Monday, March 20, 2017

Greece | Old Corinth

Wandered over to Corinth, forty-five miles east of Athens but slightly longer by train. Corinth is located on the west side of the 3.5 mile wide isthmus that separates the Peloponnese Peninsula from the Attica region around Athens and the rest of Greece.
 (Click on images for enlargements)
My main interest is visiting the site of the old Temple of Aphrodite, located on the top of 1876-foot peak of Acrocorinth, just east of the town of Old Corinth. There is a metro to the Larissa Train Station, which serves trains running to the north, and from here you have to take a train another fifteen minutes or so to a another station that handles trains running south to the Peloponnese.  The trip to Corinth takes about an hour.

From the Corinth train station I took a taxi to Old Corinth, the village located near the archeological park that hosts the ruins of ancient Corinth. The modern city of Corinth, to the west of the station, is a relatively modern reiteration of an older city destroyed by earthquakes in 1858 and 1928 and is apparently of little interest to tourists or flâneurs. The cab driver, a man in his fifties, asks me where I am from. I say the U.S.A hesitantly, since nowadays you never know what kind of reaction you are going to get. Americans have not been the most popular people in the world for the last decade or so, and now your interlocutor may have relatives who just got thrown out of the country. “Oh, what state?” he asks. I did not want to get into a long explanation of where I have been for the last twenty years, so I say Alaska, the last state I lived in when I was in the States. “Alaska!” he shouted. “That is one of my favorite places. Never been there, of course, but I have watched many shows on travel channels and many youtube videos about Alaska. My dream is to visit Alaska some day. Have you been to Kodiak Island?” I told him that I actually lived on Kodiak Island for a couple of years. “Really? Did you ever see any Kodiak bears.” I said that I had seen many of them and had even been false-charged by Kodiak bears twice. “The other place I want to visit is Denali National Park. Have you been there?” This was getting weird. Actually I had written a book about Denali National Park. I did not tell him this but I said, yes, I have been to Denali. Then, to get him off the subject of Alaska, I asked if many people visit Corinth in the wintertime. “No so many, most come in the summer time,” he said and then added, “Are you here because of the Apostle Paul? Most people come here because of Paul, you know, following Paul’s footsteps.”

After visiting Paphos, on Cyprus Island, where according to legend he got whipped for proselytizing Christianity, and Athens, where he pontificated on Areopagus Hill, Paul had wandered on to Corinth: "After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth."– Acts 18.1. Paul ended up staying eighteen months in Corinth during his first trip to Greece and may have returned here on a later trip to Greece. He established a church here, and eventually wrote two letters to the Corinthians advising them on how to practice their faith: Corinthians I and Corinthians II, now found in the New Testament. I tell the driver that actually I have come to Corinth to see the Temple of Aphrodite and the ancient fortress on the top of Acrocorinth. “Ah,” Aphrodite, do you know she was born on Cyprus Island?” I was going to tell him that I had been to the birthplace of Aphrodite on Cyprus Island just before coming to Greece, but I was afraid he would not believe me. 
Main street of sleepy Old Corinth
Old Corinth is a small village with one main street lined with cafes, gift shops, art galleries, and a few stores for the locals. In the middle of the tiny town square a huge yellow dog is taking a nap.  When the cab driver blows his horn to make him move he just he raises his head, states balefully at us, then lowers his head and goes back to sleep. We have to drive around the dog. My guest house is right on the main street. When we pull up out front a woman from a herb shop across the streets comes out and yells, “Are you here for the hotel? I will call the manager.” The manager is apparently at his restaurant a bit further up the street. The guesthouse turns out to have four rooms and I am the only guest. In the courtyard is an orange tree festooned with oranges. The manager tells me to help myself to the oranges whenever I want any. I stash my portmanteau and even though the skies have darkened and there is already a slight drizzle I head for the ruins of the ancient city of Corinth at the edge of the current village, just below the slopes of Acrocorinth.

