1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Anna Comnena

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ANNA COMNENA, daughter of the emperor Alexius I. Comnenus, the first woman historian, was born on the 1st of December 1083. She was her father’s favourite and was carefully trained in the study of poetry, science and Greek philosophy. But, though learned and studious, she was intriguing and ambitious, and ready to go to any lengths to gratify her longing for power. Having married an accomplished young nobleman, Nicephorus Bryennius, she united with the empress Irene in a vain attempt to prevail upon her father during his last illness to disinherit his son and give the crown to her husband. Still undeterred, she entered into a conspiracy to depose her brother after his accession; and when her husband refused to join in the enterprise, she exclaimed that “nature had mistaken their sexes, for he ought to have been the woman.” The plot being discovered, Anna forfeited her property and fortune, though, by the clemency of her brother, she escaped with her life. Shortly afterwards, she retired into a convent and employed her leisure in writing the Alexiad—a history, in Greek, of her father’s life and reign (1081-1118), supplementing the historical work of her husband. It is rather a family panegyric than a scientific history, in which the affection of the daughter and the vanity of the author stand out prominently. Trifling acts of her father are described at length in exaggerated terms, while little notice is taken of important constitutional matters. A determined opponent of the Latin church and an enthusiastic admirer of the Byzantine empire, Anna Comnena regards the Crusades as a danger both political and religious. Her models are Thucydides, Polybius and Xenophon, and her style exhibits the striving after Atticism characteristic of the period, with the result that the language is highly artificial. Her chronology especially is defective.

Editions in Bonn Corpus Scriptorum Hist. Byz., by J. Schopen and A. Reifferscheid (1839-1878), with Du Cange’s valuable commentary; and Teubner series, by A. Reifferscheid (1884). See also C. Krumbacher, Geschichte der byzantinischen Literatur (2nd ed. 1897); C. Neumann, Grieckische Geschichtschreiber im 12 Jahrhunderte (1888); E. Oster, Anna Komnena (Rastatt, 1868-1871); Gibbon, Decline and Fall, ch. 48; Finlay, Hist, of Greece, iii. pp. 53, 128 (1877); P. Adam, Princesses byzantines (1893); Sir Walter Scott, Count Robert of Paris; L. du Sommerard, Anne Comnène ... Agnès de France (1907); C. Diehl, Figures byzantines (1906).