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My Favourite Planet > English > People > Pausanias

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Pausanias (Παυσανίας) was a Greek travel writer who lived in the second century AD, during the reigns of the Roman emperors Hadrian (117-138 AD), Antoninus Pius (138-161 AD) and Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD). Nothing is known about his life apart from what can be gleaned from his only known book, Description of Greece (Ἑλλάδος περιήγησις), a ten volume [1] account in Greek of his visits to various Greek cities in Attica, the Peloponnese and central Greece, written between 165 and 180 AD. [2]

Scholars believe he may been a doctor from Lydia in Anatolia (Asia Minor), perhaps a native of Magnesia ad Sypilum (today Manisa, Turkey) [3], Smyrna (today Izmir) or Thyatira, since his references to this area are so detailed.

In Description of Greece he described the topography, buildings, particularly temples, and works of art he saw and considered noteworthy at each place. He included information about the history, myths, legends and traditions of particular places, often relating what he had been told by local people. He also mentioned other places around the Graeco-Roman world he had visited, including the west coast of Anatolia (Lydia, Ionia, Pergamon, Troy, Alexandria Troas), Macedonia, Mycenae, Antioch, Joppa, Jerusalem, the River Jordan, Egypt, Campania and Rome.

The first thirty chapters of the work are devoted to Attica and Athens, and it has been estimated that he was there some time between 143 and 159 AD. For example, he mentioned the new Panathenaic Stadium built by Herodus Atticus before 143 BC [4], but wrote that he had left Athens before the building of the Odeion of Herodes Atticus had begun (around 160 AD). He then describes places in the Peloponnese, including Corinth, Laconia, Messenia, Elis, Achaia and Arcadia. He ends with central Greece: Thebes in Boeotia, Delphi in Phocis and Ozolian Locris.

Pausanias did not claim to be an expert on the history, culture or art of Greece, and often admitted his ignorance on certain subjects. He failed to mention several buildings (for example the Temple of Rome and Augustus and the Stoa of Attalus in Athens, although he does mention Attalus himself), statues and features considered important to other ancient authors and modern scholars. Perhaps he did not find some things remarkable or memorable enough to include in his account, omitted them for sake of brevity, or simply found himself unable to cope with the enormous number of monuments (epecially in Athens).

The 19th century antiquarian and topographer William Martin Leake (1777-1860) suggested that some of his omissions may have been diplomatic, for "fear of giving offence, which in several instances has caused him to use obscure language, when examples occurred of Roman barbarism, or Greek baseness." [5]

However, he occasionally expressed his scepticism on some of the things he was told by his informants, particularly concerning local traditions, myths and legends, perhaps with a knowing wink to his more sophisticated readers. Some commentators have suggested that he was not sceptical enough, since he sometimes repeated information which is now believed to be incorrect. At the sanctuary of Despoina (Persephone) at Lykosoura in the Peloponnese he was told that a colossal statue group of Demeter and Despoina had been sculpted by Damophon of Messene from a single piece of stone (Description of Greece, Book 8, chapter 37, sections 3-7). The fragments of this group were discovered by archaeologists in 1889 (see below), and found to be constructed of several separately worked pieces joined by iron and lead dowels and cement. The Greek archaeologist Konstantinos Kourouniotis commented:

"One imagines that Pausanias derived the story about the single block of marble, from which the group of Demeter and Despoina was constructed, from servants of the temple who were in the habit of playing on the credulity of tourists in order to enhance the miraculous nature of their sanctuary." [6]

Today his book is considered an invaluable source of first-hand information about the life, culture, religion and art of ancient Greece. This was not always the case, and it appears it was not a great success in antiquity. Neither he nor his work are known to have been mentioned by any other ancient writer until Stephanus Byzantius in the sixth century AD. Only three poor, incomplete manuscripts, all thought to have been copied from a single manuscript by Niccolo Niccoli of Florence (1364-1437), survived into the 15th century. The first printed edition of the work, edited by Marcus Musurus, was published by Aldus Manutius in 1516.

In the 19th century some scholars considered Pausanias' accounts to be second-hand and unreliable, and even doubted that he had visited the places he wrote about. However, during the same century archaeologists and historians travelling and excavating in Greece and Turkey, including Leake and Heinrich Schliemann, were already discovering that his descriptions provided reliable information about ancient sites, buildings and even individual artworks which were being discovered and studied.

In several cases, his reports have proved invaluable to archaeological research. Despite being misled about the construction of the statue group in the temple of Despoina at Lykosoura, Pausanias' own observations and detailed description of the statues were essential to the identification and reconstruction of the group depicting Artemis, Demeter, Despoina and the Titan Anytos, which had been discovered broken into over a hundred fragments. His account is the only surviving ancient source of information about the work and the location. (see The Lykosoura statue group on the Demeter and Persephone page).

Like Herodotus, Pausanias has been vindicated by the archaeology of the last two centuries, even if all the issues and uncertainties thrown up by their works have yet to be resolved. Art historians are particularly grateful to Pausanias for mentioning the names and works of several ancient Greek artists, some otherwise unknown and many mentioned by other authors such as Pliny the Elder.

