The World’s First Travel Writer Was a Guy From Ancient Greece

You can thank second-century geographer and writer Pausanias for travel literature.

IN ANCIENT TIMES, TOURISTS AND travelers in Greece have gotten into some pretty intense situations. An adventure-seeking traveler would bathe in the river Herkyna, then consume sacrificial meat, wander through a dark cave of Livadeia to seek out the oracle, and emerge “paralyzed with terror and unconscious both of himself and of his surroundings.” And that’s just a one-day itinerary.

So wrote Greek geographer Pausanias, one of the very first travel writers, in his second-century book Hellados Periegesis, or Description of Greece. As the oldest and most detailed travel guidebook uncovered from ancient times, it is often considered the guidebook that started the genre of travel literature we know today.

“There were similar guides, but they were much smaller,” says Maria Pretzler, professor of ancient history at Swansea University in Wales and author of Pausanias writing in ancient Greece. ” Pausanias’ writing was definitely the biggest and most comprehensive from antiquity.” His 10-volume book, she says, is “the oldest travel guide that still works.”

imageAn 1819 painting of ancient Livadeia, a city “no less adorned than the most prosperous of Greek cities,” wrote Pausanias.

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