Sunday, September 25, 2011


Lord Byron, who is famous for transgressing the bounds of ‘normal’ sexual and gender behavior both by sleeping with his half-sister and cross-dressing by western standards through wearing the foustanella, is the person responsible for bringing my foustanella-centered ontopathological crisis about my suitability to wear the said garment and my vague belief that I could resolve it, if only I could manage to wear the most authentic foustanella of them all, to a head. For viewing Lord Byron’s famous portrait at Mesolongi in an English tome, I was astounded to notice that the caption below it read: “Byron in Albanian dress.” In what way could Byron, the greatest Philhellene after John Rerakis, be used as a poster boy for those claiming another origin for this purely Greek costume? Later, on a trip to Albania, I was astonished at the sight of a foustanella clad folkloric dance troupe perform traditional southern Albanian daces. Furthermore, they too called the garment “foustanella” in their own language. It was long after this seminal moment in my life, that I discovered that the foustanella was also worn in the regions of Azat, Babune and Tikvesh by inhabitants of what is now FYROM and, even further north, in some regions of Wallachia, in present day southern Romania.
My crisis deepened. Given that my physical stature and interests disqualified me from being a pistol toting, chasm be-striding palikari, the only applicable prerequisite for being permitted to wear the article of clothing that would automatically confer Hellenic machismo upon me, was to be able to don the most authentic Greek version possible. Now, it became apparent that other claimants for authenticity had emerged and that their arguments were, at least at first glance, plausible. After all, how does one establish pure Greek credentials for an item of clothing whose very name is not Greek? The etymology of the word foustanella is definitely foreign, deriving from the medieval latin fustaneum, diminutive form of fustis, or wooden baton, referring to the spindle on which cloth was woven. Others would have the word derive from the suburb Fustat in Cairo, a traditional centre of cotton production.
To compound my quandary further, proponents of the Hellenicity of the foustanella claim that it has been around in some form since classical times, being derived from the chiton or chitonium and a pleated kilt can be discerned on a third century statue found on the Acropolis. However, scholars also contend that the garment is derived from the Roman toga or the tunic worn by legionaries. In contrast, folklorist Ioanna Papantoniou considered it to be derived from the Celts and adapted by the Romans, whereas Franz Von Felso-Silvas, argues that the Romans took the foustanella from the Albanians and introduced it to the Celts in Britain. On the other hand, the famous archaeologist of Minoan Crete, Sir Arthur Evans, posited that the foustanella preserves an Illyrian element in the Balkans. Albanian nationalists who devote pages to discussing the origin of the foustanella in forums on the internet claim that Pyrrhus, king of Epirus (who they consider to be Albanian, along with his cousin, Alexander the Great) also wore the foustanella. Confused yet?
Nonetheless, by the time we get to Byzantium, the foustanella is well and truly on the scene, in the form the pleated podea worn by Akritic warriors and attested to in pottery depictions from the reign of Manuel Komnenos. After this time, however, we lose the thread of the garment, until once more, we come up against another crisis of identity, for a document dated 1335 lists the “fustanum” as an article confiscated by the Venetians from a sailor in northern Albania. However, from that time onwards, the foustanella becomes a primary article of clothing in Greek-influenced southern Albania, not the north. King Zog, a northern tribesman who characteristically proclaimed himself King of Albania looks manifestly uncomfortable in a foustanella in his surviving photographs. The discovery of his photograph served to inspire me on another undertaking: a collection of photographs of famous people and non-Balkanians wearing the said item. Sadly, recent Friday night excursions into St Kilda with camera and spare foustanella packed securely in a backpack, have proved relatively fruitless.
