Yesterday, as night was falling across the Corinthian Gulf a ship from Cenchreae dropped anchor offshore Lechaeum harbor. Today its crew was boisterously unloading cargo onto wheeled carts to be transported eastward four miles across the Isthmus of Corinth to the Saronic Gulf harbor. A ship was waiting there to take the commodities to merchants in the eastern Mediterranean countries.
When the work day ended many of these seamen would trek to the Temple of Aphrodite 1,800 feet above the bustling metropolitan city of Corinth. There they would seek out the prostitutes, or women fulfilling their fertility offering to Aphrodite.
Vanessa was scheduled to be a temple prostitute tonight, satisfying her at least once-in-a-lifetime worship obligation. The coin she received would be dutifully presented to the priests as a offering. But, to perform this service with a foreigner, as required, she would not. She praised the gods, and her wealthy husband, that she had found a solution not available to common women.
Two weeks ago she had been in an artisan’s shop considering the purchase of delicate gold peacock earrings when the owner introduced himself. Flavius was a delightfully charming and perceptive Greek man.
“My lady, if I may be so bold,” he said, “have you yet fulfilled your commitment to Aphrodite?”
I tell you, he startled me and I was somewhat timorous in my reply. “What interest is that to you?”
“I know ladies with financial means who were reluctant to chance who they took to bed when keeping their vow. Who knows when those sailors and camel herders bathed last, eh?”
His candor gave me encouragement to respond for I felt he was suggesting something. And truly, I was at my wits end trying to appease Aphrodite before…
“My lady,” he said. “Every fortnight I serve the temple, making room assignments for the women and sending patrons to them. The men, as you no doubt have heard, may enter any room of their choosing and leave a coin. However, for some, I discreetly send the man to a woman that is waiting for him.”
“But how …”
“For a fee, my lady, you will entertain someone who is agreeable, and your vow pleasantly fulfilled.”
And so, we haggled over the price, but not much, for my husband’s wealth was well known and this solution was appealing. About the man he would only say that he was from a distinguished family in a nearby village.
I was mentally reviewing the instructions Flavius gave me when Joanna, my servant girl burst into the room.
”My lady, I just came from the market. You must not go tonight.”
“Lechaeum Road is buzzing with tongues saying Flavius has renounced Aphrodite and joined with those Christians. The authorities have revoked his seller’s license. He will not be at the temple tonight.”
“But --- but, he must be. I’m committed...” Tears welled in Vanessa’s eyes and spilt onto her crimson gown. “I paid him. I ---“Vanessa crumpled onto her bed sobbing.
“I’m sure, my lady, that he will refund your money if you can find him.” Joanna knelt, softly caressing Vanessa’s back. “If you must go to the Temple tonight my lady, hope for the best.”
“I can’t. I won’t.”
“What happened, Joanna? Why did Flavius do this?”
“A man named Paul and two others, Priscilla and Aquila, I heard, have a tent-making stall near Flavius’s booth. They persuade many Greeks and Romans and a few Jews to follow one called The Christ. Flavius has joined them.”
“Joanna, I cannot bear the thought of taking any unwashed person to bed. I must quickly find another intermediary that works at the temple, someone who knows me and knows someone suitable to me. I must …”
“My lady, there is not time. You are listed for tonight.”
Vanessa pounded the bed with her fists, making puffs of dust fly outward. ’’Joanna, was it as horrible as I’m imagining it will be?”
“My lady, have you forgotten that I am Jewish? I do not worship your gods.”
“Do you know this Paul?”
“No, my lady, but he can be found easily enough.”
“Then go quickly Joanna. Find him and bring him here. If Flavius can risk Aphrodite’s wrath…” Vanessa blinked tears from her eyes. “Tell Paul I must know about this Christ.”
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