The agreeable eye

an eudæmonistarchives

Byzantine Biographers

Reading the Alexiad (or life of the Byzantine emperor, Alexius Comnenus), which was written by his daughter, Anna Comnena, when she was an old woman. She describes everything homerically, from the Odysseus-like Alexius, to his Nausicaa-bride, Irene; and Robert of Lombardy, his foe during the first few books, is obviously nothing more (or less) than a double-eyed Polyphemus. I like this description of the Empress Eudocia:

The Gorgon’s head, so they say, turned men who saw her to stone, but a man who saw the empress walking, or who suddenly met her, was stupefied, rooted to the spot where he happened to be and speechless, apparently deprived in that one moment of all feeling and reason. Such was the proportion and perfect symmetry of her body, each part in harmony with the rest, that no one till then had ever seen its like among human kind—a living work of art, an object of desire to lovers of beauty. She was indeed Love incarnate, visiting as it were this earthly world (3.ii).

The main problem with the Alexiad, so far as I can see (I mean, aside from the obvious biases and blatant glorification of the ‘good’ people and vilification of the ‘bad’) is a lack of elephants during the battle scenes. Any good battle scene worth the name ‘pre-modern warfare’ should have elephants.


ego hoc feci mm–MMXXIV · cc 2000–2024 M.F.C.