Greco-Roman Pilgrimage: Sermons in Stone
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The pilgrimage that I took this time was with Pilgrim Tours, and it began with a cruise on the Celestyal Olympia in the Mediterranean Sea. Sailing on the ancient sea made me think of the voyage that Odysseus took back home after the Trojan War, and it also made me think of the missionary journeys that Apostle Paul took as he embarked on the mission to bring the Christian gospel to the Greco-Roman world. This was, after all, a "traveling in the footsteps of St. Paul" trip, even though some of the places were not where he walked or taught. Nevertheless, they were places that were important in the wider context of understanding the Greco-Roman world that he was a part of. The first stop on the journey was at Mykonos, the island of the wind and windmills. The second stop-Ephesus-was an archaeological site where the ancient Temple of Artemis (Diana) stood. Patmos, the island of the Apocalypse, was where the dramatic unveiling of the book of Revelation was envisioned by the Apostle John in a natural cave. Crete, the world-renowned island of the mythical labyrinth and the Minotaur, was the center of the Minoan civilization. Santorini, also known as Thera, was, to me, the island that made me wonder about the legendary island of Atlantis. Ancient Corinth is the place where the Bible comes to life. Ancient Mycenae, although of no apparent biblical importance, is of great cultural and historical value in that it is associated with the legends of Homer. In Athens, the visit to the Parthenon atop the Acropolis is the highlight of any pilgrimage or tour. Rome, the Eternal City, is always the culmination of any pilgrimage.
[Our tour guide, Paolo Lenzi, stopped at a quiet place to tell us a very descriptive account of the manner in which the show at the Colosseum was staged.] We know for sure that the shows were arranged in the springtime and during the fall. In the springtime you had hot, hazy days, and the show would last for most of the day, depending upon the budget of the wealthy person who was putting on the show. In those days, a task force of marines (sailors) was in charge of doing something interesting. Visualize the top row of the Colosseum where the poles were placed, and each pole had a pulley. So these guys stepped down into the arena, and they used canvas ropes to make a ring attached to other ropes, and then they went to the top and attached those ropes to the pulleys. They went outside, and then altogether they lifted up the canvas attached to the ropes. What was the canvas for? For the people, to shade them. Can you imagine watching a show for eight hours in the sun rays? They would get a sun stroke. So only on the day of the show, these guys were up there hoisting the canvas and transforming the Colosseum into a domed stadium. OK, let's recap. When? 72 to 90 AD. Eighteen years. They drained a lake which was here to establish the foundation and to build the ground. Emperor Titus was in charge in 80 AD, and the inaugural show he put on lasted 90 days – three months in a row. The brother of Titus, Domitian, accomplished (finished) the last details of the Colosseum. I said it was a lake. This lake was once a huge property of Emperor Nero, who took one-third of the city for himself. There were hills, slopes, a lake, and original Greek statues standing around his property. In 68 AD he said, ‘I better fade away.' It was horrible for an emperor to be captured or jailed and to wait for the end, so he went away from the city to the far countryside. Why there? One of his slaves, set free by him some years earlier, grew incredibly rich. He was a landowner. So at nighttime, escorted by a few bodyguards, Nero showed up and told his former slave, ‘I have no more friends left. Be my friend for the last time.' And he fell on the sword and committed suicide. End of Nero, and end of the family of Julius Caesar. He was the last member of the family. After one year of fighting, three guys (Galba, Otho, Vitellius) were fighting to get power, and one guy Vespasian took over the power and rulership of Rome in 69 AD. He and his son Titus went to Jerusalem (actually in 66 AD at the behest of Nero) because the Jews were rebellious and they didn't want to be subdued by anyone else but themselves (actually rebelled against Roman occupation). Titus defeated the Jews and destroyed the temple of Solomon, and many of the Jews were taken to Rome in chains. Afterwards, Titus met his father and said, ‘Hey Dad, we can build a place now' (with the slaves he brought back). How many slaves built the Colosseum? It is reported that 40,000 slaves built the Colosseum. We do not know – not yet – who was the smart guy who designed such a building. Everywhere the Romans went they built amphitheaters for their shows. But we do not know who was the smart guy who built this, the Flavian Amphitheater. Usually you begin to figure it out, but here, no way, we don't know who was the smart guy. But we do know the date the building was started (72 AD), and that it was commissioned by Vespasian for gladiator shows. [And it was built on the place where Nero had his palace and lake, and the people of Rome would now have their land back in the form of a public stadium.] Chapter 1. We are two soldiers and we fight for Rome (Emperor Claudius) and we come back from