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Deconstructing the narrative, constructing a meaning: Why was the Alexiad written?



In the present article I offer a narratological approach to Byzantine historiography and an aim to elucidate the key elements of narrative theory that would be useful for investigating medieval Byzantine histories and their complex narrative structures. The focus is put on the key narratological aspects - genre, author, text and the audience - as those elements represent the core of literary criticism and contemporary studies of Byzantine literature. Through useful examples from the Alexiad, I intend to show how this theoretical vehicle functions and I hope to open a new field of scholarly communication on the matter of approach towards Byzantine historiography.
Зборник радова Византолошког института LII, 2015
Zbornik radova Vizantološkog instituta LII, 2015
UDC: 821.14'04.09:929"10/11"
DOI: 10.2298/ZRVI1552207V
University of Belgrade – Faculty of Philosophy
In the present article I oer a narratological approach to Byzantine historiography
and an aim to elucidate the key elements of narrative theory that would be useful for in-
vestigating medieval Byzantine histories and their complex narrative structures. e focus
is put on the key narratological aspects – genre, author, text and the audience – as those
elements represent the core of literary criticism and contemporary studies of Byzantine lit-
erature. rough useful examples from the Alexiad, I intend to show how this theoretical
vehicle functions and I hope to open a new eld of scholarly communication on the matter
of approach towards Byzantine historiography.
Keywords: Alexiad, history, genre, narrative theory, narratology, Anna Komnene,
e venturous title of this paper might recall the basic concept of Derridas
poststructuralist theory about the elusive nature of terms that can never be dened
in their own right, but only with a help of other terms, in a process that devoid us of
their core.
us the reading of a narrative turns out to be just a single interpretation
out of innumerable readings. We would not go that far to accept the impossibility of
readings, but we would agree that there is a considerable amount of diérance
Derrida, Grammatology, 42-44. is theory was actually a product of Ferdinand de Saussures
theory on semiology, who was considered as the mastermind of the structuralism. For his main ideas see
Saussure, General Linguistics
is term was used for the rst time by Jacques Derrida in 1963, and was further elaborated in
his Grammatology‘, where he discussed on the history of the idea of the sign. For further reading on the
concept of dierence between readings see Derrida, Grammatology; Idem, Writing and Dierence, 353-
356; IdemDiérance.“
ЗРВИ LII (2015) 207–235
happens in any interpretation. is theory is conveniently applicable for the reading
of Byzantine sources since it mostly consists of our eorts to understand gures and
tropes used in search for an inner meaning of a text. Deconstructive readings
on the unavoidable concept of misreading and deviations from the text and its true
meaning. What is even more helpful for our approach is that ‘narrative texts and nar-
rative theories exist only in persistent dialogue
and that ‘literary commentary may
cross the line and become as demanding as literature. ese two needs should come
to the fore in our readings of Byzantine literature – a persistent scholarly dialog and
an incessant literary commentary that further develop and contribute to theoretical
discussions on Byzantine literary heritage.
I have intentionally used the question mark as an indicator of a query which I
pose to myself and simultaneously to the audience I am addressing in an intention to
initiate a theoretical discussion. How can we apply narratology, that is, the what and
the how of narration, in our search of the true meaning of a text? Is there a possibility
to reach the true meaning or do we only provide innumerable interpretations of the
texts we deal with? Can literary criticism help us in the unication of various interpre-
tations? How do our cognitive abilities inuence our interpretations and what are the
dierences of text readings in our own modern terms, and their own medieval ones?
e Poststructuralist thought denies the possibility of understanding terms in
their essential, truthful meaning and some of them went so far as to deny the possi-
bility of a reading a text, stating that metaphors are dened through metaphors and
that the only chance we have is to produce an ‘allegory of reading.
is theory would
lead us to chaos of meanings and interpretations, had not there been a whole rhe-
torical system that helped with understanding the Greek ways of narrative concep-
tions. Luckily, there are ancient rhetorical exercises, called progymnasmata, that were
produced as manuals for prose compositions and were taught in grammar schools.
us, the remnants of the ancient Greek educational system, preliminary rhetorical
exercises, represent a cornerstone in our narrative deconstruction. ese manuals
provide a handful of terms and their meanings. In addition to this, we have also ex-
tended the rhetorical corpuses that encompass a vast array of rhetorical manuals: On
Method, On Ideas, On Invention, On Staseis.
As for the Byzantines themselves, and
Deconstructive readings are mainly the work of Jacques Derrida and the Yale circle that was
particular for their approach to narrative. e following work is considered as their manifesto - Man, Der-
rida, Hartman, and Hillis Miller, Deconstruction and Criticism
Herman, Jahn, Ryan, Narrative eory, 160
e most helpful recent publications on progymnasmata are Kennedy, Progymnasmata and
Gibson, Libanius‘ Progymnasmata.
As for Hermogenic corpus there is a general introduction to various rhetorical treatises in
Kennedy, Greek Rhetoric, 54-103; He had also published two rhetorical treatises On Invention and On
LARISA VILIMONOVIĆ: Deconstructing the narrative, constructing a meaning...
us nowadays, the most important corpuses were those from the time of the Second
Sophistic, that is, Hermogenes’ and Aphtonius’ corpuses.
anks to these corpuses,
and the literary legacy of the Second Sophistic, we are able to come quite close to the
concepts of ‘true’ meanings of important rhetorical terms we come across in our read-
ing of Byzantine sources.
e next stance of Derridas thought claims that terms can only be explained
with other terms, which inevitably lead us to the process of dening the meaning with
the help of other terms, and in this respect, we face a phenomenon of intertextuality,
which is absolutely inevitable when we deal with Byzantine literature. What was pop-
ularly perceived as a method of mimesis in Byzantine literary compositions brought
up a serious amount of allegations about the value and originality of Byzantine texts,
and especially Byzantine histories. And although Byzantine historiography is con-
stantly being reassessed,
we face very similar conclusions that usually emphasise
their classical heritage, their mimetic mannerism and reliance or non-reliance upon
their historical facticity. Because of this stumbling stone, I suggest a turn towards
narratology in approach to Byzantine sources with special focus on the following nar-
ratological aspects:
• Genreanditsboundaries
• Authorandtext
• Distinctionbetweenstoryanddiscourse
• Audience–synchronicanddiachronicreading
It seems that no discussion about Byzantine literature can start without turning
rst to the matter of genre and its importance for our reading and interpretation of
Byzantine sources.
A genre has its twofold, synchronic and diachronic importance,
although modern theories prevail upon the notion that genre was mostly important
for modern scholars and their tendency to systematise a diverse compound of lit-
erature into useful and manageable categories.
In regard to histories, which is of
prime concern for us, Byzantines themselves were highly aware of the genre in which
they wrote and they insisted upon the established rules that prevailed for this specic
sort of prose composition.
As for Anna Komnene, the matter of genre was of prime
Method and supplied them with an extensive commentary. See Kennedy, Invention and Method
Rabe, Hermogenis Opera; Idem Aphthonii
e most important recent collaborative projects in the eld of Byzantine historiography Odor-
ico, Agapitos, Pour une „nouvelle“ histoire; Odorico, La littérarité de l‘historiographie; Burke et al, Byzan-
tine Narrative; Macrides, History as Literature; Nilsson, Raconter Byzance
Mullett, Madness; Nilsson, Archaists and Innovators
On genre theory see Fowler, Kinds of Literature; Todorov, Genres in Discourse, Genette, e
Architext: Du, Modern Genre
Here again one should refer to the rhetorical manuals for prose compositions.
ЗРВИ LII (2015) 207–235
importance, since a signicant part of her programme was dedicated to her expo-
sition of the explicit rules of a history, and the ways, patterns and limitations of the
presupposed genre.
Nevertheless, we should not fall into Anna Komnenes trap and
dene her work as a genre-static history. ere are other forms of prose compositions,
apart from diegesis and diegema that we come across in the multifaceted surface of
Anna Komnenes narrative.
Here we think of the various encomia and invectives
that are woven into the main body of the historical narrative, but apart from these
smaller groups of rhetorical compositions we come across, I argue the existence of the
two basilikoi logoi in the story of Alexios’ deeds. One is the panegyric for the emperor
Alexios and other one is for Anna Komnene herself.