The Albanian version of the foustanella is long, covering the knee and only has sixty or so pleats. It was the custom in older times to dip it in melted sheep-fat, in order to make it both waterproof and less visible. Scholars claim that it is this version of the foustanella that Albanian Tosk tribesmen introduced into Greece during the Ottoman period. At first glance, the theory appears to be plausible. The foustanella is worn in areas that also have a similar music tradition, dominated by the Tsamiko, and were historically, Albanian speakers were to be found, such as the Peloponnese, Central Greece, and some parts of Epirus and Macedonia. However contrary evidence exists to suggest that the foustanella has been worn in Epirus continuously since the Byzantine era, before the migration of Albanian tribes to the region. What cannot be denied however, is that in the writings of nineteenth century western travelers to Greece, the foustanella is considered an Albanian influence, attesting to the presence of Albanian speakers within the country.
The Greek foustanella however, differs in some, though not many respects from its Albanian counterpart, notably in the higher number of pleats, which was a symbol of wealth, given that these were difficult to produce. Captains and warlords competed to outdo each other as to the sumptuousness of their costumes, introducing gold braid and embroidery to their yileki, mendani, or other type of waistcoat. Another item of clothing, a long coat that partially covers and shields the foustanella is known as the “Arvanitkos doulamas.” No prizes for guessing its origin. Further, photos of the evzones and of the 1920’s Royal Albanian Guard are almost indistinguishable, save that the evzones skirts are indubitably shorter.
Given the above, it seemed that authenticity as a reason for wearing the foustanella eluded me. I dreamed of being able to live in a place where I could indulge my passion for wearing the foustanella openly among my peers who could appreciate my sense of style and not only on Greek national Day or the Antipodes Festival, where my forays down Lonsdale Street in full regalia seem only to evince horror in hapless tourists and subdued golf-claps from closet foustanelloforoi, who lack the necessary baubles in order to come out and wear their own with pride.
Thus when I discovered that in the Vlach village of Metsovo in Epirus, the inhabitants, wearing a stylish variant of the garb that includes a sumptuous black silk shirt are permitted to roam freely, their pleats swaying in the breeze, I was compelled to tarry to them and beg admittance as one of their number. The results were disappointing. My newly tailored one piece grey foustanella with black embroiderings was quickly identified as being from the region of Tsamanta, close to the Albanian border, I was exposed as an imposter and banished.
I find myself thus in the sad predicament of one who is neither masculine enough nor ensconced in a natural habitat where the wearing of the foustanella is permissible. Furthermore, proof of authenticity of original derivation has proved elusive. Of course this parlous state of affairs could easily be remedied by a united effort by the Greek community to being back the foustanella as daily wear for all Greek Australian males, Alex Perry included. Truly, this noble endeavour would be a sure safeguard against assimilation and surely raise fertility levels within our community as the males of our gender are finally given respite to breathe. One lives in hope.
If there is any balm in Gilead, it is in the fact that not only is a statue of Greek Marathon Gold-Medallist Spiros Louis to be erected in Berwick, in full foustanella, but I have also been able to locate a picture of sybarite Oscar Wilde caparisoned in a foustanella, which he refers to as ‘Greek dress.’ Oscar was neither masculine nor authentic. This effete fop, possessed of a penchant for debauchery, was however an absolute genius, whose prose is both intricately woven and tear-jerkingly humane. It is in his honour, then, he who opined: “Be yourself, everyone else is taken,” and more presciently: “You can never be overdressed or overeducated,” (after all quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit) that I will now wear my foustanella at every given opportunity. The only way to rid temptation, is to yield to it.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 25 September 2011

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Question: "If someone said of Slavic Macedonians that they were evil abstractions or freaks of nature, you would agree with me that is something that would hold Slavic Macedonians up to ridicule or contempt?"
Answer: "Yes."
Question: "Do you agree with me that if an article is written in Hobart which said something of American Indians that they were freaks of nature or evil alien abstractions would not those America Indians be entitled to say that they had been ridiculed?"
Answer: "Yes."