Ancient Corinth became an important city because of its strategic location on the very narrow isthmus that connects the Peloponnese and the Greek mainland. By portaging across the 3.5 miles wide isthmus the long and dangerous sea voyage around the southern end of the Peloponnese could be avoided. As early as the 6th century B.C. a stone-paved highway had been build to accommodate travel between the Saronic Gulf on the east and the Gulf of Corinth on the west. The Greek geographer Strabo (56 B.C.–56 A.D,) elaborates on this:
Corinth is called "wealthy" because of its commerce, since it is situated on the Isthmus and is master of two harbors, of which the one leads straight to Asia, and the other to Italy; and it makes easy the exchange of merchandise from both countries that are so far distant from each other . . . it was a welcome alternative, for the merchants both from Italy and from Asia, to avoid the voyage to Maleae, land their cargoes here. And also the duties on what by land was exported from the Peloponnesus and what was imported to it fell to those who held the keys. And to later times this remained ever so.
The main ruin from ancient Corinth is the Temple of Apollo, dating to around 550 B.C.  It originally had fifteen columns on each of the long sides and six on the two facades, for a total of forty-two. Only seven are standing today. The columns are unusual in that each are carved from a single piece of stone, instead of being made up of stacked column drums. 
 Temple of Apollo, with the peak of Acrocorinth in the background
 Temple of Apollo
 Temple of Apollo
Temple of Apollo
The original ancient Corinth was sacked in 146 B.C. by Roman commander Lucius Mummius and most of the buildings were destroyed. In 44 A.D. Julius Caesar rebuilt the city and populated it with Roman colonists. Most of the remaining ruins in the archeological park date from this Roman period.
 Roman-era ruins of ancient Corinth
Probably the most visited ruin is that of the Bema, or rostrum, where Paul  publicly defended himself from allegations made by the city’s Hebrews that his teachings about Jesus of Nazareth were contrary to Mosiac Law. The Roman pro-consul Lucius Julius Gallio ruled that Paul had not in fact broken any Roman Law and so was allowed to go on proselytizing. This was the real beginning of Christianity in Corinth. Of course the historicity of this whole episode, along with many other events in Paul’s life, has been questioned. See Corinth—Where the Apostle Paul Never Trod.
 The Bema. speaking platform, where the Paul the Pontificator is said to have defended himself,
 The top of the Bema
On the top of the Bema is a monument inscribed with a quotation from 2 Corinthians: “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparision.”
By now the drizzle had turned to rain, so I retired to the small but well appointed museum adjacent to the ruins. The museum was established in 1932 by the American School of Classical Studiers and funded by American philanthropist Ada Small Moore of Chicago. The place is jammed with a Chinese tour group of at least fifty people on a day-trip from Athens. Their big bus is parked outside. 
 Museum courtyard
Statues in the museum courtyard
This museum was once victimized by a daring act of thievery. On the night of April 12, 1990, robbers broke into the museum, bound and gagged the guard, and then proceeded to cart off 285 statues, vases, glass vessels, jewelry and other ancient works of art of inestimable value. They also stole 1,000,000 drachmas in cash on hand to pay the salaries of museum employees. Nine years later, in September of 1999, the F.B.I., working in cooperation with Greek police, founded most of the artwork in plastic boxes in a fish warehouse in Miami, Florida. The items were returned to the museum and can be seen there today. None of the published accounts say who was responsible for this caper, or how the stolen items got from Corinth to Miami. 

I had planned to climb Acrocorinth in the afternoon but by the time I left the museum the mountain was completely fogged in, and rain was falling even harder, so I retired to my hotel room where I was soon engrossed in Anthony Everest’s scintillating and at times even titillating The Rise of Athens.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Greece | Athens | Mouseion Hill | Hill of the Muses

