2009 Easter 278

The 2000 Year Old Travel Bug

I don’t think anybody could have embodied #WanderlustWednesday Greek-style more than Pausanias, a native of what’s now modern-day Turkey, but made his name in the 1st century CE by pretty much taking my dream job to its fullest extent. What might that be? He just travelled all around Greece and wrote about it! His Description of Greece is a historical treasure, and although his work was forgotten by history for almost 1500 years, is one of the best sources of knowledge we have about what Greece was like a little while after the glory days of Athens and Sparta.

Maybe that was the case because by the standards of his time, Pausanias was a different kind of travel writer. Remember, this was the period when the Roman Empire controlled the entire Mediterranean sea and the area around it, and the historians and geographers of the time were less concerned about creating a cool vacation guide for your average resident of a distant colony than they were with recording information that the Roman government and powerful upper classes would find useful. So for the most part, people who travelled all over the place and wrote about it usually talked about relatively dry stuff, like the features of the landscape and how the local economy worked.

Pausanias wasn’t about that. It’s as if he anticipated today’s travel bloggers by a couple thousand years. Coming from a Greek family, he was interested in not just the landscapes and the people but the underlying history of those things, and why Roman Greece was what it was. If you squint kinda hard, you might be able to call him the first classicist, because he spent a lot of time talking about all of the ancient traditions and mythologies of the Greek world before it was either all that ancient or all that cool. It’s clear that Pausanias really, really loved Greece, and another way that he was relatively unique is how much time he spent on Greece. I mean, we’re talking about an Empire that stretched all the way from Scotland to the Persian Gulf, and Pausanias wrote a book with thirty or more chapters about ten different sections of Greece!

If you’re taking a Greek vacation soon (or want to plan one sooner or later!), you should really look up Pausanias and what he said about whatever part of the country you’re interested in visiting. One of the most consistently amazing things about many parts of Greece is simply how old it is, and appreciating the thousands of years of history and culture and tradition that have gone into making modern Greece what it is today. Seeing through the eyes of another traveller, just like you but only 2000 years earlier, might make that experience just a little bit more memorable for everyone.