Annas main concern on the matter of genre was to stand by the rules of history
and to avoid slipping into various encomia. e keywords that function as codes of
her genre are history (ἱστορία) and truth (λήθεια) , which are in direct opposition to
encomion (ἐγκώμιον) or self-praise (περιαυτολογία) and falsehood (ψεῦδος). Anna
states that she is writing according to the law of rhetoric (νόμος ητορικός) which
refers to the rules for prose compositions, and to the presupposed necessities of his-
torical diegesis that include an agent in temporal and spatial setting, an action and
manner of action and cause or motive (αἰτία), and are arranged according to the rule
of history (θεσμὸς ἱστορίας) that is inextricably connected with the truth. Anna deals
with it in the following way:
Βut here again I must deprecate being censured on the score that I am caught
bragging (τ
ι περιαυτολογοῦσα καταλαμβάνομαι); for in my defense I have several
times said that it is not love for my father that suggests these remarks, but the nature
of the circumstances. For does anything, in the name of truth itself ρὸς τῆς άληθείας
αὐτῆς), prevent a person being fond of his father (φιλοπάτορα) and fond of truth also
(φιλαλήθη)? for I have chosen to write a truthful history (τἀληθῆ) and that of a good
man; but if that man happens to be the father of the historian, let the fathers name be
added to it as a mere appendage; but the history must be dedicated to natural truth (τῇ
δὲ φύσει τῆς ἀληθείας ἀνακείσθω τὸ σύγγραμμα). In other matters I have declared my
love for my father and by so doing have sharpened the spears and whetted the swords
of the ill-disposed against myself, as all those know who are acquainted with the facts
of my life. But in shaping my history I would certainly not betray the truth (οὐ μὴν ἐν
τῆς ἱστορίας χρήματι καταπροδοίην ἂν τὴν ἀλήθειαν). ere is a time for showing
love to a father (ἄλλος μὲν γὰρ καιρὸς ἐστὶν εὐνοίας πατρικῆς) (and at such time I
have shown courage) and another time when truth is the main consideration (ἕτερος δ
is was treated as a specic phenomenon in Kambylis, Zum Programm, 127-146.. e same
applies to two recent studies: Stanković, Lest we forget, 59-65; In relation to Bryennios‘ Material for His-
tory, Станковић, Увод у Материјал историје, 137-147; I have dealt with this issue in my doctoral thesis,
Vilimonov, Aleksijada Ane Komnin, 22-36.
On various kinds of rhetorical forms that are embedded into historical narratives see Vili-
monović, Aleksijada Ane Komnin, 36-54
Vilimonov, Aleksijada Ane Komnin,79-107; 120-123
LARISA VILIMONOVIĆ: Deconstructing the narrative, constructing a meaning...
καιρὸς ἀληθείας) and now since that time has fallen my way, I cannot regard it lightly.
But if, as I have said, this time also combines to show me fond of my father, I do not fear
mens censure for having suppressed the truth ὰ τῆς ἀληθείας ἐπηλυγάσαι). However
my story must now go back to its subject.
is metanarrative comments
about rules and distinctions of the historical gen-
re, which Anna claims to respect, is very important for our understanding of the Byz-
antine conceptions of history. Contrary to the modern disputes on the impossibility of
grasping the ultimate historical truth, in the 12
century, historical writing was inter-
mittently interconnected with the idea of the truth, wherefore the author/narrator was
the ultimate holder of the truth that was being revealed in her/his writing, which had to
be in the form of a history. As Anna stresses through her word ploys, the word history
is inherent with the truth, wherefore the writer purports to have an epistemic role in his
or her communication with the audience. And genre serves precisely for the purposes
of communicating a certain agenda through the established forms and categories of
which the aimed audience was already cognisant. Choosing a history as a presupposed
genre of writing, Anna emphasised the ultimate truthfulness of her writing, which, in
her case, had signicant political weight. e most important are her omissions and
silences about the role and place of her brother John in the time of Alexios’ reign.
Her distorted historical perspective had been moulded, throughout the whole narrative,
with abundant metanarrative comments which were in the greatest part dedicated to
her explanations of the rules of history, to her self-conscious lapses in the course of her
narrative, and to the excurses that were contrary to the rhetorical rules of diegetic prose
compositions, but which she intentionally stressed she was aware of.
As Anna puts it, history has its own nature (τὴν φύσιν τῆς ἱστορίας) and it func-
tions as an entity that dictates specic forms to authors for articulating their narrative
and managing the structure and composition of a text. is nature of history hinders
the authors to express their emotions and include pathos in their creative activity.
Apart from nature, history also has its character, ethos, a word that alludes to an on-
tological feature. In Anna Komnenes case, her greatest struggle was to avert from the
pathos for her beloved ones, since it leads her astray in the construction of a historical
narrative. In her metanarrative utterances she presented herself as a self-conscious
writer that was able to handle all the aggravating circumstances of her closeness to the
protagonists which could menace the form of history which she chose as a mould for
telling a story.
For English translation of the Alexiad, I refer to Elizabeth Dawes’ edition, although I make
some textual emendations, when I nd them necessary for the more precise context. Since my reading and
analysis is based on the Reinschs critical edition of the Alexiad, I quote his edition and use Greek excerpts
from it – Alexias XV 3,4 (40.56), 468
On metanarrative comments see Herman, Jahn, Ryan, Narrative eory, 423. A recent study on
Herodotus is very useful for the application of this narratological aspect in interpretation of the ancient
histories, Vignolo Munson, Telling Wonders, 20-44
For Anna Komnenes omissions see Leib, Les silences, passim; Stanković, John II Komnenos;
Vilimonov, Aleksijada Ane Komnin, 272- 275
ЗРВИ LII (2015) 207–235
A writer, in the composition of a history, should respect the following patterns:
HISTORY/ (ἱστορία)
e nature of history (φύσιν τῆς
ἱστορίας) – opposed to natural love
(ἡ φυσικὴ στοργή)
Τὸ πάθ
ος τὸ πατρικὸν
e character of history (τὸ τῆς
ἱστορίας θ
ος) – to laud the enemies
and blame the ones that are close
3. e rule of history (θεσμὸς τῆς
TRUTH (λήθεια) BOASTING (κολακεία),
LIE (ψεῦδος)
BARE FACTSυμνὰ τὰ πράγματα
(ῥητορεία κομψή)
is thumbnail sketch helps us to discern the basic conceptions of history as seen
through the eyes of a 12
century Constantinopolitan writer. History has its own nature,
character and ordinance, it is devoted to the truth and conveys bare facts. ese are the
main features that denote an ontological entity, especially the word nature, which is jux-
taposed with natural love and natural aection. Anna elaborates further:
And truly when writing this, partly from the nature of history and partly because
of the extravagance of the events, I forgot that it was my fathers deeds that I was describ-
ing. In my desire to make my history free from suspicion, I oen treat my father’s doings
in a cursory way, neither amplifying them nor investing them with sentiment (πάθος
περιτιθεῖσα). Would that I had been free and released from this love of my father (τοῦ
πάθους τούτου το πατρικοῦ), in order that I might have, as it were, laid hold upon
the rich material and shown the licence of my tongue, how much at home it is in noble
deeds. But now my zeal is hampered by my natural love (ἡ φυσικὴ στοργή), for I should
not like to aord the public a suspicion that in my eagerness to speak about my relations
I am serving them with fairy tales! Indeed very oen I recall my father’s successes, but I
could have wept my life away in tears when recording and describing the many ills that
befell him, and it is not without monody and lament (ἄνευ μονῳδίας καὶ θρήνου) that
I transgress this subject. And to prevent the elegant rhetoric (ῥητορεία κομψή) from
corrupting this part of my history, I pass lightly over my fathers misadventures, as if
I were an insensible piece of adamant or stone [...] However, let my fathers woes be a
subject of marvel and lamentation to me alone (τὸ μὲν πάθος τὸ πατρικὸν ἐμοὶ μόνῃ
καταλελείφθω καὶ θαυμάζειν καὶ ὀλοφύρεσθαι), and let us proceed with our history (τὰ
δὲ τῆς ἱστορίας ἐχέσθω).
Alexias IV 8,1 (72.91), 139
LARISA VILIMONOVIĆ: Deconstructing the narrative, constructing a meaning...
We have φύσις, θος and θεσμός in opposition to the πάθος that pertains to
another generic category precisely dened in the Alexiad. Pathos is the main feature
of an encomion (ἐγκώμιον) or of a monody (μονῳδία), and it is not suited for a proper
history. e antagonism between history and encomion is not an occurrence of the
century. It was stressed in a Lucians detailed manual on how to write a proper
history, where he wrote:
Βetween history and panegyric there is a great gulf xed, barring communication
[...] e panegyrist has only one concern--to commend and gratify his living theme some
way or other; if misrepresentation will serve his purpose, he has no objection to that.
