A sampling of comments on Pausanias: 1.15.1–4

2018.01.04 | By Gregory Nagy

I continue from where I left off in Classical Inquiries 2017.12.28. I now focus on what Pausanias says at 1.15.3 about a monumental painting that he saw adorning a side wall in the ‘painted portico’, that is, in the Stoā Poikilē. The painting represented the Battle of Marathon, and I show in the lead illustration here a zoom-in view of that painting as reconstructed by Carl Robert in 1895.

Stoa Poikile_square
Zoom-in view.



Battle of Marathon as depicted in a monumental wall painting as seen by Pausanias in the Stoa Poikile—and as reconstructed (1895) by Carl Georg Ludwig Theodor Herwig Joseph Robert; [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Battle of Marathon as depicted in a monumental wall painting as seen by Pausanias in the Stoā Poikilē—and as reconstructed (1895) by Carl Georg Ludwig Theodor Herwig Joseph Robert; [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

{1.15.2} translation by Jones 1918, modified by GN 2018.01.04:

On the middle wall are [wall paintings that represent] the Athenians and Theseus fighting with the Amazons. So it seems that only the women did not lose through their defeats their reckless courage in the face of danger; Themiskyra was taken by Hēraklēs, and afterwards the army that they [= the Amazons] dispatched to Athens was destroyed, but nevertheless they [= the Amazons] came to Troy to fight all the Greeks [Hellēnes] as well as the Athenians themselves. Next after the Amazons are shown the Greeks [Hellēnes] when they have taken Troy [Ilion], and the kings assembled on account of the outrage [tolmēma] committed by Ajax against Cassandra. The painting [graphē] includes Ajax himself, Cassandra, and other captive women.

{1.15.2} subject heading(s): Stoā Poikilē ‘painted portico’; Amazons; Hēraklēs; Ajax; Cassandra; graphē ‘painting’

Pausanias here mentions two separate myths having to do with Amazons. One of the myths has already been mentioned by him at 1.2.1 and will be mentioned again at 1.17.2 and at 1.25.2 and yet again at 1.41.7 (further mentions at 2.31.4, 2.32.9, 5.11.7, 7.2.7): this myth is about the war between the Amazons and the Athenians, when the female warriors attacked Athens in retaliation for the abduction of their queen Antiope by Theseus. The second of the two myths has not been mentioned by Pausanias before now: this myth is about the intervention of the Amazons in the Trojan War, where they fought against the Achaeans—and thus against the Athenians as well. This myth focuses on a mortal combat between Achilles and Penthesileia, queen of the Amazons, and the story of their combat, which led to the death of the queen, was told in the epic Cycle (specifically, in the Aithiopis, attributed to Arctinus of Miletus, plot-summary by Proclus p. 105 lines 22–26 ed. Allen 1912). I offer a commentary on this story in H24H 3§§4–9, with references to the retellings of this story in the visual art of vase painting.


Stoa Poikile_Herakles


{1.15.3} translation by Jones 1918, modified by GN 2018.01.04:

At the concluding part of the painting [graphē] are [represented] the men who fought at Marathon, namely, the men from [the city of] Plataea-in-Boeotia and the men from all the territory-of-Athens [= Attica]. They are at the moment of coming into contact in hand-to-hand combat with the barbarians. At this point, the two sides are evenly matched for the action [ergon], but then, in a close-up of the battle [makhē], the barbarians are starting to turn and run, heading for the marshland [helos] and crowding each other [into the morass]. At the outer edges of the painting are [represented] the [beached] ships of the Phoenician navy and the Greeks [Hellēnes] who are slaughtering those of the barbarians who are scrambling to climb on board. And at this point is painted [graphesthai] also the hero [hērōs] by the name of Marathon, after whom the plain [pedíon] called Marathon gets its name. Also represented [eikazesthai] is Theseus as he appeared when he was coming back up from under the earth. Also, Athena and Hēraklēs. I say-this-because [gar], the people of Marathon were the first to establish-the-custom-of-venerating [nomizein] Hēraklēs as a god [theos]. Featured most prominently in the painting [graphē] are Kallimakhos, who had been elected commander-in-chief [polem-arkhos] by the Athenians, and Miltiades, one of the generals [stratēgoi]. Also [featured is] a hero [hērōs] called Ekhetlos, about whom I will make mention [mnēmē] at a later point as well.[1]


Stoa Poikile_Theseus_cover


{1.15.3} subject heading(s): Marathon the hero; hērōs ‘hero’; Marathon the place; Athena; Theseus; Hēraklēs; graphē ‘painting’; Ekhetlos

Pausanias says here that the name Marathon applies to a cult hero, that is, to a figure who is worshipped by the local population, and that the locale of Marathon is named after him. We see here that a place-name can be simply a hero’s name. Another example where a place-name is attributed to a cult hero’s name is Kolōnos, named after a cult hero called Kolōnos, as we see in Sophocles Oedipus at Colonus 59. Commentary in H24H 18§§2–4.


See the dynamic Bibliography for APRIP.


Inventory of terms and names

See the dynamic Inventory of terms and names for APRIP.



[1] See 1.32.5.