Indians: Ktesias on Indian Matters via Photios, Pliny the Elder, and Aelian (early fourth century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Indians: Ktesias on Indian Matters via Photios, Pliny the Elder, and Aelian (early fourth century BCE),' Last modified November 29, 2022,

Ancient authors: Ktesias (fourth century BCE), Indian Matters, or Indika = FGrHist 688 F45, F51, F52, as summarized by Photios (eighth century CE), Bibliotheke, or Collection of Books, codex 72, which is presented below in full (link to Freese translation) and as cited by Pliny the Elder (first century CE), Natural History 7.23 and 7.28 (link Latin text and full translation) and Aelian (second-third centuries CE), Characteristics of Animals 4.26, 46, 52; 5.3; 16.31 (link to Greek text and full translation).

Comments: Ktesias (or: Ctesias) of Knidos in western Asia Minor (now near Yazıköy, Turkey) was a Greek physician who came to ply his trade for Persian armies and Artaxerxes II himself by about 401 BCE and stayed for about seventeen years, according to Diodoros (Library 2.32.4). While in Persia, he evidently encountered information and, more so, rumours regarding the wonders of India, including its unusual peoples (including supposed dog-heads and long-ears). Herodotos’ has an earlier, much briefer account of Indians (link), but Ktesias’ work on Indian Matters (Indika) from the early fourth century seems to be the earliest extensive example of Greek ethnographic speculation about India in the far east. In this sense he is a predecessor of Nearchos and Megasthenes (link).

Photios’ eighth century CE summary of the work is presented below in full – giant killer worms and all – in order to give a sense of the degree to which the amazing and unusual peoples of India were an important part of Ktesias’ sketch of the “wonders” of this strange far-off land that was virtually unknown at the time.

Also presented below Photios’ summary are key passages from Pliny the Elder and Aelian (who deals with Indian hunting techniques in the discussion of animals). With Aelian (a second century CE Roman author who was very comfortable writing in Greek), we begin to see hints that the physician Ktesias likely worked with medical theories of the four humours to explain natural phenonena (and likely peoples as well), on which see also the Hippokratic author at this link. In some cases, Aelian also gives a better sense of the level of detail in Ktesias’ work, something that may be lost in Photios’ generalizing summaries.

Works consulted: Andrew Nichols, “The Complete Fragments of Ctesias of Cnidus: Translation and Commentary with an Introduction” (Ph.D., Gainesville, FL, University of Florida, 2008) (link).

Source of the translations: John Henry Freese, The Library of Photius: Volume 1 (London: SPCK, 1920), public domain; H. Rackham, Pliny: Natural History, 9 vols., LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1938), public domain (passed away in 1944); A.F. Scholfield, Aelian: On the Characteristics of Animals, 3 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1958), public domain in Canada (passed away in 1969), adapted and modernized by Harland.


Photios, 72, part 2 = Ktesias, Indian Matters, or Indika = FGrHist 688 F45

[For Photios’ previous summary of Ktesias’ Persian Matters, go to this link].


Also read the same author’s [Ktesias’] Indian Matters (Indika, or Indica) in one book, in which he employs the Ionic dialect more frequently. In regard to the Indus river, he says that, where it is narrowest, it is forty stadia (about 7 km), where it is widest, two hundred stadia (about 35 km) across. He declares that the population of India is almost greater than the population of the entire world. He also mentions a worm found in this river, the only living creature which breeds there.

[Wonders of the Indian environment, especially “unusual” animals]

Beyond India there are no countries inhabited by men. (5) It never rains there as the country is watered by the river. He says of the pantarba, a kind of seal-stone, that four hundred and seventy seven seal-stones and other precious stones, belonging to a Baktrian merchant, which had been thrown into the river, were drawn up from the bottom, all clinging together, by this stone. He also speaks about elephants which knock down walls, of little apes with tails four cubits long, and of cocks of very large size. He speaks about the parrot about as large as a hawk, which has a human tongue and voice, a dark red beak, a black beard, and blue feathers up to the neck, which is red like cinnabar. It speaks Indian like an Indian man, and if taught Greek, speaks Greek.

