The Oscar Broneer Papers and the Image of Corinth

On Friday, I was able to spend some time combing through the Oscar Broneer papers in the Archives of the Blegen Library. The School acquired it fairly recently (2-3 years ago), and it was previously stored in Elizabeth Gebhard’s home in Ancient Corinth. I was drawn to this archive because I’ve worked in the Corinthia for many years at Isthmia. Broneer (famously) found the temple of Poseidon at Isthmia on the first day of excavation in 1952 and then remained as director of the project until 1967. He is also known for his excavations of the Odeion and South Stoa in Ancient Corinth, his typology of Corinthian lamps (a first), and as the director of Triumph Over Time, a fundraising film the American School issued shortly after WWII (well worth watching for its documentation of Greece at the time). The archive is vast—over 20 boxes, each of which has several folders of material. It contains many of the things one would expect: his correspondence (personal and professional), lectures, notes (for classes, trips and sites), some manuscripts, photographs, personal documents, stories and poems that Broneer wrote, excavation materials (for Isthmia and elsewhere), and so on. I looked at only a handful of folders in one box on Friday, but nevertheless managed to find some interesting stuff (the material below is presented here with permission of the School’s archivist, Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan; I thank her for the opportunity).

In the abundant scholarship produced on Corinth nowadays, one can find quite a bit of good work dealing with the city’s image in antiquity. I’m thinking here esp. of Betsey Robinson’s work on water culture in Roman Corinth, her new book on the Peirene Fountain, and David Pettegrew’s work on the Isthmus, all of which in some way speak to the contours of Corinth’s identity in antiquity. So it was rewarding to find some material relating to this in the archive. As it turns out, Broneer’s South Stoa excavations created a real stir in the media, and it was because his finds aligned so well with the image of Corinth as a place of loose morals (it was not for every man to go to Corinth…). 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.” And section two: “They Had Hangover Cure. Drinking cups include one with an inscription dedicating it to the cure of hangovers through the powers of the spirit Pausikrepalos.”

An article in Time Magazine took this a bit further. It described Corinth as the “Miami Beach” of Greek antiquity, and noted that “it was the place that all Greeks longed to visit at least once without their wives.” This was “front-page Corinth,” let’s say.

But Corinth has (since the first century, at least) maintained an alternative image as an apostolic center associated with St. Paul and one of the earliest documented Christian communities. Broneer was aware of the potential of this association when he wrote a prospectus in 1950 for the restoration of the Bema (the supposed location of St. Paul’s defense of Christianity before the Roman governor Gallio, though this almost certainly did not occur here) in an effort to foster the nascent tourism industry in Greece. Broneer states of the Bema (if restored), “Because of the nature of the building, so intimately associated with the name of Saint Paul, such an undertaking would attract world-wide attention and bring many American travelers to Greece.” Broneer was, of course, correct in this assumption and his work did, in fact, generate a great deal of interest among a variety of Christian groups. The American Bible Society, for example, worked directly with Broneer to acquire images and plans from Corinth for its illustrated histories of the New Testament (and they were esp. interested in good, clear pictures of the Erastus inscription). Likewise, Broneer received a lot of correspondence about Ancient Corinth, St. Paul’s community there, and requests for pictures, plans, and other information as a result of the article he wrote for the Biblical Archaeologist (14.4 1951, pp. 77-96, “Corinth: Center of St. Paul’s Missionary Work in Greece”). Both images of the city worked on their own terms and for their own ends, something which I hope to explore further in the future.

Other finds of interest include a plan of Oscar Broneer’s patented shoe polish kit: Serial Number 678,290, filed on June 21, 1946.

And, finally, I must mention a letter that Charles Morgan (then chairman of the Managing Committee) wrote to his friend Oscar on January 7, 1952, with this very memorable quote, which, to my mind, should have some resonance for anyone who’s worked in the Corinthia and looked down upon it from Acrocorinth:

“How odd it is that we who used to live in each other’s laps so rarely see each other these days…but none of us can keep his thoughts from constantly turning back to the slopes of Acro-Corinth streaming down into the Gulf where we all had such vivid and wonderful times. However, neither of us are old enough to surrender completely to nostalgia. May this step be a long one in taking hold.”

More to come in future posts:

This entry was posted in Archives, Broneer Papers, Corinth. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Oscar Broneer Papers and the Image of Corinth

  1. Pingback: Oscar Broneer and Corinth (and a new blog) | Corinthian Matters

  2. Pingback: Comments on “Corinth – City of Sin” « Reading Acts

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