Anna Comnena, Preface

Flowing, time unrestrained and ever-moving checks and differentiates all things in creation and drowns them in the depths of obscurity, where there are both things which deserve not to be spoken of and great matters worthy of memory; and it even begets things unseen, like the tragedian says, and hides that which is visible. But actually the story of history becomes the strongest defense against the flow of time, and in a way sets up time’s irresistible flow as well as all other things subject to it; as many as its tale has tied up it holds and binds together and does not permit them to vanish into the depths of being forgotten. And after coming to realize these facts, I — Anna, daughter of sovereigns Alexius and Irene, was both born and raised in the purple, being somewhat experienced in letters, and even eager to carry my Greecianization to the utmost — I am not ignorant of rhetoric: I read the works of Aristotle and Plato’s dialogues, having enwrapt my mind in the four-tiered form of knowledge (since it is necessary to swear these things are real and no bragging in fact, as many as nature and my zeal for knowledge have given me; which God arranged from the beginning and time brought as well.) I want this, my writing, to recount the deeds, my father’s, that are not worthy of being betrayed to silence, nor held back in the flow of time as though into the sea of no recollection, both all the deeds he practiced after taking the scepter and as many actions, before taking the crown, as he performed for other royal personages. And I am going to relate these actions, not as a display of my training in discourses, but that so great a matter not be left without testimony for generations to come, since even the greatest works are consumed by the darkness of silence unless they be guarded in a sense by words and handed down to memory. For my father knew, as matters themselves proved to be, how to rule and obey, to the necessary extent, the authorities. But by even mentioning his acts in writing, I am afraid of suspicion and conniving both, that someone at some time might argue she is writing in praise of her own affairs and not my father’s, and entirely falsely think that the matter of history and praise are incommensurate — if I should be a bit impressed with that man’s accomplishments. But certainly if he himself undertook it he would also do violence to the matter, so that some of that man’s actions might be a bit blamed, not on his account, but by the nature of the matter. — I am afraid again that the disbelievers will bring up Noah’s son Ham for me, all of them looking at it wrong in relation to everyone and not seeing aright because of malice and envy: they, as Homer said, blame one blameless. Because when someone takes up the character of history, it is often necessary to forget affection and enmity, and to decorate their enemies with the greatest praise, when the deeds merit this, and as often needed to question one’s most familiar relations when the errors of their practices demand this: that is why one must not fail to blame one’s loved ones nor praise one’s enemies. I would reconcile both these men and those, the ones attacked by us and those on our side, with the events themselves and those who witnessed matters by consulting with them and the facts. Some of them are still alive; some of their contemporaries have become fathers, others — grandfathers. In particular, I came to the story of the deeds of my father from the following causes: I had a husband, joined according to the laws, Caesar Nicephorus, an offshoot of the Bryenni, a man whose superior beauty, quickness of wit and pinpoint manner of reasoning, speech far surpassed that of his contemporaries. I mean, he was a marvel to see and hear. So that my explanation not get off track, let us get hold of what comes next right now: so, he was incredibly conspicuous among all, and went on campaign with John the Emperor, my brother, when he waged an attack on other foreign peoples, and what is more, he made an advance against Syria, and re-took the city of Antioch by law. But Caesar certainly did not know how to dismiss the written word either at times of toil or trouble and he even wrote some various things worthy of memory and mention; but he especially liked to write about the affairs of Alexius — the autocrat of Romans; and he wrote about my father by the Queen’s command and set the deeds of his kingdom in books whenever the proper time gave him a brief break from weapons and war to look over his compositions and certain wordy labors. What is more, he began the writing by taking up the story from the times that came before, even in this particular obeying the order of the Queen; he started from the time of Diogenes, the Romans’ Emperor, going down to Alexius himself, about whom he had formed an intention: because, at the time, even time held my father in bloom of youth as a young boy. But with respect to matters before this, he was not