοκόπους καὶ τοὺς ὀψοποιοὺς κατὰ ταὐτὰ [καθὼς] Μαρδονίῳ δεῖπνον παρασκευάζειν. Ὡς δὲ κελευόμενοι οὗτοι ἐποίευν ταῦτα, ἐνθαῦτα τὸν Παυσανίην ἰδόντα κλίνας τε χρυσέας καὶ ἀργυρέας εὖ ἐστρωμένας καὶ τραπέζας τε χρυσέας καὶ ἀργυρέας καὶ παρασκευὴν μεγαλοπρεπέα τοῦ δείπνου, ἐκπλαγέντα τὰ  προκείμενα ἀγαθὰ κελεῦσαι ἐπὶ γέλωτι τοὺς ἑωυτοῦ διηκόνους παρασκευάσαι Λακωνικὸν δεῖπνον. Ὡς δὲ τῆς θοίνης ποιηθείσης ἦν πολλὸν τὸ μέσον, τὸν Παυσανίην γελάσαντα μεταπέμψασθαι τῶν Ἑλλήνων τοὺς στρατηγούς, συνελθόντων δὲ τούτων εἰπεῖν τὸν Παυσανίην, δεικνύντα ἐς ἐς ἑκατέρην τοῦ δείπνου τὴν παρασκευήν· ‘Ἄνδρες Ἕλληνες, τῶνδε εἵνεκα ἐγὼ ὑμέας συνήγαγον, βουλόμενος ὑμῖν τοῦ Μήδων ἡγεμόνος τὴν ἀφροσύνην δεῖξαι, ὃς τοιήνδε δίαιταν ἔχων ἦλθε ἐς ἡμέας οὕτω ὀϊζυρὴν ἔχοντας ἀπαιρησόμενος.’ Ταῦτα μὲν Παυσανίην λέγεται εἰπεῖν πρὸς τοὺς στρατηγοὺς τῶν Ἑλλήνων.
Herodotus 9.82
This other story is also told. When Xerxes fled from Hellas, he left to Mardonius his own establishment. Pausanias, seeing Mardonius' establishment with its display of gold and silver and gaily colored tapestry, ordered the bakers and the cooks to prepare a dinner such as they were accustomed to do for Mardonius. [2] They did his bidding, but Pausanias, when he saw golden and silver couches richly covered, and tables of gold and silver, and all the magnificent service of the banquet, was amazed at the splendor before him, and for a joke commanded his own servants to prepare a dinner in Laconian fashion. When that meal, so different from the other, was ready, Pausanias burst out laughing and sent for the generals of the Greeks. [3] When these had assembled, Pausanias pointed to the manner in which each dinner was served and said: “Men of Hellas, I have brought you here because I desired to show you the foolishness of the leader of the Medes who, with such provisions for life as you see, came here to take away from us our possessions which are so pitiful.” In this way, it is said, Pausanias spoke to the generals of the Greeks. [34]
Tapestries, gold and silver are the obvious points of contact between Ion’s and Xerxes’ tent, which suggest that Euripides may have indeed wished to remind his audience of the famous Persian tent that according to Plutarch (Per. 13.9–10) and Pausanias (1.20.4) was the model of the Periclean Odeion.
Despite the similarities between the two tents, however, I am not persuaded by Alföldi’s suggestion that Ion’s banquet is purely Persian in style, in terms of decoration, luxury, and comportment of slaves toward the master. The points of contrast between the two banquets are in my view more important than their similarities. The most important difference is ownership. Unlike Xerxes, Ion is a χρυσοφύλαξ. The tapestries and the gold wine-vessels belong to Apollo and for this reason, unlike Xerxes, Ion cannot pass them on to somebody else. At the end of the banquet he will presumably return the god’s tapestries and gold to the temple and the treasuries where they came from. The point of Pausanias’ joke in the Herodotean narrative is to show Xerxes’ folly through the enactment of two totally different styles of entertainment. What Xerxes left behind offered visible proof that he had no need nor wish to acquire what he came to take. In this respect, Ion’s characterization is totally different from that of Xerxes, for Ion has repeatedly stressed that he owns nothing. We have seen that when Creusa comments on his fine clothes, he tells her that they belong to the god. His home is the god’s sanctuary at large where he has received his education and earns his living.
It is also important to note that Ion does not heed Xuthus’ advice to invite his friends, but issues a public invitation to all Delphians. As has already been mentioned, this decision shows awareness of people’s expectations from a top-rank administrator who is soon to quit his office. For this reason he invites all those who wish to participate regardless of their familiarity with him or their social status. The banquet he offers is both luxurious and stylish, but Ion’s lack of personal possessions, reiterated in the play, and avoidance of discrimination precludes greed or ostentation as ulterior motives for entertaining in high style. As far as he knows he is leaving Delphi for good. The magnificent party he throws for the citizens of Delphi aims therefore at mutual charis. It is undoubtedly true that the presence and the goodwill of the Delphians prove instantly useful, but it is also true that Ion does not know or suspect this eventuality when he invites them.
To go back to the issue of lifestyle and leadership, which underlies the Herodotean and the Euripidean accounts, comparison of the two versions shows the negative and the positive side of megaloprepeia. Herodotus’ Pausanias makes Xerxes look like a foolish leader who suffers a great defeat for no gain at all. In contrast, Ion is represented as a leader in the making whose natural generosity wins him the citizens’ charis that, as it turns out, secures him their support at a moment of need.

