Discourse and Truth: The Problematization of Parrhesia.



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Ion’s Parrhesiastic Role

First, Ion. Ion’s Parrhesiastic role is evident in the very long scene which takes place between Ion and Xuthus early on in the play. When Xuthus and Creusa came to consult the oracle, Xuthus enters the sanctuary first since he is the husband and the man. He asks Apollo his question, and the god tells him that the first person he meets when he comes out of the temple will be his son. And, of course, the first one he meets is Ion since, as Apollo’s servant, he is always at the door of the temple. Here we have to pay attention to the Greek expression, which is not literally translated in either the French or English editions. The Greek words are:

παίδ’ έμόυ πεφυиέυαι

the use of the word " πεφυиέυαι " indicates that Ion is said to be Xuthus’s son "by nature":


ION: What was Apollo’s oracle?

XUTHUS: He said, whoever met me as I came out of the temple—

ION: Whoever met you—yes: what about him?

XUTHUS: —is my son! [ παίδ’ έμόυ πεφυиέυαι]

ION: Your son by birth, or merely by gift?

XUTHUS: A gift, yes; but mine by birth too
So you see that Apollo does not give an obscure and ambiguous oracular pronouncement as he was wont to do with indiscrete questioners. The god’s answer is a pure lie. For Ion is not Xuthus’ son "by nature" or "by birth". Apollo is not an ambiguous truth-teller in this case. He is a liar. And Xuthus, deceived by Apollo, candidly believes that Ion-the first person he met-is really, by nature, his own son.

What follows is the first main parrhesiastic scene of the play, which can be divided into three parts.

The first part concerns the misunderstanding between Ion and Xuthus. Xuthus leaves the temple, sees Ion, and-in light of Apollo’s answer—believes that he is his son. Full of cheer, he goes to him and wants to kiss him . Ion— who does not know who Xuthus is, and does not know why he wants to kiss him—misunderstands Xuthus behavior and thinks that Xuthus wants to have sex with him (as any young Greek boy would if a man tried to kiss him) . Most of the commentators, if they are even willing to recognize the sexual interpretation Ion attributes to Xuthus’ behavior, say that this is a ‘comic scene ’— which sometimes occurs in Euripides’ tragedies. In any case, Ion says to Xuthus: ‘If you continue harassing me, I’ll shoot an arrow in your chest.’ This is similar to Oedipus the King, where Oedipus does not know that Laius , King of Thebes , is his father. And he also misunderstands the nature of his encounter with him; a quarrel ensues, and Laius is killed by Oedipus. But in Ion there is this reversal: Xuthus, King of Athens, does not know that Ion is not his son, and Ion does not know that Xuthus thinks that he is Ion’s father. So as a consequence of Apollo’s lies we are in a world of deception.

The second part of this scene concerns the mistrust of Ion towards Xuthus. Xuthus tells Ion: ‘Take it easy; if I want to kiss you, it is because I am your father.’ But rather than rejoicing at the discovery of knowing who his father is, Ion’s first question to Xuthus is: ‘Who, then, is my mother?’. For some unknown reason, Ion’s principle concern is the knowledge of his mother’s identity. But then he asks Xuthus: ‘How can I be your son?’ And Xuthus replies: ‘I don’t know how; I refer you to the god Apollo for what he has said’. Ion then utters a very interesting line which has been completely mistranslated in the French version. The Greek is [l.544] :

φέρε λόγωυ άψώμεθ’ άλλωυ

The French edition translates as : ‘Come, let’s speak about something else.’ A more accurate rendition might be: "Let us try another kind of discourse." So in answer to Ion’s question of how he could be his son, Xuthus replies that he does not know, but was told as much by Apollo. And Ion tells him, in effect, then let’s try another kind of discourse more capable of telling the truth:


ION: How could I be yours?



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