Review by Andrew Erskine
Pausanias' Greece: Ancient Artists and Roman Rulers by K.W. Arafat, Cambridge University Press, 1996, hb ISBN 0 521 55340 7, [[sterling]]37.50
Mass tourism is one of the distinctive features of late twentieth-century western culture. An entry on 'Tourism' has even been included in the new edition of the Oxford Classical Dictionary, where we are told that 'well-known Greek tourists included Solon'. This modern obsession with travel for its own sake has led to a proliferation of guidebooks to assist the disorientated tourist. So it is no surprise that there should at the same time be a revival of interest in the most celebrated travel writer of antiquity. In recent years Christian Habicht has given us Pausanias the epigraphist, John Elsner has produced Pausanias the pilgrim and now in Karim Arafat's new book we have Pausanias the art historian. As Arafat says Pausanias is an author who demands a personal response.
Pausanias' Description of Greece, written in the second century AD, is a survey of the cities of Greece, their buildings, sanctuaries, cults, tombs and statuary. The account begins in Attica, then works its way round the Peloponnese before emerging to finish in Boeotia and Phocis. As he travelled he talked to people and thus he is also a valuable recorder of local traditions; for instance in Argos his guides tell a disbelieving Pausanias that Argos possesses the famous Palladium of Troy (he knew that the real one was in Rome, 2.23). Pausanias makes a fascinating and ambiguous subject for the modern interpreter. He is a Greek writing about things Greek but he is in several important ways an outsider. First, he may be writing about mainland Greece but he himself is from Lydia. Secondly he is a Greek living under the Roman empire; he did not ignore the Roman present but his attention is directed towards the Greek past.
Arafat locks firmly onto these issues, the relationship between past and present, between Greek and Roman, and between mainland Greece and Asia Minor. These relationships underlie Pausanias' text and are fundamental to an understanding of it. By exploring them Arafat illuminates not only Pausanias himself but also his cultural and historical context. Pausanias is an enigmatic figure, known only from his own somewhat self-effacing writing. In an introductory chapter Arafat seeks to flesh him out as much as possible, speculating on his predecessors, his background, his readership and his disdain for the contemporary. He argues that Pausanias should be considered as distinct from the writers who are grouped together as the Second Sophistic; lacking their rhetorical flourishes he writes in a less elevated style more suited to the functional purpose of a guidebook; like them his interest is in the past but it is more broadly based than the atticizing Sophistic concern with Classical Athens. It is the chapter on Pausanias and the past which is most interesting; here is Pausanias the art historian. We see his concern to record the techniques and materials used in the buildings and objects that he saw, the care with which indicates their dates, his knowledge of sculptors and their works. He specifies whether an object is unwrought stone, marble, bronze or amber; wooden statues have an especial association with the past.
The last half of the book is concerned with Pausanias' attitude to Rome and its rulers and this is the least satisfying part. This may be due to its structure which runs through each significant Roman in turn and so reads as an exhaustive list of examples and incidents without a clear overview; consequently there are rather redundant discussions of why Pausanias had so little to say about some emperors (for instance Claudius). Essentially the more involved an emperor was in the Greek East the more likely Pausanias was to mention him (for instance Augustus, Nero and Hadrian). In each case Arafat compares other accounts with that of Pausanias, a practice that sometimes leads to a lack of focus. Is the subject Roman rulers in Greece or is it Pausanias on Roman rulers? Nevertheless these chapters will be useful for anyone who wishes to check up on an individual emperor and his involvement with Greece, for instance Nero's Hellenic tour in AD 66/67.
This is a book of many insights but for the specialist rather than the general reader. Both should use its appearance as an excuse to take a(nother) look at Pausanias. For the Greekless there is Peter Levi's excellent Penguin translation easily available.