He next mentions a fountain which is filled every year with liquid gold, from which a hundred pitcherfuls are drawn. These pitchers have to be made of earth, since the gold when drawn off becomes solid, and it is necessary to break the vessel in order to get it out. The fountain is square, sixteen cubits in circumference, and a fathom deep. The gold in each pitcher weighs a talent. At the bottom of the fountain there is iron, and the author says that he possessed two swords made from it, one given him by the king, the other by his mother, Parysatis. If this iron is fixed in the ground, it keeps off clouds and hail and hurricanes Ktesias declares that the king twice proved its efficacy and that he himself was a witness to it.

(10) The dogs of India are very large and even attack lions. There are great mountains, from which are dug sardonyx, onyx, and other seal-stones. It is intensely hot and the sun appears ten times larger than in other countries; large numbers of people are suffocated by the heat. The sea is as large as that of Greece; it is so hot on the surface and to a depth of four fingers that fish cannot live near it, but keep on the bottom. The river Indus flows across plains and between mountains, where the Indian reednote grows. It is so thick that two men can hardly get their arms round it, and as tall as the mast of a merchant-ship of largest tonnage. Some are larger, some smaller, as is natural considering the size of the mountain. Of these reeds some are male, others female. The male has no pith and is very strong, but the female has.

(15) The martichora is an animal found in this country. It has a face like a man’s, a skin red as cinnabar, and is as large as a lion. It has three rows of teeth, ears and light-blue eyes like those of a man. Its tail is like that of a land scorpion, containing a sting more than a cubit long at the end. It has other stings on each side of its tail and one on the top of its head, like the scorpion, with which it inflicts a wound that is always fatal. If it is attacked from a distance, it sets up its tail in front and discharges its stings as if from a bow. If attacked from behind, it straightens it out and launches its stings in a direct line to the distance of a thirty meter. The wound inflicted is fatal to all animals except the elephant. The stings are about a foot long and about as thick as a small rush. The martichora is called “man-eater” (anthropophagos) in Greek because, although it preys upon other animals, it kills and devours a greater number of human beings. It fights with both its claws and stings, which, according to Ktesias, grow again after they have been discharged. There is a great number of these animals in India, which are hunted and killed with spears or arrows by natives mounted on elephants.

[Customs and characteristics of the people in the context of climate]

Observing that the Indians are extremely just, Ktesias goes on to describe their manners and customs. He mentions a sacred spot in an uninhabited district, which they honour under the name of the Sun and the Moon. It is a fifteen days’ journey from mount Sardo. Here the Sun is always cool for thirty-five days in the year, so that his votaries may attend his feast and after its celebration may return home without being scorched. In India there is neither thunder, lightning, nor rain, but winds and hurricanes, which carry along everything that comes in their way, are frequent. The sun, after rising, is cool for half the day, but for the remainder is excessively hot in most parts of the country. It is not by the heat of the sun that Indians are black (melanes), but by nature (physis). Some of them, both men and women, are very white (leukotatoi), though these are fewer in number. Ktesias says that he himself saw five white men and two white women.

[Comparisons with environmental features elsewhere]

(20) In support of his statement that the sun cools the air for thirty-five days, he mentions that the fire which streams from Etna [volcano in Sicily] does no damage to the middle of the country through which it passes, because it is the abode of just men, but destroys the rest. On the island of Zakynthos [west of the Peloponessos] there are fountains full of fish, out of which pitch is taken. In the island of Naxos [island in the Aegean beside Paros] there is a fountain from which sometimes flows a wine of very agreeable flavour. The water of the river Phasis [Rioni, in the Caucasus mountains of Kolchis], if allowed to stand a day and a night in a vessel, becomes a most delicious wine. Near Phaselis [Tekirova, Turkey] in Lykia (or: Lycia) there is a fire which never goes out, but burns on a rock both night and day. It cannot be extinguished by water, which rather increases the flame, but only by throwing earth upon it.

