Byzantine princess Anna Komnene is known for two things: plotting to murder her brother to usurp the throne, and writing the Alexiad, an epic history of her father Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118) that is a key historical source for the era of the First Crusade. Anna Komnene: the Life and Work of a Medieval Historian investigates the relationship between Anna's self-presentation in the Alexiad and the story of her bloodthirsty ambition. It begins by asking why women did not write history in Anna's society, what cultural rules Anna broke by doing so, and how Anna tried to respond to those challenges in her writing. Many of the idiosyncrasies and surprises of Anna's Alexiad are driven by her efforts to be perceived as both a good historian and a good woman. These new interpretations of Anna's authorial persona then spark a thorough re-thinking of the standard story which defines Anna's life by the failure of her supposed political ambitions. The second half of this work reviews the medieval sources with fresh eyes and re-establishes Anna's primary identity as an author and intellectual rather than as a failed conspirator.
Leonora Neville is the John W. and Jeanne M. Rowe Professor of Byzantine History at the University of Wisconsin Madison and author most recently of Heroes and Romans in Twelfth-Century Byzantium.
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