Wandered up 485-foot Mouseion Hill for a panoramic view of the Acropolis. The hill got its name from the 6th-century BC poet and seer Musaios, who was supposedly buried on its summit. Because of its association with Musaios, reputed to be the son of the legendary minstrel Orpheus, it is also known as the Hill of the Muses. Part way up I passed by the Prison of Socrates, where, according to legend, the great philosopher was confined before he was forced to the drink the Hemlock.
 Prison of Socrates (click on photos for enlargements)
Socrates was an enigmatic character, to say the least. He was born not far from Athens in 469 B.C., the son of stonemason who aspired to be a sculptor. His mother was a midwife. Socrates too may have worked for awhile as a stonemason before finding his true calling as a free-lance philosopher and teacher. With thick lips, bulging eyes, and a pot-belly, he was a notoriously unattractive figure. He seldom bathed or washed his clothes and went barefooted most of the time. His wife, the shrewish Xanthippe, henpecked him unmercifully. He apparently managed to father three sons with her, all of whom turned out to be dolts, but his main interpersonal relationships seemed to be with young men. It is unclear if he served solely as an intellectual mentor to the young men who flocked around him to hear his teachings or if he also had sexual relationships with at least some of them. In Athens at the time it would certainly not have been unusual for a married man like Socrates to have young male lovers. Many married men, we are led to believe, preferred the company of young men or boys and only coupled with their wives for purposes of procreation. When they just wanted to get their rocks off they preferred other males. In any case, Socrates had ample opportunities to meet young admirers. One of his students, Xenophon, who had became smitten with Socrates at a young age, wrote that:
Socrates was always in the public eye. Early in the morning he used to make his way to the covered walkways and open-air gymnasia, and when the marketplace became busy he was there in full view; and he always spent the rest of the day where he expected to find the most company. He talked most of the time and anyone who liked was able to listen.
In this way Socrates acquired a large following, especially among the aristocratic young of the city who were thrilled by his charismatic personality and provocative teachings.His influence on the young and the ideas he was putting into their heads eventually aroused the suspicions of some important people. Finally a politician by the name of Meletus had the philosopher arrested. The charges read:
This indictment and affidavit is sworn by Meletus, the son of Meletus of Pitthos, against Socrates, the son of Sophroniscus of Alopece: Socrates is guilty of refusing to recognize the gods recognized by the state, and of introducing other new divinities. He is also guilty of corrupting the youth. The penalty demanded is death.
At that time trials took place at some public forum, probably in the open air, in front of a very large jury. Important trials had a jury of 1,501 citizens; even private suits were heard by juries of from 201 to 401 members. The jury cast its ballots in secret and fifty percent of the votes plus one were needed for a conviction. We do not know the exact size of Socrates’s jury, but he was found guilty by a majority of sixty votes. At that time both the prosecution and the defense could suggest a punishment and the same jury that decided the case could choice which one they preferred. The prosecution demanded death. Socrates, rather cheekily, first suggested that the proper punishment for his supposed offensives would be a government pension for the rest of his life, since he was, in his own opinion at least, a benefit to society. Then, acting on the advice of Plato and other close friends, he suggested a fine of 3000 drachmas. The jury was not amused by his insouciance; more voted for the death penalty than had voted for his conviction.

The sentence may have been carried out here at the prison where he was supposedly held prior to the trial. Other sources suggest he died in another prison in the ancient Agora. In any case, in the presence of several close friends and disciples (Plato, who was ill at the time, did not attend) Socrates downed the concoction of poison hemlock. The bystanders broke down in tears. One of those present, his disciples Phaedo, left an account of Socrates’ reaction:
“Really, my friends, what kind of behavior is this? Why, that was my main reason for sending away the women, to prevent this sort of commotion; because I am told that one should make one’s end in a peaceful frame of mind. Calm down and try to be brave.”
Phaedo goes on:
This made us feel ashamed, and we controlled our tears. Socrates walked about, and soon, saying that his legs were heavy, lay down on his back—that was what the prison warden recommended. The man (he was the same one who had administered the poison) kept his hand on Socrates, and after a little while inspected his feet and legs; then pinched his foot hard and asked if he felt it. Socrates said no. Then he did the same to his legs; and moving gradually upwards in this way let us see that he was becoming inert and numb. Presently he touched him again and said that when it reached the heart, Socrates would be gone. The numbness was spreading about as far as his groin when Socrates uncovered his face—for he had covered it up—a nd said (these were his last words): “Crito, we ought to sacrifice a cock to Asclepius. Make sure it’s done. Don’t forget.” “No, it shall be done,” said Crito. “Are you sure that there is nothing else?” Socrates made no reply to this question, but after a little while he stirred; and when the man uncovered him, his eyes were fixed. When Crito saw this, he closed the mouth and eyes. Such was the end of our comrade, who was, we may fairly say, of all those whom we knew in our time, the bravest and also the wisest and most upright man.
The citizens of Athens eventually had a change of heart. Meletus, who had brought charges against Socrates, was eventually tried and executed for his role in this sorry affair. Another of his accusers, Anytus, was exiled to a backwater port on the Black Sea, where he was eventually stoned to death by an angry mob. Meanwhile, a statue of Socrates by the famous sculptor Lysippus was erected in Athens. And of course, it is Socrates that we are still talking about today, 2500 years later.