History, on the other hand, abhors the intrusion of any least scruple of falsehood.
is important literary trait was deeply rooted in the long tradition of histor-
ical prose compositions, where we come across the main postulates, such as not to
commingle history and panegyric, to stick to the truth when writing a history, and
to attain brevity (συντομία), clarity (σαφήνεια) and plausibility (πιθανότης).
shows her awareness of these crucial literary features of historical genre precisely in
her metanarrative comments. A summary of main categories of Annas self-reective
utterances would look like this:
• she is writing (συγγράψασθαι προειλόμην/ διηγήσασθαι/ διὰ τῆςδέ μου τῆς
γραφῆς) a history ( γε λόγος ὁ τῆς ἱστορίας) and telling a story (παραμυθησαί-
μην/ τὰ δέ γε κατ ἐμὲ διηγήματα)
• sheisawareofheraudience(τοῖς ἀναγινώσκουσι/ τὸν ἀκροατὴν) and com-
municates with them (ἀρκτέον τοίνυν ἐνθένδε τῆς ἱστορίας τοὐμοῦ πατρός,
εν καὶ ἄρχεσθαι ἄμεινον- ἄμεινον δὲ θεν σαφέστερός τε καὶ ἱστορικώτερος
ὁ λόγος γενήσεται)
• sheinterruptsherstorywithcertainepisodes(ἀλλά τι μικρὸν παραδιηγήσομαι/
καὶ ἵνά τι βραχὺ παραδράμωμεν τοῦ λόγου τῆς ἱστορίας μικρὸν ἀποστάντες
μικρὸν δὲ ἐνταῦθα τὴν τοῦ λόγου διήγησιν διακόψασα, πω
ς καὶ τοὺς Παυλικι-
άνους κατηγωνίσατο, διηγήσομαι
• andshereturnstothemainsubject(ἀλλξετραπόμην τοῦ λόγου/ ἐπανελεύσο-
μαι δαθ
ις ἀφ΄οπερ ἐξετραπόμην)
• sherecallsamemoryofheraudience(πρὸς ἄνωθεν εἰρημένον/ καθάπερ ἄνω-
θεν ερη
ὡς οὐ στεν τ ἰσθμ διώρισται καὶ διατετείχισται ἡ ἱστορία πρὸς τὸ ἐγκώμιον [...] ε γε τ
μὲν ἐγκωμιάζοντι μόνου ἑνὸς μέλει, ὁπωσοῦν ἐπαινέσαι καὶ εὐφρᾶναι τὸν ἐπαινούμενον, καὶ εἰ ψευσα-
μένῳ ὑπάρχει τυχεῖν τοῦ τέλους, ὀλίγον ἂν φροντίσειεν: ἡ δὲ οὐκ ἄν τι ψεῦδος ἐμπεσὸνἡ ἱστορία, οὐδὲ
ἀκαριαῖον ἀνάσχοιτο - Lucian, Hist. Conscr. 7
Προγυμνάσματα retora Aonija, 179
Alexias Prologos 4,3 (37.39), 10
Alexias V 9,3 (56.57), 165; VI 7,2 (7.8), 181
Alexias VI 2,1 (63.64), 170
Alexias I 12,4 (93.94), 40
ЗРВИ LII (2015) 207–235
• sheremindstheaudienceofthepreviouslymentionedcharacters,(ὁ νεανίσκος,
περὶ ο
κἀνταῦθα καὶ ἀλλαχόσε εἰρήκειμεν/ ὡς προϊὼν ὁ λόγος σαφέστερον
• shealarmstheaudiencewhenthereisaslightpossibilityoftransgressingthe
law of history (λλος μὲν ον νόμοις ἐγκωμιαστικοῖς ὑπείκων πατρίδα τῆς θαυ-
μασίας ἐκείνης μητρὸς ἐπαινείτω καὶ γένος [...], ἐμοὶ δὲ ἱστορίαν ξυγγραφούσῃ
[...] ὁπόσον ὁ τῆς ἱστορίας ὑποτίθεται λόγος)
• shecommentsonthesourcesofherinformationαῦτα ἐγὼ ἐκείνου διηγουμέ-
νου πολλάκις κ
ese traits denote that her deections in storytelling are deliberate, and they are
a strong communicative means between the author and the audience and a sign of her
assertion that she is writing in a genre that has its established rules and requirements. It
was not enough for Anna Komnene to dene the form of her narrative in the Prologue
of her work. She had to communicate with her audience continuously through her nar-
rative on the matter of her genre, and to assert her authorial self-consciousness with the
help of her self-reective utterances. Metanarrative comments are crucial proof of just
how important genre was to a Byzantine author. Genre was a form of conveying specic
messages within a specic category to which text can be assigned, a history. Emphasis
that Anna put on the ‘historicity’ of her narration designated her storytelling as a trans-
mission of the truth.
is further implicates that all embellishments, distortions and
omissions are intentional and part of her political agenda.
Anna Komnene proclaimed that she was writing a history, but every modern
reader would certainly be aware of the generic complexity of the Alexiad. Anna was
aware of this generic aspect, and this can be seen in several episodes: when she was try-
ing to avoid an encomiastic style, that is, against introducing an encomion, a monody or
a self-praise to her history.
An important term that she uses is a word περιαυτολογία,
a self-praise,
and it introduces another layer of narrative – an autodiegetic one – a
rst-person narration where the narrator features as the story protagonist. is is a
very important generic aspect of Anna Komnenes work, as these kinds of metanarra-
tive comments create an impression of an autobiography that is inseparably entwined
in the history of Alexios’ reign. However, the issue of genre of the Alexiad is not that
simple at all. e closest we get in dening it is that the Alexiad could be perceived as
a generic hybrid that features history, autobiography, memoirs and basilikos logos.
Alexias ΙΙΙ 8,1 (57.63), 105
Alexias I 6,9 (85.86), 27
Cf. Станковић, Увод у Материјал историје, 144-145
Vilimonov, Aleksijada Ane Komnin, 36-54
Cf. Macrides, Historian, 219-220.
A very appropriate term for the generic situation of the Alexiad - see Riehle, Authorship and
gender identity, 256
LARISA VILIMONOVIĆ: Deconstructing the narrative, constructing a meaning...
is a compound of dierent genres, a mixture or mixis of various literary forms.
addition, we should pay attention to the synchronic value of the genre. Is that how the
Alexiad was, in generic sense, perceived by its own author and received by its contem-
porary audience? Another set of explanations is reserved for the diachronic value of the
genre, and the reception of the Alexiad in our own time. Even if it is hard to grasp the
reception of the Alexiad in the 12
-century Constantinople, there are some indicators
that might help us in this task. First are to be found in the text. If we follow closely Anna
Komnenes metanarrative comments, we can extract precisely those narrative units that
do not pertain to the main narrative, and, even though Anna stressed otherwise, we can
detect other generic forms. e question that imposes itself is why did Anna call for
the audiences attention precisely where she was disguring the form of history but by
introducing other generic forms thus, intentionally breaking the law of history? Here, a
slight turn to an intertextual analysis might be of great help, since there is a signicant
connection of Anna Komnenes metanarrative comments with those of Michael Psel-
los. Instead of the usual comparison of Anna Komnenes work with her husbands, I
suggest the importance of observing the intertextual level of the Alexiad in search of an
inner meaning of the narrative.
Michael PsellosChronographia and Anna Komnenes
Alexiad are intertextually bound, since they have some common narrative traits
. Here
I would turn to the term periautologia
used by Michael Psellos at the beginning his
work. It structurally and semantically corresponds with Annas use of the same term,
and he introduces irony as a structural principle, since both works are overwhelmingly
directed to the construction of the narrative self,
and could be dened as heterodieget-
ic in intention, but autodiegetic in the outcome and reception. Both writers begin with
similar statements that their writing was not intended for self-praise, but this utterance
is in direct contradiction with the story as it unfolds, where the authors not only vividly
comment the events, but retell those that are attractive mainly for the purposes of their
political agenda. Another crucial generic aspect that we can come across in Psellos
Chronographia is the demarcation line between encomion and history.
For the term mixis of genres see Nilsson, Archaists and Innovators, 414; Nilsson, Scott, e Case
of Historiography, 320; Macrides, Magdalino, Perception of the Past, 126.
Our general inclination towards comparison of Nikephoros Bryennios‘ and Anna Komnene‘s
histories is still more present than that of Psellos‘ Chronographia and Komnene‘s Alexiad. For Psellos‘ and
Komnenes parallels see, Chronographia and the Alexias; Ljubarskij, Why is the Alexiad a Masterpiece?,
176-180 . e latest critical edition of Psellos Chronographia by D. R. Reinsch, focuses on interdiegetic
parallels, between these two works. Psellos‘ work, was indisputably a powerful impetus for Annas own
construction of the narrative Self, and the use of history as a means of political self-promotion.
On the intertextuality see Herman, Jahn, Ryan, Narrative eory, 366-372; Nilsson, Raconter
Byzance, 72-86; Nilsson, Troy Matter in Byzantine Litterature
Ruth Macrides analysed this term as a specic trait of Attaliates, Psellos, Anna Komnene’ his-
tories. All of these works were politically engaged and were constructed in a self-apologetic manner.
For Psellos construction of a narrative Self see Papaioannou, Psellos, 129-232; For Anna Kom-
nenes see Vilimonov, Aleksijada Ane Komnin, 107-124; Neville, e Authorial Voice, passim; Riehle,
Authorship and gender identity, 254-258
ЗРВИ LII (2015) 207–235
ἐπεὶ δὲ οὐκ ἐγκώμιον τὰ γραφόμενα, ἀλλ΄ἀληθὴς ἱστορία
εἰ μὲν ον ἐγκωμιάζειν προειλόμην· ἀλλὰ μὴ συνοπτικὴν ἱστορίαν ποιεῖν, ἀπέ-
χρησεν ἄν μοι τοῦτο τὸ διήγημα εἰς πᾶσαν εὐφημίας ὑπερβολήν.