[Pygmies / “Forearm” peoples, with supposed physical features]

In the middle of India there are black men, called “Pygmies” (Pygmoi; literally the height of “Forearms”) who speak the same language as others of the country. They are very short, the tallest being only two cubits in height, most of them only one and a half. Their hair is very long, going down to the knees and even lower, and their beards are larger than those of any other men. When their beards are full grown they leave off wearing clothes and let the hair of their head fall down behind far below the knees, while their beard trails down to the feet in front. When their body is entirely covered with hair like this they fasten it round them with a girdle, so that it serves them for clothes. They are flat-nosed (simoi) and deformed (aischroi).

Their sheep are no bigger than lambs and their oxen, asses, horses, mules, and other beasts of burden about the size of rams. Being very skillful archers, three thousand of them attend on the king of India. They are very just and have the same laws as the Indians. They hunt the hare and the fox, not with dogs, but with ravens, kites, crows, and eagles. (25) There is a lake eight hundred stadia in circumference, the surface of which, when heavily ruffled by the wind, is covered with floating oil. Sailing over it in little boats, they ladle out the oil with little vessels and keep it for use. They also use oil of sesame and nut oil, but the oil from the lake is best. The lake also abounds in fish.

[Further environmental features and wonders]

The country produces much silver and there are numerous silver mines, not very deep, but those of Baktria are said to be deeper. There is also gold, not found in rivers and washed, as in the river Paktolos [Sart, near Sardis in Turkey], but in many large mountains which are inhabited by griffins. These are four-footed birds as large as a wolf, their legs and claws resembling those of a lion; their breast feathers are red, those of the rest of the body black. Although there is abundance of gold in the mountains, it is difficult to get it because of these birds. The Indian sheep and goats are larger than asses, and as a rule have four young ones, sometimes six, at a time. There are neither tame nor wild pigs. The palm trees and dates are three times as large as those of Babylon. There is a river of honey that flows from a rock.

(30) The author speaks at length of the Indians’ love of justice, their loyalty to their kings and their contempt of death. He also mentions a fountain, the water from which, when drawn off, thickens like cheese. If three obols’ weight of this thick mass be crushed, mixed with water, and given to any one to drink, he reveals everything that he has ever done, being in a state of frenzy and delirium the whole day. The king makes use of this test when he desires to discover the truth about an accused person. If he confesses, he is ordered to starve himself to death; if he reveals nothing, he is acquitted.

[Peoples’ health and longevity]

The Indians are not subject to headache, eye disease, or even toothache, nor to ulcers on the mouth, or sores in any other part of the body. They live one hundred twenty, thirty or fifty years, and some even two hundred years.

[Further wonders of nature]

There is a serpent a span in length, of a most beautiful purple colour, with a very white head, and without teeth. It is caught on the burning mountains, from which the sardonyx is dug. It does not sting, but its vomit rots the place where it falls. If it is hung up by the tail it discharges two kinds of poison, one yellow like amber, when it is alive, the other black, when it is dead. If one drinks only as much of the former as a grain of sesame dissolved in water, his brain runs out through his nose and he dies immediately. If the other poison is administered, it brings on consumption, which does not prove fatal for at least a year. There is a bird called “just one” (dikairos), the size of a partridge’s egg. It buries its excrement in the ground in order to hide it. If any one finds it and takes only a morsel of it about the size of a grain of sesame in the morning, he is overcome by sleep, loses consciousness, and dies at sunset.