The above is a partial transcript of the cross-examination of Ljubcho Stankovski, editor of the "Australian Macedonian (sic) Weekly," who permitted the publication of an article in his rag entitled amusingly 'Who in this Celestial World gave the Greeks the right to take away the Macedonian language?' It is trite to point out that a 'celestial world' refers to the heavens, whereby the editor must have truly had his head in the clouds when he permitted such racist, intolerant and thoroughly disgusting references towards Greeks as being: a "thieving nation," "deranged bastardly monsters", "freaks of nature," referring to the Greek language, which in passing exists in countless inscriptions in FYROM churches as "their ugly language," as well as asking the Greeks rhetorically:
"What evil alien abstractions possessed your dark soul?", "what "barbaric wickedness obliterated your senses?" and "What evil spirits possessed your moronic conscience to be so cruel and predisposed to such ghastly monstrosity?"
It was while attempting to arrest the natural urge to regurgitate caused by the purulence of such parlous grammar, that the aggrieved members of the Australian Macedonian Advisory Council, having first attempted to point out to Stankovski and his rag that such articles are racist and inspire ethnic hatred and exhausted all efforts to conciliate the dispute in the face of Stankovski's rag's intransigence and refusal to accept responsibility for such a provocative, childish and thoroughly offensive act, that they sought recourse in Victorian. Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal, claiming that in publishing such twaddle, the rag contravened Section 7 of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act.
In the seminal work to Citizen: Greek Migrants and Social Change in White Australia 1897-2000," George Vassilacopoulos and Tina Nicolacopoulou analyse how the key forms in which migrant communities manifest our existence here are paradoxical. Though lip service is paid to communities forming their own organizations and sub-structures, the way in which this is done is heavily regulated and prescribed by the state, originally in order to keep sub-cultures away from the mainstream. As a result of such government-sanctioned behaviour, the sub-cultures remain isolated, suspect and constantly having to prove their loyalty credentials to their host country, that is perpetually unable to accept them as they are. Vassilacopoulos and Nicolacopoulou also note that such racially exclusion is symptomatic of the ontopathology of the predominant ruling group in this country, in seeking to legitimise its conquest and rule over Australia at the expense of its original inhabitants, by acting as arbiter over other nationalities it has chosen to include but not assimilate within its constructed society.

While many may balk at such analysis, it is certainly borne out by the adjudication of this dispute. In finding that Stankovski's rag did not breach the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, Senior Member of VCAT Noreen Megay made some concerning observations that do much to indicate how the legal institutions established by the predominant ruling group view ethnic minorities. Ms Megay pointed out that the article was printed in English in a publication that is primarily printed in Cyrillic. Thus, the 'English-language' would find it hard to find "amid the myriad pages of Macedonian (sic) text." So obviously, ethnic publications, do not share the same status as English ones, for the purposes of the public discourse.
Ms Megay further observed that "For the average Macedonian (sic) reader, this article is probably just "preaching to the converted" and is not likely to stir up such raw emotion as to breach the Act." This observation is shocking, as it asserts the horrifying stereotype that all Australians who have cultural affiliations with FYROM consider Greeks to be thieves, monsters and freaks. That a member of a judicial body can make such broad sweeping characterizations of this nature about an ethnic community is deeply disquieting and ostensibly, a slur on all Australian-FYROMIANs.
Even more frightening is the fact that Ms Megay appears to hold the view that because the perpetrator and the victim of the slur in question are two ethnic communities, which, by their very nature are on the margins of broader society, that the act of intolerance is of marginal interest to the mainstream: "I suspect that the average non-Macedonian reader who might stumble across the article..would just wonder what it was all about without being incited to any extreme emotion about Greeks." She goes on to observe: "It is true that in modern multicultural Australia people might wonder why it was necessary consistently to re-open old ethnic wounds and to do so in such forceful terms... In my view the words of the article do not have any tendency to incite hatred against Greeks or to incite serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of Greeks on the ground of their race."
The fact that the blatant dehumanization of a people in print, regardless of the language in which it is done can be deemed not to contravene Section 7 of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, sets a dangerous precedent. Ms Megay considered that: "My instinct is that the section requires a consideration of whether the subject matter is in the interest of the public as a whole, as distinct from one that excites the interest of two ethnic groups of the public." Accordingly, are we to assume that as various members of our judiciary consider the history of conflict between ethnic groups to be of marginal interest to the broader (here read Anglo-Saxon) community and that ethnic publications, especially foreign language ones are obscure and also of limited importance to the mainstream, that ethnic communities in Victoria are now granted license by this novel interpretation of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, to denigrate and dehumanize each other without impunity? A brave new world indeed.
