Pausanias the Chronotopiarist

By Brady Kiesling

The text the Greek traveler Pausanias produced sometime in the 170s CE was not, in his own mind or ours, a work of fiction. It is, however, a rich and complex narrative. The narratological insights  derived from Bakhtin’s chronotope imagery have shaped to a significant degree the work of the Periegesis project.  This multi-year international effort is in the process of making available a densely annotated text of Pausanias’ 2nd century CE description of Greece. By simultaneously turning these ten books of text into a database of identified persons, places, events, and narrative components, we provide raw materials for the widest possible range of visualizations and analyses of the richest surviving manifestation of ancient Greek culture of the Roman period.

 Conventional efforts to place Pausanias’ so-called Periegesis, his “leading about”, within a literary genre are unsatisfactory. His is not a travel diary or travel handbook –neither the practical issues of travel nor the people he meets nor the adventures he had or did not have in months or years (he does not say) of voyaging through Greece seemed to him worth recording. Nor is the work geographical in any modern academic sense of analyzing the physical and economic landscape. 

Mapping for Pausanias betrays no input from the cartographers who, for six centuries already, had been drawing increasingly precise pictures of the ancient world. Not only does he make no reference to maps, but he pays no attention to geographers as well, apart from a nod to the “father of geography” himself. Pausanias disagrees politely with Hecataeus (ca. 500 BCE) on a fine point of mythic geography, still unresolved, the location of Oichalia, the mythic polis sacked by Herakles. 

Nor does the shape of the land to be derived from maps interest Pausanias. The geographer Strabo, intensely interested in the same region and writing a century before Pausanias was born, recognized that the Peloponnese is shaped like a plane-tree leaf. The question does not occur to Pausanias. His non-schematic approach is underscored by one lone pseudo-exception, a topographic statement vivid in its lameness. At Minoa (Monemvasia), “the bay has nothing to distinguish it from all the other inlets of the sea in Laconia, but the beach here contains pebbles of rather elegant shape in all kinds of colors.”

Pausanias moves from point to point, but his roads and buildings are abstract points and lines, without description, anchor points for excursus but not destinations. He has a mild interest in borders, to mark where one place name with its associations gives way to another. Though he offers chunks of historical narrative, often hanging them on some summary chronological hook, they are allusive and incomplete.  He lists art works and ancient religious artifacts, but as inventory record rather than aesthetic/mystic experience. Though a sturdy polytheist piety shines through, any strong emotion is held in check. To the extent he is reacting to what he sees and hears, it is in the measured voice of someone navigating a mildly moth-eaten landscape using Homer and a constellation of lost works by mostly forgotten poets.

In the context of modern narratology, therefore, it seems legitimate to assert that Pausanias was aspiring to create not a traditional narrative but instead an almost-modern meta-text, the first recognizable chronotope in western literature. His work is a four-dimensional word-based abstraction, mapped on papyrus using ancient Greek prepositions and conjunctions rather than in Azure Notebooks using vectors and icons. His purpose in writing was not to explicate any specific item in the ancient Greek corpus but rather to map out a constructed mytho-historic Greece, the existence of which, as a teachable abstraction underpinning a high-status ancient dialect (Attic Greek), served to elevate Rome’s Hellenic subjects to terms of (negotiable, situational) equality with their administrators. 

Pausanias, therefore, was at pains to vectorize, not the quiet university backwater Athens had become under Roman administration, nor the crumbling provincial towns through which he passed, but instead Hellas as a religious-historical continuum, a land “not unbecoming men who strove with Gods.” And in writing mytho-historic, one must be clear that the borders between history and mythology are not borders Pausanias would recognize. 

Pausanias was ruefully certain that no one was godlike in his own day, except emperors for purposes of flattery. But the divine, for him, was real and almost within reach.  Pausanias made respectful use of Homer and Hesiod, but wanted very much to believe that the verses of poets more ancient than they had survived. Poets like Olen, Orpheus, Linos, and Pamphos, Pausanias was confident, had intersected with mythic events and incurred the wrath or favor of gods who still manifested themselves to mortals. Therefore, their work offered uniquely valid insights into the gods and their mysteries. So too did a few ancient works of art.

