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.
All surviving copies seem to stem from a copy originating in the library of Archbishop Arethas of Caesarea. 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. As a result, humanity came perilously close to losing the text altogether, with the only manuscripts of Pausanias being three 15th century copies, abounding in errors and lacunae, copied from a prototype that was owned by Florentine humanist Niccolo Niccoli, only to be acquired by the San Marco library in Venice in 1500, after which time, it disappeared.
It is posited that this manuscript was first acquired by Cyriaco of Ancona in the 15th century who brought knowledge of Pausanias to the west. Since then, Pausanias' descriptions, though often sketchy and selective, have been thoroughly used for the location and identification of ancient sites and it is often the case that scholars who believed him to be mistaken on specific points have been proved wrong.
The first use of Pausanias to identify ancient sites may be awarded to our very own George Gemistos Plethon, who Cyriaco visited at Mystra. It is also interesting to attempt to deduce the multitude of written sources that Pausanias would have consulted while writing his guide and which are no longer extant. His variations in prose style tend to point to the use of many of these. After all, the guide is well researched.
He consulted the sacred officials and city guides of each city, he worked in great libraries and it is owing to him that the large proportion of non-Homeric epic Greek poetry survive today. Devoted to the idea of Greek liberty, Pausanias ended his days as an avid birdwatcher and traveller. His guide remains a classic and it is said that it owes its genesis to his early pursuits. An expert on Homer as a young man, the malice and obstinacy of scholars in that field caused him to abandon it for travel writing. And what a boon to humanity that this was so.
For those of you planning to or having left our shores for more vernal climates in the motherland, you would do well to take a copy of Pausanias with you. For those meagre bits of marble left.
Dean Kalimniou is a Melbourne solicitor and a freelance writer.
- Register Now
- Modern Greek tragedy
- Court orders Greek broadcaster ERT back on air
- Community condemns ERT closure
- Abusive crackdown on migrants
- Outstanding Greek Australians honoured
- Xenophon warns of data sweep danger
- ERT's demise impacts SBS
- Memories of an Egyptian multicultural society
- ERT suspension 'sinful', says Megrelis
- The thief strikes back
- 10 Jun 2013 | 17 Votes
- 22 May 2013 | 16 Votes
- 28 May 2013 | 15 Votes
- 30 May 2013 | 12 Votes
- 11 Jun 2013 | 7 Votes
- 27 May 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
Whilst acknowledging the merits and history Australia's foundations Kostas Karamarkos makes the argument for an Australian republic.
Hume City, Green Gully, Melbourne Knights and Bentleigh Greens had not submitted an EOI before Friday
Academy Award winning actress, Greek American Olympia Dukakis, has been honoured with the 2,498th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
PM Antonis Samaras potentially staked the future of his coalition government on a decision to shut down public broadcaster ERT and dismiss some 2,700 employees
But Greek committee set to see another day
Bested in the second round of the French Open, aussie Nick Kyrgios will be focusing his energies on the Junior event
Alex Kavvadias talks to Neos Kosmos about his recently released song and music video False Hope, which raises awareness about human trafficking and modern slavery
Beachfront lots purchased in the 1960s that were never given building permits has the Wellington Council in hot water.
The closure of ERT has had a definite impact on Australia's media landscape, with SBS now having to source content from Athens based network Antenna Pacific
State League leaders West Adelaide Hellas still remain undefeated
Former Ajax and Roda JC central defender Rob Wielaert will join Melbourne Heart for the 2013-14 season
Tonight, high-profile Sydney FC players Peter Triantis, Mitchell Mallia and Matt Jurman will the Earlwood Wanderers Football Club at Earlwood Oval
After a phenomenal 4-0 win, the Socceroos will still need another win to qualify
Over 60 students and teachers were the recipients of Excellence Awards for their contribution in the ongoing education of Greek language history and culture
A remote mountain village in Greece with a strong ANZAC connection
Expectations are high for the first NSL derby of the season, with South Melbourne hosting Melbourne Knights
Former Editor-in-Chief of Fairfax Community Newspapers in Victoria, Mitchell Murphy takes the FFV helm
Seven Greek Australians received Queen's Birthday Honours List awards, celebrating their commitment to philanthropy and the community