Discourse and Truth: The Problematization of Parrhesia.

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XUTHUS: Apollo, not I, has the answer.

ION (after a pause): Let us try another tack

XUTHUS: Yes, that will help us more.
Abandoning the oracular formulation of the god, Xuthus and Ion take up an inquiry involving the exchange of questions and answers. As the inquirer, Ion questions Xuthus-his alleged father-to try to discover with whom, when, and how it was possible for him to have a child such that Ion might be his son. And Xuthus answers him: ‘Well, I think I had sex with a Delphian girl.’ When? ‘Before I was married to Creusa.’ Where? Maybe in Delphi.’ How? ‘One day when I was drunk while celebrating the Dionysian torch feast.’ And of course, as an explanation of Ions birth, this entire train of thought is pure baloney; but they take this inquisitive method seriously, and try, as best they can, to discover the truth by their own means-led as they are by Apollo’s lies. Following this inquiry, Ion rather reluctantly and unenthusiastically accepts Xuthus’ hypothesis: he considers himself to be Xuthus’ son.

The third part of the parrhesiastic scene between Xuthus and Ion concerns Ion’s political destiny, and his potential political misfortunes if he arrives in Athens as the son and heir of Xuthus . For after persuading Ion that he is his son, Xuthus promises to bring Ion back to Athens where, as the son of a king, he would be rich and powerful. But Ion is not very enthusiastic about this prospect; for he knows that he would be coming to Athens as the son of Xuthus (a foreigner to Athenian earth), and with an unknown mother. And according to Athenian legislation, one cannot be a regular citizen in Athens if one is not the offspring of parents both of whom were born in Athens. So Ion tells Xuthus that he would be considered a foreigner and a bastard, i.e., as a nobody.

This anxiety gives place to a long development which at first glance seems to be a digression, but which presents Euripides’ critical portrayal of Athenian political life: both in a democracy and concerning the political life of a monarch.

Ion explains that in a democracy there are three categories of citizens: (1) those Athenian citizens who have neither power nor wealth, and who hate all who are superior to them; (2) good Athenians who are capable of exercising power, because they are wise , they keep silent and do not worry about the political affairs of the city (3) those reputable men who are powerful, and use their discourse and reason to participate in public political life. Envisioning the reactions of these three groups to his appearance in Athens as a foreigner and a bastard, Ion says that the first group will hate him; the second group, the wise, will laugh at the young man who wishes to be regarded as one of the First Citizens of Athens; and the last group, the politicians, will be jealous of their new competitor and will try to get rid of him. So coming to a democratic Athens is not a cheerful prospect for Ion.

Following this portrayal of democratic life, Ion speaks of the negative aspects of a family life- with a stepmother who, herself childless, would not accept his- presence as heir to the Athenian throne. But then Ion returns to the political picture, giving his portrayal of the life of a monarch:
ION: ...As for being a king, it is overrated. Royalty conceals a life of torment behind a pleasant façade. To live in hourly fear, looking over your shoulder for the assassins—is that paradise? Is it even good fortune? Give me the happiness of a plain man, not the life of a king, who loves to fill his court with criminals, and hates honest men for fear of death. You may tell me the pleasure of being rich outweighs everything. But to live surrounded by scandal, holding on to your money with both hands, beset by worry—has no appeal for me.
These two descriptions of Athenian democratic life and the life of a monarch seem quite out of place in this scene, for Ion’s problem is to discover who his mother is so as to arrive in Athens without shame or anxiety. We must find a reason for the inclusion of these two portrayals.

The play continues and Xuthus tells Ion not to worry about his life in Athens, and for the time being proposes that Ion pretend to be a visiting houseguest and not disclose the ‘fact’ that he is Xuthus’ son. Later on, when a suitable time arrives, Xuthus proposes to make Ion his inheritor; for now, nothing will be said to Creusa. Ion would like to come to Athens as the real successor to the second dynastic family of Erectheus, but what Xuthus proposes—for him to pretend to be a visitor to the city—does not address Ion’s real concerns. So the scene seems crazy, makes no sense. Nonetheless, Ion accepts Xuthus’s proposal but claims that without knowing who his mother is, life will be impossible:

ION: Yes, I will go. But one piece of good luck eludes me still: unless I find my mother, my life is worthless.
Why is it impossible for Ion to live without finding his mother? He continues :
ION: ... If I may do so, I pray my mother is Athenian, so that through her I may have rights of speech [παρρησία] . For when a stranger comes into the city of pure blood, though in name a citizen, his mouth remains a slave: he has no right of speech [παρρησία] .
So you see, Ion needs to know who his mother is so as to determine whether she is descended from the Athenian earth; for only thus will he be endowed with parrhesia. And he explains that someone who comes to Athens as a foreigner—even if he is literally and legally considered a citizen-still cannot enjoy parrhesia. What, then, does the seemingly digressive critical portrayal of democratic and monarchic life mean, culminating as they do in this final reference to parrhesia just when Ion accepts Xuthus’ offer to return with him to Athens-especially given the rather obscure terms Xuthus proposes?

The digressive critical portrayals Ion gives of democracy and monarchy (or tyranny) are easy to recognize as typical instances of parrhesiastic discourse. For you can find almost exactly the same sorts of criticisms later on coming from Socrates’ mouth in the works of either Plato or Xenophon. Similar critiques are given later by Isocrates. So the critical depiction of democratic and monarchic life as presented by Ion is part of the constitutional character of the parrhesiastic individual in Athenian political life at the end of the Fifth and the beginning of the Fourth Centuries. Ion is just such a parrhesiastes, i.e., the sort individual who is so valuable to democracy or monarchy since he is courageous enough to explain either to the demos or to the king just what the shortcomings of their life really are. Ion is a parrhesiastic individual and shows himself to be such both in these small digressive political critiques, as well as afterwards when he states that he needs to know whether his mother is an Athenian since he needs parrhesia. For despite the fact that it is in the nature of his character to be a parrhesiastes, he cannot legally or institutionally use this natural parrhesia with which he is endowed if his mother is not Athenian. Parrhesia is thus not a right given equally to all Athenian citizens, but only to those who are especially prestigious through their family and their birth. And Ion appears as a man who is, by nature, a parrhesiastic individual, yet who is, at the same time, deprived of the right of free speech.

And why is this parrhesiastic figure deprived of his parrhesiastic right? Because the god Apollo—the prophetic god who’s duty it is to speak the truth to mortals-is not courageous enough to disclose his own faults and to act as a parrhesiastes. In order for Ion to conform to his nature and to play the parrhesiastic role in Athens, something more is needed which he lacks but which will be given to him by the other parrhesiastic figure in the play, viz., his mother, Creusa. And Creusa will be able to tell him the truth, thus freeing her parrhesiastic son to use his natural parrhesia.

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