Pausanias 5.10.1, on Olympia viewed together with Eleusis

2022.03.21 | By Gregory Nagy

{5.10.1} πολλὰ μὲν δὴ καὶ ἄλλα ἴδοι τις ἂν ἐν Ἕλλησι, τὰ δὲ καὶ ἀκούσαι θαύματος ἄξια· μάλιστα δὲ τοῖς Ἐλευσῖνι δρωμένοις καὶ ἀγῶνι τῷ ἐν Ὀλυμπίᾳ μέτεστιν ἐκ θεοῦ φροντίδος. τὸ δὲ ἄλσος τὸ ἱερὸν τοῦ Διὸς παραποιήσαντες τὸ ὄνομα Ἄλτιν ἐκ παλαιοῦ καλοῦσι· καὶ δὴ καὶ Πινδάρῳ ποιήσαντι ἐς ἄνδρα ὀλυμπιονίκην ᾆσμα Ἄλτις ἐπωνόμασται τὸ χωρίον.

{5.10.1} There are many things to be seen and to be heard in the Greek world [= among the Hellēnes] that are worthy of wonder [thauma]; but  the greatest share [of all these wondrous things]—from the standpoint of a given god’s way-of-thinking [phrontis]—goes to  the rituals [drōmena] at Eleusis and to the competition [agōn] at Olympia. The sacred [hieron] grove [alsos] of Zeus has been called, ever since ancient times, Altis, by way of deforming the word [alsos].  Likewise in a song [āisma] that Pindar made [poieîn] composed for an Olympic victor, the place is called Altis [Pindar Olympian 10.45].

Model of the Sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia; displayed at the Acropolis Museum, Athens, in 1978. Image via Wikimedia Commons.


§1. This statement by Pausanias here in this paragraph comes immediately before his description, in paragraphs that follow, of the statue of Zeus, housed in the temple of Zeus in Olympia. I note the importance that our traveler attaches to the statue itself, not only to (1) the temple that houses the statue, or (2) the site named Altis, which is the sacred space that encloses the temple, or (3) the overall space that is the site named Olympia, which encloses the Altis, or (4) the territory that encloses Olympia, controlled by the state of Elis, or (5) the festival of the Olympics at Olympia—an all-important festival that is likewise controlled by the state of Elis. This chain of details, where the mind’s eye is “zooming out” from 1 to 2 to 3 to 4 to 5, is to my mind an exquisite exercise in the rhetoric of metonymy. I attempt a working definition of metonymy in my Introduction to MoM.

§2. On drōmena as ‘rituals” I offer working definitions in H24H 18§49 and 21§9.

§3. On agōn as ‘competition’, I offer extensive analysis in H24H Hour 21.


H24H = Nagy 2013 (The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours)

MoM = Nagy 2015 (Masterpieces of Metonymy: From Ancient Greek Times to Now).

Nagy, G. 2013a. The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours. Cambridge, MA.

Nagy, G. 2015. Masterpieces of Metonymy: From Ancient Greek Times to Now. Hellenic Studies 72. Cambridge, MA, and Washington, DC.

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