4. Ion’s lifestyle in the light of Athenian traditions

Taking as my starting point the high status that Ion has reached in the Delphic hierarchy when the Athenian group makes its eventful appearance, I have argued that life in the Panhellenic sanctuary has profoundly influenced his outlook and lifestyle. Euripides represents the future leader of the house of Erechtheus as an expert in Delphic cult and ritual, a friend of natives and foreigners and a lover of the arts and high-style entertainment. I have also suggested that, despite the similarities of Ion’s huge and richly decorated and decked-out tent to the legendary tent of Xerxes, there are important differences between the Euripidean and the Herodotean representations of megaloprepeia. Unlike Xerxes, Ion is represented as a high-profile democratic leader rather than a monarch. In Delphi he has been chosen to serve as a χρυσοφύλαξ and ταμίας πάντων πιστός. As has often been observed, the reservations he voices concerning his involvement in Athenian politics (590–605) show that he thinks of a political career in a democratic city. Moreover, he emphatically renounces tyrannical rule and wealth: [35]
δημότης ἂν εὐτυχὴς(625)
ζῆν ἂν θέλοιμι μᾶλλον ἢ τύραννος ὤν,
ὧι τοὺς πονηροὺς ἡδονὴ φίλους ἔχειν,
ἐσθλοὺς δὲ μισεῖ κατθανεῖν φοβούμενος.
εἴποις ἂν ὡς ὁ χρυσὸς ἐκνικᾶι τάδε,
πλουτεῖν τε τερπνόν· οὐ φιλῶ ψόγους κλύειν (630)
ἐν χερσὶ σώιζων ὄλβον οὐδ’ ἔχειν πόνους·
εἴη γ’ ἐμοὶ <μὲν> μέτρια μὴ λυπουμένωι
I would rather live as a fortunate citizen than as a king, for whom it is a pleasure to have wicked friends and hate the virtuous through fear of death. You might say that gold overcomes these things [630] and riches give delight? I do not like to hear verbal attacks, while I guard my wealth at hand, nor to have troubles; I would rather have moderation, free of care. [36]
This and other similar anachronistic statements suggest that the representation of Ion’s magnificent birthday party should be seen in the light of megaloprepeia in fifth-century Athens, i.e. as a grand event in a grand and artful environment organized by a high-profile individual who is destined to play a major role in Athenian politics. Since Ion is the ancestor of all Athenians, I will also explore his lifestyle as an archetypical model for the style of the Athenian demos, focusing on fifth-century public expenditure for buildings and festivals and its impact on the relations of Athens with her allies. [37]
In addition to the various anachronisms, the setting of the play invites assessment of Ion’s lifestyle in view of Athenian traditions as well as current trends and concerns. The action takes place in front of a temple that had been brilliantly restored by the Alcmaeonids, as part of Cleisthenes’ effort to win the favor of Delphi in order to overthrow the Pisistratids. [38] The Alcmaeonid temple was thus closely associated with the beginnings of Athenian democracy, but Cleisthenes was the grandson of the tyrant of Sicyon, who was well known for his magnificent hospitality (ἐξείνιζε μεγαλοπρεπέως, 6.128) and for inviting all the Sicyonians to the wedding feast of his daughter Agariste (θύσας βοῦς ἑκατὸν ὁ Κλεισθένης εὐώχεε αὐτούς τε τοὺς μνηστῆρας καὶ Σικυωνίους πάντας, 6.129). The Alcmaeonid temple inevitably triggered a variety of associations and questions including the differences between the megaloprepeia of tyrants and high-profile democrats. Ion’s portrayal reflects the complexity of the issue. He is an aristocrat by birth, destined to become king, who uses a strange combination of anti-tyrannical and anti-democratic arguments, but values freedom of speech, which is a democratic ideal. [39] Interestingly, he also cuts a Socratic figure by his insistence on his lack of possessions. His magnificent banquet in an artful and lavishly decked-out tent is an event that could be hosted by tyrants and democrats alike, but his denounciation of tyranny points to the grand style of an élite fifth-century Athenian, a type with which Euripides’ audience was familiar.