Continuing on up the trail to the summit of Mouseion Hill, thoughts of Socrates still reverberating through my mind, it occurred to me that there are a few modern philosophers who might benefit from some time behind bars in Socrates’s Prison; for example, the notorious Post-Modern Neo-Nihilist and cyber-sphere gasbag David Weinberger. At least Weinberger, famous in college for his Dionysian revelries and unbridled bacchanalias and infamous as a shamelessly slavish sycophant of the insufferable German doofus and dingbat Marty “I Invented Being and Time and If You Don’t Like It Bite Me” Heidegger, would have time while behind bars to rethink his rebarbative theory that Everything Is Miscellaneous. Socrates was forced to drink the Hemlock, but Weinberger continues to walk the streets of America a free man. Where is the justice in that? I might add that Weinberger is also an avowed foe of the otherwise beloved Dewey Decimal System and a perennial front runner on Bucknell University’s list of Worst Dressed Alumni. 
View of the Acropolis and the Parthenon from part way up Mouseion Hill 
 View of the Acropolis and the Parthenon from near the summit Mouseion Hill
As mentioned Mouseion Hill is also known as the Hill of the Muses. For centuries poets and song-writers, including Van Morrison and Bob Dylan, have come here to perform and seek inspiration. Also see One Irish Rover.
Van Morrison and Bob Dylan on the Hill of the Muses (not my photo)
 The trail continue on to the ruins of the mausoleum and monument of Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappos 65–116 AD), a well-known prince of the Kingdom of Commagene, on the summit of the hill. It is not clear, but the monument may stand on the older grave of Musaios.
 See Commagene on the map (in pink)
Although born in Commagene, Philopappos spent much of his life Athens and was well-known as a benefactor of the city. He was a boon companion of the Roman Emperor Trajan and Trajan`s successor as emperor Hadrian. After he died in 116 his sister Julia Balbilla and prominent citizens of Athens erected this monument in his honor on the summit of Mouseion Hill.
Ruins of the mausoleum and monument to Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappos

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Greece | Athens | Areopagus | Apostle Paul

From the Summit Of The Acropolis I descended the slope through the Beulé Gate, built into a wall around the Acropolis apparently dating to the 280s B.C. This is the way most visitors access the Acropolis. I had entered via the less used Southern Gate.
The Beulé Gate (click on photos for enlargements)
Just below here a low saddle leads west to a 377-foot hill known as the Areopagus. In very ancient times a council of nobles used to meet here to discuss affairs of state. Courts also held sessions here. In the 480s B.C., after the rise of democracy the nobles began to meet elsewhere, but murder and treason trials were held here for several more centuries. As I was climbing to the top of Areopagus I caught the distinctive smell of marijuana smoke. Arriving at the top, I encountered three Greek teenagers smoking a spliff which would have made Snoop Dogg proud.

The Areopagus is perhaps best known as the site where the Apostle Paul, he of Road to Damascus fame, gave one of his famous sermons. Before coming to Athens I had been in Paphos, on Cyprus Island, where I had seen Paul’s Pillar, the stone pillar which according to legend he had been tied to while being whipped by locals who took exception to his attempts to spread the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. After leaving Cyprus Paul traveled on to what is now Turkey and Greece, eventually ending up here in Athens. The episode is recounted in the New Testament, Acts 17:
Now while Paul was [in] Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic Philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching of Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this n new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, “To the unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this. So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.
The Agora, or Marketplace, as seen from the Areopagus Hill. It is now a park littered with archeological ruins. The Agora is where Paul started haranguing the locals, including Stoics, when he first arrived in Athens.  
 Areopagus Hill to the left. The plaque in the stone wall  to the right has the text of Paul’s harangue on the summit.
Detail of the plaque. It repeats the text of Paul’ philippic quoted above from Acts.
Greek teenagers smoking pot where on the spot where Paul once pontificated. The ancient chthonic Gods of Greece are on the rise!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Greece | Athens | Acropolis | Parthenon

I have been through the Athens airport eight or ten times but had never gone downtown. Deciding that it was time to finally see the birthplace of Occidental civilization I booked a room literally in the shadow of the Acropolis, the huge hill in the middle of the city topped by the Parthenon. Unfortunately I picked a bad day to arrive. The train service from the airport to downtown was on strike and I was forced to take a taxi, which immediately set me back 38 Euros plus 2 for the freeway toll.  Welcome to Greece. This was quite a bit more than my hotel room. At least the taxis were working, When I visited the Greek Island of Crete a year earlier all public transport was on strike and I was forced to hitchhike from the airport to town. Fortunately I was picked up was a charming young woman and her two friends who went out of their way to drop my off right in front of my hotel and also gave me an informative introduction to Crete. 

