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Anna KomneneThe Life and Work of a Medieval Historian$

Leonora Neville

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780190498177

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190498177.001.0001

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Qualified, and Modest about It

Qualified, and Modest about It

(p.31) 2 Qualified, and Modest about It
Anna Komnene

Leonora Neville

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explains how in the prologue to the Alexiad Anna Komnene tried to present her qualifications for writing authoritative history—including her education, relationship with the subject Alexios Komnenos, temporal proximity, rhetorical skills—while simultaneously insisting on her humility, modesty, and femininity. It discusses how Anna effaces her agency in writing by presenting herself as compelled to fight the destructive force of time that threatened the memory of Alexios, and as finishing the history written by her husband, Nikephoros Bryennios. It further argues that she presents herself as mourning her father and husband in order to elicit sympathy from her audience and provoke condescension that would counteract the self-aggrandizement of her authorship.

Keywords:   Anna Komnene, Alexiad Prologue, Sophocles, Nikephoros Bryennios, mourning, authorial humility

Writing while female in medieval Constantinople was thus a challenging endeavor. Anna’s responses to these challenges take a number of forms as she tries to present herself as capable of participating in the masculine genre of history while remaining a virtuous woman. Anna needs to clearly stake her claim to the ability to write history in the first few lines of her work. But she must also humble herself before her audience so she would be considered a woman of good character. In her prologue Anna creates a self-presentation that closely mixes authorizing, masculinizing claims with humbling and feminizing ones. To be trustworthy she must be both authoritative and modest. As we shall see, her claims to possess the education and access to historical information that justify her abilities as a historian prompt humbling and self-abasing statements at every turn.

It was standard practice for Byzantine historians to insist on their inadequacy for the task of history writing in their prologues while simultaneously displaying their erudition and credentials.1 Denigrating their skills was a normal response to the problem of authorial self-aggrandizement.2 In the midst of claiming humility, history writers also staked claims for their skills and education in their prologues, either explicitly, or by using artful and high-style writing. Historians also routinely made claims that they would adhere to the truth and write in an unbiased fashion, showing praise and censure where due. They frequently expressed the fear that their work would be criticized because they had spoken the truth. Often historians would explain the reasons that compelled them to write history, establishing an external force that pushed them, reluctantly, into the position of history writer. The standard medieval historical prologue was thus a mixture of authorizing and aggrandizing claims—to literary skill, to education, to access to information, (p.32) to virtue in devotion to truth—with humbling expressions of fear of criticism, reluctant authorship, and inadequate style. The authorizing claims were necessary to establish the author’s credentials as a historian, and the humbling claims were necessary to mitigate the arrogance of the act of writing.3

Anna’s prologue includes most of these expected elements as she deals with the standard problems. Yet Anna’s identity as a woman endeavoring to write history makes these problems more acute. The connection between the writing of history and an active career in politics and war made history the genre perhaps least open to female participation. Since she did not have a political or military career, Anna would need to explain why she was in a position to know enough about her subject to write a history. In order to remain a modest, and hence virtuous, woman, Anna would need to show that she learned about political and military events while remaining in her appropriate domestic sphere. Anna needed to assert her credentials more forcefully than usual because such intellectual activity was unexpected in a woman. She necessarily broke with tradition by not denigrating her writing style or education—as a woman she ran the risk that if she said she could only write in a simple style the audience would actually believe her. Yet all of the factors that pushed male authors to enact humility also applied to Anna. Indeed, the centrality of modesty to the Byzantine construction of virtuous women made this point far more decisive for her. Immodest women were identified with harlots who led men to sin.4 So while the need to substantiate her authority was acute, the simultaneous cultural imperative for women to be humble made her need to combat accusations of boastfulness extreme.

Anna’s prologue shows that she was keenly aware of what she was up against in her efforts to undertake female historical authorship. Her prologue contains most of the standard elements of the medieval Greek historical prologue, but treats them in ways that tactfully lay the groundwork for her unique female historical authorial persona as both an authoritative writer of history and a modest and good woman. Her innovations and departures from the normal patterns of Greek historical prologues are places where she drew on new strategies of self-abasement and historical authorization.

