1. Of Cnidus in Caria, and a son of Ctesiochus or Ctesiarchus. (Suid. s. v. Κτήσιας
; Eudocia, p. 268; Tzetz. Chil.
1.82.) Cnidus was celebrated from early times as a seat of medical knowledge, and Ctesias, who himself belonged to the family of the Asclepiadae, was a physician by profession.
He was a contemporary of Xenophon; and if Herodotus lived till B. C. 425, or, according to some, even till B. C. 408, Ctesias may be called a contemporary of Herodotus.
He lived for a number of years in Persia at the court of king Artaxerxes Mnemon, as private physician to the king. (Strab. xiv. p.656
.) Diodorus (2.32
) states, that Ctesias was made prisoner by the king, and that owing to his great skill in medicine, he was afterwards drawn to the court, and was highly honoured there.
This statement, which contains nothing to suggest the time when Ctesias was made prisoner, has been referred by some critics to the war between Artaxerxes and his brother, Cyrus the Younger, B. C. 401.
But, in the first place, Ctesias is already mentioned, during that war, as accompanying the king. (Xen. Anab. 1.8.27
.) Moreover, if as Diodorus and Tzetzes state, Ctesias remained seventeen years at the court of Persia, and returned to his native country in B. C. 398 (Diod. 14.46
; comp. Plut. Art. 21
), it follows, that he must have gone to Persia long before the battle of Cunaxa, that is. about B. C. 415.
The statement, that Ctesias entered Persia as a prisoner of war, has been doubted; and if we consider the favour with which other Greek physicians, such as Democedes and Hippocrates were treated and how they were sought for at the court of Persia, it is not improbable that Ctesias may have been invited to the court; but the express statement of Diodorus, that he was made a prisoner cannot be upset by such a mere probability.
There are two accounts respecting his return to Cnidus.
It took place at the time when Conon was in Cyprus. Ctesias himself had simply stated, that he asked Artaxerxes and obtained front him the permission to return.
According to the other account. Conon sent a letter to the king, in which he gave him advice as to the means of humbling the Lacedaemonians. Conon requested the bearer to get the letter delivered to the king by some of the Greeks who were staying at his court. When the letter was given for this purpose to Ctesias, the latter inserted a passage in which he made Conon desire the king to send Ctesias to the west, as he would be a very useful person there. (Plut. Art. 21
The latter account is not recommended by any strong internal probability, and the simple statement of Ctesias himself seems to be more entitled to credit. How long Ctesias survived his return to Cnidus is unknown.
During his stay in Persia, Ctesias gathered all the information that was attainable in that country, and wrote --
1. History of Persia
A great work on the history of Persia (Περσικά
) with the view of giving his countrymen a more accurate knowledge of that empire than they possessed, and to refute the errors current in Greece, which had arisen partly from ignorance and partly from the national vanity of the Greeks.
The materials for his history, so far as he did not describe events of which he had been an eye-witness, he derived, according to the testimony of Diodorus, from the Persian archives (διφθέραι Βασιλικαί
), or the official history of the Persian empire, which was written in accordance with a law of the country.
This important work of Ctesias, which, like that of Herodotus, was written in the Ionic dialect, consisted of twentythree books.
The first six contained the history of the great Assyrian monarchy down to the foundation of the kingdom of Persia.
It is for this reason that Strabo (xiv. p.656
) speaks of Ctesias as συγγράψας τὰ Ἀσσυριακὰ καὶ τὰ Περσικά
The next seven books contained the history of Persia down to the end of the reign of Xerxes, and the remaining ten carried the history down to the time when Ctesias left Persia, i. e.
to the year B. C. 398. (Diod. 14.46
The form and style of this work were of considerable merit, and its loss may be regarded as one of the most serious for the history of the East. (Dionys. De Comp. Verb.
10; Demetr. Phal. De Elocut.
