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Query: sacred prostitution in Corinth?

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  • Jeffrey B. Gibson
    I wonder if anyone here can help the author of the message below {which appeared on Classics-L] with his question? Yours, Jeffrey ... Subject: Query: sacred
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 29, 2001
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      I wonder if anyone here can help the author of the message below {which
      appeared on Classics-L] with his question?



      -------- Original Message --------
      Subject: Query: sacred prostitution in Corinth?
      Date: Sun, 28 Jan 2001 23:36:00 -0800
      From: David Lupher <dlupher@...>
      Reply-To: classics@...
      To: classics@...
      References: <200101290203.f0T23Sh02325@...>

      Having tramped with my family over Acrocorinth this past summer,
      my sunstruck mind occasionally wandered to the famous "much-
      visited girls, servants of Persuasion in wealthy Corinth"
      (Pindar, fr. 107 Bowra; 122 Snell). Now, alas, while swotting
      up for a presentation on Aphrodite (regarding which I posted
      a query that has so far met with a resounding public silence---
      and but one off-list message), I have been forced to wonder if
      there really was sacred prostitution in Corinth.

      For example, the entry on Aphrodite by V. Pirenne-Delforgue
      and André Motte (both of Univ. of Liège, I gather) in OCD3
      casts this bucket of cold water on the titilating phenomenon:
      Corinth was particularly well known for the beauty
      and luxurious living of its prostitutes, who certainly
      revered the local Aphrodite. All the same, it is
      unlikely that her sanctuary on Acrocorinth was the
      location of what is usually called 'sacred prostitution.'
      The only source for such a remarkable practice in a
      Greek context, Strabo (8.6.21, 378-9C), places it in
      a vague past time, and is surely influenced by the
      eastern practices with which he was familiar. Herodotus
      also mentions a similar practice in several parts of the
      Mediterranean area, and his silence in regard to Corinth
      should invite caution.

      If Strabo is "the only source for such a remarkable practice
      in a Greek context," what about the fragment of Pindar's
      enkomion to Xenophon of Corinth, which I've cited above,
      which appears to consummate Xenophon's vow to dedicate 100
      girls to the goddess if he won the Olympic crown in 464?

      Burkert ("Greek Religion," p. 153) also expresses doubt, though
      less forcefully: "If moreover there is prostitution in the
      Aphrodite cult, then the most notorious characteristic of the
      Ishtar-Astarte cult is taken over." In a footnote he implies
      that the grinch may be H. Conzelmann in his "Korinth und die
      Mädchen der Aphrodite" in NGG (1967), to which I don't have access.
      Can someone tell me what the argument of this article is?

      The fullest study of the cult which I can lay my hands on---Charles
      K. Williams, "Corinth and the Cult of Aphrodite," in "Corinthiaca:
      Studies in Honor of Darrell A. Amyx," U. Minn. 1986, 12-24---does
      not attempt to cast any doubt on Corinthian sacred prostitution per se,
      though Williams does plausibly observe that the area around the
      temple "indicates no large area for one hundred or, in Strabo's
      time, a thousand girls. Unless a series of insignificant, small
      and now indistinguishable, buildings were erected on the slopes
      around the temple, one might better think of the hierodouloi as
      having conducted their activities within the heart of the city."
      (p. 21) Also, J.B. Salmon expresses no doubt as to the custom
      ("Wealthy Corinth," Oxford U.P., 1984, 398f.)

      So tell me, please: what should I tell a certain segment of the
      Youth of America in a couple of days? Should the thousand temple
      prostitutes of Corinth go into the "Classical Urban Myths" chapter
      of that famous as-yet-unwritten book "What Every Classicist Should
      Know," along with lead pipe poisoning and vomitorium regurgitations?

      David Lupher
      Classics Dept.
      Univ. of Puget Sound

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