Published in: Journal Of Hellenic Religion, , Vol. 5, 77-112.


Both Aeschylus in the Oresteia and Euripides in Ion, in their creation of Apollo figures, make use of images of caves, including references to the actual Acropolis caves, one of which was an Apolline sanctuary. This article focuses on the significance of these references for the fifth-century spectators of the plays.

The references to caves are seen here as part of a dialogue between the tragic world and cult reality. In this dialogue tragedy’s spectators are active participants as they bring to their experience of the play their knowledge of cults/cult sites, such as the caves, which are an aspect of their everyday reality. The tragedian draws on a shared knowledge of the associations of these cults/cult sites in the creation of dramatic meaning.

The cave images shift from associating Apollo with the outside and the uncivilised in Aeschylus to suggesting a new and central civic role for the god at Athens in Euripides. This is seen in relation to the apparent increased interest in Apolline cult, and the more authoritative role for the god, in late fifth-century Athens.

Close analysis of these tragic references to cult sites, therefore, adds to our understanding of how tragedians use gods and how these gods are experienced by the fifth-century audiences for whom the plays were produced.


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