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TIME in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things, and drowns them in the depths of obscurity, no matter if they be quite unworthy of mention, or most noteworthy and important, and thus, as the tragedian says, “he brings from the darkness all things to the birth, and all things born envelops in the night.”

But the tale of history forms a very strong bulwark against the stream of time, and to some extent checks its irresistible flow, and, of all things done in it, as many as history has taken over, it secures and binds together, and does not allow them to slip away into the abyss of oblivion.

Thus begins the Alexiad, an account of the reign of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos of Byzantium, written by his daughter Anna Comnena.

It is, at times, a shockingly personal story, as Anna writes, for example, of the pain she still feels from the death of her husband (whose project the work that was to become the Alexiad originally was), and at other times lively with descriptions of bloody combat. It is, as well, a highly opinionated work. Anna wrote the Alexiad while in living in a monastery, exiled there after her plot to seize the throne from her brother John had failed; so she had no reason to hold back her opinions, and speaks quite harshly and openly of her royal relatives, and other powerful people.

This bit, concerning a feud between the Pope and the King of Germany, is worth quoting at length:

The dispute between the King and the Pope was this: the latter accused Henry of not bestowing livings as free gifts, but selling them for money, and occasionally entrusting archbishoprics to unworthy recipients, and he also brought further charges of a similar nature against him. The King of Germany on his side indicted the Pope of usurpation, as he had seized the apostolic chair without his consent. Moreover, he had the effrontery to utter reckless threats against the Pope, saying that if he did not resign his self-elected office, he should be expelled from it with contumely. When these words reached the Pope’s ears, he vented his rage upon Henry’s ambassadors; first he tortured them inhumanly, then clipped their hair with scissors, and sheared their beards with a razor, and finally committed a most indecent outrage upon them, which transcended even the insolence of barbarians, and so sent them away. My womanly and princely dignity forbids my naming the outrage inflicted on them, for it was not only unworthy a high priest, but of anyone who bears the name of a Christian. I abhor this barbarian’s idea, and more still the deed, and I should have defiled both my pen and my paper had I described it explicitly. But as a display of barbaric insolence, and a proof that time in its flow produces men with shameless morals, ripe for any wickedness, this alone will suffice, if I say, that I could not bear to disclose or relate even the tiniest word about what he did. And this was the work of a high priest. Oh, justice! The deed of the supreme high priest! nay, of one who claimed to be the president of the whole world, as indeed the Latins assert and believe, but this, too, is a bit of their boasting. For when the imperial seat was transferred from Rome hither to our native Queen of Cities, and the senate, and the whole administration, there was also transferred the arch-hieratical primacy. And the Emperors from the very beginning have given the supreme right to the episcopacy of Constantinople, and the Council of Chalcedon emphatically raised the Bishop of Constantinople to the highest position, and placed all the dioceses of the inhabited world under his jurisdiction. There can be no doubt that the insult done to the ambassadors was aimed at the king who sent them; not only because he scourged them, but also because he was the first to invent this new kind of outrage. For by his actions, the Pope suggested, I think, that the power of the King was despicable, and by this horrible outrage on his ambassadors that he, a demi-god, as it were, was treating with a demi-ass!

Quoting Wikipedia: “The Alexiad is today the main source of Byzantine political history from the end of the 11th century to the beginning of the 12th century.”


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    Very nice source. Other formats: libgen:pdf libgen:epub

    Small note: you tagged this as excerpt, but the link is to the full text. book would be more apt.

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      … Just the other day I had a certain mod on my expletive deleted for not tagging posts with excerpts in them as “excerpt”… :p

      (Yes, this should definitely have the “book” tag, adding that; but also, let’s decide whether “excerpt” means “the link is to an excerpt of something” or “the post contains excerpts of something”. I lean toward the former, myself. Are there good arguments for the latter?)

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        My intuition on the tags is that they refer to the link if it’s a link, or, if it’s a text-post, to the post. This example is to my mind a link, with explanatory commentary which includes some excerpts, rather than a post which is related to a source fulltext (and needless to say, I would find it a bit of a twist of logic to say that the linked full text contains excerpts from itself).

        My expectation is that most non-meta content on WL will be links, so situations like this shouldn’t be tagged as excerpt. That tag would be for links to excerpts (such as specific passages from books, possibly with commentary).

        Intuitions can change in the face of custom, but this is what makes sense now.

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          Yep, I agree with all of this.

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