(35) There is also a tree called parebos, about the size of an olive, which is only found in the royal gardens. It bears neither flowers nor fruit, and has only fifteen very stout roots, the smallest of which is as thick as a man’s arm. If a piece of this root, about a span in length, be put near any body of matter, gold, silver, brass, stones, in fact, everything except amber, it attracts it; if a cubit’s length of it be used, it attracts lambs and birds, the latter being generally caught in this way. If you wish to solidify a gallon of water, you need only throw in a piece of the root the weight of an obol; the same with wine, which can be handled like wax, although on the next day it becomes liquid again. The root is also used as a remedy for those suffering from bowel complaints.

There is a river that flows through India, not large, but about two stadia wide. It is called “Hyparchos” in Indian, meaning in Greek “bringing all good things.” During thirty days in the year it brings down amber. It is said that in the mountains there are trees on the banks of the river where it passes through, which at a certain season of the year shed tears like the almond, fir, or any other tree, especially during these thirty days. These tears drop into the river and become hard. This tree is called in Indian siptachora, meaning in Greek “sweet,” and from it the inhabitants gather amber. It also bears fruit in clusters like grapes, the stones of which are as large as the nuts of Pontos [the Black Sea area].

[Kynokephalians / Dog-headed people, with physical descriptions]

On these mountains there live men with the head of a dog, whose clothing is the skin of wild beasts. They speak no language, but bark like dogs, and in this manner make themselves understood by each other. Their teeth are larger than those of dogs, their nails like those of these animals, but longer and rounder. They inhabit the mountains as far as the river Indus. They are black (melanes) and they are extremely just, like the rest of the Indians with whom they associate. They understand the Indian language but are unable to converse, only barking or making signs with their hands and fingers by way of reply, like the deaf and dumb. They are called by the Indians “Kalystrians” (Kalystrioi), which is Kynokephaloi (“Dog-heads”) in Greek. They live on raw meat. There population is about one hundred and twenty thousand.

Near the sources of this river [Indus] grows a purple flower, from which is obtained a purple dye, as good in quality as the Greek and of an even more brilliant colour. In the same district there is an animal about the size of a beetle, red as cinnabar, with very long feet, and a body as soft as that of a worm. It breeds on the trees which produce amber, eats their fruit and kills them, as the wood louse destroys the vines in Greece. The Indians crush these insects and use them for dyeing their robes and tunics and anything else they wish. The dye is superior to the Persian.

[Diet and customs of the Dog-heads]

(40) The Kynokephalians (“Dog-heads”) living on the mountains do not practice any trade but live by hunting. When they have killed an animal they roast it in the sun. They also rear numbers of sheep, goats, and asses, drinking the milk of the sheep and whey made from it. They eat the fruit of the siptachora, from which amber is procured, since it is sweet. They also dry it and keep it in baskets, as the Greeks keep their dried grapes. They make rafts which they load with this fruit together with well-cleaned purple flowers and two hundred and sixty talents of amber, with the same quantity of the purple dye, and thousand additional talents of amber, which they send annually to the king of India. They exchange the rest for bread, flour, and cotton stuffs with the Indians, from whom they also buy swords for hunting wild beasts, bows, and arrows, being very skillful in drawing the bow and hurling the spear. They cannot be defeated in war, since they inhabit lofty and inaccessible mountains. Every five years the king sends them a present of three hundred thousand bows, as many spears, one hundred and twenty thousand shields, and fifty thousand swords.

They do not live in houses, but in caves. They set out for the chase with bows and spears, and as they are very swift of foot, they pursue and soon overtake their game. The women have a bath once a month, the men do not have a bath at all, but only wash their hands. They anoint themselves three times a month with oil made from milk and wipe themselves with skins. The clothes of men and women alike are not skins with the hair on, but skins tanned and very fine. The richest wear linen clothes, but they are few in number. They have no beds, but sleep on leaves or grass. The person who possesses the greatest number of sheep is considered the richest, and so in regard to their other possessions. All, both men and women, have tails above their hips, like dogs, but longer and more hairy. They are just, and live longer than any other men: one hundred and seventy and sometimes two hundred years.

