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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.

Alexios Komnenos,

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The princess who rewrote history - Leonora Neville

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    黃齡萱 posted on 2018/10/24
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