Life Among Ruins

The Department of Archaeology at the University of Amsterdam recently launched a new website “Byzantine & Ottoman Archaeology: Digging up answers in the Medieval Mediterranean”  as the official site for their VIDI-Research Project on material culture in the eastern Mediterranean after antiquity.  The project researchers Joanita Vroom, Fotini Kondyli,  and Yasemin Bagci are examining the ceramic artifacts at four major settlements of the Byzantine and Ottoman Mediterranean including Athens, Butrint, Ephesus, and Tarsus.

A little over a week ago this Amsterdam group hosted their conference, “Fact and Fiction in Medieval and Post-Medieval Ceramics in the Eastern Mediterranean – Are we on the right track?,” with papers exploring the relationship between ceramics and coins, and pottery and identity. 

Corinth enters the picture because the conference organizers chose the time of the conference to launch a new exhibition at the the Allard Pierson Museum of the University of Amsterdam called Life among Ruins: The Eastern Mediterranean in Word and Image (ca. 700 – 2000 AD)The exhibition, which will be on display from October to late January, explores the interaction of post-antique populations with the antiquities that always surrounded them.  The exhibition includes photographs of the ASCSA excavations in the Athenian Agora from the 1930s-1950s and “drawings, sketches and maps of European travellers, who visited the Eastern Mediterranean between the 17th and 19th centuries. These illustrations come from printed books and maps of the ‘Bijzondere Collecties’ of the University of Amsterdam”. 



The first illustration one sees at the site is a drawing of the Temple of Apollo against the background of Acrocorinth. JHAllanThe image comes from John H. Allan’s A pictorial tour in the Mediterranean: including Malta, Dalmatia, Turkey, Asia Minor, Grecian Archipelago, Egypt, Nubia, Greece, Ionian Islands, Sicily, Italy and Spain (London, 1845, 2nd edition).  The drawing shows literally “life among ruins” as several men, a horse, and donkey casually interact over the buried remains of the Temple of Apollo, with a few scattered houses in the background below the slopes of a towering Acrocorinth.  The Temple of Apollo and Acrocorinth with its fortifications are the backdrop to human interactions and habitations.  To see the image and others in the catalogue, check out the website here

The Vampire on the Isthmus: A Halloween Tale

It is hard to know why ancient writers found Corinth and its territory a region suitable for placing ghosts, witches, and vampires, and whether the region was any more haunted than other towns and countrysides of the ancient world.  The destruction of Corinth by the Romans in 146 BC made the city a gloomy ghost town for a century – or at least that is how some Roman writers and modern authors have imagined it: “I felt the ghosts of Corinth watching me” (Steven Saylor).  But the transient character of the Isthmus and the ‘foreign’ elements of the local population also contributed in some ways to stories of spooky beings like the Phoenician vampire bride of Corinth. 

I first discovered Philostratus’ account of the vampire bride while conducting dissertation research related to the Roman Isthmus.  In his 3rd century AD account, Philostratus tells how a Lycian philosopher named Menippus was nearly devoured by his vampire bride on his wedding day, saved at the last moment by the miracle worker Apollonius of Tyana.  The story interestingly brings together many associations of ancient Corinth—Kenchreai , the Isthmus, the center of Hellas, foreign populations (Lycian and Phoenician), associations with philosophy, suburbs of Corinth, the (illusive) pleasures of Aphrodite, and the wealth of the city—that relate illusive beings to transient places.  The following passage from Philostratus VA 4.25 was translated by F.C. Conybeare:

“Now there was in Corinth at that time a man named Demetrius, who studied philosophy and had embraced in his system all the masculine vigor of the Cynics. Of him Favorinus in several of his works subsequently made the most generous mention, and his attitude towards Apollonius was exactly that which they say Antisthenes took up towards the system of Socrates: for he followed him and was anxious to be his disciple, and was devoted to his doctrines, and converted to the side of Apollonius the more esteemed of his own pupils.

Among the latter was Menippus a Lycian of twenty-five years of age, well endowed with good judgment, and of a physique so beautifully proportioned that in mien he resembled a fine and gentlemanly athlete. Now this Menippus was supposed by most people to be loved by a foreign woman, who was good-looking and extremely dainty, and said that she was rich; although she was really, as it turned out, not one of these things, but was only so in semblance.

