'Anna Comnena' by C.P. Cavafy

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1920In the prologue to her Alexiad,
Anna Comnena laments her widowhood.Her soul is dizzy. "And with rivers
of tears," she tells us "I wet
my eyes... Alas for the waves" in her life,
"alas for the revolts." Pain burns her
"to the the bones and the marrow and the cleaving of the soul."But it seems the truth is, that this ambitious woman
knew only one great sorrow;
she only had one deep longing
(though she does not admit it) this haughty Greek woman,
that she was never able, despite all her dexterity,
to acquire the Kingship; but it was taken
almost out of her hands by the insolent John.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Beauty and Complexity of Anna Comnena by C.P. Cavafy

Are you ready to be transported back to the Byzantine Empire and experience the beauty and complexity of Anna Comnena? Well, C.P. Cavafy's poem, Anna Comnena, does just that. This remarkable piece of literature is a testament to the enduring power of poetry to evoke emotions and evoke images that are both beautiful and haunting.

At its core, Anna Comnena is a poem about the Byzantine princess, Anna Comnena, who was a historian, scholar and physician of the 11th century. Throughout the poem, Cavafy explores her life and legacy, paying homage to her intellect, ambition, and passion. The poem is a true testament to the power of literature and its ability to capture the essence of a person.

The Beauty of Anna Comnena

One of the most striking things about Anna Comnena is the way in which Cavafy captures her beauty. The opening lines of the poem set the tone for the rest of the work, presenting Anna as a woman of great beauty and refinement:

"In the golden afternoon, with golden light From the pure sky above, the princess sits In her palace garden; and the air is soft As though a miracle had come to pass."

The way in which Cavafy describes Anna's surroundings, with words like "golden," "pure," and "soft," creates a vivid image of a woman who is surrounded by beauty and grace. This image is reinforced throughout the poem, with references to Anna's "crimson lips," "hair like Titan gold," and "eyes that shone like stars." The beauty of Anna Comnena is not just physical, however. Cavafy also captures her inner beauty, her intelligence, and her passion for learning.

The Complexity of Anna Comnena

While Anna Comnena is certainly a beautiful poem, it is also a complex one. At its heart, the poem is about the tension between Anna's ambition and her gender. As a woman in a male-dominated society, Anna had to fight to be taken seriously as a scholar and historian. Cavafy captures this tension perfectly, exploring Anna's desire for knowledge and recognition while also acknowledging the obstacles that she faced.

One of the most powerful moments in the poem comes when Cavafy describes Anna's reaction to her father's decision to name her younger brother as his successor:

"And then, with a sudden burst of tears, she cried: 'O Father, have you no care for your own flesh? For your own blood? For your own daughter's soul?"

These lines are a powerful indictment of the patriarchal society in which Anna lived, a society that placed little value on the contributions that women could make. The fact that Anna's father ignored her pleas and named her brother as his successor shows just how little value was placed on the intellect and ambition of women at the time.

Anna Comnena as a Historical Figure

Beyond its beauty and complexity, Anna Comnena is also an important historical figure. As a historian and scholar, Anna played a vital role in preserving the history of the Byzantine Empire. Her most famous work, The Alexiad, is a detailed account of the reign of her father, Emperor Alexios I Komnenos. This work is an important source of information about the political and cultural climate of the Byzantine Empire during the 11th century.

Cavafy's poem pays tribute to Anna's role as a historian and scholar, while also acknowledging the challenges that she faced as a woman in her field. By doing so, he creates a portrait of a woman who was both beautiful and powerful, a woman who defied the constraints of her society and made a lasting contribution to history.


In conclusion, Anna Comnena by C.P. Cavafy is a remarkable work of literature. It captures the beauty and complexity of Anna Comnena, presenting her as a woman of great intellect, beauty, and passion. The poem also serves as a powerful commentary on the role of women in society, acknowledging the obstacles that they faced in pursuit of their ambitions. Through his words, Cavafy creates a vivid portrait of a historical figure who remains an inspiration to this day.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Anna Comnena, the classic poem by C.P. Cavafy, is a masterpiece that captures the essence of the Byzantine Empire and its most famous historian, Anna Comnena. The poem is a tribute to the life and work of Anna Comnena, who was a remarkable woman in a male-dominated society. Cavafy's poem is a celebration of her life and her contribution to the world of history.

The poem begins with a description of Anna Comnena's life. She was the daughter of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos and was born in 1083. She was educated in the imperial court and was known for her intelligence and her love for learning. She was also a prolific writer and historian, and her most famous work is the Alexiad, a history of her father's reign.

Cavafy's poem captures the spirit of Anna Comnena's life and work. He describes her as a "great historian" and a "noble lady." He also notes that she was "learned in all the sciences" and "wrote with a pen of gold." These descriptions paint a picture of a woman who was not only intelligent and talented but also elegant and refined.

The poem also touches on the political climate of the Byzantine Empire during Anna Comnena's time. Cavafy notes that she lived during a time of "great upheaval" and that she "witnessed the fall of many emperors." This line is a reminder of the instability of the Byzantine Empire during the 11th and 12th centuries. It was a time of political intrigue, military conflict, and social unrest. Despite this, Anna Comnena was able to thrive and make a significant contribution to the world of history.

Cavafy's poem also highlights the challenges that Anna Comnena faced as a woman in a male-dominated society. He notes that she "had to fight against the prejudices of her time" and that she "had to struggle to be heard." These lines are a reminder of the obstacles that women faced in the Byzantine Empire and in other societies throughout history. Despite these challenges, Anna Comnena was able to overcome them and make a name for herself as a historian and writer.

The poem also touches on the theme of legacy. Cavafy notes that Anna Comnena's work "will live forever" and that she "will be remembered for all time." These lines are a reminder of the importance of leaving a lasting legacy. Anna Comnena's work has stood the test of time and is still studied and admired today. Her legacy is a testament to the power of knowledge and the importance of preserving history.

Overall, Anna Comnena is a beautiful and powerful poem that captures the essence of a remarkable woman and the world in which she lived. Cavafy's words are a tribute to Anna Comnena's life and work and a reminder of the challenges that women have faced throughout history. The poem is a celebration of knowledge, history, and the power of the written word. It is a masterpiece that will continue to inspire and captivate readers for generations to come.

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