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!