Psellos’ irony
is obvious in his characterisation of Constantine Doukas and
later Michael VII, where his statement of composing a history serves directly to call
the audiences attention to his irony. In this part of the text, just a slight gaze is enough
for detecting typical encomiastic vocabulary:
“ὁ δὲ τῆς φιλανθρωπίας λόγος [...], ὡς δὲ καὶ ὁ τῆς φρονήσεως. τὸν γὰρ τῆς
δικαιοσύνης ἀποδεδώκαμεν.
As for Michael Doukas, he stressed that his writing here might arouse suspicion
against his sincerity and readiness to write a truthful history since it was written while
Michael was still alive.
And then he proceeds in the same manner as with Constan-
tine Doukas, but here the encomiastic composition is even more apparent and bluntly
ironic. Michal Psellos deploys encomium as a mocking means,
which corresponds
with Lucians negative treatment of this form of delivery since it serves only to please
and entertain, and is subject to falsehood:
It is further to be remarked, that in history sheer extravagance has not even the
merit of being agreeable; and the extravagance of eulogy is doubly repulsive, as extrav-
agance, and as eulogy; at least it is only welcome to the vulgar majority, not to that
critical, that perhaps hypercritical audience, whom no slip can escape, who are all eyes
like Argus, but keener than he, who test every word as a moneychanger might his coins,
rejecting the false on the spot, but accepting the good and heavy and true; it is they that
we should have in mind as we write history, and never heed the others, though they
applaud till they crack their voices. If you neglect the critics, and indulge in the cloying
sweetness of tales and eulogies and such baits, you will soon nd your history a ‘Heracles
in Lydia.’ No doubt you have seen some picture of him: he is Omphales slave, dressed up
in an absurd costume, his lion-skin and club transferred to her, as though she were the
true Heracles, while he, in saron robe and purple jacket, is combing wool and wincing
under Omphales slipper. A degrading spectacle it is--the dress loose and apping open,
and all that was man in him turned to woman.
Psellos, Chronographia VII, 109, 257.
Psellos, Chronographia, VII, 115, 260.
Psellos irony is a literary phenomenon, specic for its multidimensional and multilayered
structural and semiotical principles. A very interesting paper on this issue reveals complexity of Psellos
ploys with words, signs, sentences and dialectic - Repajić, Žanr u funkciji ironije, passim
Psellos, Chronographia VII, 110, 258
Psellos, Chronographia VII, 165, 285
is is especially true for his treatment of Constantine Monomachos reign. See, Repajić, Žanr
u funkciji ironije, passim.
Luc. Hist. Conscr. 9.13 -10.14; Translation is taken from Fowler‘s edition - Fowler, Luc. Vol II, 115
LARISA VILIMONOVIĆ: Deconstructing the narrative, constructing a meaning...
Annas use of encomium appears to be contextually dierent than Psellos, since
the time when she was writing encomiastic literature was ourishing and had the unique
role of lauding and celebrating the emperor and his majesty. It was a typical and ex-
pected form of addressing the emperor.
Nevertheless, despite of the general use of
the encomia in celebrating the emperors majesty at the end of John II Komnenos’ rule,
and during Manuels I, an aura of deviousness did not le the genuine perception of the
encomia and basilikoi logoi.
Annas ploys with encomia are sometimes hard to grasp,
but her treatment of Alexios is not unvaried and completely positive, and a strong sense
of irony is present, especially in those passages that deal with Alexios’ relationship to
his mother.
On the other hand, she used encomium also as a political tool for self-pro-
motion and one cannot exclude the ironic treatment of her brother as a perfect proof of
her generic ploys. She used encomiastic pattern to embellish herself in the passage of her
birth, and when she treated her brothers birth, she switched to the rules of history and
allegedly truthful writing, putting the focus on the baby’s physical traits in a fashion not
suitable for an imperial heir.
e most important encomiastic excurses are those that
pertain to her periautologia.
And here, in view of our contemporary generic concep-
tions, we are not talking about an autobiography, but more suitably about an autobio-
graphic impulse.
e aim of Annas self-praise was not to report a story of her life, but
only to stress the politically crucial aspects as a means of a self-promotion. We do not
have a unifying story, a diegesis, about Anna Komnenes life, but a set of narrative units,
diegemata, that are interconnected under the same ideological frame. In addition, apart
from the narrative units as a whole, we have a set of dierent narratological aspects that
help us in dening the multifold generic layers of the Alexiad.
To conclude, according to its synchronic value, the Alexiad was a history in its
inception, conception and construction. Its form was regulated according to the genre
requirements, ancient historiographical tradition and rhetorical manuals for prose
compositions. According to our modern perceptions of historical genre, we could not
dene the Alexiad as a history, since our modern concept of a history is based on the
following pattern: “e historical text should contain as few traces as possible of the
historian, no portrait whatsoever of the narrator; personal reection must be aban-
doned for the objective patterns of history.
e chronological gap between our time
On rhetorical practices at the Komnenian court see Magdalino, Manuel, 413-488; Станковић,
Комнини, 265-321
Anna Komnene stresses the impossibility of writing a truthful history during the lifetime of an
emperor. She noted that at the time when she was writing, all were praising and lauding the current em-
peror. See Alexias XIV 7,5 (48.52), 452
Vilimonović. Aleksijada Ane Komnin, 247-254
See Vilimonović, Text and Context, 50-53
On Anna Komnenes self praise and applied literary forms see Vilimonović, Aleksijada Ane
On autobiographic impulse in Byzantium see Angold, Autobiographic Impulse, passim.
Nilsson, To Narrate e Events of the Past, 53
ЗРВИ LII (2015) 207–235
and Anna Komnenes is not that important as another aspect: the establishment of
history as a scientic discipline. A new set of rules and requirements was inaugurated,
and from this perspective, this specic discourse, we refer nowadays to medieval his-
tories and question their historicity and the historicism of their authors. at is why it
is very complicated to talk about genre exclusively from our own viewpoint. It is im-
portant that we simultaneously make a leap backwards and examine the system which
the Byzantines themselves respected. Somewhere between these two approaches, we
can come to terms with the issue of the genre.
It seems that the most complicated question in the studies of Byzantine litera-
ture is the author, his or her importance, meaning and positioning. In the narrative
theory, the status of the author remains highly controversial, and it went even to the
complete siding of the author and her or his importance in the process of literary
criticism. BarthesDeath of an Author has led to serious questioning, even in the his-
torical theory, whether the author is really important and what if the author is not
known at all, can we subject a work to contextual and literary analysis?
pointed to the deployment of discourses as a crucial means of understanding histor-
ical works when the author is unknown.
His theory might be especially useful for
the analysis of ‘chronicles, since most of those works are conceived as heterodiegetic
narratives, where the narrator-author is not featured in his or her own work as one of
the protagonists.
erefore we might consider these forms of historical representa-
tion as somewhat deprived of the authorial presence, but only at the story level, which
does not mean that we lack the authorial presence at a structural and discursive level.
When it comes to ‘classicizing’ Byzantine histories, and especially those from the 11
century onwards, the problem of the author and his or her connection to the text is of
essential importance. It is impossible in these kinds of writings to understand the text
without any reference to its author, her or his inclinations, intentions and nal aims.
Nevertheless, a popular usage of Barthes’ theory might be useful for us – that ‘the
meaning of a text is the product of its interaction with a potentially innite number
of pretexts.
is occurrence is in complete accordance with the Byzantine mimetic
mannerism, and the Byzantine use of innumerable pretexts, which lead to the popular
belief that a sense of plagiarism was deeply rooted in the Byzantine conceptions of
writing. Another way of approaching this matter is an intertextual analysis of Byz-
antine texts that would seek to detect and frame those ‘pretexts’ that were inserted in
narratives from previous texts, their function and their signicance. e role of the
Barthes‘ theory was addressed in two important articles by Mullett, Madness; Nilsson, Archaists
and Innovators.
Foucault, Aesthetics, Method and Epistemology, 205-222
Very important for the narratological approach to chronicles is White, e Content of the Form
Herman, Jahn, Ryan, Narrative eory, 85
LARISA VILIMONOVIĆ: Deconstructing the narrative, constructing a meaning...
author in this sense can be diminished, if we pay attention strictly to the semantical
and semiological values of embedded texts. However, in making nal conclusions
and for the purposes of historical contextualisation, we have to turn to the issue of the
When dealing with the question of the author, in narratological theory, there
is a distinction between an author, an implied author
and a narrator.
A narrator
is connected directly to the story level and she or he is the one who tells a story. is
distinction is more suitable for ctional literature, since we come across a lot of nov-
els where someone – a person or a voice
– tells a story, and that is not the author of
the work herself or himself. In regard to Byzantine historiography, and in our case to
Anna Komnenes Alexiad, the narrator and the author are the same person, and this is
usually the case with historiography in general.
ere are three levels of narrative communication,
of which one pertains to
the extratextual level, and another two to the intratextual levels.
