God though he was she hated him, especially when the time came for her child to be born and he showed her no sign, gave her no aid. She did not dare tell her parents. The fact that the lover was a God and could not be resisted was, as many stories show, not accepted as an excuse. A girl ran every risk of being killed if she confessed.
When Creusa's time had come she went all alone to that same dark cave, and there her son was born. There, too, she left him to die. Later, driven by an agony of longing to know what had happened to him, she went back. The cave was empty and no bloodstains could be seen anywhere. The child had certainly not been killed by a wild animal. Also, what was very strange, the soft things she had wrapped him in, her veil and a cloak woven by her own hands, were gone. She wondered fearfully if a great eagle or vulture had entered and had carried all away in its cruel talons, the clothing with the baby. It seemed the only possible explanation.
After a time she was married. King Erechtheus, her father, rewarded with her hand a foreigner who had helped him in a war. This man, Xuthus by name, was a Greek, to be sure, but he did not belong to Athens or to Attica, and he was considered a stranger and an alien, and as such was so looked down on that when he and Creusa had no children the Athenians did not think it a misfortune. Xuthus did, however. He more than Creusa passionately desired a son. They went accordingly to Delphi, the Greeks' refuge in time of trouble, to ask the God if they could hope for a child.
Creusa leaving her husband in the town with one of the priests, went on up to the sanctuary by herself. She found in the outer court a beautiful lad in priestly attire intent on purifying the sacred place with water from a golden vessel, singing as he worked a hymn of praise to the God. He looked at the lovely stately lady with kindness and she at him, and they began to talk. He told her that he could see that she was highly born and blessed by good fortune. She answered bitterly, "Good fortune! Say, rather, sorrow that makes life insupportable." All her misery was in the words, her terror and her pain of long ago, her grief for her child, the burden of the secret she had carried through the years. But at the wonder in the boy's eyes she collected herself and asked him who he was, so young and yet seemingly so dedicated to this high service in Greece's holy of holies. He told her that his name was Ion, but that he did not know where he had come from. The Pythoness, Apollo's priestess and prophetess, had found him one morning, a little baby, lying on the temple stairway, and had brought him up as tenderly as a mother. Always he had been happy, working joyfully in the temple, proud to serve not men, but Gods.
He ventured then to question her. Why, he asked her gently, was she so sad, her eyes wet with tears? That was not the way pilgrims to Delphi came, but rejoicing to approach the pure shrine of Apollo, the God of Truth.
"Apollo!" Creusa said. "No! I do not so approach him." Then, in answer to Ion's startled reproachful look, she told him that she had come on a secret errand to Delphi. Her husband was here to ask if he might hope for a son, but her purpose was to find out what had been the fate of a child who was the son of . . . She faltered, and was silent. Then she spoke quickly, ". . . of a friend of mine, a wretched woman whom this Delphic holy God of yours wronged. And when the child was born that he forced her to bear, she abandoned it. It must be dead. Years ago it happened. But she longs to be sure, and to know how it died. So I am here to ask Apollo for her."
Ion was horrified at the accusation she brought against his lord and master. "It is not true," he said hotly. "It was some man, and she excused her shame by putting it on the God."
"No," Creusa said positively. "It was Apollo."
Ion was silent. Then he shook his head. "Even if it were true," he said, "what you would do is folly. You must not approach the God's altar to try to prove him a villain."
Creusa felt her purpose grow weak and ebb away while the strange boy spoke. "I will not," she said submissively. "I will do as you say."
Feelings she did not understand were stirring within her. As the two stood looking at each other Xuthus entered, triumph in his face and bearing. He held out his arms to Ion, who stepped back in cold distaste. But Xuthus managed to enfold him, to his great discomfort.
"You are my son," he cried. "Apollo has declared it."
A sense of bitter antagonism stirred in Creusa's heart. "Your son?" she questioned clearly. "Who is his mother?"
"I don't know." Xuthus was confused. "I think he is my son, but perhaps the God gave him to me. Either way he is mine."
To this group, Ion icily remote, Xuthus bewildered but happy, Creusa feeling that she hated men and that she would not put up with having the son of some unknown, low woman foisted on her, there entered the aged priestess, Apollo's prophetess. In her hands she carried two things that made Creusa, in all her preoccupation, start and look sharply at them. One was a veil and the other a maiden's cloak. The holy woman told Xuthus that the priest wished to speak to him, and when he was gone she held out to Ion what she was carrying.
"Dear lad," she said, "you must take these with you when you go to Athens with your new-found father. They are the clothes you were wrapped in when I found you."
"Oh," Ion cried, "my mother must have put them around me. They are a clue to my mother. I will seek her everywhere - through Europe and through Asia."
But Creusa had stolen up to him and, before he could draw back offended a second time, she had thrown her arms around his neck; and weeping and pressing her face to his she was calling him, "My son - my son!"
This was too much for Ion. "She must be mad," he cried.
"No, no," Creusa said. "That veil, that cloak, they are mine. I covered you with them when I left you. See. That friend I told you of .... It was no friend, but my own self. Apollo is your father. Oh, do not turn away. I can prove it. Unfold these wrappings. I will tell you all the embroideries on them. I made them with these hands. And look. You will find two little serpents of gold fastened to the cloak. I put them there."
Ion found the jewels and looked from them to her. "My mother," he said wonderingly. "But then is the God of Truth false? He said I was Xuthus' son. O Mother, I am troubled."
"Apollo did not say you were Xuthus' own son. He gave you to him as a gift," Creusa cried, but she was trembling, too.
A sudden radiance from on high fell on the two and made them look up. Then all their distress was forgotten in awe and wonder. A divine form stood above them, beautiful and majestic beyond compare.
"I am Pallas Athena," the vision said. "Apollo has sent me to you to tell you that Ion is his son and yours. He had him brought here from the cave where you left him. Take him with you to Athens, Creusa. He is worthy to rule over my land and city."
She vanished. The mother and son looked at each other, Ion with perfect joy. But Creusa? Did Apollo's late reparation make up to her for all that she had suffered? We can only guess; the story does not say.
Adapted from Mythology,
Copyright ©1998-2001 Roy George