§§ 212, 215.) All that is now extant of it is a meagre abridgment in Photius (Phot. Bibl. 72
), and a number of fragments which are preserved in Diodorus, Athenaeus, Plutarch, and others. Of the first portion, which contained the history of Assyria, there is no abridgment in Photius, and all we possess of that part is contained in the second book of Diodorus, which seems to be taken almost entirely from Ctesias.
There we find that the accounts of Ctesias, especially in their chronology, differ considerably from those of Berosus, who likewise derived his information from eastern sources.
These discrepancies can only be explained by the fact, that the annals used by the two historians were written in different places and under different circumstances.
The chronicles used by Ctesias were written by official persons, and those used by Berosus were the work of priests; both therefore were written from a different point of view, and neither was perhaps strictly true in all its details.
The part of Ctesias's work which contained the history of Persia, that is, from the sixth book to the end, is somewhat better known from the extracts which Photius made from it, and which are still extant. Here again Ctesias is frequently at variance with other Greek writers, especially with Herodotus. To account for this, we must remember, that he is expressly reported to have written his work with the intention of correcting the erroneous notions about Persia in Greece; and if this was the case, the reader must naturally be prepared to find the accounts of Ctesias differing from those of others.
It is moreover not improbable, that the Persian chronicles were as partial to the Persians, if not more so, as the accounts written by Greeks were to the Greeks.
These considerations sufficiently account, in our opinion, for the differences existing between the statements of Ctesias and other writers; and there appears to be no reason for charging him, as some have done, with wilfully falsifying history.
It is at least certain, that there can be no positive evidence for such a serious charge.
The court chronicles of Persia appear to have contained chiefly the history of the royal family, the occurrences at the court and the seraglio, the intrigues of the women and eunuchs, and the insurrections of satraps to make themselves independent of the great monarch. Suidas (s. v. Πάμφιλα
) mentions, that Pamphila made an abridgment of the work of Ctesias, probably the Persica, in three books.
2. Treatise on India
Another work, for which Ctesias also collected his materials during his stay in Persia, was a treatise on India (Ἰνδικά
) in one book, of which we likewise possess an abridgment in Photius, and a great number of fragments preserved in other writers.
The description refers chiefly to the north-western part of India, and is principally confined to a description of the natural history, the produce of the soil, and the animals and men of India.
In this description truth is to a great extent mixed up with fables, and it seems to be mainly owing to this work that Ctesias was looked upon in later times as an author who deserved no credit.
But if his account of India is looked upon from a proper point of view, it does not in any way deserve to be treated with contempt. Ctesias himself never visited India, and his work was the first in the Greek language that was written upon that country: he could do nothing more than lay before his countrymen that which was known or believed about India among the Persians. His Indica must therefore be regarded as a picture of India, such as it was conceived by the Persians. Many things in his description which were formerly looked upon as fabulous, have been proved by the more recent discoveries in India to be founded on facts.
Ctesias also wrote several other works, of which, however, we know little more than their titles: they were--
It has been inferred from a passage in Galen (v. p. 652, ed. Basil.), that Ctesias also wrote on medicine, but no accounts of his medical works have come down to us.
The abridgment which Photius made of the Persica and Indica of Ctesias were printed separately by II. Stephens, Paris, 1557 and 1594, 8vo., and were also added to his edition of Herodotus.
After his time it became customary to print the remains of Ctesias as an appendix to Herodotus. The first separate edition of those abridgments, together with the fragments preserved in other writers, is that of A. Lion, Göttingen, 1823, 8vo., with critical notes and a Latin translation. A more complete edition, with an introductory essay on the life and writings of Ctesias, is that of Bähr, Frankfort, 1824, 8vo.
Compare Fabric. Bibl. Graec.
ii. p. 740, &c.; Rettig, Ctesiae Cnidii Vita cum appendice de libris Ctesiae,
Hanov. 1827, 8vo.; K. L. Blum, Herodot und Ctesias,
Heidelb. 1836, 8vo.