Some Remarks on the Alexias by Anna Comnenos, the "Decima Musarum"
Keywords: Decima Musarum, Anna Comnenos, Alexias, 1651, Paris, Latin
As intimated by the title of the biography, the Byzantine emperor Alexios (Comnenos) himself (r. A.D. 1081-1118) is the subject of Alexias. Authored by his daughter, Anna (1083-1144), the Alexias discloses in full detail the emperor's personality, political strategy and actions. An important source for Byzantine historiography, the Alexias has, particularly since the Renaissance, been widely read in the West and published in various editions in the original Greek or in Latin translation. By virtue of her flowing and poetic prose style, vivid description and emotional judgments, Anna Comnenos possesses the capacity to exert a strong impression on her readers. For instance, the Jesuit humanist Pierre Possin in the dedication to his Latin translation published in 1651 identifies Anna Comnenos with the muses of classical mythology and calls her the "Tenth Muse." The Alexias also bears great significance for Turkish history. Topics of pertinence touched upon are: the Turkic conquest of Anatolia as far as İznik (Nicæa); the reign of Kılıdj Arslan I (A.D. 1092-1107), ruler of the Seljuqs of Rum; Turkic leaders, such as Chaka (Tzakhas) Beg, Tutush, Abu'l-Kasim and Sulayman Shah; the policy followed by Alexios against the Seljuqs; and the military units of Pecheneg and Kıpchak Turks in the Byzantine army. Yet, in her exposition and judgments, Anna Comnenos is far from being consistent, sound and reliable-exaggerated, biased and contradictory observations occupy a prominent place in her work. Utilization of the Alexias as a source for Turkish history, therefore, requires a critical and cautious stance on the part of the scholar.