Big public meals and impressive architectural projects are characteristic activities of Athenian leaders throughout the fifth century. [40] Not surprisingly, grand events and projects had a mixed reception. It is clear from our sources that such initiatives elicited a variety of reactions ranging from admiration to rejection and envy. Themistocles’ megaloprepeia, for instance, got bad press in the verses of Timocreon of Rhodes who ridiculed his banquet and accused him of avarice (ἀργυρίου δ’ ὑπόπλεως, Ἰσθμοῖ γελοίως πανδόκευε / ψυχρὰ κρέα παρέχων /οἱ δ’ ἤσθιον κηὔχοντο μὴ ὥραν Θεμιστοκλέος / γενέσθαι, Plu. Them. 21.4). Cimon had a more refined style. According to Aristotle (AthPol 27.3), he offered simple daily meals at his house for his fellow demesmen, according to Plutarch (Cimon, 10), for any citizen. [41] His ambitious architectural program was supported, financially or through personal work, by his friends and relatives. [42] Pericles, ever fearful of being suspected of tyrannical ambition (Plu. Per.7.4), not particularly sociable and not as wealthy as Cimon, avoided private and public entertainment altogether (Plu. Per. 9.2–3). [43] Of Pericles’ impressive architectural program, in addition to the Parthenon sculptures, already discussed, the Odeion is particularly relevant to our discussion, because it was said to have been modeled after the tent of Xerxes. [44]
Unlike its model, the Odeion was a multi-purpose building that hosted the Panathenaic mousikoi agones, the Dionysiac proagones, probably rehearsals and other public activities such as trials. [45] It was a rectangular colossal pavilion with nine rows of columns from east to west and 10 rows from north to south (62.40 x 68.60m) [46] , i.e. four times bigger than the tent of Ion. [47] The building was adjacent to the theatre of Dionysus and visible to Euripides’ first audience. [48] If Euripides wanted to make the association explicit, all he had to do would be to ask the Servant to point to the huge building when he described Ion’s tent. But even without such a gesture, the association of Ion’s tent with the Odeion was natural on account of the oriental element, the rectangular shape, and the size of the two structures. [49] This is not to say, of course, that Ion’s tent and the Odeion were identical. Ion’s tent was a temporary textile structure, the Odeion a permanent wooden construction. Despite their differences, however, they shared a similarity that differentiated them from Xerxes’ tent. Unlike Xerxes’ tent, which hosted the king and his entourage, both the mythical and the contemporary pavilion had a public cultural function.
Ion’s tent has also interesting similarities with another Persian-style pavilion, Alcibiades’ tent at Olympia, allegedly a gift of Athens’ allies. If the production of the Ion postdates Alcibiades’ celebrated victory at Olympia, as is highly probable, the association of the two on the part of the audience would be inescapable, regardless of authorial intention. Scholars have often compared Alcibiades’ tent with Ion’s, but there are interesting points of contrast that have not received attention. [50] In the speech “as if for Phaeax,” to use Peter Rhodes’ formulation, either a fifth-century text or drawing on fifth-century sources, Alcibiades’ tent is described as follows: [51]
Σκέψασθε δὲ καὶ τὴν ἄλλην ἀποδημίαν τὴν εἰς Ὀλυμπίαν ὡς διέθετο. Τούτῳ σκηνὴν μὲν Περσικὴν Ἐφέσιοι διπλασίαν τῆς δημοσίας ἔπηξαν, ἱερεῖα δὲ καὶ τοῖς ἵπποις ἐφόδια Χῖοι παρεσκεύασαν, οἶνον δὲ καὶ τὰ ἄλλα ἀναλώματα Λεσβίοις προσέταξε. Καὶ οὕτως εὐτυχής  ἐστιν, ὥστε τοὺς Ἕλληνας τῆς παρανομίας καὶ τῆς δωροδοκίας μάρτυρας κεκτημένος οὐδεμίαν δέδωκε δίκην, ἀλλὰ ὁπόσοι μὲν ἄρχοντες ἐν μιᾷ πόλει γεγένηνται, ὑπεύθυνοί εἰσιν, ὁ δὲ πάντων τῶν συμμάχων <ἄρχων> καὶ χρήματα λαμβάνων οὐδενὸς τούτων ὑπόδικός ἐστιν, ἀλλὰ τοιαῦτα διαπεπραγμένος σίτησιν ἐν Πρυτανείῳ ἔλαβε, καὶ προσέτι πολλῇ τῇ νίκῃ χρῆται, ὥσπερ οὐ πολὺ μᾶλλον ἠτιμακὼς ἢ ἐστεφανωκὼς τὴν πόλιν.
[Andocides] 4.30–31
Then again, look at the arrangements he made for his stay at Olympia as a whole. For Alcibiades, the people of Ephesus erected a Persian pavilion twice as large as that of our official deputation: Chios furnished him with beasts for sacrifice and with fodder for his horses while he requisitioned wine and everything else necessary for his maintenance from Lesbos. And so lucky is he that although the Greek people at large can testify to his lawlessness and corruption, he has gone unpunished. While those who hold office within a single city have to render account of that office, Alcibiades, whose authority extends over all our allies and who receives monies from them, is not liable to answer for any of his public acts; on the contrary, after behaving as I have described, he was rewarded with free entertainment in the Prytaneum; and not content with that, he is forever taking credit for his victory, as though he had not so much brought Athens into disgrace as won her a garland of honor. [52]
The criticism here is that Alcibiades abuses his authority over the allies in order to stage a magnificent show and organize a feast at the allies’ expense, which antagonizes the city since his Persian tent is twice as big as the Athenian civic tent. The speaker does not offer details about the banquet, but the verb προσέταξε suggests that he does not view the contributions of the allies as voluntary.
