Pausanias was born in Asia Minor in 110 AD and lived during the reign of Emperors Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius, i.e. the heydays of the
Roman Empire. He travelled extensively and he is the author of the first travel guide ever!
His trips took him to Asia Minor and
Greece, including Macedonia and probably Epiros, but also to Syria and Egypt, and even to Rome with the Latium region and Magna Graecia to the south. His travel experiences have been written down in ten books and cover the Greek regions of Attica, Argolis, Laconia, Messenia, Elis, Achaia, Arcadia, Boeotia and Phocis. They are a first-hand testimony of what the world looked like in the second century AD.
The major part of his story is about
which takes about one-fifth of his entire work, a treasure-trove for those who want to drift back in time. Olympia
Pausanias, Führer durch
(translated by Ernst Meyer) is thus only a part of Pausanias’ travel guide and it so happened that I came across this German version many years ago. It may only be a pocket book but it does contain Pausanias’ story in full. Olympia
It is wonderful to walk with Pausanias through the streets of this famous city where the Olympic Games were held for twelve centuries (from 776 BC until 393 AD). He starts with the city’s origins and myths and soon goes straight to the Temple of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. He describes the temple in details: the roof, the pediment, the metopes, the grand statue of Zeus by Phidias, the votive offerings, and the altars. He then walks to the workshop of Phidias, the
, and the Philippeon built by Philip II and finished under Alexander III. At the Philippeon, he actually witnessed the statues of both Macedonian kings together with those of Amyntas and Eurydike, Philip’s parents and of Olympias, his wife – all executed by Leochares in ivory and gold. Temple of Hera
He spends time and effort to describe the unbelievably great number of Zeus statues all over Olympia, including one representing Alexander the Great as Zeus! Then follows a description of the statues erected for the winners at the Olympic Games. In between, he stops at a statue of Anaximenes, who not only wrote a history of the Greeks but also that of Philip II and his son Alexander. It is quite amazing to read that such a large number of these statues were made of bronze, silver, and even electron, and that many of them beside the famous Zeus were also chryselephantine sculptures with their hands and face made of gold or ivory. This is beyond our imagination!
Next, he treats the many Treasury Houses, to end with the renowned Stadium and the adjacent Hippodrome.
Although this book dates from 1971, it contains a very pertinent list of annotations that is still very much up-to-date. To help us in picturing Olympia, there is a clear map locating the city’s main buildings. To complete the story, there is a useful Register of the buildings and memorials, as well as a list of all the Athletes and Artists treated in this book.