The Victorian Greek media and the community in general have maintained an inordinately high level of professionalism and courtesy when dealing with other ethnic communities over matters that concern our countries of origin. The fact that our community as a whole refuses to condone acts of racism and intolerance is testament to its community to multiculturalism and social integration. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about our FYROMIAN counterparts. Readers will recall the Victorian Multicultural Commission sponsoring the publication of "The Macedonians in Victoria," written by an amateur historian and a schoolboy, that contained a plethora of slurs against the Greek community. Even though these were pointed out to the VMC, no action was taken. Similarly, at their 2008 hate rally, members of the FYROMIAN community paraded through the streets of Melbourne where, in a deliberate attempt to provoke the religious feelings of Greek-Australians, they defaced the Greek flag by replacing the cross with a red swastika and also carried banners with slogans that vilified the Greek people, such as: "Fascist Greeks." This time, they found their apologist in Mr George Seitz MP, who quixotically attempted to apologize on their behalf and justify their behaviour. Again, no mechanism of state was activated in order to stop the public display of racist behaviour. Now members of that community are able to continue with their racist barrage of insults and victimize others, without hindrance.
The latest VCAT decision gives rise to the apprehension that while the State is happy to placate ethnic communities with a view to ensuring their subservience to the dominant culture and secure their votes, it is unwilling or unable to protect them in instances of racial victimization and abuse. Ms Megay may consider the fact that Australian-FYROMIANS are being incited to consider their fellow Australians of Greek background as deranged bastardly monsters as irrelevant to mainstream society. However, in doing so, the flood-gates are left open for further and even more heinous displays of racial intolerance, and thus playing into the hands of the detractors of multiculturalism.
It is ironic that we are reminded of the illusory nature of our so-called 'multi-cultural society,' at a time when the inclusion of a slogan of that nature is being contemplated for Victorian number plates. Our Multicultural minister is implored, prior to promoting such an endeavour, to revisit and review the legislation that in its current form, seems to undermine the very end that we hold dear.
"Sticks and stones may break our bones but words will never hurt us," goes the old adage. Our community will go on as before, ensuring that it makes positive contributions to Victoria while ensuring the survival of Greek culture and language in this country, regardless of the immature and hate-driven displays of bile by the disaffected few and with great concern for smaller and more vulnerable ethnic communities who may be subject to similar treatment. Come election time however, if nothing is done to improve the existing legislative framework, we would do well to make our views known.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 17 September 2011

Saturday, September 10, 2011


My minute insufficiency has been possessed of precise knowledge as to the secret of the Greek revolutionaries’ success in the 1821 War of Independence. This Gnostic secret, revealed only after initiation through most dread rites, has been imparted to me by an ancient Greek school teacher who revealed that said success can be ascribed to the fact that sundry Greek freedom fighters sported the foustanella. It becomes apparent to all but the uninitiated that the long flowing skirts of the foustanella are ideal for the purpose of jumping over mountain crags and evading pursuers, whereas the wide sleeves of the accompanying shirt are ideal for drawing yataghans and propelling on over chasms. The hapless Turks, on the other hand, fumbling about in baggy shalwars, stood no chance in catching up to the elusive Greeks and stumbled over the first boulder they got to. Thus was freedom and Balkan mini-power status won.
My august teacher’s proposition was one that perplexed me from an early age. Being girded with the foustanella and assorted accoutrements in order to attend the annual Independence Day march or other festivals was a time consuming process involving the employment of innumerable amount of safety pins to hold everything in place. Furthermore, we were all strictly injuncted not to move around, lest any of the fastenings come loose and the foustanella unravel. It thus appeared to me that rather than facilitate movement, the foustanella actually retarded it by virtue of the fact that by the time one secured the said garment and made rudimentary efforts to keep it clean, an enemy army would have come and gone.