According to the speaker, Alcibiades borrows the city’s gold vessels under the pretext that he needs them for his banquet, but he keeps them in order to use them for his victory procession, thus giving the impression that they belonged to him and not to the city:
Ἵνα δὲ μὴ μόνον Διομήδην, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὴν πόλιν ὅλην ὑβρίζων ἐπιδείξειε, τὰ πομπεῖα παρὰ τῶν ἀρχιθεώρων αἰτησάμενος, ὡς εἰς τἀπινίκια τῇ προτεραίᾳ τῆς θυσίας χρησόμενος, ἐξηπάτησε καὶ ἀποδοῦναι οὐκ ἤθελε, βουλόμενος  τῇ ὑστεραίᾳ πρότερος τῆς πόλεως χρήσασθαι τοῖς χρυσοῖς χερνιβίοις καὶ θυμιατηρίοις. Ὅσοι μὲν οὖν τῶν ξένων μὴ ἐγίγνωσκον ἡμέτερα ὄντα, τὴν πομπὴν τὴν κοινὴν ὁρῶντες ὑστέραν οὖσαν τῆς Ἀλκιβιάδου τοῖς τούτου πομπείοις χρῆσθαι ἐνόμιζον ἡμᾶς· ὅσοι δὲ ἢ παρὰ τῶν πολιτῶν ἤκουον ἢ καὶ ἐπεγίγνωσκον τὰ τούτου, κατεγέλων ἡμῶν, ὁρῶντες ἕνα ἄνδρα μεῖζον ἁπάσης τῆς πόλεως δυνάμενον.
Andocides 4.29.
In order to make it clear, however, that he was insulting Athens as a whole in addition to Diomedes, he asked the leaders of the Athenian deputation to lend him the processional vessels, alleging that he intended to use them for a celebration of his victory on the day before the sacrifice; he then abused the trust placed in him and refused to return them, as he wanted to use the golden basins and censers next day before Athens did so. Naturally, when those strangers who did not know that they belonged to us saw the state-procession taking place after that of Alcibiades, they imagined that we were using his vessels: while those who had either heard the truth from the Athenians present or else knew the ways of Alcibiades, laughed at us when they saw one man showing himself superior to our entire community.
The similarities and the differences between Ion’s and Alcibiades’ banquets are remarkable. Both mythical ancestor and descendant organize magnificent events using the resources of others, but unlike Ion, who takes pride in his lack of possessions, Alcibiades is accused of deception of Athenians and foreign spectators and of imposition on the allies.
Persian tents and gold vessels were clearly in fashion in the late fifth century. How one would look at them depended to a great extent on the viewer’s perception of the ethos and the motives of the individual. In the speech written “as if for Phaeax,” the speaker sees Alcibiades’ theoria as a personal show at the literal and symbolic expense of Athens and its allies. In the relevant Thucydidean account, on the other hand, Alcibiades claims that he staged the magnificent event at his own expense in order to show the greatness of the Athens:
οἱ γὰρ Ἕλληνες καὶ ὑπὲρ δύναμιν μείζω ἡμῶν τὴν πόλιν ἐνόμισαν τῷ ἐμῷ διαπρεπεῖ τῆς Ὀλυμπίαζε θεωρίας, πρότερον ἐλπίζοντες αὐτὴν καταπεπολεμῆσθαι, διότι ἅρματα μὲν ἑπτὰ καθῆκα, ὅσα οὐδείς πω ἰδιώτης πρότερον, ἐνίκησα δὲ καὶ δεύτερος καὶ τέταρτος ἐγενόμην καὶ τἆλλα ἀξίως τῆς νίκης παρεσκευασάμην. νόμῳ μὲν γὰρ τιμὴ τὰ τοιαῦτα, ἐκ δὲ τοῦ δρωμένου καὶ δύναμις ἅμα ὑπονοεῖται. καὶ ὅσα αὖ ἐν τῇ πόλει χορηγίαις ἢ ἄλλῳ τῳ λαμπρύνομαι, τοῖς μὲν ἀστοῖς φθονεῖται φύσει, πρὸς δὲ τοὺς ξένους καὶ αὕτη ἰσχὺς φαίνεται. καὶ οὐκ ἄχρηστος ἥδ’ ἡ ἄνοια, ὃς ἂν τοῖς ἰδίοις τέλεσι μὴ ἑαυτὸν μόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ τὴν πόλιν ὠφελῇ.
Thucydides 6.16
For the Greeks have thought our city a mighty one, even above the truth, by reason of my brave appearance at the Olympic games, whereas before they thought easily to have warred it down. For I brought thither seven chariots and not only won the first, second, and fourth prize, but carried also in all other things a magnificence worthy the honor of the victory. And in such things as these, as there is honor to be supposed according to the law, so is there also a power conceived upon sight of the thing done. [3] As for my expenses in the city upon setting forth of shows, or whatsoever else is remarkable in me, though naturally it procure envy in other citizens, yet to strangers this also is an argument of our greatness. Now, it is no unprofitable course of life when a man shall at his private cost not only benefit himself but also the commonwealth. [53]
Thucydides 6.16
Alcibiades’ insistence on financing his magnificent theoria through his own resources (ἰδίοις τέλεσι) in the Thucydidean account differentiates him from the Euripidean Ion, a difference that the play’s first audience would have observed.
Another important differentiating characteristic in the portrayal of Alcibiades and Ion respectively is the relation of megaloprepeia with tyrannical aspirations. Thucydides, in his authorial voice, reports that many in Athens believed that Alcibiades wished to become a tyrant (ὡς τυραννίδος ἐπιθυμοῦντι, 6.15). This is precisely a wish that Euripides’ Ion denies emphatically. Euripides’ audience, however, knew that he was destined to become a monarch and would therefore interpret his luxurious tent and banquet as the inaugural display of megaloprepeia by the future king of Athens, which was emblematic of a lifestyle that manifested itself in each generation of Athenian politicians through high-style entertainment and impressive architectural projects.