For as he was walking all alone along the road towards Cenchraeae, he met with an apparition, and it was a woman who clasped his hand and declared that she had been long in love with him, and that she was a Phoenician woman and lived in a suburb of Corinth, and she mentioned the name of the particular suburb, and said: “When you reach the place this evening, you will hear my voice as I sing to you, and you shall have wine such as you never before drank, and there will be no rival to disturb you; and we two beautiful beings will live together.”

The youth consented to this, for although he was in general a strenuous philosopher, he was nevertheless susceptible to the tender passion; and he visited her in the evening, and for the future constantly sought her company as his darling, for he did not yet realize that she was a mere apparition.

Then Apollonius looked over Menippus as a sculptor might do, and he sketched an outline of the youth and examined him, and having observed his foibles, he said: “You are a fine youth and are hunted by fine women, but in this case you are cherishing a serpent, and a serpent cherishes you.”

And when Menippus expressed his surprise, he added: “For this lady is of a kind you cannot marry. Why should you? Do you think that she loves you?”

“Indeed I do,” said the youth, “since she behaves to me as if she loves me.”

“And would you then marry her?” said Apollonius.

“Why, yes, for it would be delightful to marry a woman who loves you.”

Thereupon Apollonius asked when the wedding was to be. “Perhaps tomorrow,” said the other, “for it brooks no delay.” 

Apollonius therefore waited for the occasion of the wedding breakfast, and then, presenting himself before the guests who had just arrived, he said: “Where is the dainty lady at whose instance ye are come?”

“Here she is,” replied Menippus, and at the same moment he rose slightly from his seat, blushing.

“And to which of you belong the silver and gold and all the rest of the decorations of the banqueting hall?”

“To the lady,” replied the youth, “for this is all I have of my own,” pointing to the philosopher’s cloak which he wore.

And Apollonius said: “Have you heard of the gardens of Tantalus, how they exist and yet do not exist?”

“Yes,” they answered, “in the poems of Homer, for we certainly never went down to Hades.”

“As such,” replied Apollonius, “you must regard this adornment, for it is not reality but the semblance of reality. And that you may realize the truth of what I say, this fine bride is one of the vampires, that is to say of those beings whom the many regard as lamias and hobgoblins. These beings fall in love, and they are devoted to the delights of Aphrodite, but especially to the flesh of human beings, and they decoy with such delights those whom they mean to devour in their feasts.”

And the lady said: “Cease your ill-omened talk and be gone”; and she pretended to be disgusted at what she heard, and in fact she was inclined to rail at philosophers and say that they always talked nonsense. When, however, the goblets of gold and the show of silver were proved as light as air and all fluttered away out of their sight, while the wine-bearers and the cooks and all the retinue of servants vanished before the rebukes of Apollonius, the phantom pretended to weep, and prayed him not to torture her nor to compel her to confess what she really was.

But Apollonius insisted and would not let her off, and then she admitted that she was a vampire, and was fattening up Menippus with pleasures before devouring his body, for it was her habit to feed upon young and beautiful bodies, because their blood is pure and strong.

I have related at length, because it was necessary to do so, this the best-known story of Apollonius; for many people are aware of it and know that he incident occurred in the center of Hellas; but they have only heard in a general and vague manner that he once caught and overcame a lamia in Corinth, but they have never learned what she was about, nor that he did it to save Menippus, but I owe my own account to Damis and to the work which he wrote.”

Oscar Broneer, St. Paul, and Wicked Corinth (and a new blog)

In a recent blog post at Objects-Buildings-Situations, Kostis Kourelis has pointed out that Ohians have the tendency to blog about Greece, and especially post-classical Greece and their experiences with the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.  He refers to Bill Caraher’s Archaeology of the Mediterranean World, Katie Rask’s Antiquated Vagaries, and now Dallas DeForest’s blog, Mediterranean Palimpsest.  The last is the most recent blog about Greek antiquities, and described itself as “the history, archaeology, and culture of Greece.  And other things.”  As he notes here, DeForest is a PhD candidate at Ohio State University, and is writing a dissertation on baths in Late Antique Greece. He has already written some interesting posts about the history of teaching at the ASCSA, bathing and cleanliness in early modern Europe, and Greek music.  Since he has worked at Isthmia and spent summers in Corinth, his blog should present us with some splendid Corinthiaka.

His most recent entry on Oscar Broneer and the image of Corinth provides a fascinating overview of Corinthian archaeologist legend Oscar Broneer, who excavated at Corinth and acted as the first director of the American School Excavations at Isthmia.  New Testament scholars and students will know him from three articles in particular:

  • “Corinth: Center of St. Paul’s Missionary Work in Greece,” in Biblical Archaeologist 14.4 (1951), pp. 77-96.
  • “The Apostle Paul and the Isthmian Games,” in Biblical Archaeologist 25 (1961), 2-31.
  • “Paul and the Pagan Cults at Isthmia,” in Harvard Theological Review 64 (1971), 169- 87.

