Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Apopompē and Epipompē in Euripides' Ion

Ion, attendant of Apollo's temple at Delphi, doesn't want bird turds fouling the shrine, so he shoos the birds away (Euripides, Ion 154-183, tr. David Kovacs):
But look!
They are coming, the birds, leaving
their nests on Parnassus!
Do not come near the coping stones
or the golden temple of Apollo!
My bow will bring you down, herald
of Zeus, although your beak
routs the strength of other birds!
Here toward the temple wings another,
a swan! Take your feet that show red against your belly
and go elsewhere!
The lyre of Apollo
that accompanies your song cannot save you from my bow!
Fly off to somewhere else!
Alight upon the lake at Delos!
Your tuneful song will change
to shrieks of pain if you do not obey!
See, see!
What strange bird is this that comes?
Does he mean to make under the gable
a nest of straw for his young?
The twang of my bowstring will prevent you!
Obey! Go to the eddies
of the Alpheus to hatch your brood,
or the groves of the Isthmus!
Thus the offerings and the <fair-gabled>
temple of Phoebus will remain unfouled.
Yet I hesitate to kill you,
who convey the gods' words
to mortals. But I shall duly perform
the tasks I am devoted to for Phoebus and never cease
serving him who feeds me.
Michael Lloyd, "Divine and Human Action in Euripides' Ion," Antike und Abendland 32 (1986) 33-45 (at p. 36, n. 18):
It has sometimes been found surprising that when Ion scares birds away from the temple he encourages them to go to some other holy place (164, 174–7): 'the ministrant of Apollo does not seem to mind if the shrines of other gods are defiled by the birds, nor even what happens in Apollo’s own shrine in Delos' (Owen on 174–5). But Ion is in fact alluding wittily to the formulae of the ἀποπομπή (sending way) of a malevolent power: 'if he is to spare his intended victim, another (or others) must be shown him on which he can wreak his will ... by no means necessarily ... the person or property of an enemy of the man who makes the prayer' (Fraenkel on Aesch. Ag. 1573, comparing Theognis 351–4, Eur. Hel. 360–1). We thus have an Ion capable of sophisticated humour, rather than another Hippolytus, obsessed with his own cult to the exclusion of others.
More accurately, when Ion tells the birds simply to go away ("go elsewhere," "fly off to somewhere else"), it is apopompē; when he tells them to go away to some specific place ("the lake at Delos," "the eddies of the Alpheus," "the groves of the Isthmus"), it is epipompē.

Richard Wünsch first used the terms apopompē and epipompē to describe these two different ways of banishing evil in "Zur Geisterbannung im Altertum," Festschrift zur Jahrhundertfeier der Universität zu Breslau = Mitteilungen der Schlesischen Gesellschaft für Volkskunde 13-14 (1911) 9-32. Wünsch used apopompē to mean simply driving away evil, epipompē to mean driving away evil onto someone or something else. More here.

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