If the play postdated Alcibiades’ magnificent, if notorious, theoria at Olympia, Euripides’ audience would inevitably associate Ion’s tent both with Alcibiades’ tent and with the Odeion that was believed to have been modeled after Xerxes’ tent. [54] The double association invites reflection on several decades of Athenian leadership of the Delian league from its inception a year after the victory at Plataea to the years of the Sicilian expedition. In this case, the double association recalls three different phases of Athens’ relation with her allies, thus also pointing to the radical change this relation had undergone during that period. According to Thucydides, at first the allies were autonomous and participated in common assemblies under the leadership of the Athenians (ἡγούμενοι δὲ αὐτονόμων τὸ πρῶτον τῶν ξυμμάχων καὶ ἀπὸ κοινῶν ξυνόδων, 1.97.1). By the time of the Peloponnesian war Athenian leadership had been thought tyrannical not only by the enemies of Athens but by Athenians too. According to Thucydides the Corinthians called Athens τύραννον πόλιν (1.122.3). Closer to home, Pericles likened the Athenian empire to a tyranny (ὡς τυραννίδα, 2.63.2), an assessment echoed by Cleon who stressed the reluctant submission of the allies and their plots against the Athenians (τυραννίδα ἔχετε τὴν ἀρχὴν καὶ πρὸς ἐπιβουλεύοντας αὐτοὺς καὶ ἄκοντας ἀρχομένους, 3.37.2). [55] For the purposes of the present argument it does not make a great difference if Pericles and Cleon spoke of Athens as a tyrant city or if Thucydides attributed to them a view common inside and outside Athens.
In view of play’s radical genealogical revision, which presents Ion as the son of Apollo and the autochthonous Creusa, progenitor of the Ionians and half-brother of the Dorians and the Achaeans, it is worth exploring the imperial significance of the association of the various pavilions. [56] I have argued that Ion, the χρυσοφύλαξ and the ταμίας πάντων πιστός, used Apollo’s possessions to decorate and deck out his impressive tent in order to host a grand event open to all Delphians. The Odeion was built probably between 447 and 443, when the treasury of the Delian league had already moved to Athens and the Athenians were its ταμίαι. [57] The Odeion was the visible analogue of the Delphic tent that Euripides’ audience was asked to imagine and of its model, the tent of Xerxes. There must have been several reasons for erecting at the foot of the Acropolis a building that recalled Xerxes’ tent. [58] The commemoration of the great military victory of the allied Greeks against the Persians is the most obvious, but commemoration of the victory entailed commemoration of the danger the Delian league undertook to combat. [59] The allies’ tributes to the league, assessed at the time of the Great Panathenaea, were brought and displayed at the theatre of Dionysus at the Dionysia (ὥστ’ ἐψηφίσαντο τὸ περιγιγνόμενον τῶν πόρων ἀργύριον διελόντες κατὰ τάλαντον εἰς τὴν ὀρχήστραν τοῖς Διονυσίοις εἰσφέρειν ἐπειδὰν πλῆρες ᾖ τὸ θέατρον, Isocrates, On Peace 82). [60] For this reason, the association of the imaginary tent and the actual pavilion created an ideal, if utopian, relation between mythical past and present. Like Ion’s invitation to all Delphians, the musical events of the two Athenian festivals that were hosted at the Odeion were open to the allies. All the Athenians and their allies in the theatre had to do to ponder analogies between mythical past and present was to look over at the Odeion, which they shared periodically as θεαταί and ἀκροαταί. Like Ion, the χρυσοφύλαξ and ταμίας πιστός, the descendants of Ion could, in theory at least, be the league’s πιστοί ταμίαι, who built magnificent buildings that hosted great events open to all, as their common ancestor had done once upon a time. As Margaret Miller suggests, whether the Athenians used the contributions of the allies directly for their constructions or not, their impressive architectural program could not have been realized without the empire. [61]
The relationship of Ion’s tent to the Persian-style tent that the Ephesians allegedly constructed for Alcibiades in the speech “as if for Phaeax” is harder to assess for a number of reasons, not least because it is not easy to distinguish fact from hyperbole and invective. If for the sake of the argument, however, we accept the credibility of the account, the points of contact and contrast between Ion’s and Alcibiades’ tent show that Persian-style tents do not entail per se promotion of self-interest or imposition on allies and abuse of the resources needed for their construction. In this sense, the Ion offers a different perspective by shifting the focus from ownership to honest and trustworthy management of available resources. There is no need to say that Ion’s modus vivendi could have been questioned within the dramatic reality too, if Euripides had chosen to handle his megaloprepeia differently. But he did not. His portrayal of the common ancestor of the Athenians and Ionians and half-brother of the Dorians and the Achaeans depicts a harmonious combination of magnificent lifestyle and public service, thus offering a positive, if utopian, model for the Athenian tradition of megaloprepeia and its implications for the empire.
