Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.05.30

Susan E. Alcock, John F. Cherry, Jas Elsner, Pausanias: Travel and Memory in Roman Greece.   Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2001.  ISBN 0-19-512816-8.  $65.00.  

Contributors: Jas Elsner, Ewen Bowie, C.P. Jones, Ian Rutherford, Mario Torelli, David Konstan, James I. Porter, Ada Cohen, A.M. Snodgrass, Susan E. Alcock, Bettina Bergmann, Paul Cartledge, Susan Buck Sutton, J.M. Wagstaff, John Henderson, Mary Beard, Steven Bann, John F. Cherry.

Reviewed by William Hutton, College of William & Mary (
Word count: 2479 words

Since the groundbreaking work of Habicht and Veyne in the mid-1980's, an increasing amount of attention has been directed toward Pausanias. This newfound interest is attributable partly to the ongoing progress made by archaeologists in uncovering the monuments that his text describes and partly to the fact that his Periegesis Hellados pertains to a number of topics that are currently in vogue, including Hellenism, Romanization, the Second Sophistic, travel as a cultural phenomenon, colonialism, postcolonialism, and the problematics of viewing and gaze. The editors of the volume under review (A, C and E), take advantage of these trends to assemble contributions from a remarkably diverse (though all Anglophone) group of scholars, many of whom are far from the usual suspects one expects to find writing about an ancient Greek topographer. The editors' stated goal in putting this collection together is to "fan the flames of the modern Pausanian revival" (viii). Whether this effort is successful is something for posterity to decide, but many of the essays offer promising and unprecedented perspectives on Pausanias and are bound to be required reading for any future studies of the author. The reader should be advised, however, that some of the most interesting and creative scholarship in this book deals only tangentially with Pausanias himself. Future students of the Periegesis will turn to this book more for background reading than for close analyses of the text.

Following a brief preface by the editors, the contributions are divided into three thematic parts. Each part contains four articles and is capped off by two "commentaries" which tend toward being shorter articles in their own right rather than detailed responses to the foregoing contributions.

Part I, which the editors describe as "the more traditional in tone" (viii), comprises essays on various issues relating to Pausanias and his text. First comes an essay by E on "Pausanias' Periegesis as a Literary Construct." E. focuses on the two books (Books 5 and 6) that the author devotes to Olympia and argues, convincingly, that the account of Olympia is not only central to the whole Periegesis in terms of position but also in the way that the panhellenic monuments and associations of the sanctuary stand "as a grand metonym for the whole of Pausanias's Greece" (17). E.'s analysis, rich in insights, will surely open many readers' eyes to new ways of looking at the Periegesis, but as a model for the further literary study of Pausanias' work there are certain limitations. One wonders how applicable the conclusions E draws about Pausanias' textual strategies in Olympia are to the rest of the work, since, as Pausanias himself tells us repeatedly, the way he handles Olympia is different from the approach he takes elsewhere.

Ewen Bowie follows with a series of observations on "Date, Genre, and Readership." On the issue of the date(s) of composition for parts of the Periegesis, Bowie offers corroboration and tentative refinements for the scheme advanced by his predecessors (proximally Habicht). On the controversy over whether the abrupt opening of the work is the original, Bowie comes down on the side of those who suspect that a prologue has been lost. (which, if true, would embarrass one of the nicer observations made by E in the previous article [7]). The most original proposal Bowie offers, however, is the tentative addition of Longus to the tiny list of near contemporary authors who may betray awareness of Pausanias' text. Readers may judge for themselves whether they find compelling the parallel Bowie suggests between Pausanias 10.23.1-7 and Daphnis and Chloe 2.25.4-26.1 -- this reader does not -- but Bowie also makes the perceptive point that we cannot (as did Habicht) argue from the absence of references to Pausanias in the surviving literature of the period that Pausanias somehow failed in his literary efforts or failed to reach the audience he was aiming for.