[Another people described as “black” who live on milk only]

It is said that beyond their country, above the sources of the river, there are other men, black (melanes) like the rest of the Indians. They do no work, do not eat grain nor drink water, but rear large numbers of cattle, cows, goats, and sheep, whose milk is their only food. When they drink milk in the morning and then again at lunch, they eat a sweet root which prevents the milk from curdling in the stomach, and at night makes them vomit all they have taken without any difficulty.

[Other animals and natural phenomena]

(45) In India there are wild asses as large as horses, or even larger. Their body is white, their head dark red, their eyes bluish, and they have a horn in their forehead about a cubit in length. The lower part of the horn, for about two palms distance from the forehead, is quite white, the middle is black, the upper part, which terminates in a point, is a very flaming red. Those who drink out of cups made from it are proof against convulsions, epilepsy, and even poison, provided that before or after having taken it they drink some wine or water or other liquid out of these cups. The domestic and wild asses of other countries and all other solid-hoofed animals have neither huckle-bones nor gall-bladder, whereas the Indian asses have both. Their huckle-bone is the most beautiful that I have seen, like that of the ox in size and appearance; it is as heavy as lead and of the colour of cinnabar all through. These animals are very strong and swift; neither the horse nor any other animal can overtake them. At first they run slowly, but the longer they run their pace increases wonderfully, and becomes faster and faster. There is only one way of catching them. When they take their young to feed, if they are surrounded by a large number of horsemen, being unwilling to abandon their foals, they show fight, butt with their horns, kick, bite, and kill many men and horses. They are at last taken, after they have been pierced with arrows and spears because it is impossible to capture them alive. Their flesh is too bitter to eat, and they are only hunted for the sake of the horns and huckle-bones.

In the river Indus a worm is found resembling those which are usually found on fig trees. Its average length is seven cubits, though some are longer, others shorter. It is so thick that a child ten years old could hardly put his arms round it. It has two teeth, one in the upper and one in the lower jaw. Everything it seizes with these teeth it devours. By day it remains in the mud of the river, but at night it comes out, seizes whatever it comes across, whether ox or camel, drags it into the river, and devours it all except the intestines. It is caught with a large hook baited with a lamb or kid attached by iron chains. After it has been caught, it is hung up for thirty days with vessels placed underneath, into which as much oil from the body drips as would fill ten Attic liquid measures (kotylai). At the end of the thirty days, the worm is thrown away, the vessels of oil are sealed and taken as a present to the king of India, who alone is allowed to use it. This oil sets everything on alight – wood or animals – over which it is poured, and the flame can only be extinguished by throwing a quantity of thick mud on it.

There are trees in India as high as cedars or cypresses, with leaves like those of the palm tree, except that they are a little broader and have no shoots. They flower like the male laurel, but have no fruit. The tree is called by the Indians “karpios”, by the Greeks “myrorodon.” It is not common. Drops of oil ooze out of it, which are wiped off with wool and then squeezed into stone alabaster boxes. The oil is reddish, rather thick, and so fragrant that it scents the air to a distance of 900 meters. Only the king and his family are allowed to use this oil. The king of India sent some to the king of Persia. Ktesias, who saw it, says that he cannot compare the perfume with any other. The Indians also have very excellent cheese and sweet wine, both of which Ktesias tested himself.

[Indians’ use of a special fountain for healing]

There is a square fountain in India, about five armspans in circumference. The water is in a rock, about three cubits’ depth down, and the water itself three fathoms. The Indians of highest rank – men, women, and children – bathe in it not only for cleanliness, but as a preventive of disease. They plunge feet first into the water and, when they jump into it, it throws them out again on to dry land, not only human beings, but every animal, living or dead. In fact, everything that is thrown into it except iron, silver, gold, and copper, which sink to the bottom. The water is very cold and good for drinking. It makes a loud noise like that of water boiling in a caldron. It cures leprosy and scab. In Indian it is called “ballade,” and in Greek “ophelime”.

