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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

Byzantium and the Crusades

Education, learning, literature, and art 


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In the field of literature this epoch has a great number of interesting and eminent writers in both ecclesiastic and secular circles. The cultural movement also affected the family of the Comneni themselves, among whom many members, yielding to the influence of their environment, devoted a part of their time to learning and literature. The highly educated and clever mother of Alexius I Comnenus, Anna Dalassena, whom her learned granddaughter Anna Comnena calls this greatest pride not only of women but also of men, and ornament of human nature, often came to a dinner party with a book in her hands and there discussed dogmatic problems of the Church Fathers and spoke of the philosopher and martyr Maxim in particular. The Emperor Alexius Comnenus himself wrote some theological treatises against heretics; Alexius' Muses, written a short time before his death, were published in 1913. They were written in iambic meter in the form of an exhortation and dedicated to his son and heir John. These Muses were a kind of political will, concerned not only with abstract problems of morality, but also with many contemporary historical events, such as the First Crusade.

Alexius' daughter Anna and her husband Nicephorus Bryennius occupy an honorable place in Byzantine historiography. Nicephorus Bryennius, who survived Alexius and played an important role in state affairs under him and his son John, intended to write a history of Alexius Comnenus. Death prevented Nicephorus from carrying out his plan, but he succeeded in composing a sort of family chronicle or memoir the purpose of which was to show the causes of the elevation of the house of the Comneni and which was brought almost down to the accession of Alexius to the throne. The detailed narrative of Bryennius discusses the events from 1070 to 1079, that is to say, to the beginning of the rule of Nicephorus III Botaniates; since he discussed the activities of the members of the house of the Comneni, his work is marked by some partiality. The style of Bryennius is rather simple and has none of the artificial perfection that is, for example, peculiar to the style of his learned wife. The influence of Xenophon is clearly evident in his work. Bryennius work is of great importance both for internal court history and for external policy, and throws special light on the increase of Turkish danger to Byzantium.

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