yet a boy and did nothing worthy of writing about, unless one set a speech of praise out of his childhood. Caesar’s goal was such as the writing of this man asserts. Indeed, disappointed of his hope, he did not finish the history completely; rather, he brought the tale down to the times of the Emperor Nicephorus Botaniates and at that point left its writing, — opportunity giving no time to improve the writing further, — both doing great harm to the deeds which concerned his writing, and robbing his readers of enjoyment. On account of this myself, I elected to compose as many things as my father did, so that such noble deeds not escape future generations. What sort of pleasing note it hits, and however much favor the words of Caesar retain, do all familiar with the historical writings of that man know for certain. But before coming to this, just as I said, he outlined the composition, brought it back to us half-finished from abroad; brought back also, I imagine, a deadly disease from the unlimited suffering, the uncomfortable campaigns, and from his untold concern over us. His concern was innate and its toils were relentless, and in addition there were also extremes of weather that mixed his lethal cup of poison. He did go on expedition to Syria; and then Syria handed him over, still sick, to the people of Cilicia — the Cilicians giving him up to the Pamphylians, Pamphylians to the Lydians and Lydia to Bithynia; Bithynia to the Queen of cities and to us: yet in a state of suffering from the intense agony. Although he was this weakened, he still wanted to play his own tragedian in the events that befell him, on the one hand being a bit sick, and incapable of it — on the other, we prevented it a bit in fear that he might open up the ache by thinking aloud. I have just fallen into a dizziness, my mind, and I am blind in my eyes for the rivulets of tears. Oh what a counselor did Constantinople lose in him, his insightful experience about real events and as much as that man was destined for; knowledgeable about words, stories and multi-faceted in wisdom, — I mean for sure his awareness of foreign places, as well as our own court! Oh, even the grace running throughout his features and form so unlike a tyrant, as some do say… but his appearance was both more powerful and divine. Therefore, I got used to many different conversations with danger ever since my birth in and from the purple, so to speak: I got used to less than great fortune; unless someone supposed it is not a great fate that was smiling upon me, and Royalty itself; and having as sovereigns who begat me, and the purple upon which I was implanted; since the rest is sadly just storms and, how sad, revolutions. Orpheus, by singing, moved stones and woods, quite simply inanimate nature; but Timotheus the flutist played a popular Athenian tune once for Alexander, and moved Macedon to weapons immediately brandishing his sword: but the part about the narrative according to me is an irrelevant motion, not to take arms and fight, but that it would move the listener to tears and compel not only a perceptual reader, but even one who has no soul, to feeling. However, my grief for Caesar and the unexpected death that befell him have put my soul down and brought about a painful descent into the depths. And I consider the previous misfortunes in relation to this insatiable disaster as the wave in relation to the entire Atlantic, or the billows of the Adriatic Sea. But rather, so it seems, those things were the preface to these matters; and the smoke from the heat of this fire, and that which burns with an unspeakable blaze, and that burning smoke of the unfed fire and the daily sparks of the unspeakable pyre fill me with anxiety. Dear fuelless fire reducing to ashes, oh fire born as a torch among mysteries and burning, you torch even the heart without burning it, provide the appearance that we are not scorched; though we receive it unto the charring of bones and marrow and cleaving of soul. However, I perceive that I have let my feelings carry me away from my subject, even Caeser who knew me and the grief for Caesar have set me up for resounding pain. So therefore having wiped the flowing of my eyes and continuing with my experiences in order I will have, as the tragedian says, the advantage — double tears, like she who remembers the unfortunate event of a disaster. Since with respect to the placement of a theme in the face of such a King, who was so great, is to recall him in relation to virtue and the marvels accomplished through that man; though it also brings me to warming tears to weep along with my household in its entirety. But to recollect that man and bring his Kingdom to the forefront is the theme of my lamentation, and a memory of others’ loss. Now at this point the history of my father’s story must begin, from here it is best to start: better to start from where the account will be more clear and historical.


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