Anna’s opening sentence both signals her adherence to the conventions of history and hints at how her project disrupts them. She opens with a complaint about the destructive force of time that compels her to the task of writing history:

Time, moving eternally with its uncontrollable streams, sweeps away and carries off all things in creation and plunges them into deep obscurity, whether these matters are not worthy of mention, or great and worthy of memory, and, according to the Tragedian, “first draw fourth from darkness then bury from light.”5

(p.33) As a complaint against time, this is an entirely conventional sentiment within medieval historical prologues. Yet she incorporates into this convention a reference to Sophocles—the Tragedian—which hints that her history will not fit into conventional patterns of historical writing or gender. Anna quotes the first line of a speech by Ajax, in which he tells the chorus and his concubine, Tecmessa, that her arguments in favor of reconciliation with his enemies have persuaded him. While Anna makes Sophocles’s words fit her description of the destructive effects of time, Ajax’s topic is not time so much as the vagaries of human events:

All things the long and countless years first draw from darkness, and then bury from light; and there is nothing which man should not expect: the dread power of oath is conquered, as is unyielding will. For even I, who used to be so tremendously strong—yes, like tempered iron—I have been made female by this woman’s words, and I feel the pity of leaving her a widow and the boy an orphan among my enemies.6

Ajax’s point about time is that sooner or later everything is bound to happen and nothing should be unexpected. The sentiment that nothing should be surprising is one Anna could easily have wished upon her audience as they begin hearing the prodigious narrative of a history written by a princess—a princess who had studied philosophy no less. Ajax elaborates that in his particular case the marvel, which ought not be surprising, is that the strong man is made female through pity. Anna alludes, therefore, to a statement that even changes in gender should not be unexpected.

Modern classicists call this Ajax’s “deception speech,” because while Ajax goes on to say that he will submit to the authority of Agamemnon and Menelaus, he in fact kills himself rather than participate in such a reconciliation. The speech provides a strong reminder that what speakers or authors say they feel is not always what they do feel. Anna may here put her audience on notice that a literary expression of a feeling does not necessarily reveal a genuine experience of that emotion. This is hardly a point of which her audience would have been unaware, but placing a reminder in the first sentence of her history may call attention to the potential artificiality of writing that ostensibly reveals the self.

Anna’s allusion to Ajax’s statement that he has become female is immediately followed by her most masculinizing sentence in the Alexiad, in which she states her name and lays claim to a level of education that put the vast majority of her contemporary elite men to shame:

Having discerned these things, I Anna, daughter of the emperors Alexios and Eirene, born and raised in the purple, not without some share of learning, but rather having studied Greek language in full and being not unpracticed in rhetoric and having read through well (p.34) the Aristotelian treatises and the Platonic dialogs and having crowned my mind with the Pythagorean terms of mathematics—for it is necessary to betray these things, and this is not bragging; how much nature and the zeal for learning gave and God above granted and opportunity supplied—I wish on account of this to tell in writing the deeds of my father not worthy to be passed over in silence nor carried away in the stream of time as into a sea of forgetfulness.7

The prominent statement of the author’s name is not something that sits comfortably with the twelfth-century poetics of anonymity, but it places Anna firmly in ancient traditions of historical writing in which the name of the author is the core element of a history’s opening:

This is the display of the inquiry of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, so that things done by men not be forgotten in time, and that great and marvelous deeds, some displayed by the Hellenes, some by the barbarians, not lose their glory, including among others what was the cause of their waging war on each other.8

Thucydides, an Athenian, wrote the history of the war between the Peloponnesians and the Athenians, beginning at the moment that it broke out, and believing that it would be a great war and more worthy of relation than any that had preceded it.9

In imitating the great old histories by placing her name and birthplace so near the start of her history, Anna boldly joins the company of Herodotus, Thucydides, and all the other historians who have emulated them.

