Saturday, February 21, 2015

Saintly Saturday: St. Timothy of Symbola

Today is the Feast of St. Timothy of Symbola, who was of Italian descent. He was attracted to the monastic life and was tonsured at a young age. After spending years of training in a monastery he received the gift to heal the sick and to cast out unclean spirits. He also spent many years as a hermit, wandering the wilderness offering up prayer both day and night. He died at what is only called “a great old age” in the year A.D. 795.

This date places him in the era of iconoclasm, an era when many monastics came into direct conflict with emperors over the use of icons in the Church. Indeed, St. Timothy may very well have taken to the hermetic life because of imperial pressure upon the monasteries.

St. Timothy gets his title “of Symbola” because he pursued his asceticism at a monastery called “Symbola.” This monastery was near Mount Olympus; however, if you think this means he lived his life in northern Greece, you would be mistaken, because the Symbola Monastery was in Asia Minor, near the Sea of Mamara on the southern edge of Bithynia. Yes, I did talk about these two places last week.

Although today it is called Uludağ or Keşiş Dağı (literally “Mountain of Monks”), this mountain was called Olympus in antiquity. It is not alone. In addition to the world-famous Mt. Olympus where the pagan Greeks imagined their gods lived, there are another five in Greece (at Lesbos, Euboea, East Attics, Skyros and Arcadia). Besides the “Mountain of Monks," there are three more in Turkey (at Bartin, Kemer and Aegean Turkey). Finally, the highest point in Cyprus is another Mt. Olympus.

Mt. Olympus in Macedonia

Mt. Olympus in Bithynia

I have two thoughts about how to inform a campaign using the story of St. Timothy:

Firstly, I’d further develop the campaign of the Sea of Mamara with a brewing conflict between a group of rebellious monks (based out of the Mountain of Monks) and one of the political powers in the area. This is not something isolated to this campaign or this particular era, either. Monastics of all stripes have come into conflict with political powers throughout history. The key is finding an issue intriguing enough to add a bit of fun to the campaign.

Secondly, the fact that there are eleven (!) mountains by the name of Olympus in the ancient world, reminds me of the value of having multiple names for various landmarks in a campaign, with some of those names referring to multiple places. This is especially true in a campaign where the PCs are interested in finding an artifact, a tomb, a person, etc. that is located at a “Mt. Olympus.” The players are then left with trying to decipher which is the “Mt. Olypmus” in question.

Over the years, various bloggers (which ones I cannot recall at the moment), have posited using The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth or The Tomb of Horrors as goals for PCs introduced at the beginning of the campaign. Should players choose, the whole campaign could focus on getting information detailing the contents of these dungeons so that when they were ready, the players would have a fighting chance of success (especially in the case of the The Tomb of Horrors). This campaign would be especially interesting should the PCs not be the only ones interested in finding and conquering the dungeon.

In such a campaign, having several different versions of “Mt. Olympus” with multiple names would add a layer of complexity, forcing characters to choose which to focus on, or possibly use to mislead rival parties.

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