Little or nothing is known of the origins and identity of the traveler-geographer Pausanias. Some claim that he was a native of Asia Minor or of Cappadocia; others identify him with a certain Pausanias of Stephanos, born in Damascus. So closely is his work modeled on Herodotus's writings that some believe that he was born, like his predecessor, in Halicarnassus. Nor does he speak of himself in his description of Greece, Hellados Periegesis—ten books of cold, minimalist prose that today are an invaluable guide to ancient Greek ruins. He failed to interest his contemporaries, perhaps because he focused on the remotest, most archaic traditions of Hellas. Yet he apparently lived during the emperorship of Hadrian, when Atticism was at its peak. Some scholars, however, place him later, in the era of the Antonines, and even during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, when interest in the Greek world was less intense, which would explain the lack of enthusiasm that greeted the descriptions of his journey. But these are only deductive attempts to explain why no one took the trouble of handing down Pausanias's biographical data.
Before visiting Greece, Pausanias had traveled widely in Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Macedonia, Epirus, and parts of Italy. But it is the description of the trip to Hellas that is of prime importance and gives us a clue to his identity. Taking the form of a tour starting in Attica, it is presented as a sort of “guidebook” to the regions of Greece, but it is a strange account, suggesting perhaps another reason for that apparent lack of interest in him and his work: he seems purposely to have sought anonymity, and for purely spiritual reasons. Gradually the reader senses that he is describing not a physical world but a spiritual landscape.