Anna also explicitly testifies to her extreme education. The description of her study of Greek language, rhetoric, philosophy, and mathematics lays claim to a highly elite and unusual educational background. As described, Anna’s education goes far beyond the normal study of classical rhetoric. Anna was educated not only in classical Greek language and rhetoric that would allow her to understand classical texts, but in the philosophical discourses that use that language for substantive discussions of significant moral import. Classical philosophy appears to have been somewhat more widely studied in the twelfth century than it had been in the eleventh, when Michael Psellos claimed to have single-handedly revived its study.10 Yet it had not become a normal part of the Byzantine educational curriculum. Even basic literacy was uncommon among Byzantine women.11 George Tornikes’s funeral oration for Anna presents her desire for education as highly unusual for an elite woman. He describes Anna as acting secretly, against the wishes of her parents, in her efforts to study. Given the low levels of education among other aristocratic women, Anna’s statement that she had studied not only classical Greek, but also Aristotle, Plato, and Pythagorean mathematics was a stunningly strong claim. Anna does not merely say she is educated, but that she was among the best-educated people of her era.

(p.35) Anna’s assertion that she studied Aristotle and Plato may have been designed to place her in the exceptional company of the celebrated female philosophers of antiquity. Elsewhere in the Alexiad, Anna attributes an aphorism on modesty to the ancient Pythagorean philosopher Theano, clearly expecting her audience to know who she was.12 When Anna was remembered in a late twelfth-century funeral encomium for her grandson, the author mentions Theano as a precedent of a philosophical woman and claims that Anna’s education rivaled that of the Alexandrian Neoplatonist Hypatia.13 It seems that the existence of female philosophers in antiquity was remembered in Anna’s era.14 Her emphasis in her prologue on her own philosophical training and expertise may have worked to cast her as their successor.

Anna does not explicitly claim to have read the great works of Attic tragedy and comedy. She makes her knowledge of these texts clear however, by quoting Sophocles’s Ajax in the first line of her prologue, and through the vocabulary and textual fabric of her writing. Anna’s ability to make an illusion that interacts meaningfully with Sophocles’s text displays her deep reading and understanding of classical Attic texts. Beyond the meaning it imparts to her text, the allusion functions to demonstrate her deep classical learning. The allusion signals that the authors Anna explicitly says she has read, Aristotle, Plato, and Pythagoras, are not the sum of her ancient learning; the Tragedian goes without saying.

Anna further asserts her ability to write history by following the major conventions of a historical prologue. Anna includes “most of the conventional elements of historiographical introductions (the need to resist time, the elaboration of topic, reference to an unbiased composition and fear of criticism, the use and adaption of classical sources and, to a lesser extent, the direct appeal to the public).”15 By including most of the standard elements, she displayed her knowledge of the genre. Her one notable omission was of any claim that she would write in a simple and unadorned style. This standard expression of authorial humility was problematic, I believe, because Anna needed to strongly argue for her unexpected rhetorical skills. As we shall see, she deployed other, far more striking and elaborate, strategies of self-abasement. By treating so many of the expected elements of a prologue in a creative and inventive way, Anna further displayed her skill as a rhetorician. The quality of the writing in the prologue in itself makes a forceful claim for Anna’s skills as a writer.

At first, Anna’s emphasis on her relationship with her imperial parents in the opening of her prologue seems an act of self-exultation strikingly at odds with the normal practices of authorial humility. It is motivated, in part, by the need to present Anna as having reasonable access to information on her topic. Anna’s status as the daughter of the emperor makes her believable as a knowledgeable source of information about the history of Alexios. Anna’s emphasis on her relationship with her father is a necessary part of her claim (p.36) to firsthand knowledge, and hence the ability to write history. The authority of some ancient historians was validated by their assertion of close proximity to those in power and hence special knowledge of the inside story.16 Privileged access to those in power, however, created problems for historians because it left them open to accusations of bias or favoritism.17 Anna must clarify her relationship with her father, even though it raises questions about potential favoritism.18

Beyond proximity to the subject, Anna’s statement that she is the daughter of the emperor and the empress, born in the porphyry chamber of the palace, is authorizing within the context of her culture, because nobility was sometimes seen as a factor that might enable women to transcend their nature. When, in the mid-eleventh century, Michael Psellos wrote a speech for the Empress Theodora to make before her court, he has her explicitly transcend her female nature by virtue of her royal birth and long study of divine Scriptures.19 Theodora’s noble birth became one of the factors that allowed her to speak like a man. Anna’s nobility may have similarly been seen as predisposing her toward masculine levels of self-control and sound judgment.

