Dr. Andrew G. Nichols, a visiting lecturer in the Department of Classics at the University of Florida, has recently published his first book, Ctesias: On India, Translation and Commentary (Bristol Academic Press, 2011). Dr. Nichols is interested in Achaemenid Persia and the Near East, and his book focuses on the works of the Greek writer Ctesias of Cnidus, who lived from the latter half of the 5th century to the start of the 4th century BCE. After working as a royal physician to the Persian king, Ctesias returned to his homeland of Greece and recorded his observations on Persia and India. Since the vast majority of written sources that survive from this period are Greek works focusing on people and events inside Greece, Ctesias’ observations are essential to the study of these less-understood and often-overlooked regions in antiquity. However, previous study of Ctesias and his writings on Persia and India have been marred by the problematic and fragmented nature of how his work has come down to us. Since his original works have been lost, the only pieces of his writings that survive are contained in the texts of later Greek authors who quoted Ctesias while his works were still available. Although these quotes are extensive and preserve large portions of his original writings, they are scattered in the works of numerous ancient authors. Nichols thus faced the daunting task of tracking down as many authors as he could find who quoted Ctesias, and then putting the quotes together like a jigsaw puzzle; this complex task was made more difficult by the fact that he had to determine which quotes were authentic and which were merely attributed to Ctesias by later authors to increase their own credibility.
Historically, the works of Ctesias have been deemed useless in forming an objective view of what India and Persia were really like, since Ctesias indulged in exaggeration and tall tales meant mainly to entertain his readers. Nichols, however, realized that although Ctesias never tried to be objective, his observations, when understood as the works of a Greek living in a strange and foreign land, are very useful in understanding not only Persia and India, but also the way contemporary Greeks viewed outsiders and Greek notions of the unknown. Ctesias was not a liar, but his understanding of the world was colored by contemporary biases and assumptions, and the reconstruction of his work is a significant step in understanding how the ancients perceived foreign cultures and things they did not understand. Thus, Nichols made it a goal of his research to transform the fragments of Ctesias into a unified text of the Greek physician’s works.
Only one previous scholar tried to reconstruct Ctesias’ corpus, a project which he undertook in the 1880s. However, he made significant errors and included only a limited commentary with the text. By contrast, Nichols reconstructed Ctesias’ text with more accurate methods, translated the works into English, and included a detailed commentary to allow readers, specialist and non-specialist alike, to understand the context in which Ctesias was writing and to separate fact from fiction in determining why Ctesias viewed Persia and India the way he did. In doing so, Nichols is one of the first scholars to offer a new perspective on the social history and atmosphere of India, as well as how the Greeks viewed this faraway land. By translating and commenting on these works in English, he has also made the material accessible to a much wider audience that includes undergraduate students in the United States. In his own words, Nichols believes his contribution “offers something to the English readership that had never been available.” His approach is also unique in that he has focused on the body of fragments about India as a whole, rather than on individual fragments,offering an overall impression of what India was like in this period just prior to the unification of the subcontinent under the first great Indian Empire.
Ctesias: On India, Translation and Commentary is the first book to have been published by a University of Florida PhD in Classics, and its first printing sold out within a month of its publication. In his next research project, Nichols is working on Ctesias’ Persian history, which includes even more information than his work on India, and will very likely appear in multiple volumes. Nichols continues, in the meantime, to teach classes on Persia and the Near East, Greek history, and Classical historiography in the Department of Classics.
Center for the Humanities
and the Public Sphere
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
200 Walker Hall
P.O. Box 118030
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611