What many do not know is how much Oscar Broneer crafted an image of Corinth, and made the ancient site a suitable center for modern Christian pilgrimage.

In his post, DeForest visits the archives at the Blegen Library in Athens and looks through the Broneer papers, which include 20 boxes of letters, correspondence, newspaper articles, lectures, notes, among others.  He presents interesting material about mid-20th century images of Corinth as sin capital and as St. Paul’s city.  Here’s a short quote:

“As it turns out, Broneer’s South Stoa excavations created a real stir in the media, and it was because his finds aligned so well with the image of Corinth as a place of loose morals (it was not for every man to go to Corinth…). In fact, his excavation of the Stoa made the front page of the New York Times on September 2, 1950. In many ways, the title (and subtitles) announce the article’s perspective: “Old ‘Grecian Paris’ is Scholar’s Prize; Notorious Corinth’s Night Life Centered on Big Colonnade and 33 Adjoining Clubs; 1,000 Girls Made Music; Drinking Cups, Dice, Flutes, Money brought to Light by 17 Year’s Excavations.” And section two: “They Had Hangover Cure. Drinking cups include one with an inscription dedicating it to the cure of hangovers through the powers of the spirit Pausikrepalos.”

As I read the piece, it made me wonder how much Broneer himself was responsible for forming certain images of Corinth (e.g., the sex capital of the ancient world) that recent scholarship has problematized or disproved.  Visit DeForest’s blog for images of newspaper articles (used by permission of the ASCSA school archivist) and for a discussion of Broneer’s work to increase Christian tourism to the ancient site through connections to the apostle Paul.

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. 

Bungee into the Abyss

If it looks unsafe, it probably is.  That’s what I have often thought while watching extreme sport types jump 80 meters head first into the Corinth Canal.  For 60 Euro you can pay Zulu Bungy to jump from the old national road bridge and hang suspended above the canal for a couple of minutes.  It is interesting that bungee jumping at the Isthmus has become a main attraction in its own right and forms one of the main memories of the Corinthia that Greeks and foreigners take away.  Also interesting that Zulu Bungy has made something of the history of the Isthmus in their advertisement:


But the site is indeed a popular one.  The Isthmus now numbers among the premier destinations in the world for this kind of extreme sport (see 20 amazing places to bungee jump) and I’m finding YouTube videos of canal jumps increasingly filling my Google alerts.  Check out, for example, this one here and here.   This one proves what an old friend had once told me (and which I did not believe)—that you can ask the operators for enough cord to hit the water.  Sure enough, as Zulu’s website notes, “WATERTOUCH AVAILABLE THAT WILL ALLOW YOUR HEAD TO JUST KISS THE WATER.”  Awesome. 

Here are pictures my wife shot in 2007 of a jump in action:




My favorite Isthmus bungee video is the one posted on which is set to the cool background track ‘Ciao Bella.’  As one person commented on that video, “i did it , and is one unforgetable experience.”  Another said “supercool! Corinth Canal is THE place for bungyjumping!” 

This memorable experience of the Corinthia, by the way, is not encouraged for pregnant women, individuals with heart conditions or bone problems, and very large people, among others.  If it looks unsafe…

Corinthian Scholarship (May-June 2011)

It’s been a couple of months since the last Corinthian Scholarship update, so we have a full list here.  The following list compiles the works I happened to see and the (imperfect) results of various google alerts.  If you have material to add to these monthly compilations, send to

As usual, 1 and 2 Corinthians scholars win the prize for productivity.

1 and 2 Corinthians:


Archaic to Hellenistic Corinth


Corinthian Myth and Image:


Coastal Archaeology:



  • A few from the publication office of the ASCSA:
  • The following books were up for review at the Journal of Roman Archaeology – surely they are taken now.
    • Nancy Bookidis, Corinth volume XVIII.5. The sanctuary of Demeter and Kore. The terracotta sculpture (American School of Classical Studies at Athens; Princeton, NJ 2010). Pp. xxv + 317, pls. 126. ISBN 978-0-87661-185-2. $150.
    • Steven J. Friesen, Daniel N. Schowalter and James C. Walters, Corinth in context: comparative studies on religion and society (Supplements to Novum Testamentum vol. 134; E. J. Brill, Leiden 2010). Pp. xxv + 517, figs. 102, tables 13, maps 3. ISSN 0167-9732; ISBN 978 90 04 18197 7. $230

