BMCR 2020.04.19

A student commentary on Pausanias book 2

Patrick Paul Hogan, A student commentary on Pausanias book 2. Michigan classical commentaries . Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2018. xxiv, 211 p.. ISBN 9780472053988 $29.95 (pb).

The second book of Pausanias’ Description of Greece (Corinth and the Argolid) offers an excellent choice for introducing Pausanias’ project to undergraduates and for exploring many of the themes that preoccupy the minds of the pepaideumenoi of the Second Sophistic. The variety of cities in the Argolid and their histories provide a series of case studies revealing relations with Rome (Corinth), with the Achaean Confederacy (Sicyon), between cities and sanctuaries (Corinth and Isthmia, Argos and the Argive Heraion), between cities (Mycenae and Argos, Troezen and Athens), and documenting the features of panhellenic sanctuaries (Isthmia, Nemea, Epidauros). The great variety of topics—origins, history, interstate relations, cults, art, and myths—makes Book 2 an excellent way for students to discover an array of cities and sanctuaries outside of Athens.

Hogan opens with a compact Introduction (seven pages) that discusses the author Pausanias and the Second Sophistic, the guiding principles of Pausanias’ work, its genre, and its imitation of Herodotus, and provides an overview of Book 2. Hogan rightly mentions Pausanias’ emphasis on logoi and theoremata (stories and sights), and goes on to highlight the role of Pausanias’ piety and connoisseurship in his selection of the artwork, stories, and myths he discusses. The Introduction briefly examines Pausanias’ attitude toward Rome, mentioning Hadrian’s travels and benefactions, and concludes that the Romans “figure neither as enemies nor as allies in his work” (xii). Similarly, in discussing the work’s genre, the Introduction underscores how Pausanias uses the terms sungraphe (treatise) or logos (discourse) to reveal his ambition to compose a work akin to that of Herodotus in its ethnographic, historical, and geographical elements. This brief Introduction could have been expanded somewhat to consider several other topics that appear in the notes, but would have benefited from a more synoptic overview: Pausanias’ sources and his critical acumen, the structure and arrangement of his itineraries, his conception of time and history, and his apparent (in)visibility in the text yet inclination to intrude from time to time. Following the Introduction come some brief but useful observations on Pausanias’ grammar, style, and word order (3 pages), a one-page list of frequent Greek terms used by Pausanias, two maps of the Corinthia, and three black and white photos of ancient Corinth. Then follows the Greek text of Book 2, that of Rocha-Pereira’s second edition (1989-90).[1]

The heart of the work is the commentary. As a philologist, Hogan does an outstanding job elucidating less common grammar, complex syntax, and unusual vocabulary. For example, in 2.1.1, Hogan helps readers understand a four-part indirect statement, clearly identifying each segment. Likewise, at 2.17.3, the notes point out the use of the optative in implied indirect discourse. The notes also assist the reader in recognizing tricky vocabulary and forms—especially -mi verbs, perfect participles, or imperatives—not to mention unusual meanings or rare words. Typically, the notes provide specific references to LSJ or Smyth so that readers can find more information. The notes also point out Pausanias’ fondness for stylistic variation, such as instances of hyperbaton or Pausanias’ proclivity for different grammatical constructions while describing parallel accounts. Finally, the commentary briefly identifies the innumerable historical and mythological figures mentioned by Pausanias.

One of the challenges in reading Pausanias results from the topographical organization of his work and give and take between logoi and theoremata. Thus, it is not uncommon for a mythological or historical figure to be featured several times. Pausanias would expect his intended audience to be familiar with these myths as part of their education—not necessarily the case for modern audiences. The commentary is aware of this challenge and attempts to help the reader by providing cross-references to passages that return to a particular story or notable person. Yet the sheer number of names and stories referenced can be daunting to a reader who is not already familiar with them. Thus, the line-by-line commentary is perhaps not the best approach for helping intermediate students with sorting out the most important names. The commentary might usefully have highlighted the major entry for a particular god or hero, included family trees, added paragraphs introducing new sections of the text, or featured brief inserts or text boxes summarizing the major relationships or recounting the full story.

Another challenge in reading Pausanias is to envision the spatial relationships among monuments and between sites. Given that Pausanias is a travel writer describing the physical space in which a traveler encounters dedications, sanctuaries, and cities, the reader might expect more discussion of the monuments, especially when they have been uncovered through excavation. The notes regularly rely on the commentaries of Frazer and of Musti and Torelli for any discussion of the physical space or archaeology, with occasional references to recent scholarship.[2] Perhaps a companion website could have included images, drawings, and plans that might not fit into the print edition. Similarly, when it comes to thinking about the larger spatial relations between sanctuaries and cities, the commentary could have included more maps showing terrain, natural features, and distances. And when Pausanias’ text alludes to interstate relations or those between polis and sanctuary, such as between Sicyon and Corinth, Mycenae and Argos, or Troezen and Athens, students would benefit from being pointed to the relevant scholarship.

But perhaps I go too far. Hogan rightly reminds the reader that this commentary is meant to be primarily philological, focusing on the “syntax, vocabulary, and prose style of Pausanias’ second book” and offering only “selected historical, mythical, archaeological, and literary notes” (xv). It may be unrealistic for any one person to gather such diverse material in a single, manageable volume. Hogan is to be commended for making Pausanias’ Greek text accessible to undergraduates in a way that no previous commentaries have done.


[1] Rocha-Pereira, Maria Helena, ed.  Pausaniae Graeciae Descriptio. 2nd ed. 3 vols. Leipzig: Teubner, 1989-90.

[2] Frazer, George, ed. Pausanias’ “Description of Greece.” 6 vols. London: Macmillan, 1897-1913; Musti, Domenico, and Mario Torelli, eds. Pausania, Guida della Grecia, libro II: La Corinzia e l’Argolide. Rome: Fondazione Lorenzo Valla, 1986.