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Violence, Culture, and the Workings of Ideology in Euripides' "Ion"

Stanley E. Hoffer
Classical Antiquity
Vol. 15, No. 2 (Oct., 1996), pp. 289-318
DOI: 10.2307/25011043
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25011043
Page Count: 30
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Violence, Culture, and the Workings of Ideology in Euripides' "Ion"
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Abstract

The uneasy relation between violence and sanctity, between oppression and culture, underlies the dramatic action of Euripides' "Ion." Ion's monody ends with his threatening to shoot the birds who would soil the temple, or in other words, to protect purity through violence and death. The earlier part of his song also shows how the forces of exclusion and domination create sacredness. Ritual silence (euphemia), restricted access to the aduton, ritual chastity, even the irreversible transformation of natural gardens into laurel brooms and jugs of water all suggest how violence and domination create culture out of nature. The rape of Creusa epitomizes the relation between culture and violence. Her meeting with Ion reveals the psychological cost of social oppression and portrays the imperfect interdependence between moral feelings and legal institutions. Various dramatic devices portray the divisions in Creusa's mind that the injustice has created, devices including self-address, riddling speech, self-restraint, and silence. Her reluctance to pose her bold question to the oracle, and her displacement of the story onto the person of a raped "friend," show her resentful awareness that social institutions (such as the Delphic oracle) collaborate in the oppression. Ion's disillusionment (429-51) echoes her resentment (especially 253-54, 442-43) more theoretically. Together their comments show how moral rules and legal institutions, though fundamentally based on personal feelings such as shame and indignation, enact these feelings only imperfectly; the resulting dissonance in turn leads to further indignation and moral reflection. Finally, the allusions to fifth-century politics in Ion's speech on Athenian politics (585-647) and elsewhere suggest that democracy itself depends on political domination and imperialism.

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