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ION OF CHIOS

The following essay was originally published in Manual of Greek Literature from the Earliest Authentic Periods to the Close of the Byzantine Era. Charles Anthon. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1853. pp. 194-5.

Ion, of Chios, was one of the five Athenian tragic poets of the canon. He lived at Athens in the time of Aeschylus and Cimon, and in the fragments of his writings speaks of the events of their day as from personal knowledge. He was a very comprehensive writer, and, what was very uncommon in ancient times, a prose author as well as a poet. He wrote a history in the dialect and after the manner of Herodotus, except that he paid more attention to the private life of distinguished individuals. This work was probably the same which is quoted by Pausanias. Another prose work ... seems to have been a treatise on the constitution of things according to the theory of triads, and which some ancient writers ascribe to Orpheus. Another work seems to have contained either an account of his own travels, or of the visits of great men to Chios.

Ion did not come forward as a tragedian until B.C. 452, after the death of Aeschylus, whose place, it seems, he expected to fill on the stage. The materials of his dramas were in a great measure taken from Homer; they may have been connected in trilogies like those of Aeschylus; the few remains, however, hardly allow us to trace the connection of these trilogical compositions. He is mentioned as third in competition with Euripides and Iophon (B.C. 429-428); and he died before B.C. 419, as appears from the Peace of Aristophanes, which was brought out in that year. Only one victory of Ion's is mentioned, on which occasion, it is said, having gained the dithyrambic and tragic prizes at the same time, he presented every Athenian with a pitcher of Chian wine. Hence it would seem that he was a man of considerable wealth. The number of his tragedies is variously stated at twelve, thirty, and forty. We have the titles and a few fragments of eleven. Longinus describes the style of Ion's tragedies as marked by petty refinements and want of boldness, and he adds an expression, which shows the distance that there was, in the opinion of the ancients, between the great tragedians and the best of their rivals, that no one in his senses would compare the value of the Oedipus with that of all the tragedies of Ion taken together. Nevertheless, he was greatly admired, chiefly, it would seem, for a sort of elegant wit. There are some beautiful passages in the extant fragments of his tragedies. Commentaries were written upon him by Arcesilaus, Batton of Sinope, Didymus, Epigenes, and even by Aristarchus. Besides his tragedies, we are told by the scholiast on Aristophanes that Ion also wrote lyric poems, comedies, epigrams, pæans, hymns, scholia, and elegies. Respecting his comedies a doubt has been raised, on account of the confusion between comedy and tragedy, which is so frequent in the writings of the grammarians; but, in the case of so universal a writer as Ion, the probability seems to be in favor of the scholiast's statement.

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