Anna further claims that her history is authoritative because her narrative is without favoritism. Anna displays her understanding of the central task of history as being an unbiased, truthful appraisal of human character:

For when one takes up the moral character of history, it is necessary to forget good will and hatred. One must frequently deck enemies with the greatest praise, when their deeds demand this, but also frequently castigate blood relatives, when the failings of the pursuits indicate. Therefore one must neither shrink to upbraid friends nor to praise enemies.20

She will not be partial to Alexios and write an encomium, nor will she let her natural respect for her father prevent her from criticizing him when he deserves it.21 Her claim to impartiality fits within the Byzantine historical tradition of claiming to display only the truth without regard to favor.

Anna maintains that the validity of her history will be acknowledged because her narrative can be checked against the memories of people still living. She calls as witnesses to her veracity “both those seeing the events and those participating in the events. For the fathers and grandfathers of some men now living were witnesses to these events.”22 These witnesses, Anna trusts, will defend her history against accusations that she writes prejudicially in favor of her father.

Anna thus makes several strongly authorizing claims in her prologue. She explicitly and implicitly claims great education; she presents herself as an authority on her subject; she presents herself as participating in a tradition with the greatest Greek historians; and, by demonstrating her participation in the male discourse of history, she shows that she can write like a man. Since (p.37) one of the traditional functions of a historical prologue was to establish the credentials of the author, this was the place where her statement of skills was most necessary and least offensive. These claims are necessary for her audience to accept her as a reliable historian.

Anna’s authorizing statements, which justify her claims to be able to write history, immediately provoke disclaimers and expressions of humility. Interwoven with the authorizing discourses throughout the prologue are both implicit and explicit humbling gestures, discourses that relieve Anna of authorial agency, moderate the aggrandizement of her authorship, and create herself as an object of pity. While some aspects of her self-presentation in the prologue model Anna on male historical authors, others draw on ideal models of female behavior, casting her as a devoted daughter and loving wife.

The most straightforward strategy Anna used to combat the self-aggrandizement of historical authorship was to state openly that she was not boasting or writing to glorify herself. Even within her opening statement of her educational credentials, Anna pauses to defend herself against accusations of boasting: “For it is necessary to betray these things, and this is not bragging, how much nature and the zeal for learning gave and God above granted and the opportunity supplied.”23 Since she must describe her education to prove her ability to write history, doing so is not boasting. Anna does not take credit for her learning, but rather attributes her education to the agency of nature, zeal for learning, God, and opportunity. This presents her educated state as something that happened to her, largely due to forces outside of her control.

Anna also responded to the need to humble herself by variously effacing her authorship. Historical activity is not something Anna has chosen to take up to gratify her own creativity. Rather she is compelled by significant external factors.24 The decaying effects of time provide the primary motivation. Anna creates an external impulse for the need to write history by emphasizing the dangers of oblivion. She forcefully describes the destructive power of time to erase memory, and extols the ability of history to oppose it:

The art of history is the strongest bulwark against the stream of time and, to some extent, it stays time’s irresistible stream…. It secures and embraces whatever it takes up and does not allow those things to slip away into the depth of oblivion.25

The dramatization of the risk time presents to memory provides a strong compulsion for Anna to commemorate the memory of Alexios. Anna takes up history because it can rescue memory: “I Anna … wish … to tell in writing the deeds of my father not worthy to be passed over in silence nor carried away in the stream of time into a sea of forgetfulness.”26 Immediately after stating this motivation, Anna clarifies precisely that her history is not (p.38) intended to display her rhetorical skill, but to rescue her father’s memory from oblivion:

In saying these things, I come not making some display of rhetorical exercise, but so that a matter so great may not be left without witness for those coming later, since even the greatest of the deeds, if not immediately guarded by words and passed down in memory, are extinguished in the dark of silence.27

The necessity of preserving her father’s memory from oblivion compels her to write, not a desire to show off her learning and authorial power.