Pausanias stuck his head inside every shrine the local hierarchs permitted, sniffing for those traces of an ancient moment where gods and humans interacted. The older an object or story, the greater a chance that it was touched by some divine element. For example, the early sculptor in wood Daedalus has some access to the divine (ἔνθεον, 2.4.5) .  The goddess Ortheia might still sometimes inhabit her rough-hewn wooden likeness (xoanon) at Sparta, and this image might well be the one Iphigeneia brought back from Tauris. He used logic where he could. One look at the bronze statue of Athena at Amphissa (10.38.5) told him it could not have been brought from Troy, because bronze-casting was invented by Rhoecus of Samos, and this Athena was clearly later than Rhoecus’s work on display at Ephesus. A few later sculptors created special beauty that had something to do with the god, but Pausanias was careful not to assert that artists of more recent times had the ability to make a god indwelling.  

Selecting from the cartographic categories nicely explicated by the Chronotopic Cartographies project, Pausanias would see his effort as a “correspondent cartography” of (sometimes) fictionalized/transplanted narratives on a real and mappable landscape. Pausanias regarded the Greece adumbrated by Homer as not fundamentally different from or less mappable than the world through which he himself strode (or was conveyed – he is not explicit). Ancient names, as he occasionally pointed out, might be borrowed by residents with a shaky claim, and some Homeric cities were already in ruins 500 years before Pausanias was born. 

Superficially, the task for mapping Pausanias’ narrative resembles that for a work of fiction. The Periegesis Project has annotated some 18000 place mentions, linking 13,900 of them to places with mappable coordinates derived from ToposText, the Pleiades Project, or Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire. Perhaps 3000 ancient temples, sanctuaries, altars, sacred groves, caves, public buildings, etc., are presumed to have vanished, but they can be mapped relative to findable locations. About 2000 place mentions have been tagged as occurring  in their logical place in Pausanias’ real or nominal itinerary. Those points are the basis for visualizing Pausanias’ narrative as a series of points and line-strings on the map. 

The dots reveal, indeed, a recurring pattern. At the beginning of each book, Pausanias enters a given region through a standard entry point, such as the Hermai, border markers sacred to Hermes, on the land route between Argos and Sparta. He then gives a thumbnail of the history of the new region, based primarily on genealogies of kings and heroes, before making a rapid traverse to the regional capital, the city of Sparta in this case. After a detailed transit from monument to monument of the central city, he then describes a series of routes, each radiating out from the capital toward a coast or border. His final route will lead to a new border crossing, a new book, and a new historical thumbnail. Where the road is particularly difficult, he makes brief coastal voyages, but his preference is for land routes and the sacred sites along them. 

Pausanias is a crucial source for modern students of Classical Greece, because he is the sole source for many things we think we know about Greek topography. This dependence lends itself to circular reasoning, alas; whenever archaeologists find a cluster of broken rooftiles of pre-Roman date, their immediate reaction is to announce it as the site of some ancient city mentioned by Pausanias (and Homer before him) as being in that region. Unless successfully challenged, that set of coordinates carves itself into the scientific record as a fixed point on Pausanias’ route. 

One goal of our annotations, therefore, is to open up more systematic use of modern mapping tools in order to judge the implications of such identifications more ruthlessly. In mapping each named place using the Recogito platform and our gazetteers, we use the relation tagging feature to state the relationship between places, and in particular the distance Pausanias records, a number of stades (ca. 6 per kilometer), with his hedging words to suggest accuracy, between two towns or sacred sites. By faithfully applying to the mapping each “next” or “beyond” or “going up a good 150 stades further,” impossible place identifications will tend to manifest themselves. 

If a chronotope is mapped using the distinctive topoi listed by Bakhtin, then Pausanias’ Greek itineraries form a castle, a place of memory but not, like Bakhtin’s road, of encounter. There are no chance meetings on the road, no trusted guides or hosts whose name and cozy conversations Pausanias might attach to the local opinions expressed. And so his line-string is austere. Hundreds of tomb monuments, many springs, and a handful of ancient trees figure along his route basically as names with a throw-away mention of a nymph or hero. That said, Pausanias’ castle has its secret passages, its mysterious byways. From Delphi, a statue of Sardo the eponymous hero of Sardinia drills a long narrative tunnel under the Mediterranean, “because Sardinia is an island about which the Greeks are very ignorant.” Less irrelevant to his discourse is mystical knowledge of the Great Goddesses, which cannot be revealed to non-initiates. On this one point, a dream is his informant (1.14.3).

