Your Greek lesson for today:
Cat is “GAT-ta”
Efcharisto [ef-KAR-is-toe] is thank you, from which we have the church word “Eucharist”
The historical ship type “trireme” is “triires” in Greek, pronounced “
One important thing to learn about cruising is that schedules change. For example, if the captain decides to steer too close to an island and rips the bottom of the ship out, you sink. End of cruise. We have never had this problem, but each cruise has had a change in itinerary. We have missed Tunis [Carthage] twice.
This time, it was a swap in the order of ports, due to overcrowding in Crete. So the captain decided to take us on to Piraeus [port of Athens]. We had been to Athens before, so this time our shore excursion was to Corinth, following in the wake of [St.] Paul. Our tour guide Thanos was a character! He informed us that 95% of his countrymen are Greek Orthodox, which proves that when Paul converts you, you stay converted. [As to the rest: 1% Lutheran, 2% Catholic and 2% Moslem, so Paul just lost 2%, you see].
As we made our way on Highway A1, we had a stunning view of the Parthenon on the Acropolis, about 5 miles away. This distant view was in some ways more impressive than the close-up, as one could imagine approaching the hill 2500 years ago, when it was brightly painted and surrounded by hovels and dust. “Surely the goddess lives there indeed,” one would think.
Thanos was a mine of information covering everything from the recent Olympics [roads and stadiums finished the day before the Opening Ceremony], earthquakes [big and frequent], the Greek commercial fleet [9000+], and the best blow-by-blow description of the naval Battle of Salamis [as we passed by the bay where it happened]. For those who don’t know, the Greeks destroyed 400 Persian ships in the first hour of the battle.
We also learned that it takes 15 lbs of olives to make 1 liter of olive oil. That Greece makes wonderful pre-fab houses and chapels. And that people had wanted to cut the Corinth canal for centuries. Nero had come closest, but his Egyptian engineers were convinced that the water level was different by 9 feet between the Aegean Sea and the Saronic Gulf, making the project impossible. They were likely fooled by the local currents, said Thanos.
And there was more. At this point, most of the bus was sound asleep, having partied hearty during the day at sea. Ron and I went on to learn that Corinth is on the Peloponnesian peninsula, home to Numea [labors of Hercules], Sparta, Mycenae [Agamemnon], and Patros [where disciple Andrew was crucified]. I have 6 full pages of history in my journal; mostly who was allied with whom, until they changed sides, and then everybody died. Bottom line: Corinth was a combo of Roman, Greek and Jewish people who made a lot of money shipping goods from there all over the known world. Same as today, apparently.
Three really big things happened in Corinth:
- Paul visited there after he left Athens in disgust.
- in the 4th century AD, an earthquake and tsunami wiped it out
- John D. Rockefeller paid for the ruins to be excavated
The excavations were “finished” last year, with 2% of the ancient city uncovered. [I think finished means they ran out of John D’s $$] But what a 2%!! Three million cubic feet of earth was removed—as much as was removed in digging the canal!
The parts of the city which are now on view are the ruins of the synagogue, where Paul first began his ministry in Corinth; the main street, where the Bema was located; and the Roman governor’s office; and several temples, cisterns, acres of houses, major bath complexes, an impressive section of ancient highway as well as lesser streets.
Now Thanos launched into the story of how Paul, preaching at the synagogue was repeatedly challenged and shouted down. Thanos pointed to the door of the ruin, “Paul came out of the synagogue and—excuse me, ladies—he was peessed off!” Thanos shook himself like a wet dog, “Paul shook his garments right outside the door and he strode right to this corner,” he pointed, “and marched down this street!” The angry ghost of Paul swept past us, creating a breeze.
“Now Paul was a Roman citizen, so he had the right to address the crowd from the Bema.” Thanos indicated a platform, about 6 feet off street level. “The Jews followed him out of the synagogue and began to hassle him. Now who do you think heard the noise and came out—himself—to deal with it? The Roman governor, Gallio. Yes, he stood right behind Paul and told the people that Paul had a right to talk and they could either listen or leave. They left. And Paul told his message to the people….but I have a conspiracy theory to tell you later.”
Then Thanos lead us through the streets of Corinth, talking about the artistic orders of columns, their origins and symbolism; Alexander the Great and Diogenes, who lived in a large clay jar; the acanthus plant; and Aquila and Priscilla, tentmakers. Our brains exploded.
So here’s the conspiracy theory of Thanos: the Roman governor, Gallio, was the brother of Seneca, who was 2nd only to Nero in Rome. In Corinth was unearthed a flattering equestrian statue of Seneca. Thanos believes that Gallio wanted Paul to stir things up in the provinces so that Seneca might make a move to become emperor. So therefore, Gallio stood behind Paul and let him speak, despite—or maybe because of—the objections of the Jews in the crowd. Hmmmmm.
From the ruins, we boarded the bus to take a boat ride on the Corinth canal on the Argo—thus becoming the Argonauts, though without Jason. The canal was finished in 1893 by the same French guy that did the Suez Canal. Go ahead, look him up. Thanos told us exactly how they drilled and dug. King Edward of England got to press the button which triggered the explosion of the last bit of earth.
The voyage took about an hour and we were served lovely local food and watered ouzo. Part of the canal cuts through dramatic cliffs, sometimes buttressed with brickwork. The eddies from our wake helped carve the cave-lets on either side. If I become a hermit, I shall live in a cave in the Corinth Canal and people will throw me food scraps from the tour boat.
The bridges at either end are delightfully clever; made of metal grid, they sink to let the boats pass over.
Fed and relaxed, we boarded the bus to return to the ship. I asked Thanos to point out Elefsis [formerly Eleusis], the site of the famous pilgrimage temple of Demeter. Michael Wood made a delightful documentary about the day-long precession that would have taken place from ancient Athens to the temple. Now a single column on a hill near the Bay of Salamis was all I could see.