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Alexios Komnenos,
Byzantine emperor,
led his army to meet the Scythian horde in battle.
For good luck,
he carried one of the holiest relics in Christendom:
the veil that had belonged to the Virgin Mary.
Unfortunately, it didn't help.
Not only was his army defeated,
but as they fled,
the Emperor was stabbed in the buttocks.
To make matters worse, a strong wind
made the relic too heavy to carry,
so he stashed it in some bushes as he escaped.
But even as he fled,
he managed to slay some Scythians
and rescue a few comrades.
At least, this is how Alexios' daughter
Anna recounted the story, writing nearly 60 years later.
She spent the last decade of her long life
creating a 500-page history
of her father's reign called The Alexiad.
Written in Greek, the book was modeled after ancient Greek epics
and historical writings.
But Anna had a different, trickier task
than the writers in these traditions:
as a princess writing
about her own family,
she had to balance her loyalty to her kin
with her obligation
to portray events accurately,
navigating issues like Alexios's
embarrassing stab to the buttocks.
A lifetime of study and participation
in her father's government
prepared Anna for this undertaking.
Anna was born in 1083,
shortly after her father seized control
of the Roman Empire
following a decade of brutal civil wars
and revolts.
The empire was deep in decline
when he came to power,
and threatened from all sides:
by the Seljuk Turks in the East,
the Normans in the West,
and Scythian raiders to the north.
Over the course of Anna's childhood
and adolescence,
Alexios fought constant military campaigns
to secure the frontiers of his empire,
even striking up an uneasy alliance with the Crusaders.
Meanwhile in Constantinople,
Anna fought her own battle.
She was expected to study subjects
considered proper
for a Byzantine princess,
like courtly etiquette and the Bible,
but preferred classical myth
and philosophy.
To access this material, she had to learn
to read and speak Ancient Greek,
by studying secretly at night.
Eventually her parents realized
how serious she was,
and provided her with tutors.
Anna expanded her studies
to classical literature, rhetoric,
history, philosophy, mathematics,
astronomy, and medicine.
One scholar even complained
that her constant requests
for more Aristotle commentaries
were wearing out his eyes.
At age fifteen,
Anna married Nikephoros Bryennios
to quell old conflicts
between their families
and strengthen Alexios's reign.
Fortunately, Anna and Nikephoros ended up
sharing many intellectual interests,
hosting and debating
the leading scholars of the day.
Meanwhile, Alexios's military excursions
began to pay off,
restoring many of the empire's
former territories.
As her father aged,
Anna and her husband helped her parents
with their imperial duties.
During this time,
Anna reportedly advocated for
just treatment of the people
in their disputes with the government.
After Alexios's death,
Anna's brother John ascended to the throne
and Anna turned back
to philosophy and scholarship.
Her husband had written a history
arguing that his grandfather
would have made a better emperor than Alexios,
but Anna disagreed.
She began working on the Alexiad,
which made the case for her father's merits as emperor.
Spanning the late 11th and early 12th centuries
of Byzantine history,
the Alexiad recounts
the tumultuous events of Alexios's reign,
and Anna's own reactions to those events,
like bursting into tears at the thought
of the deaths of her parents and husband.
She may have included these emotional passages
in hopes that they would make her writing
more palatable to a society that believed
women shouldn't write about battles and empires.
While her loyalty to her father
was evident in her favorable account of his reign,
she also included criticism
and her opinions of events.
In the centuries after her death,
Anna's Alexiad was copied over and over,
and remains an invaluable eyewitness account of Alexios's reign today.
And through her epic historical narrative,
Anna Komnene secured her own place in history.
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The princess who rewrote history - Leonora Neville

785 Folder Collection
黃齡萱 published on October 24, 2018    黃齡萱 translated    Evangeline reviewed
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