An English translation of Description of Greece can be read online
at Perseus Digital Library.

In English: Pausanias, Description of Greece

In Greek: Pausanias, Description of Greece

Further reading:

Vanessa A. Champion-Smith, Pausanias in Athens: An archaeological commentary on the Agora of Athens. PhD dissertation. University College London, 1998.

R. E. Wycherley, University college of North Wales, Pausanias in the Agora of Athens, GRBS 2, 1959.

Ionnes Zacharias Tzifopoulos, Pausanias as a steloskopas: an epigraphical commentary on Pausanias' Eliakon A and B. PhD dissertation. Ohio State University, 1991.
References to Pausanius
on My Favourite Planet
Athens Acropolis gallery

page 4       page 10       page 8       page 11

page 12       page 32       page 35       page 36
Pergamon gallery 2

page 15

Asklepios       Daidalos       Demeter and Persephone

Dionysus       Dioskouroi       Herodes Atticus

Homer       Niobe
Pausanias Notes, references and links

1. Ancient books and modern volumes

Ancient books were mostly written on long sheets of papyrus which were rolled for ease of use, transportation and storage. The size of a roll determined the amount of text that could be fitted into a section of a longer work. Each of the sections on separate rolls were referred to books, as works today are arranged in volumes.

Later, books were written on sheets of treated animal hide, known as parchment or pergament (see History of Pergamon), and the pages sewn together together as a codex, which led to the form of modern books. Good parchment was expensive, and papyrus continued to be used, where available, beyond late antiquity.

2. The Date of Pausanias' book

"His date is fixed by 5, 1, 2, where he states that 217 years have elapsed since the restoration of Corinth. As this well-known event occurred in 43 B.C., the passage shows that the author was writing Book V in 174 A.D. Other intimations as to his date harmonize with this evidence. Thus, for example, in 5, 21, 15 images set up in 125 A.D. are spoken of as specimens of the art of his day; and 1, 5, 5 and 8, 9, 7 indicate that the writer was a contemporary of the emperor Hadrian. The latest historical event mentioned by him as occurring in his time (10, 34, 5) is the incursion of the Costobocs into Greece, which took place probably between 166 and 180 A.D."

. . .

"There are numerous indications that the Attica [Book I] was written and published before the rest of the work."

. . .

"We must, accordingly, presuppose an interval of a few years between the publication of Book I and that of later books. Book II was probably written after 165 A.D., as the statement is made that the temple of Asclepius at Smyrna had already been founded (2, 26, 9), which according to other testimony was still unfinished in 165 A.D."

Mitchell Carroll, The Attica of Pausanias, pages 2-3. Ginn and Company, Boston, 1907.

3. Pausanias and Magnesia ad Sypilum

Pausanias mentioned that "my country" included Mount Sipylos (today Sipil Daği) at Magnesia ad Sypilum, Lydia (modern Manisa, Turkey; see Niobe), the lake (identifed as Lake Saloe) just to the east of the city, and the River Hermos which flows past nearby Sardis.

"That Pelops and Tantalus once dwelt in my country there have remained signs right down to the present day. There is a lake called after Tantalus and a famous grave, and on a peak of Mount Sipylus there is a throne of Pelops beyond the sanctuary of Plastene the Mother. If you cross the river Hermus you see an image of Aphrodite in Temnus made of a living myrtle tree. It is a tradition among us that it was dedicated by Pelops when he was propitiating the goddess and asking for Hippodameia to be his bride."

Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book 5, Chapter 13, Section 7. At Perseus Digital Library.

See also:

Christian Habicht, Pausanias und seine Beschriebung Griechenlands, Munich, 1985.

Juan Pablo Sánchez Hernández, La patria de Pausanias (Notas de lectura a Paus. V, 13, 7): Magnesia del Sípilo y Esmirna. Estudios griegos e indoeuropeos 2007, 17, pages 233-247. Universidad Complutense de Madrid.

4. Pausanias on the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens

Although Pausanias mentions the Panathenaic Stadium built by Herodes Atticus, he does not specifically say that he saw it.

"A marvel to the eyes, though not so impressive to hear of, is a race-course of white marble, the size of which can best be estimated from the fact that beginning in a crescent on the heights above the Ilisus it descends in two straight lines to the river bank. This was built by Herodes, an Athenian, and the greater part of the Pentelic quarry was exhausted in its construction."

Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book 1, Chapter 19, Section 6. At Perseus Digital Library.

5. Leake on Pausanias' omissions

Colonel William Martin Leake, The Topography of Athens and the Demi, Volume I, The Topography of Athens: with some remarks on its Antiquities. Second edition. J. Rodwell, London, 1841. At Google Books.

6. Kourouniotis on the Lykosoura group

Konstantinos Kourouniotis, The mechanical construction of the group, page 384, in Guy Dickins and K. Kourouniotis, Damophon of Messene II: The restoration of the group at Lykosura, The Annual of the British School at Athens, Volume 13 (1906/1907), pages 357-404. At
Photos and articles © David John
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