Category: Architecture

Rich Man, Poor Man

Rich Man, Poor Man

After Corinth was rebuilt by Caesar in 44 BC as a Roman colony, people from throughout the empire began to to settle there in droves, including a large number of freed slaves. Because of Corinth’s geographical position it quickly grew into a valuable trade center. Land travelers from throughout Greece had to pass through the city on most southern routes, plus with two nearby ports it was a huge shipping center. Tourism was also a big industry for Corinth. Every two years Corinth hosted the Isthmian Games–similar in size and scope to the Olympics.

All of this meant that Corinth grew very quickly from a backwater town to the third largest city in the Roman Empire. Corinth went from very poor, to very rich. Some of its top officials were children of former slaves who had earned their freedom and come into money. In Phoebe’s Journey, Phoebe’s mother and father are both freed slaves. Miklos builds his shipping agency to be the largest in the region.

But not everyone benefitted from the growth and the booming economy. Like many cities that grow quickly, huge swaths of people were left behind by the more successful. Corinth became a city with a wide disparity between rich and poor.

Corinth was also a city known for its wild living. It had more than three temples devoted to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, desire, and beauty. The city’s worship of Aphrodite coupled with the large numbers of sailors and itinerant travelers led Corinth to become so known for its promiscuity that its name became slang. “To act like a Corinthian,” was to be drunk. “To play like a Corinthian,” was another way of talking about sex.

Prosperity, tourism, pride, promiscuous culture…it’s easy to see why at least one Biblical  scholar has called Corinth, “at once the New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas of the ancient world.”

Corinthian Columns

Corinthian Columns

You’ve heard of Corinthian columns, but do you know what they look like?

The ancient Greeks invented three types of columns: the Doric, the Ionic, and the Corinthian.




The Parthenon

Of the three, Doric columns are the simplest. A Doric column has a top–called the capital–made of a circle topped by a square. The tall part of the column is called the shaft. The shaft of a Doric column is actually quite plain, but very powerful looking. They are especially impressive when they are lined up along the front of a rectangular structure.




Temple of Athena Nike

Ionic columns have taller shafts than Doric columns. Because of their height, they also look more slender than Doric columns. Ionic columns have a unique characteristic, a sort of optical illusion. There is a slight bulge in the columns, called an entasis, that makes the columns look straight, even at a distance. Without the entasis, your eyes would pick up that Ionic columns get narrower as they rise. An Ionic column’s base is large and looks like a set of stacked rings. At the top, the capitals consist of scrolls above the shaft.




Temple of Olympian Zeus

Corinthian columns are the most decorative and the one that most modern people like the best. Corinthian columns also use an entasis to make the columns look straight. The shaft has slender flutes and the base is like the Doric. The capitals are very ornate with elaborate flowers and acanthus leaves below a small scroll. Ironically, the Romans used the Corinthian column much more often than the Greeks did.

So why is it called a Corinthian column?

De Architectura is commonly accepted as the world’s very first architecture manual. Written in about 30 B.C., De Architectura’s author, Vitruvius, tells the story of a young girl’s death in Corinth. “A free-born maiden of Corinth, just of marriageable age, was attached by an illness and passed away,” he writes.

Vitruvius says the girl was buried near the root of an acanthus tree, with a basket of her favorite things. The next spring, leaves and stalks grew up through the basket. Callimachus, a Corinthian sculptor, walked past the tomb and was so impressed with the beauty he began to incorporate the intricate design onto column capitals. And, so (at least according to this story), the Corinthian column was born.

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