Comments on “Corinth – City of Sin”

David Pettigrew left a comment on my Corinth – City of Sin post last week pointing out a recent post on the blog, Mediterranean Palimpsest .  This is a  summary of the Dallas DeForest’s work in the Oscar Broneer papers stored at the Blegen Library.  Broneer was a Swedish archaeologist who specialized in Corinth.  Among the many things in the archive is a New York Times article dates Sept 2, 1950 describing the ancient city of Corinth as an “Old Grecian Paris” and a “modern day Miami Beach.”  DeForest says:

In fact, his excavation of the Stoa made the front page of the New York Times on September 2, 1950. In many ways, the title (and subtitles) announce the article’s perspective: “Old ‘Grecian Paris’ is Scholar’s Prize; Notorious Corinth’s Night Life Centered on Big Colonnade and 33 Adjoining Clubs; 1,000 Girls Made Music; Drinking Cups, Dice, Flutes, Money brought to Light by 17 Year’s Excavations.”

To misquote Dr. Strangelove, a fella could have a pretty good time with all that stuff.  Dice and Flutes?  I imagine a fundamentalist preacher in 1950 read that and assumed playing cards and billiards were Corinthian inventions.

Obviously this is a bit of popular newspaper journalism, leading with the exciting news before getting to the actual details.  It did surprise me, though, to see the  the media in 1950 making the same sort of “Corinth was a city of sin” as preachers do today. It is possible that the popular commentators heard these sensational reports while they were in seminary and simply passed them along as fact.  It was in the NY Times, so it must be true, right?

This brings me to Pettigrew’s site, Corinthian Matters.   He has some comments which are along the same lines as my post, but adds:  “it made me wonder how much Broneer himself was responsible for forming certain images of Corinth (e.g., the sex capital of the ancient world) that recent scholarship has problematized or disproved.”   A easy enough way to test this theory would be to read popular commentaries on 1-2 Corinthians prior to 1950, if the sin-city tag is found in a 19th century commentary, the Broneer is not the originator.

Perhaps the moral of the story is that scholars ought to be very careful when the attempt to use public media, your speculations may outlive you!

One thought on “Comments on “Corinth – City of Sin”

  1. This is interesting to me. Whenever I hear an idea, whether it is presented as a wrong idea, merely an idea I believe to be wrong which is presented as a right idea, or even an idea I believe to be right, I tend to wonder how this idea came up. Sometimes I just construct origin stories for ideas from what I already know about the idea what players I already know or have reason to suspect are involved in the propagation of the idea.

    As for this particular idea, it occurs to me that it merely the existence of the sin-city tag on Corinth in scholarship prior to Broneer would not preclude him from consideration as perhaps the catalyst for the wide-spread acceptance of this idea. It is possible that there may be others before him who considered the possibility, published it, or subscribed to the idea, but lacked substantial evidence to really gain a following. Broneer only gets the following because he found the evidence. Of course his evidence turns out to be irrelevant because it is off by a century or so, but it was apparently enough to get a following.

    In any case, I am not sure it would be possible to really narrow him down as the “originator” of this idea in any case, however, simply because of the sheer volume of scholarship. Again, quantity of available scholarship and evidence seem to be the relevant criteria…

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