BMCR 1997.02.18

1997.2.18, Arafat, Pausanias’ Greece

K. W. (Karim W.) Arafat, Pausanias' Greece : ancient artists and Roman rulers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. xvi, 246 pages : map ; 24 cm. ISBN 9780521553407 $59.95.

Pausanias is one of those “useful” writers whose work archaeologists, art historians, and historians of religion regularly mine for significant bits of information, but less frequently read cover to cover, and only rarely consider for its literary merits. On the whole, we tend to view P. as a source, rather than an author, and because excavation has persistently corroborated his observations, his accuracy as a source is no longer the issue it once was. 1 We have, of course, also come to recognize—often to our frustration and/or annoyance—that as an author P.’s interests not infrequently diverge from our own, and thus have learned to acknowledge and accept such “facts” as that P. was a Greek writing for Greeks, was deeply preoccupied with religion, and expressed far greater concern with the past than the present.

Karim Arafat’s insightful study does not radically upset any of these notions about the ancient periegete, but does add considerable depth and nuance to our picture of him. Although this book contains useful discussions of many of the monuments P. treats, it is neither another assessment of P.’s accuracy nor an archaeological commentary. Rather, A. seeks to place the author and his writings in their contemporary political, historical, literary, and cultural contexts and to examine his working methods and the personal attitudes apparent in his work. Thus, despite the “Ancient Artists” of its subtitle, ancient art, the reason many of us read P., is not at the center of this work. In fact, A.’s book does not contain a single illustration, apart from that on the jacket, an image unfamiliar, I think, to most classicists: his own photograph, the back flap informs us, of “a marble relief from the parapet of a bridge at Aizanoi depicting the sea-crossing undertaken by M. Ulp. Appuleius Eurykles, who represented the city at the Panhellenion between AD 153 and 157, and donated the bridge on his return.” This somewhat naive Phrygian carving of a deep-hulled ship flanked by hippocamps is barely mentioned in A.’s text (13), but drives home his principal point: that P.’s view of Greece was the result of a contemporary reality shaped by powerful individuals as much as, and far removed from, the art of past for which we read him today.

In the first of seven chapters, which constitutes an excellent introduction to the author, A. explores the physical as well as the intellectual landscape in which P. moved. He sees as “arguably the most significant fact for understanding” P. and his work the fact that he was a native of Asia Minor, perhaps Magnesia ad Sipylum in Lydia, and not mainland Greece (8). Thus P. is not, as some scholars have considered him, a Greek seeking to explain his homeland, but rather an interested outsider, touring numerous foreign poleis; hence his desire, at every stage, to explore and compare particularly local monuments, institutions, myths, and religious customs, many of which were alien to him. For these are what set each polis off from the others, and, A. convincingly argues, it is P.’s concern with understanding and communicating what is unique and/or significant about each locality, as much as his own undeniable personal piety, that explains his constant focus on sanctuaries and their cults, for it was here that communal symbols of local state religion and thus identity were to be found. A. thus disagrees with Elsner, who sees P. as a pilgrim whose goal is the shrine itself, as well as with others, for whom P. is a sophist. He presents the author as a non-professional cultured pepaideumenos writing in the tradition of historians, such as Herodotos, to whom he occasionally alludes. P.’s chief concern is with factual accuracy, rather than any kind of rhetorical effect, and he makes judgments largely based on autopsy, often revealing his use or doubt of local sources and/or consideration of variant explanations, as for example, at 2.17.3, where he agrees with locals at the Argive Heraion “that the statue which the inscription declares to be the emperor Augustus is really Orestes.” A. makes it clear that despite ample evidence of his selectivity, on which more below, P.’s account is not based on some over-arching construct, in which tangible reality on the ground is misrepresented, but rather introduces to his audience—whom A. submits were men similar to the author, highly educated, well to do eastern Greeks travelling to and around the Greek mainland in a world shaped largely by Hadrian’s institution of the Panhellenion—the notable sites/sights of the Greece as he understood them. Past monuments loom large not only because the past shaped the present, but also because it requires more explanation. Indeed, A. plausibly suggests that contemporary monuments, such as colonnaded streets, arches, and aqueducts, are mostly overlooked because they were familiar to P.’s audience (213).

P.’s sophisticated attitude to this past, especially how he accesses it through works of art, is the subject of A.’s second chapter. Close attention is paid to P.’s comparative method of determining the age of monuments. Indeed, one of the reasons we are so comfortable using P. today is that he exercised judgments similar to our own, evaluating works based on the criteria of technique, materials, and style, and thereby placing them into relative chronologies or attributing them to specific artists. For him the past was not one great soup, but was clearly divided into various periods and its, or their, monuments might be appropriately attributed based upon various factors, such as whether an image was wrought or unwrought, or made of wood, stone, or hammered bronze. That we now know these developmental constructs do not correspond to reality is not relevant here; P. believed them to and worked accordingly, not only attributing monuments to specific periods and artist’s hands, but also contrasting their present and past contexts, thus illuminating the history of a given locality. In such a scheme the earliest pieces, made or dedicated by city founders et al., are naturally the most significant, and this, too, explains in part of P.’s predisposition towards the past.