1. author ------------ reader
(extratextual – the author and the reader do not
communicate in the text itself)
2. narrator ------------ addressee
(intertextual level of ctional mediation/ level of
3. character ------------ character
(intertextual – level of action)
e next step is narrative situations which are of essential importance for our
understanding of Annas intrusions in her text. According to Genette,
there are two
basic narrative situations and they are based on the positioning of the narrator in re-
lation to the story she or he is telling. One is a homodiegetic narrative, and the other
is heterodiegetic. eir main features are following:
Because of the scope of this work and the complexity of the subject I will not address the issue
of an implied author.
On the issue of author and narrator see Herman, Jahn, Ryan, Narrative eory, 85-86, Bal, Nar-
ratology, 19-75; Fludernik, Narratology, 13-20; Jahn, eory of Narrative, N.2.3.
Genette, Narrative Discourse, 212-227
Fludernik, Narratology, 3-4
On narrative structures see Fludernik, Narratology, 26-39
Jahn, eory of Narrative, N2.3.1.
Genette, Narrative Discourse, 188
Genette, Narrative Discourse, 247-249;
ЗРВИ LII (2015) 207–235
Story of personal experience
Presence of the ‘experiencing I’
First-person pronouns
Narrator is present as an acting
character in the story
Story about other peoples experiences
Absence of the ‘experiencing I’
ird-person sentences
Narrator is absent as an acting
character in the story
ese two basic categories of narrative situations are useful for the understand-
ing of the phenomenon of ‘writers intrusion’ that was discussed in the scope of 11
and 12
-century Byzantine histories.
is term is not precise about the type of the
intrusions, and some readers might nd it dicult to understand fully the scope of
these intrusions. In this sense, the Gennettes theory is quite applicable for the phe-
nomenon of Byzantine histories, especially those since Michael Psellos onwards. In-
trusions are actually the amount of authorial presence in the text, and his or her po-
sitioning in relation to the text, at the rst level, and his or her positioning in relation
to the narrative within the story world, at the second level. We have already stressed
that it is dicult to split the author and the narrator, since we are not dealing with
ctional literature. e story world is not a gment of the author’s imagination, but
a precisely dened factual world, as it transmits a story about historical events, and
must correspond with the necessities and requirements of the genre. In the case of
Anna Komnenes Alexiad, the author is the narrator simultaneously, and she commu-
nicates incessantly with the readership at the textual and narrative levels. e Alexiad
is specic since it can be dened as both a heterodiegetic and a homodiegetic narra-
tive. In addition to this basic division, we should add the third category of narrative
situations – an autodiegetic one.
For a history writer, the role of a heterodiegetic narrator is the most plausible
one, since she or he does not feature in the story as one of the protagonists. In this case
we are not dealing with a biased account where the focalisation of events is one-sided
and partial.
When it comes to historiography, the most convenient example would be
Stanzels authorial narration which refers to telling a story from the point of view of an
authorial narrator, someone who never features as a character in a story, but who claims
the power of omniscience.
It is a position of absolute authority that allows her or him
to know everything about the story’s world and its characters, including their con-
scious thoughts and unconscious motives.
One denition is particulary useful, “e
Jahn, eory of Narrative, N3.1.5.
See Ljubarskij, Writers Intrusion, 435-441 and Macrides, Historian, 205-224
Cf. Genette, Narrative discourse, 245-254
e aspect of ‘focalization’ is one of the crucial aspects in narrative theory. See Genette, Narra-
tive Discourse, 185-194; Bal, Narratology, 142-160; Bal, Reader, 3-38
Stanzel, A eory of Narrative, 47-56
Jahn, Narratology, N 3.3.1
LARISA VILIMONOVIĆ: Deconstructing the narrative, constructing a meaning...
prevailing characteristic of omniscience [...] is that the author[ial narrator] is always
ready to intervene herself or himself between the reader and the story, and that even
when he does set a scene, he will render it as he sees it rather than as his people see it.
A heterodiegetic narrative presupposes the third-person sentences, and the
Alexiad for the most part bears these marks. But we should make a slight pause here
and explain the word ‘part’ when speaking of a composite work such as the Alexiad.
If we apply also the aspect of narrative levels
, the Alexiad can be dened as a matrix
narrative, since it contains embedded narratives, or ‘hyponarratives.’ To put it simple,
we are dealing with stories within stories. In the case of the Alexiad, we can extract
four narratives, out of which one is the matrix – the story of Alexios’ deeds – and the
other three are subordinated to this main narrative.
e ‘A narrative’ is the matrix narrative and it is the story of Alexios’ deeds. It is
the leading narrative, a rst-degree narrative that is not embedded in any other narra-
tive and functions as a frame for all other subordinated narratives that are embedded
in this one. e following two are: the ‘B1 narrative,’ about the imperial legitimacy of
the Doukai,
and the ‘B2 narrative,’ which deals with the rise and establishment of
Idem., N. 3.3.5
Idem., N 2.4
On the aspect of Ducases imperial legitimacy, and Annas favoritism of her mother‘s genos, see
Vilimonov, Aleksijada Ane Komnin, 140-242
Figure 1 – e four narratives of the Alexiad: the matrix – A, and the subordinate tales
A - Alexios’ deeds
B1 - Imperial legitimacy of
the Doukai
B2 - Komnenian ascendance
and establishment
C - Anna Komnene’s
ЗРВИ LII (2015) 207–235
the Komnenian rule.
ese two narratives begin to unfold in the rst book, and the
Doukai-Komnenoi confrontation reaches its climax in the third book, aer which we
come across the establishment of the Komnenoi on the Byzantine throne, and we fol-
low the rule of Alexios Komnenos. Nevertheless, at the story level, and the discourse
level, this antagonism of the two imperial oikoi is present until the end of the Alexiad.
ese two narratives are in mutual opposition and are deeply ingrained in the story
of Alexios’ deeds. e third level is the narrative of Anna Komnenes legitimacy and
her personal political agenda, which is embedded in both the rst-degree (A) and the
second-degree narratives (B1 and B2).
On the one hand, we have narrative situations, and on the other, we have nar-
rative levels. I have made a graphic scheme in order to show one way of understand-
ing the narrative core of the Alexiad and its basic elements, without discussing other
narratological issues as they supersede the scope of this article which aims only to
emphasise the key issues.
is method shows how unsatisfying the denitions of the Alexiad as a generic
hybrid or a mixture of dierent genres are, without elaborating further the reasons
for such a conclusion. e same applies to the ‘writers intrusion’ term in the text,
since we have the author and the text, the narrator and the story, the character and
the fabula. All these levels need to be taken into consideration when dealing with any
kind of literature, since they provide us with more comprehensive terminology and
dened categories. I do not completely discard the use of the aforementioned term,
but I contend that the narratological methodology supplies us with richer possibilities
for reading and interpretation of Byzantine literature.
In case of historiography, the statuses of the author and narrator are inherent –
the person that writes the text is the same agent that tells the story. e question here
is whether this is a story of his or her own life, in which the author/narrator takes
the role of a character, or even protagonist, or is it a story about somebody elses life,
completely independent of the narrator, where he or she is just a spectator and not an
agent? Here we enter the scope of narrative situations, which are quite complicated in
case of the Alexiad. Anna Komnenes work can be dened as heterodiegetic in inten-
tion, autodiegetic in conception and homodiegetic in reception.
e basic distinction between heterodiegetic (third-person narrative)
and ho-
modiegetic (rst-person narrative)
is that the rst one purports to be an objective
On the presentation of the Komnenoi in the Alexiad see Vilimonov, Aleksijada Ane Komnin,
ese terms are not equivalent, but I have put them in the brackets in order that a text be fol-
lowed easier. e scope and the subject of this paper prevents me in elaborating in detail all categories of
a narrative voice. For a concise review see Jahn, Narratology, N3.1
e division of narrative situations on heterodiegetic, homodiegetic and autodiegetic is men-
tioned for the rst time in Gerard Genettes work. In addition to that theory, we have Stanzel’s approach
LARISA VILIMONOVIĆ: Deconstructing the narrative, constructing a meaning...
account of events, whereas the second one is intended to focus the attention to the
of the narrator at the story level, and her or his involvement in the recounted
events. e Alexiad mainly intends to be a heterodiegetic narrative in which Anna
tells a story of her father’s deeds. But even in this case, one must pause and think,
since we are not dealing with just any persons deeds, but with the deeds of our au-
thor/narrator’s father, so we instantly switch to the homodiegetic and autodiegetic
levels. e homodiegetic level is the one where the ‘experiencing I’ is involved. It is
undoubtedly the case with Anna Komnene, since she constantly brings forward the
fact that she was present on various occasions, and had heard and seen the things she
recounts in her work. is is enough for a homodiegetic narrative, since it presuppos-
es that the narrator could have been only a witness of actions. In the Alexiad, Anna
was witness of a great number of events, and if she did not witness some of them
directly, she was informed of them by her closest relatives. Here we have a collision
of two important traits – the personal experience and other peoples experience, and
the presence/absence of the ‘experiencing I’. ese two are sometimes hard to de-
tach as Anna Komnene was a prominent member of the imperial house and the rst
born daughter of the emperor she had chosen to write about. For these reasons I have
chosen to include an autodiegetic narrative situation which refers directly to Annas
autobiographical discourse and the narrative units in which she talks about herself.
