Month: November 2017

Month: November 2017

Ctesias Corrects Herodotus

A view of Innsbruck looking south between trees over the river and town in the valley
What would Ctesias or Herodotus have made of Innsbruck? We do not have many kings or monsters, although I am told that one village once had a problem with giants.

“Ktesias ‘Korrigiert’ Herodot” is an article which is widely cited, but it first appeared in a Festschrift rather than a downloadable journal, and it is written in beautiful academic German and a somewhat associative style which makes it difficult for foreigners to follow. I recently made my way through it and thought I would write down my thoughts.

Bichler is interested in how to evaluate the Persica of Ctesias of Cnidus, who was very influential and disagrees with our other sources on many points. Ctesias’ work is lost except for one scrap of papyrus containing 27 lines, but he seems to have presented himself as a serious historian, interested in seeing things himself or hearing them from witnesses, and eager to criticize earlier writers for errors. He spent 17 years in the Persian empire as a prisoner and court physician, much of that time at court in Babylonia, Media, and Persis, and his presence is explicitly acknowledged by a contemporary (whereas the only evidence for Herodotus’ travels is Herodotus’ own words, and Herodotus never claimed to have travelled east of Sidon). And the problem is that most of what he says contradicts our other major sources like Herodotus and Xenophon. Since we have few ways to check the things which he and Herodotus say, a lot depends on who we decide to believe and what we think they were trying to do.
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Armour of the Month: A St. George from Styria

A late 14th century statue of St. George and the dragon in smooth stone
The St. George from Großlobming, Styria, in the Belvedere, Wien.

If you make your way to the Belvedere in Vienna, grumble at the steep price for tickets and gawk at the splendid, arrogant promenade sloping down towards the city centre and the lower pavilion, you will find yourself in the marble lobby of the Upper Belvedere. On the upper floors they have the Napoleon Crossing the Alps by David, some colourful paintings by Gustav Klimt, and a lot of softcore nudes for lonely Victorian gentlemen, but the most magnificent work is in a little suite of rooms on the ground floor opposite the gift shop and the cafe: a collection of statues from a little village church in the hills of Styria. I could talk about each of them, but because this blog is what it is, I will focus on the St. George.

Take a few moments to take him in: the expressive arms, the long slender profile with a high narrow waist and a deep rounded chest, the ethereal, emotionless face as he places his lance just right … some of the best things about Latin Christian art at the end of the 14th century in one statue. The little church does not have records of when it was redecorated, so when he was made can only be guessed at: probably sometime within 20 years of 1380.

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