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Pausanias (Ancient Greek: Pausanías) was a Greek traveller and geographer of the 2nd century AD, who lived in the times of Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. He is famous for his Description of Greece ( ), a lengthy work that describes ancient Greece from firsthand observations, and is a crucial link between classical literature and modern archaeology. This is how Andrew Stewart assesses him:

A careful, pedestrian writer, he is interested not only in the grandiose or the exquisite but in unusual sights and obscure ritual.
He is occasionally careless, or makes unwarranted inferences, and his guides or even his own notes sometimes mislead him; yet his honesty is unquestionable, and his value without par.


Pausanias was probably a native of Lydia; he was certainly familiar with the western coast of Asia Minormarker, but his travels extended far beyond the limits of Ionia. Before visiting Greece he had been to Antiochmarker, Joppamarker and Jerusalemmarker, and to the banks of the River Jordanmarker. In Egyptmarker he had seen the Pyramids, while at the temple of Ammon he had been shown the hymn once sent to that shrine by Pindar. In Macedonia he had almost certainly viewed the traditional tomb of Orpheus. Crossing over to Italymarker, he had seen something of the cities of Campania and of the wonders of Romemarker. He was one of the first to write of seeing the ruins of Troymarker, Alexandria Troas, and Mycenaemarker.


Pausanias' Description of Greece is in ten books, each dedicated to some portion of Greece. He begins his tour in Attica, where the city of Athens and its demes dominate the discussion. Subsequent books describe Corinth, Laconia, Messenia, Elis, Achaia, Arcadia, Boetia, Phocis and Ozolian Locris. The project is more than topographical; it is a cultural geography. Pausanias digresses from description of architectural and artistic objects to review the mythological and historical underpinnings of the society that produced them. As a Greek writing under the auspices of the Roman empire, he found himself in an awkward cultural space, between the glories of the Greek past he was so keen to describe and the realities of a Greece beholden to Rome as a dominating imperial force. His work bears the marks of his attempt to navigate that space and establish an identity for Roman Greece.

He is not a naturalist by any means, though he does from time to time comment on the physical realities of the Greek landscape. He notices the pine trees on the sandy coast of Elis, the deer and the wild boars in the oak woods of Phelloe, and the crows amid the giant oak trees of Alalcomenae. It is mainly in the last section that Pausanias touches on the products of nature, such as the wild strawberries of Heliconmarker, the date palms of Aulis, and the olive oil of Tithoreamarker, as well as the tortoises of Arcadiamarker and the "white blackbirds" of Cyllenemarker.

Pausanias is most at home in describing the religious art and architecture of Olympiamarker and of Delphimarker. Yet, even in the most secluded regions of Greece, he is fascinated by all kinds of quaint and primitive images of the gods, holy relics, and many other sacred and mysterious objects. At Thebesmarker he views the shields of those who died at the Battle of Leuctra, the ruins of the house of Pindar, and the statues of Hesiod, Arion, Thamyris, and Orpheus in the grove of the Muses on Helicon, as well as the portraits of Corinna at Tanagramarker and of Polybius in the cities of Arcadiamarker.

Pausanias has the instincts of an antiquary. As his editor Christian Habicht has said,

Pausanias' Periegesis, unlike a Baedeker guide, stops for a brief excursus on a point of ancient ritual or to tell an apposite myth, in a genre that would not become popular again until the early nineteenth century. In the topographical part of his work, Pausanias is fond of digressions on the wonders of nature, the signs that herald the approach of an earthquake, the phenomena of the tides, the ice-bound seas of the north, and the noonday sun which at the summer solstice casts no shadow at Syene (Aswanmarker). While he never doubts the existence of the gods and heroes, he sometimes criticizes the myths and legends relating to them. His descriptions of monuments of art are plain and unadorned. They bear the impression of reality, and their accuracy is confirmed by the extant remains. He is perfectly frank in his confessions of ignorance. When he quotes a book at second hand he takes pains to say so.

The work, all ten volumes of it, was a failure. But not today. "It was not read," Habicht relates— "there is not a single mention of the author, not a single quotation from it, not a whisper before Stephanus Byzantius in the sixth century, and only two or three references to it throughout the Middle Ages". We came perilously close to losing it altogether, in fact: the only manuscripts of Pausanias are fifteenth-century copies, full of errors and lacunae. Until twentieth-century archaeologists found that Pausanias was a reliable guide to the sites they were excavating, Pausanias was largely dismissed by nineteenth- and early twentieth-century classicists of a purely literary bent, who followed the authoritative Wilamowitz in discrediting him, as a purveyor of literature quoted at second-hand, who, it was suggested, had not actually visited most of the places he described. The experience of a century of archaeologists has fully vindicated him.


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External links

Further reading

  • Akujärvi, Johanna 2005, Researcher, Traveller, Narrator: Studies in Pausanias' Periegesis (Stockholm). ISBN 91-22-02134-5.
  • Alcock, S.E., J.F. Cherry, and J. Elsner 2001, Pausanias: Travel and Memory in Roman Greece (Oxford). ISBN 0-19-517132-2.
  • Arafat, Karim W. 1996, Pausanias' Greece: Ancient Artists and Roman Rulers (Cambridge). ISBN 0-521-60418-4.
  • Habicht, Christian 1985, Pausanias' Guide to Ancient Greece (Berkeley). ISBN 0-520-06170-5.
  • Hutton, William 2005, Describing Greece: Landscape and Literature in the Periegesis of Pausanias (Cambridge). ISBN 0-521-84720-6.
  • Levi, Peter (tr.) 1984a, 1984b, Pausanias: Guide to Greece, 2 vols. (Penguin). Vol. 1 Central Greece ISBN 0-14-044225-1; vol. 2 Southern Greece ISBN 0-14-044226-X.
  • Pretzler, Maria. "Turning Travel into Text: Pausanias at work", Greece & Rome, Vol. 51, Issue 2 (2004), pp. 199–216.


  1. One Hundred Greek Sculptors: Their Careers and Extant Works, introduction.
  2. Pausanias, Description of Greece Boeotia,9.30.1In Larisa I heard another story, how that on Olympus is a city Libethra, where the mountain faces, Macedonia, not far from which city is the tomb of Orpheus. The Libethrians, it is said, received out of Thrace an oracle from Dionysus, stating that when the sun should see the bones of Orpheus, then the city of Libethra would be destroyed by a boar. The citizens paid little regard to the oracle, thinking that no other beast was big or mighty enough to take their city, while a boar was bold rather than powerful.
  3. Habich 1985:220.
  4. In this Heinrich Schliemann was a maverick and forerunner: a close reading of Pausanias guided him to the royal tombs at Mycenae.
  5. Habich 1985 describes an embarrassing episode in which Wilamowitz was led astray by misreading Pausanias, in front of an august party of travellers, in 1873, and attributes to it Wilamowitz' lifelong antipathy and distrust of Pausanias.

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