A typology for annotating the Periegesis

As we have set out in our previous posts, our aim in the Digital Periegesis is to identify and explore the spatial form of, and the forms of space within, Pausanias’s narrative. The challenge of analyzing spatial representation in the Description of Greece—and the reason why we were attracted to the text in the first place—is the “thickness” of that description, whether Pausanias is taking the reader on a tour of a temple precinct, stopping off along a road to take note of a statue, or recalling the mythical stories associated with a simple looking rock.

In order to capture sufficient information about those places (or objects in space), it is first helpful to establish a set of concepts and categories when annotating them in Recogito: i.e., how they function within his narrative, and, in turn, how his narrative is constructed through spatial description. With a view to building a method that can help us annotate in a systematic and uniform manner, we have so far developed the following semantic annotation typology based on the entity and tagging feature in Recogito:

1. Entities

Recogito provides three choices of entity: place, people, event. Our primary concern is place: when we identify a place in the text, we mark it and align it to an appropriate gazetteer place entry (if we can find one). However, it is also important to identify people in the text, especially for their role in certain places (or even as proxies for place): for this we use the “people” entity (and both the “place” and “people” entity if considered to be representing a place).

Figure 1: annotating a “place” in Pausanias, by identifying the character string as an entity and then aligning it to a global authority record (the gazetteer DARE or Pleiades).

2. Tags

Recogito also provides a “free” tagging features, which enables users to provide more information about those entities and construct their own schema for labelling them. For instance, for places, we want to identify: is the place human, physical, regional, or mythical; and what type of place is it? (e.g. human place might be a settlement, temple, assembly.) For people: are they mythical or historical; divine or mortal; male or female; Greek or other? Or are they a proxy for a place?

Figure 2: Annotating a “person” in Recogito, by first identifying the character string as an entity and then using tags to further define it.

3. Relations

Fundamentally, we are interested in capturing the ways in which Pausanias constructs his description of Greece. There are various different kinds of spatial relationships that can be defined in the text, as Pausanias moves through both space and time. So far we have determined the following:

  • Topographic: a place in space, as Pausanias moves through the landscape,
  • Chronotopic: a place in time, as Pausanias moves through the history of a particular place/building/statue, or
  • Analogic: places compared, as Pausanias relates one place to another in a different part of the world.

We use the “event” entity to highlight the sections of the text in which either or these three descriptive modes take place, and use the tagging feature to then specify the mode (topographic, chronotopic, or analogic). We then use an additional relational tagging feature, which is part of the Recogito UI, to further define those relations: e.g. are the topographic relations being described synoptic (a bird’s eye view) or hodologic (movement through space)? A further tag can be used to define focalisation–whether the description is from the narrator’s viewpoint or the perspective of another.

Figure 3: annotating relations in Recogito, using the “event” entity to mark the entire clause of the upper-level spatial category (topographic, chronotopic, or analogic), and then the “relational tagging” feature to mark the individual entities and their precise relationship to each other.

This represents our methodology for annotating the Periegesis at the moment. But, as we have already found, we are modifying and nuancing this typology as we move through Pausanias’s “thick” description. You may also have your thoughts about what to capture and how: we welcome your feedback!

For our latest methodological account, see: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1drDtRMdXTjLkwkDB5SYsxZQmTig8z1dN2YCE1Q-E5L4/edit?usp=sharing

The Digital Periegesis’s technical environment

Usability and reach are the determining factors behind our choice of how to produce a digital Periegesis, though other important factors like efficiency, sustainability, collaboration and transparency have also played a role. Too often new digital initiatives devote time and money to building bespoke new applications that tend to “reinvent the wheel” or at least duplicate on-going efforts, which also lead to the unwelcome further stratification of resources. We have taken a contrary approach that puts the emphasis on the reuse and extension of data and tools that have already been produced and that have a community around them. Not only does this mean working closely with other groups; the Digital Periegesis will, we believe, greatly benefit from being located within a landscape of like-minded resources, as well as enabling us to concentrate on meeting the aims of our project.

There are three key background elements to our digital exploration of Pausanias. First, we use the text of the Periegesis from the Perseus Classical Library (specifically from their newly-launched Scaife viewer, recently reviewed for the Society of Classical Studies here). We use two forms of the text: its plaintext format for the English translation, and the TEI text for the Greek. While the translation of Pausanias is out-dated and not entirely satisfactory, both of these texts are openly licensed (in CC-BY) for reuse. For us, the benefits of being able to take the text and (re)use it as the basis for digital analysis far outweighs other considerations (such as of accuracy of contemporary English idiom), particularly when we are focused on analysing specific features within it, i.e. the category of place and other spatial concepts. (For similar comments on using the Perseus text of Herodotus, see Barker et al. 2010.)

