The American Dream to Excavate Delphi or How the Oracle Vexed the Americans (1879-1891)

Delphi before the excavations, April 1891. Photo ASCSA Archives. Click to enlarge.

Delphi before the excavations, April 1891. Photo ASCSA Archives. Click to enlarge.

The story of how the French secured the excavation of Delphi has been told before. Pierre Amandry published an exemplary account (“Fouilles de Delphes et raisins de Corinthe”) of the negotiations between the French, Greeks, and Americans in La redécouverte de Delphes (1992). His work drew heavily on material in the archives of the French ministries of Public Instruction and Foreign Affairs and L’ Academie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres to paint a detailed picture of the French side of the story. His account of the American side is much shorter because Amandry only had access to a handful of documents published in the History of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1882-1942 (1947, pp. 58-62). The author of that volume, Louis Lord, included four letters either addressed to or written by Charles Eliot Norton, the President of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA). Norton was not only the founding spirit of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) but also the driving force behind the Institute’s unsuccessful campaign to dig at Delphi. In a brief essay from Excavating Our Past (2002), Phoebe Sheftel presented more records from the archives of the AIA that shed further light on the American side of the Delphi story without, however, making reference to the rich archival resources that Amandry had published in his long article. Sheftel’s story about Delphi is “the story that Norton wanted told” (Sheftel 2002, p. 106). Read the rest of this entry »