Why are so many geniuses humble
7 geniuses you've probably never heard of - and why
If someone were to ask about one of the most important historians of all time, most of them would hardly think of Anna Komnene. But maybe he should. Komnene, who was born a Byzantine princess, experienced the First Crusade and wrote down what she saw.
Her best-known work, the "Alexiad", is full of vivid accounts of bloodshed, battles and betrayals from the years 1081 to 1107. It is one of the rare primary sources from this period that gives a detailed insight into the threatened realm of her father as well as into the ragged alliance fighting what they saw as an existential threat to Christianity.
In all likelihood, even die-hard history buffs have never heard of her. No matter how brilliant, accomplished, or famous a person was in their lifetime, the world has its own way of forgetting some of the greatest geniuses.
Social and cultural tendencies and prejudices may well play a role in their downfall. Countless extraordinary spirits have been belittled or ignored because of their race, class, or gender. In many cases of lost geniuses now being rediscovered, the precise reasons for their oblivion are full of intrigue.
This also applies to Komnene. She was banished into oblivion not only because of her gender, but also because of a feud in the historian's family. A few decades after her death, a Byzantine minister named Choniates wrote his own story about Comnene's family, which contained a malicious rumor: The princess, he claimed, was behind a treacherous plot that aimed at killing her brother for herself Could be queen.
It didn't matter that Choniates had every reason to hate Komnene - he blamed her father for the fall of Constantinople and his own political exile. It didn't matter that he was relying on hearsay to write the book. For some reason the rumor persisted and even grew.
Nowadays, Komnene is still mainly perceived as a power-hungry, murderous gangster bride. Many people read her report in search of signs of a potential murderous spirit rather than astute observations of life at the contested Byzantine court. Historians have only recently begun reassessing their portrayal, but it will be a while before their reputation is restored.
Sometimes geniuses are also forgotten because of an influential enemy or bad character traits. Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis, one of the most brilliant minds of his generation, had both.
The eighteenth-century polymath helped determine the shape of the earth and even pioneered the theory of evolution. But Maupertuis was a sensitive fellow - he often got into arguments with his sometimes best, sometimes less good friend, Voltaire. This went so far that one observer said the two were "not made to exist in the same room."
In 1751 their difficult friendship finally turned into bitter enmity when Voltaire sided with Maupertuis ‘critics. The witty author pilloried Maupertuis ‘Principle of Least Effect - now also known as Hamilton's law and a principle of physics - in the newspaper. Maupertuis was devastated and today its name has largely been forgotten - probably thanks to the verbal fireworks of its more influential friend.
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