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Pausanias (geographer)

Pausanias, Greek traveller and geographer of the 2nd century A.D., lived in the times of Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. He was probably a native of Lydia; he was certainly familiar with the western coast of Asia Minor, but his travels extended far beyond the limits of Ionia. Before visiting Greece he had been to Antioch, Joppa and Jerusalem, and to the banks of the river Jordan. In Egypt he had seen the pyramids, while at the temple of Ammon he had been shown the hymn once sent to that shrine by Pindar. In Macedonia he had almost certainly viewed the traditional tomb of Orpheus. Crossing over to Italy, he had seen something of the cities of Campania, and of the wonders of Rome.

His Description of Greece takes the form of a tour in the Peloponnesus and in part of northern Greece. He is constantly describing ceremonial rites or superstitious customs. He frequently introduces narratives from the domain of history and of legend and folklore; and it is only rarely that he allows us to see something of the scenery. But, happily, he notices the pine trees on the sandy coast of Elis, the deer and the wild boars in the oak woods of Phelloe, and the crows amid the giant oak trees of Alalcomenae. It is mainly in the last section that he touches on the products of nature, the wild strawberries of Helicon, the date palms of Aulis, and the olive oil of Tithorea, as well as the tortoises of Arcadia and the "white blackbirds" of Cyllene.

He is most at home in describing the religious art and architecture of Olympia and of Delphi; but, even in the most secluded regions of Greece, he is fascinated by all kinds of quaint and primitive images of the gods, by holy relics and many other sacred and mysterious things. At Thebes itself he views the shields of those who died at Leuctra, and the ruins of the house of Pindar; the statues of Hesiod and Arion, of Thamyris and Orpheus, in the grove of the Muses on Helicon; the portrait of Corinna at Tanagra, and of Polybius in the cities of Arcadia.

In the topographical part of his work, he is fond of digressions on the wonders of nature, the signs that herald the approach of an earthquake, the phenomena of the tides, the ice-bound seas of the north, and the noonday sun which at the summer solstice casts no shadow at Syene. While he never doubts the existence of the gods and heroes, he sometimes criticizes the myths and legends relating to them. His descriptions of the monuments of art are plain and unadorned; they bear the impress of reality, and their accuracy is confirmed by the extant remains. He is perfectly frank in his confessions of ignorance. When he quotes a book at second hand he takes pains to say so.

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Original text on the Greek traveller from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica - please update as needed