As has already been mentioned, the date of production is unknown, but most place it between 420 and 410. [62] Through a different line of argumentation focusing on the play’s emphasis on the many strong and ancient ties between Athens and Delphi, I have tentatively sided with those who date the play after the defeat of the Athenians at Sicily and I have put forward the following suggestion: [63] according to Pausanias, the Syracusans built their treasury in Delphi with the spoils from their victory over the Athenians (Συρακουσίων, τῶν μέν ἐστιν ὁ θησαυρὸς ἀπὸ τοῦ Ἀττικοῦ τοῦ μεγάλου πταίσματος, 10.11.5). If the Syracusans put their plan into effect immediately after the Athenian defeat, it is not hard to see the consternation news of the Syracusan commemoration of their victory in the Panhellenic sanctuary might cause in a city that had commemorated its own victories with splendid buildings in Delphi such as the Athenian treasury and the Stoa, a city where the memory of the disaster was still fresh. [64] In such a context, the prominence of the temple of Apollo in the Ion both per se and through the play’s dialogue with the Eumenides would serve as a reminder that as far as prominence in Delphi was concerned Athens was unrivaled because it was the only city that played a crucial role in the restoration and brilliant decoration of the most important building in the sanctuary, the temple of Apollo. I have interpreted the blindness of the Chorus, Creusa, and the Pedagogue to what is visible and their fascination with the invisible, i.e. the Athenian version of the Gigantomachy as a spectacle, vehicle and model of action, as an ironic twist that draws the attention to the distortions of reality that preoccupation with violence, on and offstage, can cause.
The present reading points in the same direction. The association of Ion’s tent with the Odeion serves a similar purpose, but unlike the temple of Apollo that recalls the ancient cultic and political ties of Athens with Delphi, the pavilion serves as a reminder of the military, political and cultural ties of Athens with its allies. In section 2, I suggested that whereas the bronze group that Ion places at the entrance of his tent suggests an Athenian construction, its interior shows the cosmopolitan influence of Delphi. Likewise, the Odeion was an Athenian construction with a comparable cosmopolitan outlook and a cultural function open to natives and foreigners. The years before the Sicilian expedition saw the displays of Athenian megaloprepeia at Athens, Olympia and Delos. The spectacular arrival of the Athenian chorus on Delos, sponsored by Nicias, probably in 417, was rivaled in the following year by Alcibiades’ astounding triple victory and magnificent theoria at Olympia. [65] While the possibility of the play’s production at the heyday of the cultural rivalry between the two Athenian generals cannot be excluded, its new perspective on megaloprepeia is in my view more powerful as a meditation on the dangers of ostentation for the individual, the city, and the empire. The Ion does not challenge the Athenian traditions of megaloprepeia, but offers an all-inclusive model that shifts the focus from ownership to good management for the benefit of all. In appearance, Ion looks like his archer father. From beginning to end he uses precious gold vessels both to worship Apollo and to entertain his guests. His cosmopolitan artistic taste is in keeping with the delight he takes in the foreign visitors to the sanctuary. In Athens he will share house with his autochthonous mother and her foreign husband who, at Apollo’s request, will be his human father. He worships Apollo, but his religious attitude has nothing to do with uncritical devotion. Last but not least, he denounces tyranny. I have argued that Ion’s Delphic tent is the imaginary analogue of the Athenian Odeion and epitomizes his cosmopolitan outlook and magnificent lifestyle.
This escapist play looks back at, distils, and recreates on stage an era of political experiment, intellectual ferment, cosmopolitanism and magnificence that had begun with Cleisthenes and flourished until it received a serious blow a century later, when the unbelievable news of the Sicilian disaster reached Athens. However one reads the play the references or allusions to the Alcmaeonid temple of Apollo, the Persian wars, the tent of Xerxes, the Odeion, the lavish theoriae and banquets at Panhellenic sanctuaries construct military achievements and cultural accomplishments as a shared experience of the Athenians and their allies. Euripides’ portrayal of the common ancestor of Athenians and Ionians and half-brother of Dorians and Achaeans as a cosmopolitan and trustworthy leader puts forward a positive model of leadership for the city and the empire, which Hermes’ description, χρυσοφύλαξ and ταμίας πάντων πιστός, encapsulates. The choice as the setting of the play of Delphi, one of the richest sanctuaries thanks to the offerings of Greeks and barbarians, was not, of course, accidental. [66] It was not accidental either that Euripides chose to portray Ion as a youth about to take up public office, but not yet actively involved in everyday politics and decision-making, a choice that adds an ironic dimension to the positive model, thus drawing attention to the distance between politics in an embattled city and theatrical experience.


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[ back ] 1. For the play’s historical, political and social topicality, see inter alios Walsh 1978; Loraux 1981; Saxonhouse 1986; Goff 1988: 48; Zeitlin 1996: 316–20; Hoffer 1996; Zacharia 2003.
[ back ] 2. All Euripidean quotations are taken from Diggle’s edition (TLG)
[ back ] 3. For the distinction see also Hoffer 1996: 294. Cf. Walsh 1978: 301 who claims that although Ion loves to serve Apollo, he “hates his servile status (130ff., 181ff.),” but I think what Ion hates is the possibility of his servile origin.