[Long-eared mountain people]

(50) In the mountains where the Indian reed grows there dwells a people about thirty thousand in number. Their women only have children once in their life. The children are born with beautiful teeth in the upper and lower jaw. Both male and female children have white hair on the head and eyebrows. Up to the age of thirty the men have white hair all over the body. Then it begins to turn black, and at the age of sixty it is quite black. Both men and women have eight fingers and eight toes. They are very warlike, and five thousand of them – bowmen and spearmen – accompany the king of India on his military expeditions. Their ears are so long that their arms are covered with them as far as the elbow, and also their backs, and one ear touches the other.

[Likely a later addition by another author:

In Ethiopia there is an animal with amazing strength called krokottas, vulgarly called “dog-wolf” (kynolykos). It is said to imitate the human voice, to call men by name at night, and to devour those who approach it. It is as brave as a lion, as swift as a horse, and as strong as a bull. It cannot be overcome by any weapon of steel. In Chalkis in Euboia there are sheep which have no gall-bladder, and their flesh is so bitter that even the dogs refuse to eat it. They also say that beyond the gates of Mauretania the rain is abundant in summer, arid that it is scorching hot in winter. Among the Kyonians there is a fountain which gives out oil instead of water, which the people use in all their food. In Metadrida there is another fountain, some little distance from the sea, the flow of which is so violent at midnight that it casts up on land fishes in such numbers that the inhabitants, unable to pick them up, leave most of them to rot on the ground.]

Ktesias relates these fables as perfect truth, adding that he himself had seen with his own eyes some of the things he describes, and had been informed of the rest by eye-witnesses. He says that he has omitted many far more marvelous things, for fear that those who had not seen them might think that his account was utterly untrustworthy.


Pliny the elder, Natural History [for the complete Pliny passage, go to this link].

[Unbelievable peoples in India]

7.23 = Ktesias, FGrHist 688 F45pα and F51

Ktesias writes that also among a certain descent group of India the women bear children only once in their lifetime, and the children begin to turn grey directly after birth. He also describes a descent group (genus) of men called the Monokolians (“One-legs”) who have only one leg, and who move in jumps with surprising speed. They are also called the Skiapodians (“Umbrella-feet”), because in the hotter weather they lie on their backs on the ground and protect themselves with the shade of their feet. They are not far away from the Troglodytians (“Cave-dwellers”). Still west from these there are some people without necks, having their eyes in their shoulders.

7.28 = Ktesias, FGrHist 688 F52

Krates of Pergamon tells about Indians who exceed a hundred years, whom he calls Gymnetians (“Nakeds”), though many call them Makrobians (“Long-lived”). Ktesias says that a descent group among them called the Pandians, dwelling in the mountain valleys, live two hundred years, and have white hair in their youth that grows black in old age. (29) Whereas others do not exceed forty years, this descentr group adjoining the Makrobians, whose women bear children only once.


Aelian, Characteristics of Animals

 4.26 = Ktesias, FGrHist 688 F45g

[Indian hunting customs]

This is the way in which the Indians hunt hares and foxes: they have no need of hounds for the chase, but they catch the young of eagles, ravens, and kites as well.  Then they rear them and teach them how to hunt. This is their method of instruction: they attach a piece of meat to a tame hare or to a domesticated fox and then let them run. Having sent the birds in pursuit, they allow them to pick off the meat. The birds give chase at full speed, and if they catch the hare or the fox, they have the meat as a reward for the capture: it is for them a highly attractive bait. When therefore they have perfected the birds’ skill at hunting, the Indians let them loose after mountain hares and wild foxes. In expectation of their usual food whenever one of these animals appears, the birds fly after it, seize it quickly, and bring it back to their masters, as Ktesias tells us. From the same source we learn also that in place of the meat which has been attached, the entrails of the animals they have caught provide a meal.

