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*)Onhsi/kritos), a Greek historical writer, who accompanied Alexander on his campaigns in Asia, and wrote a history of them, which is frequently cited by later authors. He is called by some authorities a native of Astypalaea, by others of Aegina (D. L. 6.75, 84; Arrian Ind. 18 Aelian, Ael. NA 16.39) : it was probably to this island origin that he was indebted for the skill in nautical matters which afterwards proved so advantageous to him. he must have been already advanced in years, as we are told that he had two sols grown up to manhood, wheu his attention was accidentally attracted to the philosophy of Diogenes the Cynic, of which he became an ardent votary, so as to have obtained a name of eminence among the disciples of that master. (Diog. Laert. l.c. ; Plut. Alex. 65.) We have no account of the circumstances which led him to accompany Alexander into Asia, nor does it appear in what capacity he attended on the conqueror; but during the expedition into India he was sent by the king hold a conference e with the Indian philosophers or Gylnosophists, the details of which have been transmitted to us from his own account of the interview. (Strab. xv. p.715; Plut. Alex. 65.) When Alexander constructed his fleet on the Hydaspes, he appointed Onesicritus to the important station of pilot of the king's ship, or chief pilot of the fleet (ἀρχικυβερνήτης), a post which he held not only during the descent of the Indus, but throughout the long and perilous voyage from the mouth of that river to the Persian gulf. In this capacity he discharged his duties so much to the satisfaction of Alexander that, on his arrival at Susa, he was rewarded by that monarch with a crown of gold, at the same time as Nearchus. (Arr. Anab. 6.2.6, 7.5.9, Ind. 18 Curt. 9.10.3, 10.1.10; Piut. Alex. 66, de Fort. Alex. p. 331f.) Yet Arrian blames him for want of judgment, and on one occasion expresly ascribes the safety of the fleet to the firmness of Nearchus in overlruling his advice. (Antih. 7.20, Ind. 32 We know nothing of his subsequent fortunes; but from an anecdote related by Plutarch it seems probable that he attached himself to Lysimachus, and it was perlihaps at the cturt of tllat monotach thlt he composed his historical work (Plut. Alex. 46). though, on the other hand, a passage of Lucian (Quomodo hist. conscr. 100.40), might lead us to infer that this was at least commenced during the lifetime of Alexandor himself.


Life of Alexander

We learn from Diogenes Laertius (6.84) that the history of Onesicritus comprised the whole life of Alexander, including his youth and education (τῶς Ἀλέξανδρος ἤθη); but it is most frequently cited in regard to the campaigns of that prince in Asia, or to the geographical description of the countries that he visited. Though an eye-witness of much that he described, it appears that he intermixed many fables and falsehoods with his narrative. so that he early fell into discredit as an authority. Straho is especially severe upon him, and calls him "Οὺκ Ἀλεξάνδρου μᾶλλον τῶν παραδόξων ἀρχικυβερνήτης." (xv. p. 698, comp. ii. p. 70.) Plutarch cites him as one of those who related the fable of the visit of the Amazons to Alexander, for which he was justly ridiculed by Lysimachus (Alex. 46), and Arrian accuses him of falsely representing himself as the commander of the fleet, when he was in truth only the pilot. (Anab. 6.2.6; comp. Suid. s. v. Νεαρχος). Aulus Gellins (9.4) even associates him with Aristeas of Proconnesus, and other purely fabulous writers. But it is clear that these censures are overcharged; and though some of the statements cited from him are certainly gross exaggerations (see for instance Strab. xv. p.698; Ael. NA 16.39, 17.6), his work appears to have contained much valuable information concerning the remote countries for the first time laid open by the expedition of Alexander. In particular he was the first author that mentioned the island of Taprobane. (Strab. xv. p.691; Plin. Nat. 6.24.) He is said to have imitated Xenophon in his style, though he fell short of him as a copy does of the original. (D. L. 6.84; Suid. s. v. Ὀνησίκριτος. Some authors have held that besides this general history, Onesicritus had composed a separate Parapus, or narrative of the voyage, in which he bore so prominent a part : but Geier has shown that there is no foundation for such a supposition : and it seems certain that Pliny, whose words might lead to such an inference (H. N. 6.23 (26) ), had in fact used only an extract from the work of Onesicritus, abridged or translated by Juba. Still less reason is there to infer (with Meier in Ersch and Gruber, Eceydl. sect. iii. pt. iii. p. 457) that he wrote a history of the early kings of Persia, because we find him cited by Lucian (Macrob. 14) concerning the age of Cyrus.


All the facts known concerning Onesicritus are full discussed, and the passages quoted from his writings by various authors collected together by Geier, Alexandri Historiar. Scriptores, lib. iii. p. 74-108.

Further Information

See also Vossius, de Historicis Graecis, p. 94, ed Westermann; Ste Croix, Examnc Critique, p. 38, &c.; and Meier, l.c.


hide References (8 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (8):
    • Plutarch, Alexander, 46
    • Plutarch, Alexander, 65
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 6.24
    • Arrian, Indica, 18
    • Curtius, Historiarum Alexandri Magni, 10.1.10
    • Curtius, Historiarum Alexandri Magni, 9.10.3
    • Aelian, De Natura Animalium, 16.39
    • Aelian, De Natura Animalium, 17.6
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