Pausanias: Lonely planeteer
Dean Kalimniou looks at the insecurities of the Greek race, where it came from and where it's going
This week's diatribe is brought to you by the collective insecurity of the Greek people, who not content with feeling proud of their ancestor's multitude of achievements over the years, still feel the need to prove that either a) the Greeks do it better, or b) that they invented it a long time ago and it was 'stolen' from them. Heading the list of stolen goods is one light bulb, fitting into the socket of civilisation (τα φώτα του πολιτισμού).
Poor misguided Greeks. Our light bulbs have been improved upon and were replaced years ago. Think Neon.
Nevertheless, I caveat all that has been said above by proudly stating that I have been able to find an instance where a) the Greeks did it better, b) they invented it, and c) no one has really been able to improve on it. (Saying this, in my intellectual paranoia I feel the hordes of angry ultraneoplatonists sweep their chlamys (this is an article of clothing, not an ancient STD) across their shoulders and converge upon my personage in angry but dignified (as befits a Platonist) droves and subject me to the extreme form of punishment of a never-ending Socratic symposium - I am still prone to recurring third year classics nightmares that entail wading through Plato's Symposium ad nauseum.)
Pausanias, a doctor in Asia Minor who devoted ten to 20 years to travelling in mainland Greece during and after the reign of Hadrian in the golden age of the Roman Empire in about the second century, is the case in point. During this time, this remarkable gentleman embarked upon a project which would have worldwide consequences.
He wrote a detailed account of every Greek city and sanctuary he visited along with a brief introductory history of the places he was visiting and a record of the local prevailing customs and beliefs. In short, Pausanias wrote the first Lonely Planet travel guide. As a guide, it is remarkably detailed and thoroughly engrossing. With an eye for detail, Pausanias describes not only which are the noteworthy sites to visit in each area, but also what makes them significant. Comments such as "Look out for the painting of Perseus slaying Medusa on the left portico of the temple of Athena" grant the prose a freshness and directness that is to be envied, even today. Commentary too, often takes a gossipy tone, as if Pausanias is conversing with an old friend and telling him inside information on the side. "Beyond is a statue of Lysimachos.
This Lysimachos was a Macedonian from Alexander's bodyguard." What ensues is a detailed gossip session about Lysimachos and his sordid associates. Thoroughly decent stuff. The insights he provides on the local customs and beliefs are just as refreshing if somewhat opinionated: "The territory of Corinth is part of the Argive territory which took its name from Korinthos.
I never knew anyone maintain with such enthusiasm that Korinthos is a son of Zeus, except that most Corinthians say so." What we learn from Pausanias' encyclopaedic dip into ancient Greek anthropology, is that Greek religion and customs were not so rational, orderly and philosophical as some scholars would have us believe. In some parts, they are downright tribal and at any rate do not follow an established canon of 12 gods and a finite theology that ceased its development after the passage of the classical era. Pausanias traces for example, the creation of the native God of Oropos, Amphiaraos: "The Oropians were the first to believe him to be a god, but since then all of Greece has come to think him one."
From the modern perspective, of note is the evident obsession of the Greeks as recorded by the great man, with erecting shrines and sanctuaries throughout their lands, in direct parallel to the modern Greeks dotting the landscape with small proskinimata and churches dedicated to almost every saint under the sun. Then as now, the need for divine protection reigned supreme.
This is no more so evident than in the prose of Pausanias himself. While capable of entertaining a sophisticated and philosophical solution of religious difficulties, he comes across as deeply religious and moralistic. We are taken by him on a journey whose unspoken purpose seems to have been the investigation of the collapse of the ancient religion and its consequences.
It is for this reason that he generally prefers the old to the new, the sacred to the profane. He concentrates primarily on classical Greek art rather than contemporary art, and prefers temples, images of the gods and altars to public buildings and statues of politicians. Some of the iconic buildings of the ancient world, such as the Stoa of King Attalus in the Athens Agora, or the exedra of Herod Atticus at Olympia, do not even rate a mention. Pausanias chose his moment to write well. He wrote in Greek for educated Romans and sparked in them an interest and admiration for Greece.
While Nero had looted Greece for treasures and Corinth had been reduced by Rome, every important monument of Greek antiquity was still standing in his time and his ten books that make up the Guide are invaluable to the archaeologist and historian alike. Notwithstanding Pausanias' considerable talents and in a paean to seeming futility, his work was a failure, enjoying no popularity immediately after his lifetime. Indeed, the first mention or quote we have of the work, is in the writings of Stephanus of Byzantium in the sixth century, with only a few obscure allusions to it to follow in the Middle Ages. That Pausanias' masterwork survived is a stroke of historical luck.
- Register Now
- Court orders Greek broadcaster ERT back on air
- Modern Greek tragedy
- Community condemns ERT closure
- Abusive crackdown on migrants
- Outstanding Greek Australians honoured
- Xenophon warns of data sweep danger
- ERT's demise impacts SBS
- ERT suspension 'sinful', says Megrelis
- Memories of an Egyptian multicultural society
- The thief strikes back
- 10 Jun 2013 | 17 Votes
- 22 May 2013 | 16 Votes
- 28 May 2013 | 15 Votes
- 30 May 2013 | 12 Votes
- 27 May 2013 | 7 Votes
- 11 Jun 2013 | 7 Votes
More from this Section
- ALP: a party with a bleak future?
- Shutting down the Greek state broadcaster ERT
- 1204: The collapse of civilisation
- An argument for an Australian republic
- 1204: The collapse of civilisation
- Should Greece look to 1990s Canada for lessons on exiting the crisis?
- Jason Collins shows the way, but is the AFL ready for a player to come out?
- Holding the ANZACS to ransom
- Recognising genocide
- When the pillars are shaken
Year 11 student Maria Anamourlis has been elected as a Youth Parliamentarian in the Greek Parliament.
The University of NSW celebrates the life of one of the world's greatest poets, Constantine P Cavafy
The Greek festival is of great cultural and economic importance to the city of Sydney, says Lord Mayor Clover Moore.
Record crowds are expected to converge in Darwin this weekend for the 25th Darwin Greek Glendi
"I'm often asked about property: when to buy, when to sell, what's happening to the market, have we reached bottom yet?" Here Mark Bouris explains all
Greek canoeing champion Andreas Kiligkardis died last Wednesday after losing his battle against leukemia.
On the occasion of the Commemoration of 72nd Anniversary of the Battle of Crete, the Deputy Chief of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff (HNDGS)
Will the decision to close ERT bring down the Samaras government in Greece?
Civil service sackings among outstanding issues as troika returns to Greece for review
Today the Socceroos train at South Melbourne territory, Lakeside Stadium
It's make or break for the Socceroos, with favourites Japan just needing a draw to qualify
Expectations are high for the first NSL derby of the season, with South Melbourne hosting Melbourne Knights
New PAOK coach Huub Stevens has called for unity among fans after taking charge of the Greek club whose players said they feared for their live
Sydney FC's Terry Antonis will take up a position at Serie A club Parma
The country’s financial crimes squad (SDOE) submitted to a parliamentary committee investigating the political handling of the so-called Lagarde list of rich Greeks.
The Bank of Sydney has appointed Julie Elliott as their new CEO
A celebration of one of the most influential literary figures produced by Greece
With just five years in the fashion industry, model Leah Johnson has walked for Mimco, Gucci and Steven Kahlil.