Anna provides a second external motivation for her historical activity in describing it as a continuation of her husband’s work. She describes her husband, the Caesar Nikephoros Bryennios, in glowing terms, and relates that he was working on a history of Alexios in between accompanying emperor John (1118–1143) on military campaigns. Nikephoros had taken up task of writing a history of Alexios at the request of Anna’s mother, the Empress Eirene. Anna explains that Nikephoros wrote a history about Alexios’s early years, but was unable to complete the work before his death. Nikephoros’s inability to complete his writing was harmful, Anna says, to both the history he was trying to preserve and his readers. It is for this reason that Anna took up the task of writing about her father’s deeds: so that they would not be ignored by future generations.28 Presenting one’s history as a continuation of another’s was a normal technique for enhancing a historian’s authority.29 In addition, in this presentation neither Anna nor Nikephoros desired to become historians but were pushed into it. For Anna, the need to complete the work left unfinished by her beloved husband provides a strong moral obligation for her historical efforts.

The story that Anna was carrying on the work of her late husband serves to efface Anna’s agency in taking up the task. Just as a widow can acceptably manage the affairs of her late husband, Anna could be the executor of her husband’s history. She does not credit herself with the act of choosing to write a history, but rather casts her authorial intentions as an act of devotion to her husband and to her father’s memory. By presenting herself as acting in fulfillment of her role as a dutiful wife and daughter, Anna softens the force of her authorial agency.

Anna thus creates a strong set of motivations for writing history that tactfully effaces her agency in choosing to write. By writing, Anna is rather responding to the needs of others. Anna’s self-presentation as writing only in response to the need to fight time, preserve the memory of her father’s deeds, and complete the work left to her by her husband, implicitly denies her agency in taking up the task of history. In this Anna is creating a particularly forceful instance of a fairly common rhetorical stance among Byzantine authors. Historians often speak of the pressing need to rescue the memory of (p.39) great deeds from time, and sometimes severely criticized the work of previous historians. Both stances provide external motivations pushing the author to write history.30

While in many respects Anna includes the standard elements for a twelfth-century historical prologue, she also includes elements that are jarring and inappropriate for history. Whereas the voice of the historian is dispassionate and detached, Anna expresses profound emotion when she describes her husband and her mourning at his passing. She then turns attention to herself and constructs herself as an object of extreme pity through claims to have suffered grievously.

The shift of focus from Anna’s historical work to her own person, and more particularly to her emotional suffering, constitutes a serious disruption of the historical genre she has just established for her text. In the final paragraphs of her prologue, Anna adopts a tragic voice and begins to spin a tale of woe, moving from praise of her deceased husband to her own life:

At these thoughts my soul becomes filled with vertigo and I wet my eyes with streams of tears. Oh! What a councilor is lost to the Romans. His accurate understanding of affairs that he garnered through experience! His knowledge of words! His varieties of wisdom, indeed both from abroad and from our own garden!31 Grace spread throughout his limbs and his appearance was not only worthy of royalty, as they say, but better and even divine. For my part, I have been conversant with terrible things since my birth in the purple as they say, and I have been assailed by ill fortunes, if one could reckon it not good and smiling fortune for me to be so born and a child of emperors and produced in the purple room. The rest full of waves! Full of turmoil! Orpheus moved stones and wood and even inanimate nature simply with his singing; Timotheos the flutist once playing the martial tune to Alexander and immediately moved the Macedonian to weapons and the sword. The narratives about me are not the subject for movement to weapons and battle, but would stir the hearer to tears, and not only a sensitive one, but would even force emotional suffering from inanimate nature.32

The tale of woe is a strategy for talking about oneself while being less obnoxious to Greek taste.33 Anna adopts it to a slightly different function. Anna’s presentation as an object of pity that could force emotion from a stone, asks for an entirely different emotional response from the audience than her initial claim to be a worthy historian. While her statement of credentials inspires respect, admiration, and quite possibly also jealousy and resentment, her presentation as a sufferer elicits pity, compassion, and condescension from the audience who are now rhetorically placed above the miserable Anna. Anna elaborates, not on the specifics of the injuries she says she has suffered, but on her widowed state and her mourning for her husband: (p.40)