Corinthian Projections of the Past

One of the goals for our trip to Albania and Greece was to encourage students to think comparatively about the two countries. Leaving aside the current economic crisis, Greece often evokes positive images–mountains, sea, and plain; blue skies, blue seas; democracy and theaters and philosophers; ancient ruins in a scenic landscape; Mama Mia and Traveling Pants and Zorba. Albania, by contrast, produces few comparable mental images. The lack of images for Albania in contrast with the numerous images of Greece is especially striking in light of the two countries’ common history (Greek poleis, Roman and Byzantine provinces, Ottoman era, etc..), geography, and culture. One of the rewarding things about leading this trip was seeing students with almost no knowledge of Albania before the trip describe the country as one of Europe’s “hidden treasures.”

One of the profound differences that I noticed (as an historian and archaeologist) was how differently Albania and Greece projected their pasts in the present. In Albania, Skanderbeg, the 15th century national hero, is the real focal point in the past. We saw his image frequently on postcards, in statues, and signs. The ancient Illyrians made a weak showing at archaeological sites and museums but not to the same degree as Skanderbeg (shown below).



In Greece, by contrast, archaeological remains and classical antiquity are constantly imaged and marketed for the visitor. The difference was striking even in the Corinthia. Some examples.

The fast food restaurant known as Goody’s has collected (at its Isthmus location) images of the diolkos and canal. Here one of our students visits the posters after enjoying a delicious value meal:


The Temple of Apollo is an icon of ancient Corinth, projected throughout the tavernas and stores of the village.


I love that there is a “diolkos” cafe in Ancient Corinth! How fun it was to drink espresso and use the internet at the diolkos!


Someone has posted a sign about the diolkos in the Engineering School grounds. This is most visible to those sailing through the canal on cruise ships or party boats or canal tour vessels


And near Poseidonia on the Corinthian Gulf not far from the diolkos, we find the ancient inspiration in bronze with some fine graffiti.


Korinth: A Tale of Zombies

One problem in running Google searches on “Corinth” is the unwieldy number of hits returned.  The reason for the numerous false positives is that the USA has a good number of cities and churches named “Corinth”.  On the first two pages of a Google search, one encounters sites related to Corinth Mississippi, Corinth Vermont, the Battle of Corinth (American Civil War), Corinth Texas, Corinth New York.  Nothing wrong with these places, of course, but someone looking for ancient Corinth, Greece, may not be interested in the American stops along the way.

Filters help.  In my Google Alert subscription on “Corinth,” the following filter eliminates a lot of the background noise: “-tx -Texas -Mississippi -miss* -ny -ms -york -ave -avenue -download -lovis -boots -maine -vermont -killzone”.  (If you didn’t know, Killzone is a videogame; Lovis Corinth was a German painter; and UGG Australia produces a brand of women’s “Corinth boots”).  But the filter is still not precise enough to keep out irrelevant material.  I have found in my inbox stories about murders and deaths  in the various Corinths of the United States; the Coca-Cola race in Corinth, Mississippi; and interracial dating in Corinth, Kentucky.  This morning’s alerts turn up pages on spinal surgery, astrology, and the Battle of Corinth in 1862.

But the most interesting notice to turn up in my feed last week was a piece on a new work of fiction called “Korinth: A Tale of Zombies in the Old West”.   The description of the work from Amazon:

An unpublished 1890 manuscript by Elihu Baxter was discovered in the retirement community of Sun City Center, Florida in May 2010. In it, Boston blueblood Baxter describes how he and his best friend, Robert Fontaine, were guided by the Spirit of Adventure, a drunken prospector and the lust for gold, to the small California mining town of Korinth in 1872. For nearly two years the residents of Korinth got rich digging the treasure from the Earth. The future looked as bright and shiny as a gold nugget until Edna McCauley, a woman with a singing voice so dreadful it was rumored that President Lincoln had wanted to unleash her on the Confederacy if Robert E. Lee refused to surrender, is murdered at a church social. Her killer was Evangeline O’Meara.

Murder was a hanging offense in the Old West. The trouble was, Evangeline O’Meara had already been hanged the week before for the murder of her husband, George.

Interestingly, there appears to be no actual settlement in California known by the name “Korinth.”  Why, then, did the author choose this name as the fitting scene for a story of horror and the undead?