4.46 = Ktesias, FGrHist 688 F45pγ

[Indian use of insect for dyes and the character of the Dog-heads]

There are insects born in India that are about the size of beetles, and they are red. On seeing them for the first time you might compare them to vermilion. They have very long legs and are soft to the touch. They flourish on those trees which produce amber, and feed upon the fruit of the same. The Indians hunt them and crush them and with their bodies dye their crimson cloaks and their tunics beneath and everything else that they wish to convert and stain to that colour. Garments of this description are even brought to the Persian king, and their beauty excites the admiration of the Persians. In fact, when looked at beside their [Greek or Persian] native garments, it far surpasses them and amazes people, according to Ktesias, because the colour is even stronger and more brilliant than the much-vaunted wares of Sardis. In the same part of India as the beetles, there exist the Kynokephalians (“Dog-heads”) as they are called – a name which they owe to their physical appearance and nature. Most of their bodies they are of human shape and they go around clothed in the skins of beasts. They are just and injure no one. Though they have no speech they howl. Yet they understand the Indian language. Wild animals are their food, and they catch them easily, for they are extremely quick on foot. When they have caught the wild animals, they kill and cook them, not over a fire but by exposing them to the sun’s heat after they have shredded them into pieces. They also keep goats and sheep, and while their food is the flesh of wild beasts, their drink is the milk of the animals they keep. I have mentioned them along with wild beasts, as is logical, for their speech is inarticulate, unintelligible, and not that of man [i.e. the Dog-heads are wild or savage].

4.52 = Ktesias, FGrHist 688 F45q

[Indian customs relating to wild donkeys]

I have learned that in India there are wild asses as big as horses. All their body is white except for the head, which approaches purple, while their eyes give off a dark blue colour. They have a horn on their forehead as much as a cubit and a half long. The lower part of the horn is white, the upper part is crimson, while the middle is jet-black. From these variegated horns, I am told, the Indians drink, but not all, only the most eminent Indians. They lay rings of gold around them at intervals, as though they were decorating the beautiful arm of a statue with bracelets. They say that a man who has drunk from this horn knows not, and is free from, incurable diseases. That man will never be seized with convulsions nor with the “sacred sickness,” as it is called, nor be destroyed by poisons. Moreover if he has previously drunk some deadly stuff, he vomits it up and is restored to health. It is believed that asses, both the tame and the wild kind, all over the world and all other beasts with uncloven hoofs are without knucklebones and without gall in the liver. Whereas those horned asses of India, Ktesias says, have knucklebones and are not without gall [i.e. Ktesias made use of logic from the medical theory of the four humours, since he was a physician]. Their knucklebones are said to be black, and if ground down are black inside as well.

These animals are far faster than any ass or even than any horse or any deer. They begin to run, it is true, at a gentle pace, but gradually gather strength until to pursue them is, in the language of poetry, to chase the unattainable. When the mother gives birth and leads her new-born colts around, the fathers herd with, and look after, them. These asses frequent the most desolate plains in India. So when the Indians go to hunt them, the asses allow their colts, still tender and young, to pasture behind them, while they themselves fight on their behalf and join battle with the horsemen and strike them with their horns. Now the strength of these horns is such that nothing can withstand their blows, but everything gives way and snaps or, it may be, is shattered and rendered useless. They have in the past even struck at the ribs of a horse, ripped it open, and disembowelled it. For that reason the horsemen dread coming to close quarters with them, since the penalty for so doing is a most lamentable death, and both they and their horses are killed. They can kick fearfully too. Moreover their bite goes so deep that they tear away everything that they have grasped. A full-grown ass one would never capture alive: they are shot with javelins and arrows and, when the asses are dead, the Indians strip them of their horns, which, as I said, they decorate. But the flesh of Indian asses is not edible because it is naturally extremely bitter.