The principal subject of A.’s study, however, is not P.’s attitudes towards the objects themselves, but rather his perceptions of their shifting contexts, that is to say his assessment of Roman involvement in Greece, and it is here that A.’s close reading of P. breaks new ground. The first two chapters serve as the foil for the next four, which explore P.’s disposition towards more recent political and historical developments that explained the “present” situation of Greece in the mid-second century A.D. P. mentions only seven contemporary monuments, but his world view was clearly shaped by the deeds of Roman rulers. A. therefore organizes his four principal chapters around P.’s treatment of specific Roman personalities, whom he accords attention proportionate to that given them by P. himself, with Chapter 3 treating Roman Republican leaders (principally Mummius and Sulla) as well as emperors of lesser interest to P.; Chapter 4 Caesar and Augustus; Chapter 5 Nero to Marcus Aurelius; and Chapter 6 Herodes Atticus and other non-imperial benefactors. Throughout, whether discussing Claudius or Philopappos in just a few paragraphs or examining Hadrian in some 30 pages, A. analyzes P.’s accounts in conjunction with other literary sources and the archaeological record, considering not just the works and actions of the individuals cited by P., but also P.’s omissions, which A. rightly considers to be illuminating. Here, too, the principles of P.’s selectivity become clearer: although P. frequently has the opportunity to comment upon some aspect of an individual’s character (e.g., Mummius’ boorishness or Tiberius’ perversion) he generally refrains from gratuitous denigration, apparently because it was not relevant to his purpose, that is to say, it added nothing to his explanation of what was to be seen on the ground. When it did, as in the case of Nero’s depredations at Delphi, P. supplies what we might call personal motivation (Nero is described as having a “noble nature depraved by a vicious upbringing” 7.17.3). A.’s P. thus offers an east Greek, rather than a Rome-based, history of Roman involvement in Greece, and A.’s central chapters provide a valuable and at times extremely detailed historical, rather than archaeological, commentary to P. that will be of interest to anyone concerned with the activities of Roman rulers in Greece and Greek perceptions of their personalities and their actions. Whether contrasting Mummius’ destruction and Caesar’s refounding of Corinth, or Augustus’ and Nero’s removal of statuary from Greek sanctuaries, A. effectively demonstrates P.’s almost proverbial “lack of interest” in Roman affairs to be much overstated; likewise his putative dislike for Romans as a people: although Mummius inaugurated “the period when Greece sank to the lowest depth and weakness” (7.17.1), it is Hadrian—who appears to have shaped P.’s world view more than any other individual—that brought Greece to its zenith. P. has ample opportunity to condemn the Romans, but when discussing Sulla’s cruelty at Athens, he takes pains not to do so, twice distancing Sulla from the Roman character (9.33.6, 120.7); and, he blames the Greeks themselves for Vespasian’s reimposition of the tribute Nero had lifted (7.17.3-4).

This attractive, well-produced book is thorough and heavily documented. I noted only two omissions in A.’s 16 page bibliography: reference to R. Meiggs, Trees and Timber in the Ancient Mediterranean World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982) should have been included in his lengthy discussion of ancient wooden statuary; and his perceptive account of Nero’s Grecian tour (nowhere mentioned by Pausanias, incidentally) might have considered the observations of S. Barsch, Actors in the Audience (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994). If A.’s book has a conspicuous drawback, it is that it is highly repetitive, and this is true not only of the seventh, concluding chapter. A. has constructed his work almost as if he expects readers to approach it, as they so often do his subject’s, piecemeal, rather than read cover to cover. Thus, there are not only multiple cross references, but also numerous redundancies. Pausanias’ interesting remark that the Megarians “were the only Greek people whom even the emperor Hadrian could not make to thrive” (1.36.3), for example, raises many interesting questions, and A. approaches it from a variety of angles, but it does not need to be quoted thrice and paraphrased on at least three other occasions (not all included in the index of cited passages). A.’s observations concerning P.’s accuracy, selectivity, and expression of personal opinions are also frequently repeated, but this is certainly not to say that they are without value.

A. has produced a thorough, thoughtful, and balanced consideration of P. the author in the context of the interplay of the Greek past and the Roman present. While A.’s initial chapters should be read by those who use P. in their attempts to recover the classical past, and might even be assigned to advanced undergraduates, his detailed treatment of Roman involvement in the east will profit anyone interested in tracing this phenomenon or in the biographies of leading Romans. Serving such diverse constituencies, this book, might, in the end, frequently be consulted in parts, but like the author he treats, A. deserves to be read all the way through.

1. See, e.g., C. Habicht, Pausanias’ Guide to Ancient Greece (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985).