Rarely, Pausanias’ unnamed human informants have information passed down over many generations, υπομνήματα αρχαία (8.41.5). Most don’t. So Pausanias prefers documents, particularly archaic-sounding poems and oracular verse, to human informants. He labors conscientiously to incorporate the inscriptions on or below artwork in his picture of the divine. The famous classical painter Polygnotus, limning the fall of Troy and its aftermath in the Lesche of the Knidians at Delphi, labeled each character he painted. Pausanias weighs his testimony against that of the poets to determine which of those names is authentically grounded in inspired memory.

This logic leads to occasional eyebrow-raising situations. In recounting the myth of Narkissos, the young man of Thespiai seduced to destruction by his own beauty, Pausanias points out that his demise could not have been the origin of the narcissus flower. The poet Pamphos, Pausanias knows, lived many years before Narkissos. He described in his verses how Hades had seduced Kore/Persephone with narcissus flowers (9.31.9). But here, perhaps, some temporal recalibration is necessary. Pausanias cites Pamphos a total of 11 times. But no author of the Classical period, and no Attic lexicographer, refers to Pamphos at all. One economical conclusion to draw might be that Pausanias has been taken in by some Hellenistic conceit, presumably one of many commercial spinoffs from the mass-market Eleusinian Mysteries of Roman rule. 

Depicting time is the most knotty problem in our visualizations, as for Pausanias himself. Pausanias never uses the standard dating formulae of Roman imperial administration, neither consular dates, nor regnal years, nor years from the founding of Rome. When he chooses to become precise and formal in his dating for special occasions, it is through a classicizing chronological statement modeled on Xenophon and subsequent annalists: in the 3rd year of the nth Olympiad, when x won the footrace, and y was archon in Athens. He reserves those dates for a few well-known battles and a few monstrous events: the earthquake that sank Helike, a horrific massacre at Skotoussa, the burning of the famous temples at Delphi and Tegea. These dates usually but not always coincide with those of the major ancient historians, and archon names have no survived centuries of retranscription intact. More often his dates are approximate. Pausanias anchors us with the genealogy of heroes and kings, plus  wars and battles.

The simplest approach to temporal visualization is to regard Pausanias’ paragraphs as temporal units, and march through them mechanically. The results are poor, however, except for modeling the amount of prose generated in relation to a given stopping point on his itinerary. More interesting, normally, is the size and density of the web of distinct people and events Pausanias mentions in connection with a given location.

Our annotation strategy attempts to follow Pausanias’ own temporal strategies. By linking each personal name or event he mentions to an existing Wikidata item, we can harvest from the Wikipedia ecosystem standard chronological and genealogical information, often, we suspect, on a level of detail that would track well with the knowledge level of Pausanias’ ancient readers. Many paragraphs, therefore contain at least an indirect temporal anchor, the year of a battle or Olympiad, the century of a Spartan king. Where Wikidata fails us, we create a new item.

Pausanias recenters himself and his narrative in the present with two basic time markers,  ἐς ἐμὲ/ἐς ἡμᾶς – up until my/our time (69 instances) – and κατ’ ἐμέ/καθ’ ἡμᾶς – in my/our time (36). But his purpose in doing so is generally to record that the town is now deserted or the temple has lost its roof.  We tag such expressions temporally to the 150s-170s CE, but they seldom effect the timelessness of Pausanias’ chronotope.

Where the narrative leaves the remote past and its brushes with the gods, Pausanias favors in his narrative a Panhellenic past — that of Herodotus and the earlier statues he sees. Most of the wars he describes – the Messenian Wars, the Sacred Wars, the Peloponnesian War, the Corinthian War, the Lamian War, are wars of Greek on Greek, and Pausanias delicately refers to the contribution of that disunity to Greece’s less than free status. At a certain point, he concludes,  “Greece ceased to bear good men. For Miltiades, the son of Cimon, overcame in battle the foreign invaders who had landed at Marathon, stayed the advance of the Persian army, and so became the first benefactor of all Greece, just as Philopoemen, the son of Craugis, was the last” (8.52.1). Thus the last Greek Pausanias found worthy of detailed mention was indeed Philopoemen, who died circa 183 BCE, three centuries before Pausanias’ own time.

There are gaps in the surviving text of Pausanias, a few words or a paragraph, one hopes. That his text continued beyond its current end point, an anecdote about Asklepios in Naupaktos on the north coast of the Gulf of Corinth, is made clear from an unfulfilled promise (9.23.7) to take up a topic in his discourse on Opuntian Locris. How much else is missing we cannot guess…