5.3 = Ktesias, FGrHist 688 F45r

[On giant worms in the Indus river and Indians’ hunting of them]

The Indus river is devoid of savage creatures. The only thing that lives in it is a worm, so they say, in appearance like those that are engendered in, and feed upon, timber. But these creatures grow to a length as much as seven cubits, though one might find specimens both larger and smaller. Their bulk is such that a ten-year-old boy could hardly encircle it with his arms. A single tooth is attached to the upper jaw, another to the lower, and both are square and about eighteen inches long. Their teeth is so strong that they can easily crush anything that they get between them, be it stone or animal, tame or wild. During the daytime they live at the bottom of the river, wallowing in the mud and slime. For this reason, they are not seen. But at night they emerge on to the land, and whatever they encounter, whether horse or ox or ass, they crush and then drag down to their haunts and eat it in the river, devouring every member of the animal excepting its stomach. If however they are assailed by hunger during the day as well, and should a camel or an ox be drinking on the bank, they secretly slide up. Seizing their victim firmly with the lips, they haul it along with the utmost force and drag it by sheer strength into the water, where they feast upon it. Each one is covered with a hide two fingers thick.

The following means have been devised for hunting and capturing them. Men let down a thick, strong hook attached to an iron chain, and to this they fasten a rope of white flax weighing a talent, and they wrap wool round both chain and rope to prevent the worm biting through them. On the hook they fix a lamb or a kid, and then let them sink in the river. As many as thirty men hold on to the rope and each of them has a javelin ready to hurl and a sword at his side. Wooden clubs are placed handy, should they need to deal blows, and these are of cornel-wood and very hard. Then when the worm is secured on the hook and has swallowed the bait, the men haul it in. After capturing and killing it, they hang it up in the sun for thirty days. From the body there drips a thick oil into clay vessels. Each worm yields up to ten liquid measures (kotylai). They seal this oil and bring it to the Indian king. No one else is permitted to have even a drop. The rest of the carcass is of no use.

Now the oil has this power: should you wish to burn a pile of wood and to scatter the embers, pour on a liquid measure (kotylē) and you will set it alight without previously applying a spark. And if you want to burn a man or an animal, pour some oil over him and at once he is set on fire. With this, they say, the Indian king even takes cities that have risen against him. The king does not wait for battering-rams or penthouses or any other siege-engines because he burns them down and captures them. He fills earthen vessels, each holding one liquid measure with oil, seals them, and flows them to the top of the gates. When the vessels touch the embrasures they are dashed into fragments; the oil oozes down; fire pours over the doors, and nothing can quench it. This oil burns weapons and fighting men, so tremendous is its force. It is however allayed and put out if piles of rubbish are poured over it. This is the account given by Ktesias of Knidos.

16.31 = Ktesias, FGrHist 688 F45r

[Dog-milking people]

Ktesias in his accounts about Indian Matters asserts that the people called Kynamolgians (“Dog-milkers”) keep a great number of hounds as large as those of Hyrkania [region on the southeastern coast of the Caspian sea]. In particular, he asserts that they are enthusiastic dog-breeders. The Knidian writer gives the reasons as follows: From the summer solstice up to mid-winter herds of cattle come roaming. Like a swarm of bees or a wasps’ nest that has been disturbed these cattle are beyond counting. And they are wild and aggressive and vent their fury with their horns in a terrible fashion. Being unable to check them by any other means the Kynamolgians let loose their hounds upon the cattle (they always breed them for this purpose), and the hounds overcome and destroy them without any difficulty. At that point, the men select what portions of the meat they consider suitable for eating. They set the residue aside for the hounds and are in fact glad to give them a share, an offering as it were to their benefactors. During the season when these cattle are no longer on the move the Kynamolgians have the hounds to help them in their pursuit of other beasts. They milk the female dogs. This is where their name comes from, because they drink hounds’ milk just as we drink that of sheep and goats.

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