This pained me. Whenever I would don the foustanella, recollections of my aged teacher’s vivid description of the heroic pursuits of the freedom fighters and better men who had worn the same costume before me would flood my conscience, granting me a small stake in history. It was men in skirts who, having ensconced themselves in Souli, held out against the forces of the evil Ali Pasha. Those same skirt clad men held out bravely at Mesolongi, liberated Athens and drove the bloodthirsty Dramali from the Peloponnese. Attired in their pleats, the foustanelloforoi repeated these feats almost a hundred years later in the Balkan Wars and even in the mountains of Epirus in the Second World War, proving the military superiority of their gear.
For this reason, unlike most of my contemporaries, who would only consent to wear the garb after considerable bribery from their progenitors (and indeed, one of my favourite childhood memories comprises of carefully leaning against St Eustathios church in such a way as not to soil the foustanella, on the day in which the liberation of Epirus was being commemorated, and listening to such contemporaries compete to outdo each other as to the magnitude of the bribes they had managed to extract), I secretly looked forward to the days when I could vest myself in the clothes of heroes, in the hope that by doing so, I would absorb their attributes, though it would have been social suicide to say so.
Catching me in one of my more unsuspected moments strutting around preening myself and pretending to be Markos Botsaris, one of these contemporaries tugged me by my sleeve and proceeded to pull me down the stairs exclaiming: “Are you a tsolias? Then jump!” To my horror, and despite the fact that the foustanella was apparently made for such pursuits, I shrank back hesitantly, in mortal fear that my poorly made 1980’s model tsarouhia would probably not survive the impact of such a precipitous leap. Given then that I had refused to engage in tsolia-like pursuits, it seemed to me that I was dishonouring the uniform, disqualifying myself from identifying with tsoliades and consequently causing an ontopathological crisis into the bargain.
Such an ontopathological crisis is beguiling and entrapping in its apparent simplicity, leading us to think that our progenitors had an insidious hidden agenda in insisting that their children wear the foustanella. For in Australia, the wearing of it is still largely the preserve of young children and only rarely that of adults. By donning clothes that one’s peers and environment deem to be properly suited to females, a public affirmation of Greek identity is made that can only be retracted with difficulty. A perilous crossroads of identity is crossed that can lead only to two pathways: A rejection of the Greek identity as something anachronistic and effeminate, or an embracement of and a commitment to it, as there is no going back once the cross-dressing divide has been surmounted. It is for this reason, to prove their offsprings’ Greek credentials that parents have been sending photographs of them clad in the foustanella, to their parents and relatives in Greece, where paradoxically enough, they are treated as articles of derision.
My ersatz and secret love affair with the foustanella persisted throughout my teenage years and it was perhaps private knowledge of my own unsuitability to wear the said item (after all, which freedom fighter in the Grade 6 Greek history textbook is depicted as wearing glasses? Did not Tityros the teacher, in Kazantzakis’ masterpiece Kapetan Mihalis cast his glasses and western attire aside as a corruptive influence and don Romaic garb in order to regain his manliness and join the revolution?), that led me to deem my own mass-produced set, comprising of a shirt with a collar, blue velvet vest, striped blue and white belt reminiscent of the Greek flag and dark red velvet fez as ‘inauthentic,’ and this despite my having seen and enjoyed the Greek historical classic “Souli,” starring the same actors that playing Yiangos Drakos and Vyrna in the endless series “Lampsi,” in which every single male was clad in exactly the same blue and white costume as mine.
Further, my Greek school teacher had taught me to despise the fez as an article of headwear imposed upon us by the Ottomans as a way of displaying our subjugation to them. This, as I later found out, was incorrect as the fez was originally Greek headgear, fashionable among Aegean islanders, that was adopted by the Ottomans in the nineteenth century as a symbol of progress and modernity. Indeed, one of the arguments employed by Kemal Ataturk when he banned the fez in 1925, was that it was the “headcovering of the Greeks.” Not knowing this at the time, I replaced my fez with a flat, fur Epirot hat and my blue velvet vest with a black embroidered “stavroto” vest, which seemed less gaudy and more plausible given the harshness of the terrain and everyday life.