[ back ] 4. See also Euripides’ Electra, 231: Πᾶνα ἀγρῶν ταμίαν. See also Pindar, Olympian 14, 9–10 where the Graces are πάντων ταμίαι / ἔργων ἐν οὐρανῶι.
[ back ] 5. Ion’s ritual and cultic instructions are discussed later in this section.
[ back ] 6. For stage choices in general see Taplin 1978 passim.
[ back ] 7. Owen 1939: 74, Verrall 1890 ad loc.
For a similar purification rite see Euripides Electra 793–94: ἡγνίσμεθα λουτροῖσι καθαροῖς ποταμίων ῥείθρων ἄπο.
[ back ] 9. For consultation procedure at Delphi see Fontenrose 1978: 220-21; Parke 1943.
[ back ] 10. See the discussion in Furley & Bremer 2001: 307–12 and 323, n. 14; for the ritual diction, see Hoffer 1996: 295–99 and Swift 2010: 91–94.
[ back ] 11. See Zeitlin 1996: 292 with references in n. 16.
[ back ] 12. For the oracular procedure see Parke 1956: 30–34.
[ back ] 13. See Parke 1956 and Verrall 1890: 31–32.
[ back ] 14. Ion’s openness is contrasted to the xenophobia of the pedagogue, for which see Walsh 1978:308 who remarks: “By making the pedagogue the champion of autochthony, Euripides has placed hostility to foreigners at a lower social level in the play than it might be found among his audience, and so made it easier to reject.”
[ back ] 15. For Ion’s familiarity with the world of images see also Zeitlin 1994: 155.
[ back ] 16. Verrall 1890: 27–28
[ back ] 17. For the Pythais, see Athanassaki 2011: 245–68 with bibliographical references.
[ back ] 18. Verrall 1890: 28 with references.
[ back ] 19. Detailed discussions of the significance of the tent decoration in Goff 1988, Zeitlin 1994:316–20 and Zacharia 2003: 35–39.
[ back ] 20. With Verrall 1890 ad loc and Lee 1997 ad loc, who draw attention to the verb ἔστησε.
[ back ] 21. See e.g. Goossens 1962: 481 with n. 9; Immerwahr 1972; Athanassaki 2010.
[ back ] 22. Choremi-Spetsieri 2004: 204–211, 222–23 with an excellent picture of the scene (no. 184).
[ back ] 23. See Vian 1951: 18, no. 31 and Immerwahr 1972: 284–85.
[ back ] 24. See Choremi-Spetsieri 2004: 94–95 for pictures and reconstructions.
[ back ] 25. Athanassaki 2010.
[ back ] 26. Cf. Zeitlin 1994: 150 “If the ‘archaeologists’ hypothesis is correct, the subject of the eastern pediment was the epiphany of ‘shining Apollo’ mounted in his chariot as he arrived at Delphi—that is, what the spectators ‘ought’ to have seen but did not. But note that Ion in his opening words explicitly mentions a chariot traversing the heavens, driven not by Apollo, it is true, but by his doublet in this play, who is Helios (82–85).”
[ back ] 27. On the familiarity of the Athenians with the temple, see Athanassaki 2011: 262–68.
[ back ] 28. See the highly visual description of the god’s appearance in Creusa’s monody (ll. 881–96).
Detailed discussion in Athanassaki 2010.
[ back ] 30. For the Chorus’ assumptions, see Lee 1997: 251–252 ad 804–7.
[ back ] 31. ll. 1138–39 have been suspected, but as Lee 1997 observes ad loc. the Servant is simply using the technical language of sophoi.
[ back ] 32. For the political significance of expertise in Apolline matters, see Griffith 2009.
[ back ] 33. Alföldi 1955: 32.
[ back ] 34. The Greek quotation and the English translation are taken from TLG (Legrand) / Perseus (Godley).
[ back ] 35. The authenticity of this passage has been doubted for various reasons. See Lee 1997: 225–26 with references.
[ back ] 36. The Greek quotation and the English, slightly modified, translation are taken from TLG (Diggle) / Perseus (R. Potter).
[ back ] 37. For the magnificent expenditures of the Athenian demos comparable to that of aristocratic individuals, see Kallet 1998 .
[ back ] 38. Herodotus 5. 62–63.1; Aristotle, AthPol. 19. 3–4.
[ back ] 39. See Hoffer 1997: 315–16. See also Mueller 2010: 373.
[ back ] 40. Detailed discussion in Schmitt Pantel 1992: 179–208.
Κάλλιον ἀνήλισκεν εἰς τοὺς πολίτας. τῶν τε γὰρ ἀγρῶν τοὺς φραγμοὺς ἀφεῖλεν, ἵνα καὶ τοῖς ξένοις καὶ τῶν πολιτῶν τοῖς δεομένοις ἀδεῶς ὑπάρχῃ λαμβάνειν τῆς ὀπώρας, καὶ  δεῖπνον οἴκοι παρ’ αὐτῷ λιτὸν μὲν, ἀρκοῦν δὲ πολλοῖς ἐποιεῖτο καθ’ ἡμέραν, ἐφ’ ὃ τῶν πενήτων ὁ βουλόμενος εἰσῄει καὶ διατροφὴν εἶχεν ἀπράγμονα, μόνοις τοῖς δημοσίοις σχολάζων. ὡς δ’ Ἀριστοτέλης φησίν, οὐχ ἁπάντων Ἀθηναίων, ἀλλὰ τῶν δημοτῶν αὐτοῦ Λακιαδῶν παρεσκευάζετο τῷ βουλομένῳ τὸ δεῖπνον (Plutarch, Cimon 10).
