Of Plenitude and a Man Named Paul

Daphne, the source of fountains, was only a few engineered viaduct miles, however hilly and forested the terrain, almost west of Antioch. The road was twisting, but well traveled.  This was Daphne the verdant, rich in waters, in temples, taverns, wine shops, summer houses for those rich and ruling, a few philosophers holding forth as if next to the Athenian Stoa.  Brothels were here as were musicians, acrobats, jugglers, dancers,  all of these then in Daphne, a plentitude and many were rightly deemed licentious. In the warm months Daphne was scented with pleasures and many were the moths drawn here from all about the Empire. 

It was this place which Paul, an himself and Damascus -generated apostle, cursed for its sins, loathed as a second Sybaris, decried as a sensual, voluptuous, luxurious, this welcoming Syrian couch of too many delights, for Paul was the most serious and strict of men.  Paul had lived in Antioch, preached, counseled wisely, fought with Peter there   In greater quiet when there was no Cephus to dispute him, he had prayed in the grotto of the hallowed ground, steeped in the undeniably sacred even if made so by heathen gods. Here about, for visitors and seekers wishing to enhance fertility, performance, the sensuous, lascivious or wildly orgiastic, could be found shrines with exaggerated shows of a fertility’s apparatus, their priests hawking these wares, which included  amulets, rings, even genital ornaments all quite frank in their invitation. Demonstrations of application and efficacy never failed to draw an excited crowd. Paul, a not insensitive man, was deeply offended. His mission was to teach virtuously in faith how to gain the other world, not maximize debasement in this one. Salvation, not fecundity, would he praise.

 Paul had left Antioch in anger, in disgust at Peter, at the stubborn irrelevant laws which Jewish Christians clung to and would impose as Jews. He and Barnabas had parted ways over what foods should be on the celebrating table, although that was but one of several deep matters.

Antioch had not been good for Paul, although he was too seasoned a self-summoning traveler for Christ to be troubled by the differences of cities   Yet Antioch and its Daphne had been, for this man of visions, letters, wisdom as to “economy” as management, difficult.  These arose not from pagans, imprisoning Ephesians, critical sophisticated Athenians, not yet arresting Romans, but from his own not quite so brotherly apostle, from his earlier companion, now the deserter Barnabus.  It was almost a relief from the searing doctrinal, personalized disputation, to curse, noisily denounce,  the terrible sins of Daphne. That some mocked him, going so far as noisily to tease stating a sometimes truth, that the louder the denunciation, the stronger the concealed desire for that being damned. 

Paul had ridden out there, as any visitor to Antioch does, hearing of its beauty.  But beauty is not what Paul beheld. These were pavilions of sin.  He responded as might some Hebrew prophet of old, stood in the plaza there, fists waving, lecturing loudly, shouting God’s vengeance, how of all sinners these in Daphne were the worst.  They must acknowledge their only salvation, their only salvation as in and through Christ.  It was for their sake Paul called out, and they heard not, cared not, believed not. For none of them would there be redemption.  They had turned their backs on salvation while front side were their wide grins, laughing mouths and their bellies sweating, heaving, swelling, yielding thrusting in what was for any pious Hebrew-Christian,  unspeakable businesses.

The pleasure seekers in Daphne, although not all were that since some were shopkeepers, some serious pilgrims to Apollo and his famous oracle, others resting there in their vacation houses, taking the baths, no matter the why of their presence, all those in Daphne had been grievous in their insult to Paul.  It was egregious insult.  No Christian among them, or soon likely to be, they did not notice him.  In Cappodocia he had been taken for a god.  Here he was ridiculed. Rage in a man of preaching an eccentric love not shown by any marriage or proved with other intimacies, proximities, thus a temper not gently tempered,  is a display to be reckoned with.

Here near Antioch were, men and women in holiday mood laughing, walking about, admiring the bubbling of well tamed springs and the ponds into which they were routed, watched their children swim, unafraid of river called Saramanna which rushed out of the ground accompanied by her streaming brother, Agriae, the Wild Waters, , coursed down a ravine to the Orontes. Visitors nearby sat drinking wine at taverns’ outdoor tables, or ordered sweets, some even buying flowers for their woman. Some tossed coins to musicians who were noted as playing quite well. Others, needing no Christ to counsel charity, were giving to beggars.  All were at least indifferent to or, more insulting, light heartedly contemptuous of Paul, his Jesus and his God.  That Jesus was–Paul was shouting it again- their only, yes only redemption and yet these monsters, God’s failed creations, refused to accept that.  All deaf and blind these folk many flowing in and out of temples, more aware of their exquisite colonnaded, inner gilt, frieze-carved beauty than of its and their Creator.  Paul despised all of it, this frippery ornament to false gods. Loathed of course, the lust of the place, especially Paul the severe who was not on friendly terms with his own flesh, not a temple itself but a transient vehicle. H was revulsion to see so many men bargaining with one or several strumpets as to duration, positions, specialties or, numbers when girls in a congenial bargaining mood rather than competing, could be hear to say, “take the three of us, prove you’re a man” The proof the girls wanted was not in erection, emission but solely in transaction, the final price.  There were men and boys there too, some painted, all luring and lurid, these were abominations, for seed cast there was beyond abhorring, it was utmost pollution   Paul then was not pleased with sinners.  

All of Daphne was busy laughing and licentious, giving offerings to such as Apollo, or the demi- goddess Daphne herself. In all of it Paul beheld fools enjoying themselves, guaranteeing their own eternal damnation. How could they ignore his evangelical trumpet, not hear his quieter, beseeching ,“for your own sakes!” How could they not understand his efforts were out of love?  Peter had done Paul no good in Antioch, but Daphne defeated him totally.  He left his sustaining curse on it.  Paul’s view was that he had the gift of God’s curse to .  Paul’s departing mood was not, after all of love, and he, bitter, steaming, knew it, and the more to denounce the sinners for it. Could there be any other to blame?

This was Daphne-by-Antioch where other gods, vice, laughter and indifference were a consortium denying salvation. This was Daphne of beautiful temples, devout priests, brothels, and wines for every palate, this Daphne-by-Antioch  bestowing and depriving, this world-famous Daphne as Antioch and Rome’s jewel. In AD 117, or by the Roman calendar “urba condita” 852, Trajan would die in Antioch.  Hadrian, his nephew and resident at the time as  Governor of Syria was told by Apollo’s Daphne oracle told he would be Imperator.   The oracle, a priestess possessed, had a beautiful voice.  It could not have been more beautiful than when Hadrian heard its news.   Later Trajan’s adopting letter confirmed Hadrian’s succession.  The legions, in which power resided until the new emperor was firmly placed, would do the acclaiming.  The legions were his, he was theirs. To a man they enjoyed Daphne. 


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