Crown of Pine - Alfred J. Church


It was nearly sunset on the fourth day after leaving Brundisium when the travellers reached Lechaeum, the western port of Corinth. It was a busy scene that met their eyes. The harbour was crowded with shipping to its utmost capacity. The food supply of the city, with its population of at least a hundred thousand, as very little wheat was grown in its own territories, was in itself an important business. The towns and villages that bordered the Gulf kept up a constant traffic in provisions of all kinds. Cattle and sheep were brought in the larger coasting vessels; corn, poultry, market produce, and wine—the native growths were proverbially bad—in the smaller. The land-locked waters of the Gulf, which only grew rough when the wind blew strongly from the east or the west, afforded a safe and easy transit to even small boats. The city was famous for some fine kinds of tapestry, and for the celebrated bronze to which it had given its name, an alloy of copper with varying proportions of gold and silver, and it had the greatest share of the carrying trade between Europe and Asia.

The Jewish community was large and wealthy, as it was certain to be in any place where commerce was in the ascendant. Manasseh had, of course, his correspondents, who had been warned of his coming, Raphael having taken the precaution of sending a message by the shorter overland route. A litter was in attendance, and a physician, whose services however were scarcely needed, the quiet voyage over the placid waters of the Gulf having been of the greatest service to the invalid. Archias also had been apprised in the same way of the intended arrival of Aquila. Etiquette did not permit so distinguished a person as the chief magistrate of the city to meet a stranger in person, but he had sent a warm invitation to Aquila and his wife to consider his house as their home as long as they might remain in Corinth. Of this, however, they did not avail themselves. They were not willing to give offence to the Jewish community, as they certainly would have done by taking up their residence in what may be called the Corinthian Mansion House. They were aware, also, that many of those who would be going to and fro in such a place would not be as desirable acquaintance as was Archias. And above all they wished to be independent and to lead their own lives. Aquila abhorred above all things a life without regular employment, and proposed to himself to carry on, in however small a way, the business which he had been obliged to intermit at Rome, and Priscilla was intent on finding a scope for her own favourite activities. They had, accordingly, bespoken accommodation in one of the Jewish hostelries, intending to look about at their leisure for a more permanent home. To an agent of this establishment, who happened to be on the ship, they committed their belongings while they themselves made the journey on foot, finding this a welcome change from the long confinement in the close quarters of the ship.

[Illustration] from The Crown of Pine by Alfred J. Church


The distance between the harbour and the city was a little less than a mile and a half. The road was level and kept in excellent repair, with a wall strengthened by towers and redoubts on either side Some of the objects which would have attracted the notice of the ordinary visitor were passed unheeded or indeed with intentional neglect by the travellers. The harbour itself was dominated by a stately temple of the sea-god, Poseidon; a little further along the road to the city there was a shrine of the Olympian Zeus, and still nearer to the city, on either side of the road, were gorgeously gilded chariots, one of the Sun, the other of the luckless Phaethon. One object, however, Aquila and his wife were able to inspect with a good conscience, and this was the famous fountain of Peirene. It lay a little away from the road. The enclosure may have measured some twenty feet each way. All round it ran continuous seats of white marble. In the centre was the spring, a basin also of white marble, in which the water bubbled up continuously from some source deep in the earth beneath. The whole was shaded by plane-trees and limes. It was evidently a favourite resort; all the seats in the marble enclosure were occupied, while an unbroken line of women, young and old, were carrying away full pitchers from the spring. The water had a reputation, not only for purity and vivacity, but for its health-giving qualities. Inhabitants even of distant quarters of the city made a point of being supplied with it. It was even sent considerable distances. It had also the reputation of being specially useful in some manufactures. No Corinthian bronze was held to have been rightly made, if it had not been tempered in the waters of Peirene. Aquila was specially interested in seeing that some of the old habitués  of the place were passing the time with a game of draughts. The sight brought back to him one of the recollections of early days when he had studied the literature of Greece. "See," he said to Priscilla, "how curiously it happens that some of the trifles in human life seem to survive, when the graver things pass away. There is scarcely a thing in Corinth now that is as much as a hundred and twenty years old. But the old men are playing draughts just as they did in Medea's time twelve hundred years ago." As he spoke two thirsty lads, fresh from their game in the playing-field hard by, came to procure a drink at the spring. "Why!" he cried, "there is another survival ! Those two boys might be Medea's children, and that old man there their tutor. It is Euripides to the very life!"