DSC_0636Corinth was the third most influential city in ancient Greece, both as a Greek city and later as a Roman one. Athens and Sparta alone surpassed it; Corinth was not as well-known for its army as Sparta was, nor for its philosophical and architectural influence as Athens was, but Corinth was rich. It had two major ports and was the hub of trade for the eastern and western Mediterranean. Incredible pottery was made here, and the “Corinthian order” of column capitals originated here.

DSC_0641Mythology tells us that Corinth was founded by king Sisyphus, whose arrogance towards, and deceit of, the gods landed him the eternal punishment of rolling a huge boulder up a hill only for it to roll back down again. Many interpretations have been made of this myth, but my favorite is from Albert Camus. In his novel The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus contends this story is not an exercise in futility – rather, it is a story of how to happily deal with the absurdity of life. There is nothing new under the sun, but the answer to this absurdity is not suicide but revolt.

Sisyphus passed along his cunning to the Corinthians who populated the ancient city – they knew how to make money from everyone. Horace once said “Not everyone is able to go to Corinth;” everything was expensive from the housing to the prostitutes. Atop the Acrocorinth (the acropolis) was a temple to Aphrodite where thousands of prostitutes honored the goddess, including one of the most costly concubines in history.

DSC_0666During the Hellenistic period, Corinth expressed its influence all through Greece. They sent 400 soldiers to fight at Thermopylae, hosted the Isthmian Games, and warred among the city-states with the best of them. In 146 BC they refused to capitulate to the Roman Empire under Lucius Mummius and were repaid with the slaying of all their men and the selling of all their women and children into slavery. Corinth remained mostly deserted for 100 years, until Julius Caesar re-founded the city as the Roman provincial capital of Greece right before his assassination.

DSC_0652The apostle Paul also famously visited Corinth and wrote several letters to them, including the two in the Bible. As was his ritual, Paul initially appealed to the synagogue with his story of Christos but when he was ill received he turned to the Gentiles and spent a year and a half in Corinth. Around this time the Jews had been driven from Rome because of the rioting caused by the Christian message. Some Jews in Corinth were afraid that the same thing would happen with Paul’s message here and appealed to the proconsul Gallio in front of the bema (where residents could bring concerns to be arbitrated). Gallio was not interested in bringing trouble to his city so he told them, “If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law – settle the matter yourselves” (Acts 18:14-15).

DSC_0639This city is absolutely covered in shops. There are also many temples and statues that extol the wealth of the population. One of the most interesting monuments celebrates the story of a slave who rose to the top of Corinthian politics. Babbius was cognomened “Philinus” which means “sweetheart.” Slave owners loved to gift their slaves with such names that would forever mark them as such, even after they were granted their freedom. The story of Babbius is an incredible testament to the uniqueness of Corinth: regardless of his beginning, through hard work and ambition he was able to rise to the cream of the crop, in spite of the plethora of glass ceilings that should have prevented this. He erected a monument in his name “with his own funds” to commemorate his incredible achievements.

DSC_0686We walked around the ancient city and saw the fountain of Peirene, the majestic Temple of Apollo, and the sad fountain of Glauke, where the snubbed wife of Jason (Medea) exerted her awful revenge. Only 10% of the site has been excavated but we saw archaeologists hard at work here. Who knows what they will find? We are excited to keep coming back and seeing the history that is continuing to be made.