The last full-scale articles in Part I, C.P. Jones on "Pausanias and His Guides," and Ian Rutherford on "Tourism and the Sacred", address important issues and do so in a convincing fashion, but both have more to say about these issues outside of Pausanias than within. Jones, by canvassing the use of terms like periegetes and exegetes in various authors and inscriptions, makes the long overdue point that the "guides" Pausanias refers to frequently in his text and often uses as sources of information were not the ignorant hucksters encountered in swarms by Frazer and other modern travelers, but were instead "respectable local antiquarians" (39) who were members of the educated elite of the communities Pausanias visited. Rutherford's article amounts to a corroboration of E's proposal (published previously) that Pausanias can usefully be considered a "pilgrim". His approach to the topic takes the form of a defense of this notion against objections raised by Simon Swain and, chiefly, Karim Arafat. Through a wide-ranging survey that encompasses literary and inscriptional evidence for religious travel both in the ancient Mediterranean and elsewhere, Rutherford succeeds admirably in demonstrating that ancient Greek "pilgrimage" (by which he chiefly means theô:ria, but seems in some cases to include any travel for religious purposes or to religious sites) encompasses a number of behaviors and attitudes which resemble what Pausanias describes of his own. The only question remaining in my mind (and it would not surprise me to learn that it remained in the minds of Swain and Arafat as well) is whether this issue is simply a matter of definition. What Swain and Arafat seem to object to is applying to Pausanias the paradigm more familiar to modern readers from Christian and Islamic traditions of pilgrimage, not to applying an ancient paradigm of "pilgrimage" that is broader and substantially different.

The brief "commentaries" for Part I are delivered by Mario Torelli and David Konstan. Torelli concisely and elegantly endorses the conclusions of his predecessors and even foreshadows some of the later contributions in his insistence on the consideration of piety, rhetoric, literary education and nostalgia in our study of Pausanias. Konstan uses his few pages to introduce something of a dissenting note by calling into question the importance of issues of identity in Pausanias' project, a bedrock notion of much recent Pausanias scholarship. Konstan invites us to imagine a "New Zealander of Scottish descent, on tour in Scotland" and ask ourselves whether we would expect such a person to have any religious or political motives for his or her travels, and whether we would expect his or her experience of ancient Scottish sites to be in any way different from that of "an Italian or American without a drop of Scottish blood in their veins." My own answers to these two questions are "quite possibly" and "almost certainly". More compelling is Konstan's broader point that what modern readers find tedious about Pausanias, talk of furlongs and punctilious descriptions, for instance, would not necessarily have been tedious to his contemporaries.

Part II includes both broadly comparative studies and essays inspired by individual passages and sections of the text. One of the more thought-provoking essays in the entire collection comes first: James I. Porter writing on "Ideas and Ruins" seeks to draw a parallel between the mentalities of Pausanias and those of the author of On the Sublime. Porter suggests that Pausanias' fascination with ruined and fragmentary reminders of Greece's past evokes the same sense of sublimity that pseudo-Longinus attempts to illustrate through fragmentary excerpts of classical masters. Ada Cohen follows with "Art, Myth, and Travel in the Hellenistic World," a wide-ranging study of narrative strategies in the visual arts, with most attention given to a Hellenistic bowl in the National Museum of Athens showing narrative scenes in molded relief. Cohen draws some brief comparisons between these narrative strategies and Pausanias' handling of space and time.

The issue of Pausanias' relation to the visual arts is also taken up by A.M. Snodgrass in the next article, "Pausanias and the Chest of Kypselos," one of the few attempts in the entire volume to offer detailed analysis of a single passage in Pausanias, the extended description of the scenes carved on the so-called Chest of Kypselos at Olympia (5.17.5 -19.10). Snodgrass sees Pausanias' treatment of the chest as a good example of what he examines at greater length in his Homer and the Artists, the tendency on the part of interpreters from Pausanias' day to the present to read Homeric content into archaic and classical artworks. Snodgrass also comments on Pausanias' predilection for dry and painstakingly objective descriptions of art in contrast to the more subjective and emotive responses to visual arts offered by near-contemporaries like Philostratus and Lucian.

The final essay of Part II is A.'s examination of "The Peculiar Book IV and the Problem of the Messenian Past". Here A. picks up the banner of Snodgrass' longstanding campaign to urge archaeologists to recognize Pausanias' limitations as a guide to the reality of the ancient Greek landscape. A. argues that Pausanias' lack of interest in Messenian history during the period that the Messenians were in thrall to Sparta caused him to exaggerate the region's dearth of interesting structures and monuments, and that Pausanias' perspective has unduly influenced the assumptions modern scholars bring to the region. This is a sensible argument, and it is supported by reference to things ignored by Pausanias that have been uncovered by modern archaeology (including the Pylos Regional Archaeological Project, of which A, as a leading member of the project, is eminently qualified to speak). Most of these items, however, are things which we would not necessarily expect Pausanias to mention in any case: Roman villas, for instance, and small agrarian communities.

