My son's school had a two-for-one bookfair last night and the rest of this week. Being out of Lent and always drawn by the lure of books anyway, we went, hoping to find treasures that would sustain us for years to come.
And indeed, we did. The one thing I wanted to share here was a curious little item by Tracy Barrett titled Anna of Byzantium. So, children and young adults can now read about the author of "The Alexiad" against whom the 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia had this to say:
. . . a true Byzantine she looks on the Crusades only from the narrow and selfish standpoint of Constantinople, and detests soundly all Latins. The chronology is defective. She loves to describe scenes of splendour, great state-actions, audiences, and feasts, whatever is concrete and picturesque. Nor is she adverse to satire, court gossip, and detraction. Profounder matters, financial, military, and constitutional, escape her purview. Withal, however, Krumbacher calls it "one of the most remarkable efforts of medieval Greek historiography", the first notable production of the medieval Greek Renaissance set afoot by Psellos and powerfully furthered by the family of the Princess. She strains in her vocabulary for an Attic elegance, though construction and style betray too often the distance between her and the models (Thucydides and Polybius) whom she aims at imitating. She avoids, as unfit for the pen of an historian, uncouth foreign names and vulgar terms. Her studied precision in the matter of hellenizing causes her pages to take on a kind of mummy-like appearance when compared with the vigorous, living Greek of contemporary popular intercourse.
Whether true or not, it partakes of "sour grapes." Nevertheless the cover of this book portrays Anna with a halo, suggesting sainthood. Given that she tried to have her brother John assassinated and, along with her coconspirator and mother, was sent into exile in a convent where she wrote "The Alexiad," I would suggest that the halo was a bit overmuch. However, the thought that the children's market could see a place for a book like this is very encouraging indeed.
For those interested here is a place that you can read "The Alexiad" online. (By the way it is an 15 book epic about her father Alexius I. Oh, and John, though homely, was called John the Beautiful and well beloved of his Byzantine subjects for all the good works that he did.)
(Aren't you just tickled that you read this blog and come up with so many useful fragments of information? Blogs are a nearly infinite source of the world's most useless trivia. Where else would you have heard about the Alexiad? No, really, tell me. . .)