Pausanias (geographer)

Summary

He is renowned for his extensive work Description of Greece (Ancient Greek: Ἑλλλάδος Περιήγησις, Hellados Periegesis), which describes ancient Greece from his own observations; and in which he provides crucial information for establishing links between classical literature and modern archaeology.

Pausanias” Description of Greece is contained in ten books, each devoted to a part of Greece; as indicated in the following paragraph.

The work is not simply topographical; it is a cultural geography. Pausanias departs from the description of architectural and artistic objects to review the mythological and historical underpinnings of the society that produced them. As a Greek writer under the Roman Empire, he found himself in an uncomfortable cultural space, between the glories of the Greek past that he was so eager to describe, and the realities of a Greece ruled by Rome.

He is not a naturalist, although from time to time he comments on the physical realities of the Greek landscape. He notes the pine trees on the sandy coast of Elis, the deer and wild boars in the oak forests of Phelloe, and the ravens amid the giant oaks of Alalcomenae. It is mainly in the last section that Pausanias touches on the products of nature, such as the wild strawberries of Helicon, the date palms of Aulis and the olive oil of Tithorea, as well as the tortoises of Arcadia and the “white blackbirds” of Cyllene.

“A careful, pedestrian writer … interested not only in the grand or the exquisite, but in unusual sights and obscure rituals. Occasionally he is careless or makes unwarranted inferences, and his guides or even his own notes sometimes mislead him, yet his honesty is unquestioned and his courage unparalleled.”

Pausanias makes digressions on a point of ancient ritual or to tell an appropriate myth, in a genre that would not become popular again until the early nineteenth century. In the topographical part of his work, Pausanias likes to make them about the wonders of nature, the signs that announce the approach of an earthquake, the phenomena of the tides, the ice-covered seas of the north and the midday sun; which at the summer solstice, casts no shadow on Syene (Aswan). While he never doubts the existence of deities and heroes, he sometimes criticizes myths and legends related to them. His descriptions of art monuments are simple and unadorned. They have the impression of reality, and their accuracy is confirmed by the existing remains.

Pausanias was generally rejected by antiquarian scholars of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They saw in him a purely literary bent, regarded him as little more than a purveyor of second-hand stories; and it came to be suggested that he had not visited most of the sites he described. It was not until twentieth-century archaeologists tested his reliability at the sites they were excavating that opinion of Pausanias changed. Modern archaeological research has tended to vindicate him.

The Description of Greece is divided into ten books, devoted to the following regions:

Sources

  1. Pausanias (geógrafo)
  2. Pausanias (geographer)
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