Ctesias' world. classica et orientalia, vol. 1.

Position:Book review
 
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Ctesias of Cnidus is one of the most puzzling and important figures in Greek historiography. His Persika in twenty-three books established the sequence of Asian empires--Assyria, Media, and Per-sia--as the basic framework for writing universal history in Europe until the nineteenth century C.E. and was the principal source in antiquity for Persian history in the fifth century B.C.E., as the fragments of the work continue to be for contemporary historians; his Indika was the most important work on India written before the Hellenistic period. At the same time, both ancient and modern historians have recognized that his histories contained much that was incredible and even fictitious. It is fitting, therefore, that Ctesias' World is the first volume in a new series entitled Classica et Orientalia that is devoted to the study of the image of and information concerning the Orient in Greek historiography.

The twenty-one papers contained in Ctesias' World constitute the proceedings of the conference "Ktesias, die Ktesiasforschung und die internationale Tagung" held at the Schloss Salzau in Kiel from May 17 to May 20, 2006. At the center of the volume are two large questions: Are we justified in treating Ctesias as an eyewitness to institutions and events at the Persian court, and to what genre does the Persika belong and what was Ctesias' purpose in publishing it?

Curiously, although the various authors frequently refer to the fact that we depend overwhelmingly on summaries and paraphrases by various authors for our knowledge of Ctesias' works, only the paper of Carsten Binder directly addresses this issue, arguing that Plutarch made far less use of the Persika in composing his life of Artaxerxes than scholars have believed. Likewise, only one paper, that of Janick Auberger, considers Ctesias' intellectual biography, suggesting that he may well have believed in the reality of the bizarre creatures he described in the Indika, given that his ideas were formed in a period when the distinction between man and animal had not yet been sharply defined.

The largest group of papers analyzes Ctesias' treatment of the history and culture of the Asian empires and reaches mixed results. The assessments of the Assyriaka by Giovanni Lanfranchi and the Indika by Kai Ruffing are both relatively positive, the former arguing that Ctesias' Assyrian history reflects the state of historical memory of Assyria current at the Persian court and contains elements that are...

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