A useful example of the complicated narrative situation we nd at the begin-
ning of the Alexiad where Anna opens the rst chapter of her history with the follow-
ing line:
βασιλεὺς Ἀλέξιος καὶ ἐμὸς πατὴρ καὶ πρὸ τοῦ τῶν σκήπτρων ἐπειλῆφθαι τῆς
βασιλείας μέγα φ
ελος τῇ βασιλείᾳ Ῥωμαίων γεγένηται [...]
Even though the sentence starts as the third-person narration, we have an ap-
position ἐμὸς πατὴρ that features as an explanatory trait of the subject. However, this
does not mean that the narrative is homodiegetic, since Anna does not feature as a
character at the story level. In this part of the narrative, the events that are told hap-
pened before Anna was born, so it is not possible for her to be part of the fabula. But
her authorial presence at the text level as an omniscient narrator refers to the direct
communication with the audience. She uses this specic apposition as an important
discursive marker, which pertains to an embedded, autodiegetic, narrative. is same
trait appears in relation to the key protagonists of the Alexiad, when Anna makes
direct connection with them, positioning herself in relation to both imperial houses.
that discerns the rst-person narrative, authorial narrative and gural narrative - Genette, Narrative Dis-
course, Stanzel, A eory of Narrative, 186-236
For agency‘ see Herman and Jahn, Narrativeeory, 55-56
Alexias I 1,1 (2.3), 11
ЗРВИ LII (2015) 207–235
Alexios Komnenos ὁ ἐμὸς πατὴρ/
Isaac Komnenos ὁ θεῖος ἐμὸς σαάκιος
Anna Dalassene ἡ ἐμὴ μάμμη
Eirene Doukaina ἡ δέ γε βασιλὶς Εἰρήνη καὶ μήτηρ
ἐμὴ/ τὴν βασιλίδα καὶ μητέρα
Imperial house of the Doukai -τῶν καθ΄αμά μοι προσηκόντων
[...] καὶ γὰρ κἀμοὶ τὰ πρὸς μητρὸς
ἐκεῖθεν καταρρεῖ
Maria of Alania and Constantine Doukas οὐ νέμεσις, εἰ τοὺς ἐμοὺς ἐπαινοίην
Michael and John Doukas πρὸς μητρὸς ἐμοὶ θείων
Nikephoros Bryennios τοὐμοῦ καίσαρος
e rst-degree narrative of the Alexiad is the story about Alexios’ deeds. Nev-
ertheless, the opening line of the Alexiad shows the nature of the focalizer – the nar-
rator tells the story of her family, that is, of her father. We come across the formula
emperor Alexios and my father,’ or just ‘my father,’ for astonishing 92 times in the
course of the whole narrative. is is a crucial element for serious questioning of
the heterodiegetic elements of the rst-degree narrative, since we are not given break
from Annas constant assertions on her close connection with the protagonist. e
formula ‘the emperor Alexios and my father’ introduces a layer of the ‘experiencing
I’, and the story that unfolds in front of us becomes a sort of family reminiscence
and family memoirs. Annas connection with the protagonist never fades, and in this
way, the audiences attention is constantly turned towards the author/narrator and
the conception that this story is her personal one. Her father’s story is vested with her
self-reections, and some episodes are told from her perspective, which introduces
a phenomenon of focalisation, and another layer of author/narrator’s recollections.
Anna Komnenes remarks of being present in with the protagonists and personally
listening to their stories inevitably leads us to the conclusion that we are facing a
rather complicated narrative situation in the Alexiad. Alexios’ deeds can be perceived
as a heterodiegetic narrative, since they include third-person narration about other
peoples experiences. Nevertheless, we need to be careful, since even this heterodi-
egetic narration bears distinctive personal traits of the author/narrator who aims to
emphasise her connection with the protagonists. But this trait pertains to the eld of
discourse, which will be addressed in the next chapter.
Alexias III 6,7 (16), 103
Alexias I 10,2 (23.24), 35
Alexias XIV 7,7 (78), 453
LARISA VILIMONOVIĆ: Deconstructing the narrative, constructing a meaning...
e essential part of narration is the story level, where we focus our attention
on the characters and events in which they feature. For the analysis of a story it is
important to note that each story has its fabula, the basic element of a narrative unit,
which by virtue of discourse is transformed into a story. So, to put it simply, the story
is what is told, and the discourse is how something is told.
Various narratological
schools have oered distinctions between content and form,
signied and signier,
matter and manner.
In order to extract the basic elements of a fabula, we can turn to
ancient progymnasmata, since they oer the key elements for constructing a narrative
unit. According to both ancient and modern narratological conceptions, we have the
following requirements that need to be fullled:
agent (τὸ πρᾶξαν πρόσωπον)
timeρόνος καθ΄ν)
place (τόπος ἐν )
deedὸ πραχθὲν πρᾶγμα)
manner of action (τρόπος πω
cause or motive (αἰτία δι΄ν)
For the purposes of the analysis, I cite the extensive chapter of the second book
of the Alexiad:
VII [Chapter unfolds as heterodiegetic, third-person narration about other peo-
ples experiences] ey were all gathered together, in suspense, eagerly looking forward
to the outcome and were waiting to see who will be proclaimed Emperor. e majority
made a vow to Alexius, but neither did Isaacs partisans give up their exponent, but they
all gathered together to manage the situation. And they could not come to terms, since
ones desired to see the elder, and the others desired to see the younger one becoming the
helmsman of the empire. Amongst the men present at that time were several of Alex-
ius’ kinsmen, for instance, the above-mentioned [metanarrative comment recalling a
memory of the audience] cesar John Ducas [the focaliser, the story is arranged from
his perspective, he is the agent], a man clever in council and swi in action (whom I
also saw once for a short time) [the author/narrator connects herself with the char-
acter of the story/ elements of homodiegetic narration] and Michael and John, his
Todorov,‘Les catégories du récit littéraire’; Chatman, Story and Discourse; Genette, Narrative
Discourse, White, e Content of the Form; Idem, Tropics of Discourse
Herman, Jahn, Ryan, Narrative eory, 730
White, e Content of the Form, 1-25
Foundations of the semiotic theory pertain to Saussures linguistics, who introduced the con-
cept of signied and signier. For further developments in semiology see Eco, Semiotics
Genette, Architext, 10-16
Progymnasmata, 137
ЗРВИ LII (2015) 207–235
grandsons, as well as the husband of their sister [discursive marker – Anna Komenes
political discourse], George Palaeologus. ese [agency] helped each other and worked
hard to convert all peoples opinions to their own, and letting out every reef, as they say,
skilfully used every possible expedient for getting Alexius proclaimed. Consequently they
[agency] won people over to agree with them, with the result that the number of Isaacs
partisans gradually diminished. For wherever the cesar John was, not a single person was
able to resist him [agency], as he was unrivalled in the dignity of his principles, the size
of his body, and his king-like appearance [discourse marker – physical description].
What did the Ducases [association to the previously mentioned agents] not do? What
did they not say? What good thing did they not promise both to the leaders and the whole
army [manner/ tropos of action], if Alexius was raised to the Imperial eminence? For
example they would say [focalisation/ Ducases’ perspective], “He will requite you with
very great gis and the highest honours in accordance with each mans merit, not in a
haphazard way, as the ignorant and inexperienced among leaders do, for he has borne
the title of “Military Commander” for a long time now and “Great Domestic of the West”;
he has shared your salt, in war he has fought nobly at your side, be it in ambush or in
close combat, never did he grudge his body, limbs, or even his life to ensure your safety; he
has oen traversed mountains and plains with you, and learnt the hardships of warfare;
nally, he knows you all both as a body and individually, and being himself dear to Ares,
he above all longs for brave soldiers.[rhetorical discourse] In this manner spoke the
Ducases, but Alexius [turn from Ducases’ to Alexios’ perspective] deemed Isaac worthy
of much honour and treated Isaac very respectfully, by letting him in all things prece-
dence [authorial omniscient narrator], either from brotherly love [discursive marker/
political discourse], or rather, and this must be mentioned, for another reason. For, as
the whole army was veering to his side and advocating his claims while it did not favour
Isaac even in the slightest, Alexius saw that strength and power and the realization of his
hopes were going to his favour, he supported his brother to assume the imperial throne
[manner of action], knowing that he would not suer anything unwanted from the side
of his brother, if he was snached up and raised by the whole army to the pinnacle of
earthly honours he would atter [discursive marker/ manner of action]the brother with
words and pretended [discursive marker/ manner of action] that he wanted to retreat
and let him go rst in the position of power. [authorial narrator/ political discourse]
Aer some time had been spent in this manner, the whole soldiery were assembled near
the General’s tent in a great state of excitement and each anxious for the accomplishment
of his wish. en Isaac rose and taking the red buskin tried to put it on to his brother’s
foot [political discourse]; but the latter refused several times until Isaac cried, [Isaacs
perspective – focalisation/ the reason why Isaac gave up the throne]Let me do it, for
through you God wishes to restore the dignity of our family.” He also reminded Alexius of
the prophecy once addressed, to him by a man who- appeared, to them somewhere near
Carpianum as they were returning home from the palace. For they had reached that spot
when a man suddenly met them, perhaps belonging to a race higher than mortal, but in
any case gied with very clear insight into the future. From his appearance he seemed
to be a priest, with his bare head, grey hair and shaggy beard; he took hold of Alexius
LARISA VILIMONOVIĆ: Deconstructing the narrative, constructing a meaning...