The second key element is the platform in and with which we explore the text itself, the open-source Web-based platform Recogito developed by Pelagios. Recogito enables the user to easily upload texts (as well as images and tables), which can then be marked up with additional information, primarily about the places mentioned. Using a global network of gazetteers such as Pleiades (which covers the ancient world), Recogito enables the user to not only identify a character string such as “A-t-h-e-n-s” as a place, but also then to align that reference to an appropriate authority file, so that one, for example, can disambiguate between the “Athens” of Pausanias’s period and “Athens, Georgia” the hometown of the band REM. This is done by using what are known as Uniform Resource Identifiers, or URIs, essentially “social security numbers” for places, which allow them to be disambiguated from each other. The URI for classical Athens, for example, is 579885, or, giving the full web address: https://pleiades.stoa.org/places/579885.

Third, and following on from this: semantic annotation in Recogito conforms to a Linked Open Data model for connecting online resources. The two-step process of annotation noted above—where one asserts that a character string in the document represents a place entity and then aligns that reference to the global authority gazetteer on that place—enables the creation of a data format known as RDF, which is one of the outputs that Recogito produces. This means that by working on Pausanias in Recogito we will be able to connect our Digital Periegesis to other resources that hold information about the places referenced in the text. So, for example, if we use the Pleiades URI for Athens for references to this place in Pausanias, we will then be able to link to other resources that do the same. (For a prototype application of what a linked data ecosystem might look like, see Pelagios’s Peripleo search tool and the report on its use by Chiara Palladino here.) This will, in turn, enable the comparison of Pausanias’s deep description of various sites (the Athenian Agora, or Corinth, for example) to the archaeological data found there and the plans of them produced in modern research.

As part of a growing community, Recogito currently has c.3,000 regular users, who have produced c.1.90 million annotations. Having uploaded our different versions of Pausanias’s ten books to Recogito to work on directly, we are currently creating semantic annotations to do with place which essentially treats the text itself as a database of information. If you would like to check on our progress, our documents are open to read, both the plaintext English version and the Greek TEI version. Better still, contact us and get involved!

Introducing the Digital Periegesis


Such in my opinion are the most famous legends (logoi) and sights (theorêmata) among the Athenians, and from the beginning my narrative has picked out of much material the things that deserve to be recorded.

Pausanias, Description of Greece 1.39.3

Sometime over the course of the 2nd century CE, a certain Pausanias of Magnesia set out to write a detailed account of a journey (or, better, journeys) through mainland Greece. The result is the Periegesis Hellados (Description of Greece), a ten-volume survey of the human footprint on that landscape, which presents a wealth of information about the towns, buildings, monuments and artefacts from Attica to Phocis, taking in a counter-clockwise route through the Peloponnese along the way. Ever since, Pausanias has been widely used as a guide for interpreting those sites, and, subsequently, for their archaeology. And yet, as recent scholars such as Will Hutton, Maria Pretzler and Greta Hawes have shown, Pausanias’s description of place does not map easily on to the archaeological record, as it is emerging through excavation. For one thing, as the passage quoted above suggests, Pausanias’s topographical narrative is shot through with past accounts (logoi) of the places through which he passes and the objects in space he sees.

The word Periegesis, which derives from the verb periēgeisthai, “to lead or show around”, has this double sense of description (of place) and movement (through space and time). In this project, funded for three years by the Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Foundation, we aim to identify, trace, map and explore the spatial form of, and the forms of space within, Pausanias’s narrative. That is to say, we are interested in two complementary ideas: the ways in which place and objects (and peoples) within space are described, and the spatial organisation of his narrative. (In her recent review of the edited volume on The Production of Space in Latin Literature, Carolyn MacDonald notes with approval the method of “simultaneously exploring both the literary construction of space and the spatial articulation of the literary”, which is essentially our aim too.) In particular, we want to analyse the ways in which Pausanias moves through and relates places to each other.

To investigate Pausanias’s production of a Greek space, we want to address the following questions:

  • Which locations are particularly “thick” in description, which are passed over with little or no comment, and what reasons can we deduce to account for these differences?
  • What is the relationship between Pausanias’s movement through space and time? Do particular spaces attract mythological / historical description? What mythological or historical figures or periods are particularly prominent or privileged, where, and with what effect?
  • What are the intersections between the various ways in which Pausanias relates places and spaces to each other—i.e. between topographical (movement through space), chronotopic (movement through time), and analogic (comparison of places)? How does Pausanias construct his journey(s), both at the macro and micro level? What picture emerges of a “Greece” from these networked relations, in contrast to our own cartographic representation of this space?

To conduct our analysis we are using the latest technology to help us work directly with and on a digital text of the Periegesis. Specifically, we are using a semantic annotation platform in order to capture spatial information in the text in ways that will enable us to visualise and analyse the spatial form of, and the forms of space within, Pausanias’s narrative. In our next blog post we will outline this technical environment in more detail.

We are already partnering with a number of related initiatives in this space. If you would like to get involved, please feel free to contact us via our Twitter account, @PeriegesisH, or by responding to this blog.