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Anna Comne'na

Ἄννα Κομνηνά), the daughter of Alexis I. Comnenus, and the empress Irene, was born in A. D. 1083. She was destined to marry Constantine Ducas, but he died while she was still a child; and she was subsequently married to Nicephorus Bryennius, a Greek nobleman distinguished by birth, talents, and learning. Anna, gifted by nature with beauty and rare talents, was instructed in every branch of science, and she tells us in the preface to her Alexias, that she was thoroughly acquainted with Aristotle and Plato. The vanity of a female philosopher was flattered with the homages she received from the Greek scholars and artists, and during a long period hers and her husband's house was the centre of the arts and sciences of Constantinople. Her love for her husband was sincere and founded upon real esteem, and she and the empress tried, although in vain, to persuade the dying Alexis to appoint Bryennius his successor. The throne was inherited by John, the son of Alexis. (A. D. 1118.) During his reign Anna persuaded Bryennius to seize the crown; but the conspiracy failed at the moment of its execution, and Anna and Bryennius were punished with exile and the confiscation of the greater part of their property. Bryennius died some time afterwards, and Anna regretted his loss with deep and sincere affliction. During her retirement from the world she composed her Alexias (Ἀλεξίας).



This celebrated work is a biography of her father, the emperor Alexis I. It is divided into fifteen books. In the first nine she relates with great prolixity the youth of Alexis, his exploits against the Turks, Seljuks, and the Greek rebels in Asia and Epeirus, his accession, and his wars against the Normans in Epeirus. The tenth book is remarkably interesting, containing the relation of the transactions between Alexis and the Western princes which led to the first crusade, and the arrival of the Crusaders at Constantinople. The following three contain the relations of Alexis with the Crusaders who had then advanced into Asia, and his last contest with the Norman Bohemond, then prince of Antioch, in Greece and Epeirus. In the fourteenth book are related the successful wars of Alexis against the Turks after they had been weakened by the Crusaders; and in the fifteenth she gives a rather short relation of the latter part of the reign of her father. This division shews that she did not start from a historical but merely from a biographical point of view.

To write the life of a man like Alexis I. was a difficult task for his daughter, and this difficulty did not escape her sagacity. " If I praise Alexis," she says in the preface, " the world will accuse me of having paid greater attention to his glory than to truth; and whenever I shall be obliged to blame some of his actions, I shall run the risk of being accused of impious injustice." However, this self-justification is mere mockery. Anna knew very well what she would write, and far from deserving the reproach of " impious injustice," she only deserves that of " pious injustice." The Alexias is history in the form of a romance,--embellished truth with two purposes,--that of presenting Alexis as the Mars, and his daughter as the Minerva of the Byzantines. Anna did not invent facts, but in painting her portraits she always dips her pencil in the colour of vanity. This vanity is threefold,--personal, domestic, and national. Thus Alexis is spotless; Anna becomes an oracle; the Greeks are the first of all the nations, and the Latins are wicked barbarians. Bohemond alone is worthy of all her praise; but it is said that she was admired by, and that she admired in her turn, the gallant prince of the Normans.

The style of the author is often affected and loaded with false erudition; unimportant details are constantly treated with as much as and even more attention than facts of high importance. These are the defects of the work, but whoever will take the trouble to discover and discard them, will find the Alexias the most interesting and one of the most valuable historical productions of the Byzantine literature.


The editio princeps of the Alexias was published by Hoelschelius, Augsburg, 1610, 4to. This is only an abridgment containing the fifteen books reduced to eight. The next is by Possimis, with a Latin translation, Paris, 1651, fol. Du Cange has written some valuable notes to the Alexias, which are contained in the Paris edition of Cinnamus. (1670, fol.)

The best edition is by Schopen (2 vols. 8vo.), with a new Latin translation, Bonn, 1839.


The translation of Possinus is very bad. The work was translated into French by Cousin (le président), and a German translation is contained in the first volume of the " Historische Memoiren," edited by Fr. von Schiller.


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