Historical Fictions

Since antiquity, the Corinthia has formed a rather fitting stage for imaginative narratives and outright fictions.  In the long Roman era, we have frequent examples of writers (e.g., Apuleius, Lucian, Libanius, and Themistius) placing their fictional characters and events in Corinth and the Isthmus. And in the modern era, scholars have often turned to the imaginative exercises that make use of archaeological discoveries.  Consider Jerome Murphy-O’Connor’s, “The Corinth that Paul Saw” (Biblical Archaeologist 47 (1984), 147-159), or the opening passages of Donald Engels’ Roman Corinth, which considers what a first century visitor might have seen.

Outright historical fictions are also not uncommon.  I learned through google alerts that Steven Saylor, author of historical fiction, has a forthcoming work (2012) of short stories including one on the “The Witch of Corinth.”  In that work, two characters, Gordinaus and Antipater, visit the Isthmus of Corinth in the early 1st century BC, when the city lay desolate and abandoned.  This crime fiction blogger summarizes and quotes a passage from the book as one of the characters walks among the ruins:

“Heat and thirst made me light-headed. The piles of rubble all looked a like. I became disoriented and confused. I began to see phantom movements from the corners of my eyes, and the least sound–the scrambling of a lizard or the call of a bird–startled me. I thought of the mother who had killed her daughter and then herself, and all the countless others who had suffered and died. I felt the ghosts of Corinth watching me, and whispered words to placate the dead, asking forgiveness for my trespass.”

Or consider Peter Longley’s The Mist of God, the third volume of the Magdala Trilogy, a series about Mary Magdalene and the birth of Christianity.  In this 700 page epic, the author adopts historical and archaeological knowledge of Corinth to place his characters. 

Mist of God 


I love these passages discussing Corinth posted on Google Books:

(Page 471): “Four days later, Agrippa was escorted south to Puteoli where he was placed on a ship bound for Brundisium.  There, he and his retinues were transferred to a smaller ship sailing to Corinth.  It was hot and the air was still.  The ship moved ever so slowly toward the Peloponnese.  Then, it hugged the hazy coast until it arrived at the harbor of Lechaion on the Ionian side of the Greek city that straddled two seas.  In a miraculous maneuver of engineering, the ship was pulled the four miles overland on wooden rollers along a marble tramway that took it to the harbor of Conchreae on the waters of the Aegean.”

(Page 522): “Corinth really had a lot to offer.  It was rich, gaudy, and beautiful all at the same time….Every Sabbath, they all ceremonially broke bread at the port district known locally as Poseidonia.  The very name conjured up a centuries old controversy that the sea gods did not want the isthmus to be breached by a canal.  The tyrant Periander had first suggested a canal some six centuries before, but because of his perception of the wishes of the sea god, Poseidon, he had decided instead to create the diolkos roadway.”

It’s a testimony, I suppose, to the historical significance of the city that modern writers continue to find it a fitting arena for placing their characters.  And certainly the archaeological investigation of the Corinthia has produced a knowledge of ancient Corinth that makes such fictions a little more compelling.  I am also glad that we have these modern writers who attempt to turn often dusty archaeological reports into living environments. 

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