Apollo's Oracle in Euripides' Ion. Ambiguous Identities in Fifth-Century Athens


  • Julia Kindt


This article contributes to our understanding of Greco-Roman narrative a case study of how traditional and authoritative narratives were challenged during the late fifth century BC. It looks at Euripides’ Ion as an example of an author who both embraces and deconstructs the narrative construction of identity as difference. Through the conscious inversion of the norms and conventions of the oracular discourse Euripides unmasks the underlying principles that guide human knowledge, interpretation, and the establishment of meaning. The Ion challenges the Greek imagination of the gods as providing an alternative vantage point to determine the place of humanity in the world. The article thus traces an important stage in the development of Greek thought and literature, a stage during which some members of the elite questioned the capacity of Greek religion to provide a narrative that enables humanity to “make sense” of the world. The Ion ultimately allows an ironic reading of the gods’ impact on humanity, which depicts religion (including the oracles) as driven by the same ideological contradictions as human society: Euripides’ account depicts religion as both a powerful means of orientation and as a human construct with very little divine about it.

Julia Kindt received her Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in 2003. She has recently taken up a position as Lecturer in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Sydney, Australia. Previously she has taught at the Universityof Chicago. Her research and teaching interests include Herodotus, historiography (ancient and modern), and ancient Greek religion (see most recently: Kindt, J. (2006) “Delphic Oracle Stories and the Beginning of Historiography: Herodotus’ Croesus Logos” Classical Philology 101, 34–51).