Anna Komnene (Greek: Ἄννα Κομνηνή, 1 December 1083 – 1153), commonly Latinized as Anna Comnena, was a Byzantine princess, scholar, physician, hospital administrator, and historian. She was the daughter of the Emperor Alexios I Komnenos and his wife Irene Doukaina. She is best known for her attempt to usurp her brother, John II Komnenos, and for her work The Alexiad, an account of her father's reign.
Note on Videssos Series
In Kaleidoscope, Harry Turtledove states that the Videssos story "A Difficult Undertaking" is based on a writing of Anna Comnena, without specifying further. In the original Legion Cycle, set centuries after the short story, the character Alypia Gavra appears to be based broadly on Anna.
Anna Komnene in "Suffer a Sorceress"
In 1118, Anna Komnene, Princess of the Byzantine Empire, ambitiously anticipated the death of her father, Emperor Alexios. Although her brother Prince John was the heir apparent (and supported by their younger brother Isaac), Anna sought to have the succession given instead to her husband Nikephoros Bryennios. Her husband was a strong man, but not a very intelligent one, therefore the perfect puppet for her personal rule. Anna's mother, Empress Irene Doukaina, supported her in this enterprise. A wild card in the whole affair was John's foreign wife, Princess Irene of Hungary, whom Anna thought of as "the Hungarian trull."
The imperial family retreated to Constantinople's Mangana district, where clean air could ease the Emperor's breathing pains. Using her secret expertise in witchcraft, Anna consulted the Aithiopika for a spell to control the spirits of the dead, hoping that in this case, it could control the mind of the nearly-dead Emperor. Anna performed a ritual which transported her astral body to Egypt, or a reasonable simulacrum thereof. While the setting mostly matched her expectations of Egypt, the presence of a hedgehog did not. Particularly a hedgehog with an unnatural coloring, as if it were one of Daedalus' automatons in the old myths. Anna summoned her father's astral body, which was defiant and high-spirited at first. She caused him to become groggy and easily controlled, and received confirmation from his lips that Bryennios would be his heir.
In the middle of the ritual, Anna had to shoo away the hedgehog, which seemed to be expressing an undue interest in her doings. After the ritual was complete, Anna saw that her fire was suddenly extinguished, cutting off her passage back to the natural world. As the spirit world began to fade to black, Anna noticed that the hedgehog seemed to be still in control of itself. She spoke to it as if it were a human servant, commanding it to guide her out.
Suddenly Anna was no longer in Egypt, but neither was she at home in Constantinople. She seemed to be in the frontier regions beyond the Empire's northern borders. The hedgehog enjoyed itself eating beetles and other vermin, but there was no other wildlife anywhere that Anna could see. She began to think that the hedgehog was taunting her, daring her to invent a spell to get herself out of her plight. After five days of starvation and thirst, Anna saw the hedgehog enjoying an insect meal. She angrily threw a stone at it, which hit the creature's face but did not significantly injure it. Suddenly, the mother of all earthquakes began.
Anna was cast out of the spiritual world and back to her own room in Mangana, where her husband angrily berated her for falling asleep at such a crucial moment. Only a few hours had passed in the natural world, while Anna had spent nearly a week in the spiritual one. The first news she received upon awakening was that her plans were all in vain: Emperor Alexios had given the seal of authority to Prince John.
As the court gathered in the throne room, the dying Emperor angrily refuted the notion that a son-in-law could come before a son. All present acknowledged the transfer of power. The Hungarian Irene very cordially asked Anna to walk in the garden with her. Anna was suspicious, and told Irene she preferred open enmity to feigned friendship. Irene said that she only wished to know if Anna had enjoyed her sojourn of the slopes of Mount Balvany. Anna suddenly noticed that from the side, Irene's face resembled a hedgehog's snout, and that Irene had a bruise on her cheek, in the same spot where Anna's stone had grazed the astral hedgehog. Yet although Anna had left this mark, it was clear that Irene had won.
- Ancient Enchantresses, pgs 52-54.
- Ibid., pgs. 56-61.
- Ibid., p. 61.
- Ibid., pgs. 61-62.
- Ibid., pgs. 62-64.
- Ibid., pgs. 64-66.