leg and being on foot himself, he dragged down Alexius, who was on horseback, by the
ear and recited to him this line of Davids psalm: “In thy majesty ride on prosperously,
because of truth and meekness and righteousness,” and address him by the title Emperor
Alexius!” With these words which sounded like a prophecy he vanished. And Alexius
could not capture him though he looked round carefully in all directions in order, if possi-
ble, to catch sight of him, and then pursued him at full speed if perchance he might catch,
him and ask more in detail who he was and whence he came. But what had been seen
had completely vanished. On their return home Isaac was very inquisitive about this
vision and asked Alexius to disclose the secret: and as he insisted strongly, Alexius at rst
made a pretension [discursive marker] of refusing but nally repeated what had been
said to him in secret. Now in discussing this openly with his brother he treated the words
and incident as a fraud and deception [discursive marker], but in his private medita-
tions [authorial omniscient narrator] upon this man in priestly garb who had appeared
to him, he likened him to the theologian, the Son of under [*St. John the eologian].
erefore when Isaac saw what the old man had prophesied was being fullled in deed
and expressed in words, he insisted more vehemently and by force put the red buskin on
his brothers foot [political discourse], especially because he saw the ardent longing of all
the soldiers for Alexius. Aer this act the Ducases [turn from focalisation to Ducases
perspetive – framing the narrative unit] led the acclamations for they favoured this
man for many reasons and especially because [cause/ motive for action] their relation,
Eirene, my mother [homodiegetic feature/ discursive marker] had been legally married
to my father [homodiegetic feature/ discursive marker], And simultaneously all those
akin to them by blood did likewise with a will, and the rest of the army took up the shout
and sent their voices almost to the heavens. And then was witnessed a curious phenom-
enon – for those who before had held opposite opinions and preferred death to failure in
their desire, became in one moment of the same opinion, and that too, so decidedly, that
nobody could have even suspected there had been a variance of opinion between them.
In parenthesis, I have stressed the key elements for narratological analysis. e
matter of agency
is very important, since we have three main characters/agents that
act in a specic manner with certain intention. ose are the Doukai, Alexios and
Isaac. Even though the Doukai have four members, I will not dwell on the particular
characters, since their agency is unied and has the same motive and same action that
is directed towards agitation for Alexios as their choice for the imperial throne. In the
cited chapter, we do not have a precise spatial and temporal setting, since it was men-
tioned earlier in the text, and the whole narrative unit is constructed as a compound
of several stories – the agitation of Doukai for Alexios, Alexios’ ploys with his elder
brother Isaac, and Isaac’s ceding of the imperial dignity to his brother Alexios.
Alexias II 7,1-7, 72-74
A crucial article on this matter in regard to Byzantine histories analyses is Angelou, e case of
Niketas Choniates, passim. It is an essential study for approaching the rhetorical core of Byzantine histories.
See also Kaldellis, Paradox, passim. For an extensive study on this matter, see Papaioannou, Psellos, 129-232.
ЗРВИ LII (2015) 207–235
We have two issues to discuss – the story and the discourse. Characters that
are presented here are the protagonists of the second and third books of the Alexiad.
Annas shis in focalisation present the story from dierent perspectives, although
the role and the inuence of the Doukai represents the unifying element of the story
since it unfolds with them and focuses on their powerful agitation for Alexios as their
choice for the imperial throne. It seemed like their role ended in the third section with
the authors utterance “ἀλλὰ ταῦτα μὲν οἱ Δοῦκαι,
but we come back to the Doukai
in the seventh and last section of this chapter, where their motive (αἰτία) is nally
explained. ey lead the rst acclamations since Eirene, the wife of Alexios, was their
kin“διότι ἡ τούτων προσγενὴς Εἰρήνη καὶ μήτηρ ἐμὴ κατὰ νόμους συνῆπτο τ
πατρί [...].
is micronarrative can be perceived as a rst-degree narrative in oppo-
sition to the Alexios-Isaac narrative which is an embedded one. In this story we have
an intriguing report about Alexios’ insincere ploy with his elder brother Isaac. Here
we should turn our attention to the issue of discourses, since I have mentioned a set
of discursive markers that appear in this text and pertain to various discourses of the
Alexiad. e graphic scheme would be following:
ere are four main discourses which denote Annas narrative mannerism and
her ways of arranging the events, and folding the fabula into a story. e most use-
ful ones are ‘discursive markers’ since they usually refer to a word or some specic
Alexias II 7,3 (67), 73
Alexias II 7,7 (14.15), 75
Historical discourse
generic aspects
Political discourse
Komnenian political ideology
Ambiguity of the two imperial houses
(Doukai and Komnenoi)
The preeminance of the Ducases
Anna Komnen’s double legitimacy
Conflict of the siblings
Rhethorical discourse
style and form
construction of meaning
Gender discourse
Female authorial voice
Figure 1 – e four discourses of the Alexiad
LARISA VILIMONOVIĆ: Deconstructing the narrative, constructing a meaning...
formulas that pertain to Anna Komenes dierent discursive typologies. e crucial
one is Anna Komnenes political discourse which helps us to reconstruct her polit-
ical agenda. In this particular chapter, the focus is put on the pre-eminence of the
Doukai, and the relationship of the siblings, which is, when speaking of the younger
brother Alexios, insincere and ironic. e author blatantly referred to Alexios’ words
as a attery (ὁ δὲ λόγοις ὑποσαίνοι), his action towards his brother as a pretence
(καὶ πρόσχημα ποιεῖται), and how he discussed the prophecy with his brother openly,
whereas secretly he had the opposite opinion. is narrative unit has the powerful
rhetoric of sibling conict, where we see the younger one ascending the throne in-
stead of the older one. Alexios’ oer to withdraw before his elder brother is presented
as false and insincere. Nevertheless, the climax of the unit is the moment in which
Isaac oers red buskins to his younger brother, and therefore symbolically performs
the translation of the imperial ordinance to his younger brother. When analysed from
the perspective of Anna Komnenes ‘experiencing I,’ it is strikingly comparable with
her own life story, and with the conict between an elder and a younger sibling –
Anna Komnene and John Komnenos. e aforementioned discourses mutually over-
lap and create a multi-layered level of presentation of historical events, in which the
crucial component of rearrangement of events is the author/narrator. I have empha-
sised that even in this part of the Alexiad, before the inception of Anna Komnenes
own life story, we still have important discursive markers that pertain to the category
of the princess’ political discourse, and are imbued with specic Komnenian political
ideology in which accent was put on interfamilial relations. Anna Komnenes constant
connection with her parents at structural and discursive levels represents a crucial
element where her allegedly objective history (a heterodiegetic narrative) lapses into
a personal history (both a homodiegetic and autodiegetic narrative).
e question of the Byzantine literary audience still represents an empty eld
for investigation. We lack basic knowledge about the reception of Byzantine histori-
ography, about the scope of the readership, and their role and inuence on the authors
who wrote for them. In this regard, it is easy to apply the reader–response theory
the rst step, and to measure the reader’s contribution to the meaning of the narrative
and the interaction between the narrative and the reader.
Was a narrative shaped according to its readers and did the readers’ expectations
inuence the content and form of the narrative, the manner and modes of representa-
tion? It was and they did, indisputably, since every work had its implied or intended
readers. In narrative theory, this means that the reader is an ideal one, a construction
Culler, e Pursuit of Signs; Dixon, Bortolussi, Psychonarratology; Eco, e Role of the Reader;
Suleiman, Crosman (eds) , e Reader in the Text
Herman, Jahn, Ryan, Narrative eory, 632
ЗРВИ LII (2015) 207–235
of an author whose role is to decode, deconstruct, decipher and interpret the text in
a way the author herself or himself intended. However, this is never the case and the
‘implied reader’ is a theoretical construction. is does not mean that readership does
not and will not ever achieve to decode the authors’ messages. Another useful catego-
ry of readers is the so-called ‘informed reader’ or ‘competent reader’ which pertains to
the diachronic audience and the possibility of readers to interpret the work according
to cultural, historical and linguistic contexts of texts.
I suggest the following partition
of the audience and the reader:
Synchronic ------------ ‘Implied Reader’
Diachronic ------------ ‘Informed Reader’
Based on the facts when certain work was composed, distributed and received
by its audience, we have two possible ways of interpretation: the synchronic interpre-
tation, which refers to an epoch in which all three events (composition, distribution
and reception) occurred and which necessitates historical contextualisation and thor-
ough analysis of the epoch, culture, relations and social networks; and the diachronic
interpretation, which would be an interpretation of a text through the discourses of
our own time, and with the help of our acquired knowledge.