The suffering about the Caesar and his unexpected death reached to my soul and wrought the depth of pain. I hold all the misfortunes coming before this terrible misfortune as but a drop of rain compared to the whole of the Atlantic or the waves of the Adriatic. Rather it seems they were the prelude, and the smoke from the furnace of this fire overwhelmed me, both this scorching heat of that unspeakable burning and the continuous flames of the unutterable funeral pyre. Oh! Fire that turns to ash without matter! Fire burning secretly! Burning, but yet not consuming! Parching the heart, yet appearing that we are not also burned; even though we receive fire-wounds until the division of bones and marrow from the soul.34

Here Anna becomes a poor and miserable widow left alone with memories. She aligns her behavior with an archetypal female object of pity and compassion. The proper social response to a widow is to offer care and sympathy. Anna’s presentation as pitiable widow is a play to shift the emotional response her historical work creates in her audience. In lamenting her misery, Anna is trying to elicit condescending sympathy from her audience.

The pity is necessary to offset the great imposition she has placed on her audience by asking them to listen to her narrate history. Within the few pages of her prologue, Anna makes her presentation as a miserable widow far more elaborate, explicit, and gripping than her presentation as an authoritative writer capable of participating in male traditions of political and historical discourse. As a woman able to write fine Attic Greek, Anna was a woman of education and wealth. Education and wealth were both signs and consequences of power within Byzantine society. In a simple sense, Anna could only be a powerful woman. In choosing to write history in the tradition of male Greek historiography, Anna was acting with power and authority. To make this authoritative action socially acceptable within her society, Anna needed to humble herself before her audience. She tried to do this by presenting herself as utterly miserable, pitiable, and bereft of husband, father, and family.

Anna does not narrate the entire Alexiad through the voice of the piteous widow. Expressions of emotional suffering that were typical parts of the presentation of widowhood have no place within the impersonal and emotionally disengaged discourse of history. At the end of the prologue she makes an explicit switch back to historical discourse:

But I perceive that my feelings have carried me away from what is needed. The Caesar stood by me and the mourning for him instilled great mourning for me. Now drying the tears from my eyes and recovering from my emotional suffering I will have double share of tears, according to the Tragedian, with misfortune recalling misfortune. … For to recall [Alexios] and bring his reign to the public is subject of (p.41) lamentation to me, and reminds others of their loss. Now one must begin the history of my father, where it is better to begin. Henceforth the narrative will be better, more clear and more historical.35

In promising that she has recovered from her sadness and will make her narrative “more historical,” Anna is clearly signaling that she is putting aside her emotional, female persona in order to write history. At this point we need to remember how tight the connection between expression of emotion and gender was in Anna’s culture. When Anna presented herself as overcome by sorrow, she was acting like a woman. When she presented herself as able to dispassionately write history, unaffected by her emotions, she was claiming the ability to master herself and act like a man.

Anna’s expressions of misery serve two functions in her prologue. First, they humble her before her audience and mitigate the self-aggrandizement inherent in her claim to be able to write history. Second, they present her as possessed of a normal female range of emotion, and hence a normal female nature. Anna seems eager to work within her culture’s construction of proper gender roles and avoid, if possible, being seen as an unnatural disruption to the social order. By showing that she is subject to normal female emotions, and by claiming the ability to control those emotions in order to write “more historically,” Anna casts herself as one of those extraordinary women who are able to occasionally transcend the weaknesses in their female nature in order to exercise masculine self-control.

In the prologue Anna shows her natural female emotion, but also her fine ability to exercise reason and her education. She places herself among philosophers and historians as people able to control emotion and exercise judgment. Through her tactful humility she presents herself as a good woman. She thus establishes herself as possessed of the skills, training, knowledge, and moral character necessary to be a reliable historian. (p.42)


(1.) Iordanis Grigoriadis, Linguistic and Literary Studies in the Epitome Historion of John Zonaras (Thessalonike: Center for Byzantine Research, 1998), 31.

(2.) See page 27.

(3.) See page 28.

(4.) See page 1617.

(5.) Alexiad, P.1.1.

(6.) Sophocles, Ajax 646–47. Modified translation of Richard C. Jebb, The Tragedies of Sophocles (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1904).

(7.) Alexiad, P.1.2.

