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I just started reading 1 Corinthians today, and one of the footnotes in my Bible (NLT, Life Application Study Bible) has this:

...there were more than a dozen pagan temples employing at least a thousand prostitutes. Corinth's reputation was such that prostitutes in other cities began to be called "Corinthian girls."

There are two claims here that I was surprised by:

  • There were at least 12 pagan temples employing at least 1,000 prostitues
  • Prostitutes in other cities began to be called "Corinthian girls"

How did the author of this footnote know these (reputed) facts? What's the historical evidence for these claims?

  • 1
    What version of the Bible did you read this in? The translators and commentators probably have published notes about their work. – Joe May 11 '15 at 21:21
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    @Joe: Edited that into the question. – El'endia Starman May 11 '15 at 22:29
  • You might be interested in David Graebers Debt: the first 5000 years, where he ǵoes into temple protitution in the ancient world quite a bit. IIRC, temples where often economic centers and temple prostitution was sometimes a form of indentured service (I think mostly) women were pressed into when in debt. – mart May 13 '15 at 19:22
  • Why do you doubt the narrative? Seems like a perfectly plausible statement to me. Why doubt prostitutes, but not sand or grapes or any other assertion? – Mark C. Wallace Apr 23 at 20:46
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The best English translation of the relevant statement from Strabo (Book VIII, Ch. 6, Section 20) I can find is:

And the temple of Aphrodite was so rich that it owned more than a thousand temple slaves, hetairas, whom both men and women had dedicated to the goddess. And therefore it was also on account of these women that the city was crowded with people and grew rich; for instance, the ship captains freely squandered their money, and hence the proverb, "Not for every man is the voyage to Corinth."

It is believed that the time period of which Strabo is writing is somewhere around 400 to 700 BCE, and not that of the authorship (circa 2 BCE). Further, only the richest of the temples in Corinth, that dedicated to Aphrodite, is claimed to have had so many as a thousand hetairas, or courtesans. It seems that the authors have been quite careless in their use of this reference.

Although this particular quote may be thought somewhat ambiguous on the precise nature of a hetairas work, other references both by Strabo and others are quite explicit. The full range of modern LGBT seems to have been available in addition to more traditional heterosexual activity.

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    and note that the worship of several deities in that area and time required people as part of initiation rites to prostitute themselves for a period (often only once) in the temple. They weren't prostitutes in the modern meaning, they were doing a religious duty. Callng them prostitutes would be like calling people being baptised by dunking them in a lake or river professional swimmers. – jwenting May 12 '15 at 6:59
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    @jwenting: Sorry to disappoint, but in the case of Corinth and the temple of Aphrodite that is not at all what is happening. The references seem quite clear that full prostitution is happening. – Pieter Geerkens May 12 '15 at 10:28
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    The Bible in general has little good to say about practitioners of rival religions, male or female. Take their description with a big pillar of salt. – Oldcat May 12 '15 at 18:07
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    @Oldcat: I trust you realise that Pieter is quoting the "pagan" geographer Strabo, not the Bible. – fdb May 12 '15 at 21:20
  • @fdb - I suspect he just meant that he'd trust Strobo's authority on the subject before trusting something found in a book that has a vested interest in portraying pagan greeks as unusually immoral. – T.E.D. May 13 '15 at 12:49

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