Of the two "commentaries" that conclude Part II, Bettina Bergmann offers a study (actually, at twelve pages as substantial as many of the articles in the collection) of parallels to Pausanias' antiquarian view of landscapes in contemporary Italian art and landscape architecture, and Paul Cartledge makes some briefer comments on the nature and the usefulness of Pausanias' account of Lakonia.

Part III deals with Pausanias' "Nachleben." Despite the German title, the articles in this section steer clear of the well-trod path of Pausanias' treatment in German scholarship and focus instead on the use of Pausanias by Anglophone scholars, an important topic that up to now has received little attention. Susan Buck Sutton begins with "A Temple Worth Seeing", an examination of how modern travelers' experiences of Nemea and their descriptions of it have been influenced, if not straitjacketed, by Pausanias' selective description of the site. Sutton draws Snodgrassian conclusions similar to those of A. in the preceding article: Pausanias omits much in the landscape (though once again, apparently not much of the sorts of things that usually interest Pausanias), and we must learn to look beyond what he chooses to tell us. J.A. Wagstaff follows with a brief study on William Leake and the important role Pausanias played for Leake in his pioneering topographical work in Greece. Part III concludes with a pair of substantial articles on important contemporaries of Frazer: John Henderson on L.R. Farnell ("Farnell's Cults"), and Mary Beard on the abridged translation and commentary of Pausanias' account of Athens published by Jane Harrison and Margaret Verrall ("Pausanias in Petticoats"). Both articles are lively, perceptive, and informative and, while the focus of neither is Pausanias himself (even references to Pausanias are rather scarce in Henderson's offering), they both offer insight into the place and time that produced the dominant way of looking at Pausanias in Anglophone scholarship for much of the twentieth century, i.e. as a dependable dullard whose text, preserving as it does testimony of things far more interesting than the author himself, could be truncated and dismembered without compunction (an attitude that has its own curious Nachleben even within the present volume, on which more below).

Part III concludes with commentaries by Stephen Bann, comparing the travel writing of Chateaubriand with that of Pausanias, and by C, who argues that the features of the Periegesis that much of the new work on Pausanias focuses on, such as selectivity and a sense of nostalgia, are endemic to the outlook of a travel writer. Capping off the whole collection is a five-page "coda" by E examining a nineteenth-century painting of the Spartan city center by J.M. Gandy fancifully based on the description of Pausanias.

Near the end of this volume Mary Beard talks about how Pausanias' text performed yeomanlike duty in facilitating the introduction of archaeology into the classics curriculum at Cambridge during the time of Frazer and Harrison. To give the new science a respectable philological patina quotations from Pausanias and from other descriptive authors were used as the basis for exam questions in which the quotations themselves were largely beside the point. So, for instance, a passage from Pausanias' description of the Acropolis prefaces a question in which the examinee is instructed to discuss "the building omitted at this point by Pausanias" (228). In many respects the Periegesis fills a similar function for the present text. Many of the contributors to the volume seem enamored not so much of Pausanias himself as they are of the idea of Pausanias -- an author whose literary project dances around the edges of so many fields of inquiry and methods of reading that are currently popular. In fact when it comes to Pausanias himself many of the contributors seem the opposite of enamored. In addition to Konstan's remarks noted above, Cartledge feels that "it is perhaps worth repeating ... Habicht's sober(ing) judgment: 'it has to be admitted that [Pausanias] did not have a brilliant mind....'" (169), and even one of the editors of the volume (C) confesses that he doesn't really like reading Pausanias that much: "No matter how useful he may be to modern scholars ... I am glad there is many a more lively work out there to be read" (255).

When we move beyond the ideal Pausanias to the real Pausanias, even many of the more enthusiastic contributors have relatively little to say of a direct nature. Like the cheese shop in the classic Monty Python sketch that is "certainly uncontaminated by cheese", there are vast tracts in this book entitled "Pausanias" that are remarkably uncontaminated by Pausanias. This is not to deny that much of what one does find here is very worthwhile, but the buyer who is led by the title to expect extensive or detailed explication of numerous passages in the text of Pausanias is in danger of being disappointed. Nevertheless, there is reason for optimism that the stimulating, thoughtful, and well-written essays of this volume will inspire still further work on Pausanias and allow it to be pursued on a more sophisticated level. For anyone undertaking such work this book will be essential as background reading, and it will also be rewarding reading for anyone interested in the era of the Second Sophistic and in the reception of antiquity in the modern age.

Read Latest
Index for 2002
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:27:55, Friday, 03 April 2009