When I took the Gallup StrengthsFinder assessment, it listed among my top five strengths something called Input. For a long time, I thought it was a mistake; people with Input tend to be collectors, but when it comes to stuff, I’m a tosser. Once I started writing novels, however, I discovered I’m actually an avid hoarder – of facts. I’m always collecting random bits and pieces of information that I hang onto “just in case,” and my “Research Ramblings” highlight some of these factoids I’ve discovered along the way.
So last week, I started a new chapter which also involved a location change. Prior to that, all action took place in Sparta, a place which I had the extreme fortune to visit a few years ago. But then things wrapped up and the action moved to Elis. Elis, unfortunately was not part of my Greek tour. (Modern Elis isn’t exactly a destination location.) But even if I could afford to travel back there, much has changed in the centuries that have passed between my era of interest and now. So where is a writer to go to create a setting?
Pausanias’ Description of Greece!!! [Trumpet fanfare]
Never heard of it? That’s okay. I’d never heard of it either until I started researching ancient Greece.
One thing I’ve learned about the field of history is that historians regularly reference what other people say. After all, it’s not like a modern biographer writing about Abraham Lincoln can interview the guy. As I read up on ancient Greece, Pausanias’ name kept popping up in the references. Some even quoted the guy. So after a while, I thought I’d better look at the actual source, and thanks to the Tufts University Perseus Digital Library, I was able to access an English version with handy footnotes from the comfort of my home.
Pausanias is described as a second century Greek traveler and geographer. With those credentials, you might think the Description of Greece is all about topography and political borders, but it’s much more than that. Pausanias also writes about local customs and legends, architectural landmarks, and other points of interest of the places he visited. I find it to read like a travel guide, a predecessor to Lonely Planet, if you will. (And by the way, travel guides can be a valuable source of information for writers, too! I’ve got a beat up 1985 Fodor’s Greece that I go to from time to time for information on climate and flora and fauna). The Description covers a range of areas ranging from Athens to Ozolian Locri, and conveniently enough, Elis is on the list!
So between Pausanias’ chapters on Elis and some pictures I found of the Elean archaeological dig, I had my setting! Or at least the start of it. More about Elis in my next Research Ramblings.