View of the Ancient Mariner

After two solid days of touring Athens with its fabulous archaeological sites, museums, churches, restaurants and shops, we made our way to Corinth. You will recall Corinth (“Korinthos” in Greek) as one of the Greek cities where the apostle Paul founded a community of believers (they would not be called “Christian” for another 30 years). Today there is a modern city of Corinth (population 37,000) located right on the water. One part of the waterfront is devoted to small scale commercial import/export and fishing, while the majority of the waterfront is dedicated to tourism with hotels, bars and restaurants. We will visit the ancient city of Archaea Korinthos (five miles inland) later today, but from our hotel room I keep staring across the water at the northern shore of the Gulf of Corinth. There is a formidable, 3,000 foot high mountain rising straight up from the water, running ten miles east and west. The water is crystal blue, the winds are light and variable. Who wouldn’t enjoy sailing in paradise?
A week earlier, on the island of Paros, I mentioned to the head of our Greek language program, Andreas, that I was surprised in the development of elaborate beliefs about the afterlife in many religions over thousands of years. “Why would you focus on death and the afterlife so much if you lived on an island where food was abundant, the weather perfect and you were pretty much as close to heaven as one could be?” I wondered. He quickly corrected my fantasy noting that in ancient times the island people in particular, lived in constant fear of the pirates. Island raids, small scale skirmishes and major assaults were a way of life. This explained why Neolithic and Bronze Age people devoted so much time and energy to building enormous fortifications around their settlements. For those ancient peoples, death was a release from perpetual anxiety. So much for paradise.
Which gets me back to the ancient mariner. In most of the Greek islands, you are never out of sight of at least one island. This enabled simple, visual navigation around fixed landmarks. The closely clustered islands facilitated fishing and trade. Approaching a mountain rising right up out of the shore would inspire thoughts of the power of God versus the tiny efforts of one sailor in one small boat in the face of enormous seas and mountains. You spot a village on shore. Maybe your ship is a cargo ship carrying goods to another island. But now you need provisions to feed your crew and grease for your oarlocks. If you don’t know anything about the settlement, are they friendly or not? Are they on high alert after a recent pirate raid or do they live well behind impenetrable walls? Will they welcome trade? These thoughts race through your mind as you approach the stone jetty. 
A child walks down the jetty carrying an olive branch – the symbol of peace and goodwill.

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