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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pausanias' Account of Identity

The propagation of Greek culture during the second century in Rome cannot be considered anti-Roman, any more so than a Roman himself speaking out in public against his king. Both are interpretations of self-identity and individualism, which was gaining popularity in the second sophistic movement. Pausanias was an agent of this change when he set out to detail Greek monuments and landscapes, despite being a Greek himself. According to John Elsner in his essay “Pausanias: a Greek Pilgrim in the Roman World” he notes that it was not very “Greek” of Pausanias to want to visit his own country because other Greek writers “preferred to turn their gaze upon the foreign than upon the self.” (7) However, Pausanias was more interested in native lands and the myths that surround them, giving us insight into a new trend for writers and historians of this time which concerning the identity of the self. Elsner notes this irregularity when he says, “The strangeness of Pausanias’ enterprise lies in recording the monuments and rituals of his own society rather than those of other peoples. He was self-consciously exploring Greek identity through looking at all things Greek rather than implicitly defining it by contrast with things Egyptian or Scythian.” (7)
One example that Elsner briefly mentions in his essay is the case of the Corinthians. Despite having been conquered in 146 and reestablished as a Roman colony in 44 B.C. by Caesar, Pausanias still considered the Corinthians to be “Greek” just by the nature of the land itself and the historical and mythical contexts associated with this topography. In this way, Pausanias attributes land and heritage with personal identity, and not that of any ruler or foreign conqueror.
We can see evidence from other texts where Romans are compelled to balance their sense of democracy with tact and awareness of the consequences of complete civil disobedience and it seems that Pausanias, although not perfectly, found a way to honor Greek heritage in a Roman world. During the second century, Greece did not hold the same power and influence as it had in the past and, as Elsner says, was at best considered “culturally influential, but otherwise not especially significant.” (17) However, knowledge of Greek language and philosophy was considered to be one of the cornerstones of a complete education of the upper echelon, which acknowledged that Greek culture did in fact hold a space in Roman elite culture.
The Greek virtue of personal identity and self-interest was evident in their mythologies and philosophies, but after the Roman conquest, this ideal was somewhat lost in a culture that thrived on the whole and not the individual. Pausanias, in his pilgrimages attempted to capture his Greek cultural heritage in his landscapes and myths while living in a new era under Roman rule. However, as Elsner points out again to us, “And yet it was precisely the conquest of Greece by Rome which constituted the possibility for the myth of a free Greece in the past.” (19) Therefore, Pausanias preoccupation with Greek culture while living during a Roman time should not be considered anti-Roman, but more like an appreciation for the ideals that Greece celebrated during its own reign.

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