Some of life’s best trips are the ones you weren’t supposed to take. Improvisation is required, and you follow your instincts instead of the guide. Last month, after a business trip to Greece, my seat on the 6:00 am flight out of Athens wasn’t available. There was no other flight, no other seat. I was “stuck” for another day. Being stuck in Greece is a great thing. My mind raced through the possibilities, which began with me going down one floor to find a rental car. At 5:00 am, they were happy to talk to anyone. Keys in hand, I charted out my 24 hours of newly discovered freedom. Corinth, I recalled, was a short drive from Athens, a few hours at most.
Corinth is a beautiful ruin, and steeped in the ancient history of Paul, who of course visited and later wrote letters to his friends, inciting them to remember that of all the gifts God gave us, the greatest, the one that endures forever, is love (Corinthians 1:13). Corinth was where Jason came back to with the Golden Fleece, and also the site of Jason’s bethrothal to Glauke, daughter of the King of Corinth. Jason’s wife Medea never forgave this betrayal, and offered the bride a magical dress that sent her to a fiery death in the fountain of Peirene.
You can see this fountain in the ruins. Pausanias, in the 2nd century, has this to say of the fountain: “On leaving the market-place along the road to Lechaeum, you come to a gateway, on which are two gilded chariots, one carrying Phaethon the son of Helius, the other Helius himself. A little farther away from the gateway, on the right as you go in, is a bronze Heracles. After this is the entrance to the water of Peirene. The legend about Peirene is that she was a woman who became a spring because of her tears shed in lamentation for her son Cenchrias, who was unintentionally killed by Artemis. The spring is ornamented with white marble, and there have been made chambers like caves, out of which the water flows into an open-air well. It is pleasant to drink, and they say that the Corinthian bronze, when red-hot, is tempered by this water, since bronze the Corinthians have not.”
There is, however, a more ancient fountain in Corinth, in Akrokorinthos more exactly, within the walls of the Frankish fort that dominates the Greek ruin hundreds and hundreds of feet above the old city. The Old Peirene Fountain sits within the walls of the rarely visited fort. A few workers dig up foundations of ruined Ottoman buildings and repair Frankish walls, mixing mortar. They cannot show you where the fountain is, and don’t speak any English. But it is there. Wander the far path, looking a thousand feet down from the parapets, and eventually you will come to the clearing, two holes in the ground fenced off to keep animals from falling in. Next to the hole, you can follow the steps that lead into the ground, and find the place where history, mythology and the present meet.
It was here in Akrokorinthos that Pegasus, the winged horse of ancient legend, came to drink in the fountain he dug himself with his hooves. In four thousand years, the fountain has never run dry. Bellerophon, a fabled horseman of Corinth, heard of the legend, and came to watch the horse drink. He ensnared him, and tamed him, so that they might together defeat the Chimera. In the time of Jason, the fountain was covered, and eventually forgotten, even by the busloads of Japanese and American tourists that flock to the city below. The hike up is steep, and the road difficult for the bus. Walk down the steps, and put your finger in the water that Pegasus drank from. Sometimes, mythology seems very close indeed…