My hotel, with a balcony view of the Acropolis, is located right next door to the site of the old Capuchin Monastery. Established in 1669, it hosted numerous illustrious guests, including the England poet and world-class cad Lord Byron. Oddly enough, on my First Visit To Venice I stayed a few doors from the hotel where Lord Byron first stayed when he arrived in Venice for the first time. This reminded me that the term paper  I wrote on Lord Byron`s epic poem Don Juan earned me the first “A” I had ever gotten on a college essay. Anyhow, the monastery was destroyed in 1824 during the Greek war for independence from the Ottoman Empire. The site is marked, however, by The Monument of Lysicrates, built in 334 B.C. Apparently Lysicrates was a patron of the arts who paid a poet, flute player, and actors to appear in a contest for the best dramatic production in an early version of “Greeks Got Talent.” His group of performers won, so he was required to built a monument to Dionysus to honor them. The monument was later incorporating into grounds of the Capuchin Monastery. The monastery was destroyed, but the Monument of Lysicrates remains to this day, 2351 years after it was built.
View of the street from the balcony of my hotel (click on photos for enlargements)
View of the Acropolis from the balcony of my hotel
The Monument of Lysicrates, built in 334 B.C.
After throwing my portmanteau in my room I headed straight for the Acropolis. The southern entrance was only a couple of hundred years from my hotel. I was prepared to pay the rather stiff tariff of €20 but was informed that admittance today was free. I did not bother to ask why but I assumed this was because it was Sunday. Entering the grounds I began to steep trudge to the summit, 511 feet about sea level. The southern hillside is heaped with ruins of ancient structures, most of them signposted, but in my haste to see the Parthenon I hurried by most of them. I did stop to gaze at the rebuilt Odeon (theatre) of Herodes Atticus. The theater was built by the Athenian business tycoon Herodes Atticus in 161 A.D. in memory of his wife Aspasia Annia Regila and originally seated about 5000 people. It was heavily damaged by the Neruli, a Germanic people from northern Europe who trashed Athens in 267 A.D., and lay in ruins for centuries. Not until the 1950s was the theater restored. One of the first big acts to appear in the refurbished theatre was the opera singer Maria Callas, main squeeze, along with Jacqueline Kennedy, of shipping tycoon Aristotle Onasis. Others who have performed here include Placido Domingo, Frank Sinatra, Dianna Ross,  Elton John (!) Jethro Tull (!!), and Liza Minelli (!!!).
Odeon of Herodes Atticus. To think, Liza Minelli once strode this stage.
Another view of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Definitely an Elton John venue.
Entrance to the Odeon of Herodes Atticus
Just above the theatre is the Propylia, the monumental gate opening onto the summit of the Acropolis. The summit area covers about seven acres. Directly ahead looms the Parthenon, built in honor of the of Goddess Athena, for whom Athens is named.  The construction of the Parthenon and other structures on the Acropolis were overseen by the great Athenian general Pericles. The famous sculptor Phidias, according to some sources, was in charge of building the Parthenon itself, and he employed the renowned architects Callicrates, Mnesikles, and Iktinos to come up with the actual plans. The first stone of the Parthenon was laid on 28 July 447 B.C. and it was completed nine years later in 438 B.C. I must admit the structure is much larger than the impression I had gotten from photos. It measure 228 by 101 and  originally had forty-six outer columns, each thirty-four feet high.
 The Parthenon
The Parthenon has had a checkered history. Athens later became part of the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire and under Constantine the Great (272-337 A.D.), founder of Constantinople (Istanbul), the city was Christianized. The Acropolis became a center of Christian worship and the Parthenon was eventually converted into a Byzantine church. In 1204, during the Fourth Crusade,  Franks and Venetians led by the Venetian Doge Enrico Dandalo captured Constantinople and Athens also came under their control. Under Frankish rule the Parthenon was turned into a Catholic cathedral. In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks and after Athens became part of the Ottoman Empire the Parthenon was eventually converted into a mosque. Then in 1687 the Venetians tried to oust the Ottomans from Athens. The Parthenon was subjected to artillery fire and heavily damaged when munitions stockpiled within the building exploded. From 1800 to 1803 the notorious Englishman Thomas “Marbles” Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, ransacked the ruins and carted off many of the surviving sculptures to England, where they eventually ended up in the British Museum. To so-called Elgin Marbles remain there today, although there has been concerted efforts by the Greek government, spearheaded by legendary Greek bombshell Melina Mercouri, to get them back. Not until the late twentieth century were serious efforts made to restore the Parthenon to its former glory, and the work is still continuing, as can be seen from the unsightly construction cranes on site.
The Parthenon
The Parthenon
View of Athens from the Acropolis. Mount Lycabettus, which I intend to ascend, can be seen in the middle.
View of Athens from the Acropolis