Classics Pausanias
William Hutton
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 October 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0108


Pausanias was a Greek author of the second century CE (b. c. 115–d. c. 180), whose only known work is the Periegesis Hellados (variously translated as “Description of Greece,” “Guide to Greece,” etc.). The Periegesis is a ten-volume, topographically organized account of the heart of mainland Greece, covering Attica, the Peloponnesus, and central Greece as far west as Delphi and a bit beyond, and comprising descriptions of sites and monuments, local and regional histories, mythical and folkloric traditions, and accounts of religious customs and rituals. Although there was some doubt about this in previous centuries, it is now generally accepted that the work is based on Pausanias’s own travels and investigations in the region, and that it provides a unique and valuable eyewitness account of the state of Greece in the author’s own time. Pausanias presents the information that he gathers in an orderly and interconnected series of itineraries. This has fooled more than one reader into treating the text as a sequential account of a single tour that Pausanias took through Greece. In reality, Pausanias was at work on the Periegesis for a number of decades and probably made several visits to many of the sites he describes. The structure of his itineraries is thus a deliberate organizational construct rather than a record of his movements. Pausanias frequently tells the reader that his account is extremely selective. He aims to record only the most noteworthy of Greece’s cities, shrines, and monuments, and the most important historical and mythical traditions associated with them. What he chooses to include and exclude reflects a preference for the ancient over the contemporary and the religious over the secular. Despite these limitations, his account has served as an invaluable source of information for archaeologists, historians, art historians, and a wide variety of scholars in other disciplines. In recent years, Pausanias has also received recognition as an interesting representative of 2nd-century mentalities and ideologies.

General Overviews

The best modern introductions to Pausanias in English are Habicht 1998 and Pretzler 2007. Good overviews (in Italian and French, respectively) can also be found in the opening volumes of the commentaries of the Fondazione Lorenzo Valla and Budé series (see Musti and Moggi 1982–2010, cited under Commentaries). Also useful, though somewhat dated, are Frazer’s intoduction to his commentary (see Frazer 1898, cited under Commentaries) and O. Regenbogen’s magisterial article (incorporating posthumously the work of E. Bischoff) in the Pauly-Wissowa encyclopedia of antiquity (Regenbogen 1956). Several other recent book-length studies have more specific focuses but still deal with a wide array of Pausanian issues, including Arafat 1996, Akujärvi 2005, Hutton 2005, and Pirenne-Delforge 2008.

  • Akujärvi, J. 2005. Researcher, traveller, narrator: Studies in Pausanias’ Periegesis. Studia graeca et latina lundensia 12. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell.

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    A narratological study of Periegesis, dealing with the self-presentation of Pausanias’s authorial persona and the attitudes he projects on a number of issues.

  • Arafat, K. 1996. Pausanias’ Greece: Ancient artists and Roman rulers. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    A study focusing on Pausanias’s treatment of Roman leaders and artworks from the Roman era. Also deals more generally with the author’s aims and methods and his place in imperial culture.

  • Habicht, C. 1998. Pausanias’ guide to Ancient Greece. 2d ed. Sather Classical Lectures 50. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    Derived from Habicht’s series of Sather lectures delived at Berkeley, and covering a number of aspects of Pausanias and his work, this book did much to inspire a revival of Pausanias studies in the 1980s and 1990s. A good introduction to the author. Originally published 1985.

  • Hutton, W. E. 2005. Describing Greece: Landscape and literature in the Periegesis of Pausanias. Greek Culture in the Roman World. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    A literary study of the Periegesis, covering the overall structure of the work, its style, and its literary affinities, as well as Pausanias’s place in the contemporary cultural landscape.

  • Pirenne-Delforge, V. 2008. Retour à la source: Pausanias et la religion grecque. Kernos Supplément 20. Liège, Belgium: Centre International d‘Étude de la Religion Grecque.

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    A well-documented study of the copious evidence Pausanias provides on Greek religion, a study that also reveals much about Pausanias’s general aims and methods.

  • Pretzler, M. 2007. Pausanias: Travel writing in ancient Greece. Classical Literature and Society. London: Duckworth.

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    A thorough and concise introduction to Pausanias, more up-to-date and comprehensive than Habicht, and including two solid chapters on Pausanias’s reception.

  • Regenbogen, O. 1956. Pausanias. In Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft. Supplement 8. Edited by August Pauly, 1008–1097. Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler.

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    A perceptive and comprehensive (though archaeologically dated) survey, covering the biography of Pausanias and the sources, style, and structure of the Periegesis.

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