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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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Page 3

The gifted and highly educated wife of Bryennius, the eldest daughter of Emperor Alexius, Anna Comnena, is the authoress of the Alexiad, an epic poem in prose. This first important achievement of the literary renaissance of the epoch of the Comneni is devoted to describing the glorious rule of Anna's father, the Great Alexius, the luminary of the universe, the sun of Anna. One of Anna's biographers remarked: Almost as far down as the nineteenth century a woman as an historian was indeed a rara avis. When therefore a princess arose in one of the most momentous movements in human history she surely deserves the respectful attention of posterity.

In the fifteen books of her great work Anna described the time from 1069 to 1118; she drew a picture of the gradual elevation of the house of the Comneni in the period before the accession of Alexius to the throne and brought the narrative down to his death, thus making an addition to and a continuation of the work of her husband, Nicephorus Bryennius. The tendency to panegyrize her father is evident throughout the whole Alexiad, which endeavors to show to the reader the superiority of Alexius, this thirteenth Apostle, over the other members of the Comneni family. Anna had received an excellent education and had read many of the most eminent writers of antiquity, Homer, the lyric writers, the tragedians, Aristophanes, the historians Thucydides and Polybius, the orators Isocrates and Demosthenes, the philosophers Aristotle and Plato. All this reading affected the style of the Alexiad, in which Anna adopted the external form of the ancient Hellenic tongue and used, as Krumbacher said, an artificial, almost entirely mummiform school language which is diametrically opposed to the popular spoken language which was used in the literature of that time. Anna even apologized to her readers when she chanced to give the barbarian names of the western or Russian (Scythian) leaders, which deform the loftiness and subject of history.  

         Elpenor's note : Even if we wanted for the Byzantines not to have used the Attic dialect, it would have been incorrect to accuse them of speaking an artificial language, for two reasons; first, because Attic is not an artificial language, and second, because Attic (Byzantine or classical) and popular/modern Greek, are different forms of the same language. Read more on Byzantine language, society and creativity

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