(8.) Herodotus, 1.1, trans. A. D. Godley, Herodotus (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1920).

(9.) Thucydides, 1.1, trans. Richard Crawley, History of the Peloponnesian War (London, J.M. Dent: 1910).

(10.) John Duffy, “Hellenic Philosophy in Byzantium and the Lonely Mission of Michael Psellos,” in Byzantine Philosophy and Its Ancient Sources (Oxford: Clardenon Press, 2002), 139–56; Katerina Ierodiakonou and Dominic J. O’Meara, “Philosophies,” in The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies, ed. Elizabeth Jeffreys, John F. Haldon, and Robin Cormack, Oxford Handbooks (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 711–20.

(11.) Averil Cameron, The Byzantines (Malden: Blackwell, 2006), 133–45; Liz James, “The Role of Women,” in The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies, ed. Elizabeth Jeffreys, John F. Haldon, and Robin Cormack, Oxford Handbooks (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 646; Maria Mavroudi, “Learned Women of Byzantium and the Surviving Record,” in Byzantine Religious Culture: Studies in Honor of Alice-Mary Talbot, ed. Denis Sullivan, Elizabeth Fisher, and Stratis Papaioannou (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 53–84.

(12.) Alexiad, 12.3.3.

(13.) E. Kurtz, “[Monodies on Nikephoros Komnenos by Eustathios of Thessaloniki and Constantine Manasses],” Vizantiǐskiǐ Vremennik 16 (1922): 307.

(14.) On the Pythagorean tradition of female philosophers, see Sarah B. Pomeroy, Pythagorean Women: Their History and Writings (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013). I thank Anthony Kaldellis for bringing these precursors to Anna’s philosophical activity to my attention.

(15.) Iordanis Grigoriadis, Linguistic and Literary Studies in the Epitome Historion of John Zonaras (Thessalonike: Center for Byzantine Research, 1998), 42.

(16.) John Marincola, Authority and Tradition in Ancient Historiography (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 87.

(17.) Ibid. 89–90.

(18.) Ruth Macrides, “The Historian in the History,” in Filellen: Studies in Honour of Robert Browning (Venice: Instituto ellenico di studi bizantini e postbizantini di Venezia, 1996), 218.

(19.) Stratis Papaioannou, Michael Psellos: Rhetoric and Authorship in Byzantium (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 216.

(20.) Alexiad, P2.3.

(21.) Alexiad, P2.2.

(22.) Alexiad, P2.3.

(23.) She uses a phrase “οὐ γὰρ περιαυτολογία τὸ πρᾶγμα‎” from Psellos’s encomium for his mother. There Psellos askes that he not be blamed if he talks about himself on the grounds that doing so would not be a discourse about himself but about the causes of his mother’s virtue: “εἰ δέ τι καὶ περὶ ἐμαυτοῦ διηγοίμην, μεμφέσθω μηδείς, οὐ γὰρ περιαυτολογία τὸ πρᾶγμα, ἀλλ’ αἰτιολογία, ὅπῃ παρείκοι, τῶν τῆς μητρὸς καλῶν‎” ( Ugo Criscuolo, ed., Autobiografia: Encomio per La Madre: Michele Psello [Naples: M. D’Auria editore, 1989], lines 260–62). He again denies “περιαυτολογία‎” in the midst of self-description in Chronographia Book 6.46.11.

(24.) See page 27.

(25.) Alexiad, P1.1.

(26.) Alexiad, P1.2.

(27.) Alexiad, P2.1.

(28.) Alexiad, P3.3.

(30.) Aglae Pizzone, “Narrating Is Not for the Weak of Heart. Some Remarks on John Kaminiates’ Capture of Thessaloniki,” (Lecture, General Seminar of the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, University of Birmingham, October 27, 2011).

(31.) This may allude to Christian and pre-Christian philosophy.

(32.) Alexiad, P4.1.

(33.) Glenn W. Most, “The Stranger’s Stratagem. Self-Disclosure and Self-Sufficiency in Greek Culture,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 109 (1989): 114–33; Pizzone, “Kaminiates.”

(34.) Alexiad, P4.2.

(35.) Alexiad, P4.3.