By this time however, I had reached my final growth spurt, one which my foustanella had failed to keep up with, to the extent where it barely covered the essentials, as I found out when, in 1999, I was coerced into attending a protest outside the American Embassy against the bombing of Kosovo, just after the Independence Day march. Not having time to change, I made my way there, and then back home, on the tram. Now it takes real man to wear a short skirt on public transport and survive to tell the tale, though I still want to belive that the comments about the shapeliness of my legs were genuine.
My mini-fousta was necessarily replaced, after a trip to Northern Epirus by a thick goats’ hair dress ending just below the knee, refuting my Greek school teacher’s assertion that the foustanella was short and pantaloon like, and comprised of 400 pleats, one for each year of slavery. Given than most of Greece had fallen under the Ottoman sway prior to 1453 and of course, that most of Greece was not liberated in 1821, the fallacy of such an argument should have been obvious from the outset, yet caught up in the romanticism of neatly fitting symbolism, this was not so. Thus clad in my more demure but infinitely more chafing local variant, I felt that the ontopathological crisis of my youth had finally been resolved.

To be continued.


First published in NKEE on Saturday, 10 September 2011

Saturday, September 03, 2011


This week's diatribe is brought to you by the collective insecurity of the Greek people, who not content with feeling proud of their ancestor's multitude of achievements over the years, still feel the need to prove that either a) the Greeks do it better, or b) that they invented it along time ago and it was 'stolen' from them. Heading the list of stolen goods is one light bulb, fitting into the socket of civilization (τα φώτα του πολιτισμού). Poor misguided Greeks. Our light bulbs have been improved upon and replaced years ago. Think Neon.
Nevertheless, and while in my intellectual paranoia I feel the hordes of angry ultraneoplatonists sweep their chlamys (this by the way is an article of clothing, not an ancient STD) across their shoulders and converge upon my personage in an angry but dignified (as befits a Platonist) droves and subject me to the extreme form of punishment, a never-ending Socratic symposium (I am still prone to recurring third year classics nightmares that entail wading through Plato's Symposium ad nauseum) I caveat all that has been said above by proudly stating that I have been able to find an instance where a) the Greeks did it better, b) they invented it and c) no one has really been able to improve on it.
Pausanias, a doctor in Asia Minor who devoted ten to twenty years to traveling in mainland Greece during and after the reign of Hadrian, in the golden age of the Roman Empire, in about the second century is the case in point. During this time, this remarkable gentleman embarked upon a project which would have world wide consequence. He wrote a detailed account of every Greek city and sanctuary he visited along with a brief introductory history of the places he was visiting and a record of the local prevailing customs and beliefs. In short, Pausanias wrote the first Lonely Planet travel guide.
