LARISA VILIMONOVIĆ — Composition and peculiarities of Anna Komnene’s Alexiad

Composition and peculiarities of Anna Komnene’s Alexiad : the emergence of a personal history.

Larisa Vilimonović, Université de Belgrade

The research of the Komnenian dynasty period presents an ever tempting subject for each Byzantine scholar. Nowadays, Byzantine scholars interested in 12th century, cannot start their inquiry  without turning towards works of F. Chalandon, C. Diehl, J. Darrouzès (to name just a few), who gave a great and everlasting contribution to the research of Byzantine 12th century. Since the beginning of 20th century, up to this time, a lot of research has been done in the field of Komnenian dynasty. This question quite early became a problematic of international interest. Today, we have reached a point where all famous and important research centers for Byzantine studies in the world work on this subject and publish papers and books in the field of Byzantine 12th century history. And even though the publication is immense, we are still left with some questions that are not answered.

Such question is the Alexiad of Anna Komnene, one of the most broadly used of all byzantine sources, but still not fully investigated, merely understood or even partially explained.  Until recently, the Alexiad was used usually as a main source for the time of Alexios I Komnenos, as a history, and not as a literary work, what was actually its main purpose. To serve not as a didactic work, but as an entertainment for byzantine elite in the time of leisure. But this entertainment should not be understood in nowadays terms. It was more or less leisure time when byzantine elite practiced its rhetoric and its « paideia », which meant not only superficial exercise of one’s opulent erudition, but also an exercise of personal and political power which was custom in the time of the 12th century Byzantine Constantinople and it’s famous « theatra ».

Understood in the terms of 12th century when it was written, and not in the terms of Alexios Komnenos’ reign, the Alexiad emerges as ambiguous, arguable and enigmatic source. It has a lot to say about its writer and Anna Komnene’s personal and intimate world. Anna Komnene appears in her own literary work as a protagonist, in a role which she ascribed to herself with a clear and defined intention to praise herself and defend all her imperial rights of which she was deprived after the death of her father and emperor.