[ back ] 42. For Cimon’s generosity see Schmitt Pantel 1992: 179–86, for his ambitious architectural program see Castriota 1992.
[ back ] 43. See Schmitt-Pantel 1992: 193–96.
[ back ] 44. This view is challenged by Miller 1997: 235–38, who opts for architectural adaptation of Achaemenid palatial architecture. She suggests that the Odeion’s many columns would make a Greek viewer think that its style was Persian, whereas “its pyramidal roof created an impression that it looked like a tent, an impression that a lack of walls might assist” ibid: 238.
[ back ] 45. Shapiro 1992: 57–58. Miller 1997: 234 argues that the Odeion was not built primarily as a concert hall but, given its name, must have hosted musical the proagones and the mousikoi agones soon after its construction. For the close association of the theatre of Dionysus and the Odeion in the context of Dionysiac performances and rehearsals Kotsidu 1991: 146–147, who argues against the view that the Odeion hosted the musical contests of the Panathenaea, ibid 141–76.
[ back ] 46. Travlos 1971: 387.
Plutarch, Pericles 9: τὸ δ’ Ὠιδεῖον, τῇ μὲν ἐντὸς διαθέσει πολύεδρον καὶ πολύστυλον, τῇ δ’ ἐρέψει περικλινὲς καὶ κάταντες ἐκ μιᾶς κορυφῆς πεποιημένον, εἰκόνα λέγουσι γενέσθαι καὶ μίμημα τῆς βασιλέως σκηνῆς, ἐπιστατοῦντος καὶ τούτῳ Περικλέους. See Stadter 1989: 172. [ back ] Reconstruction: [ back ] See also Miller 1997: 227–32
[ back ] 48. Map:
[ back ] 49. Cf. Schmitt Pantel 1992: 218–19 who suggests that Ion’s tent may allude to the Hecatompedon.
[ back ] 50. For the similarities between Ion’s and Alcibiades’ tent, see Schmitt Pantel 1992:199 and 220–21 and now Gribble 2012.
[ back ] 51. Rhodes 2011: 29 et passim. There is no agreement either on the authenticity or the date of the speech; see Raubitschek 1948; Furley 1978; Gribble 1999: 154–58, Eder& Heftner 2002; Gribble 2012 with references.
[ back ] 52. The Greek quotations are taken from TLG (Dalmeyda) and the English translations from Perseus (Maidment)
[ back ] 53. The Greek quotation and the English translation, slightly modified, are taken from the TLG (H.S. Jones & J.E. Powell) / Perseus (Thomas Hobbes).
[ back ] 54. Whether Xerxes’ tent or Achaemenid palatial architecture was the model of the Odeion, the story must have originated in the fifth century. For the various views, see Miller 1997: 218–24 and the following discussion.
[ back ] 55. For Athens as tyrant city, see Hornblower 1991: 147 and Kallet 1998: 52–54.
[ back ] 56. For the Euripidean strategy to achieve credibility of the genealogical revision, see Cole 1997. For the anticipation of Euripides’ political agenda in vase painting, see Shapiro 2009.
[ back ] 57. For the transference of the treasury from Delos to Athens, see Samons 2000:92–106. For the date of the construction of Odeion, which Vitruvius (9.1.17) attributes to Themistocles, see Miller 1997: 221–24.
[ back ] 58. Detailed discussion in Miller 1997: 239–42.
[ back ] 59. For the performance of Timotheus’ Persae at the Odeion, see now Power 2010: 545–49 et passim.
[ back ] 60. Ostwald 1992: 310–12; Samons 2000: 197–200; Miller 1997: 241–42.
[ back ] 61. Miller 1997: 218. See also Kallet 1998: 47 who argues that although the Athenians used domestic funds to finance their festivals, “the enormous League moneys probably freed the Athenians to use regular domestic revenues to pay for the democracy, whereas otherwise they might not have felt able to, despite their ability to do so later.”
[ back ] 62. Scholars who think that Euripides’ treatment of the Athenian empire is general enough to be appropriate both at periods of high and of low morale date the play between 420 and 410; see e.g. Willets 1973: 205 and recently Swift 2008: 28–30. Others date it around 418 or 417: see e.g. Owen 1939: xxxvi-xli; Goossens 1962: 503 n. 1. In favor of a later date see the discussion in Walsh 1978: 313–15, who opts for 411, and Zacharia 2003: 3–7, who produces additional arguments in support of 412.
[ back ] 63. Athanassaki 2010: 234–41.
[ back ] 64. For the location of the treasury of the Syracusans, see Partida 2000: 135–46, who dates its consecration to the late fifth century.
[ back ] 65. Detailed discussion of Nicias’ magnificence and generosity in Schmitt Pantel 1992: 189–92. For his rivalry with Alcibiades in the Panhellenic sanctuaries see now Gribble 2012.
[ back ] 66. The choice of Delphi as the setting of the play is, in all likelihood, Euripides’ innovation: see Burnett 1971: 103–4.