As a guide, it is remarkably detailed and thoroughly engrossing. With an eye for detail, Pausanias describes, not only which are the noteworthy sites to visit in each area, but also what makes them significant. Comments such as "Look out for the painting of Perseus slaying Medusa on the left portico of the temple of Athena" grant the prose a freshness and directness that is to be envied, even today. Commentary too, often takes a gossipy tone, as if Pausanias is conversing with an old friend and telling him inside information on the side. "Beyond is a statue of Lysimachos.this Lysimachos was a Macedonian from Alexander's bodyguard.." What ensues is a detailed gossip session about Lysimachos and his sordid associates. Thoroughly decent stuff. The insights he provides on the local customs and beliefs are just as refreshing if somewhat opinionated: "The territory of Corinth is part of the Argive territory which took its name from Korinthos. I never knew anyone maintain with such enthusiasm that Korinthos is a son of Zeus, except that most Corinthians say so." What we learn from Pausanias' encyclopaedic dip into ancient Greek anthropology, is that Greek religion and customs were not so rational, orderly and philosophical as some scholars would have us believe. In some parts, they are downright tribal and at any rate do not follow an established canon of 12 gods and a finite theology that ceased its development after the passage f the classical era. Pausanias traces for example, the creation of the native God of Oropos, Amphiaraos: "The Oropians were the first to believe him to be a god, but since then all of Greece has come to think him one." From the modern perspective, of note is the evident obsession of the Greeks as recorded by the great man, with erecting shrines and sanctuaries throughout their lands, in direct parallel to the modern Greeks dotting the landscape with small προσκυνήματα and churches dedicated to almost every saint under the sun. Then as now, the need for divine protection reigned supreme. This is no moreso evident than in the prose of Pausanias himself. While capable of entertaining a sophisticated and philosophical solution of religious difficulties, he comes across as deeply religious and moralistic. We are taken by him on a journey whose unspoken purpose seems to have been the investigation of the collapse of the ancient religion and its consequences. It is for this reason that he generally prefers the old to the new, the sacred to the profane. He concentrates primarily on classical Greek art rather than contemporary art, and prefers temples, images of the gods and altars to public buildings and statues of politicians. Some of the iconic buildings of the ancient world, such as the Stoa of King Attalus in the Athens Agora, or the exedra of Herod Atticus at Olympia, do not even rate a mention.
Pausanias chose his moment to write well. He wrote in Greek for educated Romans and sparked in them an interest and admiration for Greece. While Nero had looted Greece for treasures and Corinth had been reduced by Rome, every important monument of Greek antiquity was still standing in his time and his ten books that make up the Guide are invaluable to the archaeologist and historian alike. Notwithstanding Pausanias' considerable talents and in a paean to seeming futility, his work was a failure, enjoying no popularity immediately after his lifetime. Indeed, the first mention or quote we have of the work, is in the writings of Stephanus of Byzantium in the sixth century, with only a few obscure allusions to it to follow in the Middle Ages. That Pausanias' masterwork survived is a stroke of historical luck. All surviving copies seem to stem from a copy originating in the library of Archbishop Arethas of Caesarea. Indeed, the first mention or quote we have of the work, is in the writings of Stephanus of Byzantium in the sixth century, with only a few obscure allusions to it to follow in the Middle Ages. As a result, humanity came perilously close to losing the text altogether, with the only manuscripts of Pausanias being three 15th century copies, abounding in errors and lacunae, copied from a prototype that was owned by Florentine humanist Niccolo Niccoli, only to be acquired by the San Marco library in Venice in 1500, after which time, it disappeared. It is posited that this manuscript was first acquired by Cyriaco of Ancona in the fifteenth century who brought knowledge of Pausanias to the west. Since then, Pausanias' descriptions, though often sketchy and selective, have been thoroughly used for the location and identification of ancient sites and it is often the case that scholars who believed him to be mistaken on specific points have been proved wrong. The first use of Pausanias to identify ancient sites may be awarded to our very own George Gemistos Plethon, who Cyriaco visited at Mystra. Notwithstanding Pausanias' considerable talents and in a paean to seeming futility, his work was a failure, enjoying no popularity during his lifetime..
It is also interesting to attempt to deduce the multitude of written sources that Pausanias would have consulted while writing his Guide and which are no longer extant. His variations in prose style tend to point to the use of many of these. After all, the Guide is well researched. He consulted the sacred officials and city guides of each city, he worked in great libraries and it is owing to him that the large proportion of non-Homeric epic Greek poetry survive today.
Devoted to the idea of Greek liberty, Pausanias ended his days as an avid birdwatcher and traveler. His Guide remains a classic and it is said that it owes its genesis to his early pursuits. An expert on Homer as a young man, the malice and obstinancy of scholars in that field caused him to abandon it for travel writing. And what a boon to humanity that this was so.
For those of you planning to planning or having left our shores for more vernal climates in the motherland, you would do well to take a copy of Pausanias with you. For those meagre bits of marble left.


First published at NKEE on Saturday 3 September 2011