In case of the Alexiad, we are fortunately able to grasp some features of its syn-
chronic perception and the response of its readership. e rst step we undertake
when looking for synchronic reception of a Byzantine literary work is to question its
manuscripts. When it comes to the Alexiad, it is not the number of manuscripts that
interests us, nor their distribution throughout the Byzantine epoch in the following
centuries. What is a crucial trait of the Alexiads manuscript tradition is that we come
across signicant alterations in the text of a manuscript of a politically sensitive vo-
cabulary which was replaced by politically neutral terms.
is essential occurrence
with the Alexiads manuscript is a signicant proof in favour of the theory that it was
a controversial work. And apart from being controversial, it was also inuential and
therefore required some important modication in order to be distributed.
e re-
ception of the Alexiad at the end of the 12
century provides us with unique evidence
of Komnenian censorship.
On implied reader see Herman, Jahn, Ryan, Narrative eory, 629-630; Schmid, Implied Read-
er, passim; Genette, Narrative Discourse 260-261; Fludernik, Narratology, 23
As Ingela Nilsson noted „works display literary and rhetorical preferences of the time, the au-
thor’s own perception of history writing and the audiences expectations, both of which are signicant for
our understanding of history“. - Nilsson, To Narrate e Events of the Past, 56
is important occurrence was treated by Reinsch, Zum Text, 245-247
On the distribution of the Alexiad aer the 12th century see Davis, e fourteenth-century
Byzantine metaphrases
LARISA VILIMONOVIĆ: Deconstructing the narrative, constructing a meaning...
Another clue for the synchronic perception of Anna Komnenes history is found
in another literary work that was composed probably simultaneously with the last
chapters of the Alexiad. It is George Tornikes’ Eulogy for the deceased Komnenian
In Tornikes’ Eulogy we have the verication of Anna Komnenes conict
with her brother John Komnenos, which apparently coloured all her life, since it
was addressed in detail in Tornikes’ work composed thirty years aer the siblings
Tornikes’ work is essential for its intertextual traits, having inserted a whole
narrative about the brother–sister conict, with an apologetic purpose of defending
and justifying Anna Komnenes basileia, bringing them together to a male and female
imperial equilibrium.
e reception tradition of the Alexiad provides us with sev-
eral important clues for investigating the perception and response of the synchronic
audience, that is, the immediate audience, the one that the Alexiad was aimed for in
the rst place.
As for the diachronic perception, we can investigate it from the 18
onwards, and question the dierences in the interpretation and presentation of Anna
Komnenes history. e prevailed political, sociological and ideological discourses in-
uence our cognitive possibilities, that is, the observation and evaluation of a reading
material. And the only history written by a woman historiographer, a rst-born Komne-
nian princess, certainly opens the eld for continuous scholarly research. is sentence,
as I have constructed it, is an unintentional bifocal product of an informed and implied
reader. A woman historiographer is a discursive marker of diachronic audience (which
is I) that approaches the subject from the gender perspective female discourse, and ‘a
rst-born princess’ is a discursive marker of Anna Komnenes political discourse and an
encoded message to her implied reader. If we search for the truth we will never succeed
in nding it, since we are always in clash of at least two dierent perspectives, the one
from those times, and the other from our own. An important question is whether there
is only one perspective
in our time, or many of them, as many as there are national,
cultural, political, religious and gender discourses? Nevertheless, this ination of per-
spectives and interpretations should not discourage us in our eorts to understand the
work and reach the level of an ‘implied reader.’ On the contrary, we should be content if
we succeed to initiate a stimulating dialogue, since only a variety of opinions and possi-
bilities provides a eld for a science to develop further.
Tornikès, Euloge
Tornikès, Euloge, 269 (8.16)
Vilimonov, Aleksijada Ane Komnin, 293-297
Nilsson, To Narrate the Events of the Past, 54 “we make choices based on who we are and what
cultural and intellectual context we belong to, and we accordingly make history that reects both our pre-
decessors and ourselves.
ЗРВИ LII (2015) 207–235
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Лариса Вилимоновић
Универзитет у Београду – Филозофски факултет
Алексијада Ане Комнин представља једно композитно дело, које по савре-
меним научним оценама, када је реч о литерарном приступу, пружа врло бога-
то поље истраживања. У домену литерарног критицизма, најважнија питања
представљају питање жанра, аутора, односа аутора и текста, приче и дискурса
али и публике. Наша је намера да применом метода наратологије, дисциплине
која се убрзано развијала од средине шездесетих година 20. века, а паралелно
са идејама структурализма, пост-структурализма и постмодернизма, покуша-
мо да укажемо на бројне могућности тумачења, како Алексијаде у овом случају,
тако и свих других византијских извора.
Питање жанра одувек је било примамљиво истраживачима и теоретичари-
ма византијске књижевности и оно је потпуно усаглашено са потребом науке да
се изворни материјал систематизује и разврста према тачно утврђеним категори-
јама. Међутим, овакав научни приступ је одгурнуо у други план само схватање
Византинаца о жанру због чега је наш покушај у овом раду усмерен на тумачење
византијске перцепције жанра, односно дефиниције историје према историогра-
фу 12. века. Посебну пажњу смо усмерили на метанаративне коментаре, који као
значајан наратолошки аспекат, осликавају ауторкин угао гледања, њена схватања
историје, односно закона историје, природе историје и правила историје.
LARISA VILIMONOVIĆ: Deconstructing the narrative, constructing a meaning...
Друго поље истраживања представљало је питање односа аутора према
тексту. На овом месту смо применили наратолошке принципе о трипартитном
приступу тексту у односу на аутора, наратора и лика. У случају историографи-
је, како смо истакли, аутор и наратор представљају исту особу, због чега је ба-
вљење овом проблематиком унеколико олакшано. У том смислу смо Алексијади
приступили према наративним ситуацијама и наративним нивоима, истичући
наративну комплексност Алексијаде и тумачећи специфичан однос аутора/на-
ратора према свом тексту и причи. Улога Ане Комнин није улога објективног
приповедача, већ и учесника у одређеним догађајима или сведока догађаја, што
додатно компликује причу о наративним нивоима, али пружа бројне могућно-
сти за даља истраживања.
Трећа значајна тема је била усредсређена на специфичности приче и дис-
курса, односно на њихову међусобну повезаност. У том смислу, истакли смо
четири кључна дискурса Ане Комнин кроз која су исприповедани догађаји у
Алексијади и који су њој користили за уобличавање свог наратива. За студију
случаја узели смо један подужи цитат из Алексијаде, на ком смо показали како
се могу распознати сви споменути наратолошки принципи.
Четврта област која нужно заокружује наративни приступ представља
питање публике. У наратологији постоји широко поље истраживања на тему
одговора публике и утицаја читалаца/публике на само стварање и уобличава-
ње дела. У том смислу, ми смо се усредсредили на два приступа у изучавању
проблематике публике. Један се односи на проучавање рукописне традиције,
а други на изучавање дела других аутора исте епохе у потрази за разумевањем
Анине поруке у контексту њеног времена.
Применом основних начела наратологије на тумачење Алексијаде Ане
Комнин желимо да отворимо ново поље истраживања и покренемо конструк-
тиван научни дијалог. Питање на одговор зашто је Алексијада написана лежи у
самом тексту, односно наративу који је конструисала Ана Комнин. Пред нама
је двоструки задатак - да објаснимо Алексијаду у контексту времена и тадашње
публике, као и да је дефинишемо у контексту нашег времена. Између те две хро-
нолошки веома удаљене тачке лежи одговор на постављено питање. Одговор и
перцепција публике нису есенцијално другачији, али је дискурс епохе проме-
нио приоритете и угао гледања. Метода коју предлажем није потрага за исти-
ном, већ потрага за тумачењем знакова и разумевањем дискурса.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
As he explores the causes of the East-West conflict from its most remote antecedents, Herodotus includes conflicting traditions about different historical periods as well as apparently tangential descriptions of the customs of faraway peoples. What was his aim in combining such diverse material? Rosaria Vignolo Munson argues that Herodotus' aim was two-fold: to use historical narrative to illuminate the present and to describe barbarian customs so that the Greeks might understand themselves.Herodotus assumes the role of advisor to his audience, acting as a master of metaphor and oracular speech and as an intellectual fully aware of new philosophical and political trends. By comparing, interpreting, and evaluating facts through time and space or simply by pointing them out as objects of "wonder," he teaches that correct political action is linked to an appropriate approach to foreigners and additional "others." Munson relies on traditional scholarship and modern studies in narratology and related critical fields to distinguish between narrative and metanarrative, providing a framework for analyzing the construction of Herodotus' discourse and his presentation of himself through it.Munson's work will be useful to classicists and ancient historians and will also engage anthropologists interested in cultural interaction and notions of ethnicity and literary critics interested in narrative constructions.Rosaria Vignolo Munson is Associate Professor of Classics, Swarthmore College.