England after winning a war. On the way back we take the spoils – a family, an old man, a girl, etc. – to Rome. When we get to Rome, we sell them, and we get some money. The next day is market day, and among the people to be sold are the old man, the children, and women on sale. The owner says, ‘Look at this guy, look at that guy.' Among the customers is me. What is my job? I am a gladiator's gym manager. So I buy big men and train them for the shows. So I see this guy, maybe when he was in England he was a blacksmith. I ask, ‘Hey, how much do you charge?' And the owner asks me for a lot of money, and I say, ‘Hey, that's too much, make it lower.' So we negotiate, and I buy this guy. Now he belongs to me. I can do what I want with his life. He's an object, not a person. His life is expendable. And I take him with me to my gym. And I drop him in the hands of a super tough trainer, like in the army, and he will be trained for eight hours a day for about six to seven months. So how does he feel after a day of training? Super exhausted. What do I give him for supper, some cheese and a piece of bread? No, I give him juicy T-bone steaks, and then fresh vegetables and fruits, full of protein. He has to get his calories back, otherwise he won't wake up and start again. So who pays for the food? Me. Who pays for the trainers? Me. Who paid when I bought him? Me. I invested a lot of my money in this guy, so I must take care of him. Chapter 2 – Organizing the Show. The senator who had an advancement in his career wants to put on a show that everyone will enjoy. He decides to finance a gladiator show. So he calls me. Now I am another person. I am Paulus, and my job is the producer and director of gladiator shows. He used my services in the past and he trusts me. So he calls me and says, ‘Do the best you can.' He leaves it all up to me. He tells his wealthy friends, ‘Don't call Paulus anymore, because he's my guy to put on a show.' I ask him if he has any special desire or wish for the show. He says, ‘I trust you.' I say, ‘Thank you, sir.' I come here to pick up my best collaborators, and I give them instructions. They will be the supervisors, and everything must work perfectly, like a well-oiled device. Now I become a scout of gladiators. This is the most important part of my job. I go inside a gym to check and see how many guys I need for one show. It depends on the budget, but I need at least 100 or 120 (gladiators) per show. Fewer than that would mean the show would be so-so. So I go to the gym and talk to the gym manager. Imagine, he invested his money, and now it is time to get some of his money back. He's very happy to see me. Everybody knows that the senator is giving the money for the show. So he welcomes me to his gym. I sit down in his gym and I begin to watch the gladiators who are being trained. So after a while, I decide who I want, and we make an agreement. But I don't keep them with me; I keep them in the gym. The day before the show, I pick all of them up and I put them in the largest gym for gladiators, which is near the Colosseum. And there we give them the best dinner ever. They eat a lot, because for some of them this might be their last supper. They might die or be killed. Afterwards, altogether, handcuffed and in chains, I force them to use an underpass to move from the gym to the dungeons of the Colosseum. Why can't they walk on the street? Because that might be the last chance they would have to try and escape. So they spend the last night in fear and pain under the arena, listening to the roaring animals, super angry and super hungry. They're in a smelly dark place. Chapter 3 – the Show. People begin to flock in early – the lower class people – they are the first ones to get in to get their seats in the last row of windows that you see up there. Visualize three rows of wooden benches. These are for unmarried girls, virgins. They should keep their virginity. Why? Could they lose it? Yes, because it took nothing for an older man to rape them. So as some of this has happened in the past, the emperor said, ‘Girls, no more, no husband, go sit up there.' Then below the windows after the lower class people . . .
Paul John Wigowsky is a lifetime student of comparative religions. He earned two master's degrees from San Francisco State University-English and Russian. He retired from teaching after a productive twenty-seven-year career at the elementary and middle school levels in Oregon. He wrote a book (Freedom for an Old Believer) about the religion, customs, and traditions of a community of Russian Old Believers he worked with in the school district. In 2008, he wrote God in Three Persons: A Spiritual Odyssey-a historic-religious romance (semiallegorical narrative) about three historical persons who appeared almost simultaneously on the stage of the first century AD to transform the world. In 2009, he took a pilgrimage to the Maya world of Belize, Honduras, and Guatemala and wrote about it in Maya Pilgrimage: Xibalba, Maximon, and Our Galaxy. In 2010, he took a pilgrimage to the South American countries of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia and wrote about it in Inka Pilgrimage: Hidden Treasures of Pachamama. In 2011, he took a pilgrimage to the Holy Land (Israel) and wrote about it in Pilgrimage in the Holy Land: Israel.
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