Innokenty Fyodorovich Annensky was born in Omsk, Siberia, on August 20, 1856, but the family returned to St. Petersburg in 1858. Both parents having died when Annensky was quite young, he was reared by his brother, Nikolay Fyodorovich Annensky, publisher of the important journal Russkoe bogatstvo. Nikolay and his wife, Alexandra Nikitichna Annenskaya, held liberal political and social views typical of the positivistic thinkers of their generation.
Educated at home, possibly because his health was poor, Annensky mastered several foreign languages, including Latin and Greek. He completed a degree in philology at the University of St. Petersburg in 1879; in the same year, he married a widow named Dina Khmara-Barshchevskaya. The marriage was apparently a happy one; he was close to his two stepsons, and his own son Valentin was born in 1880.
Annensky embarked on his pedagogical career following graduation. After teaching Greek and Russian in several private institutions in St. Petersburg, he went to Kiev between 1890 and 1893, where he became director of the Pavel Galagan College. He returned to St. Petersburg in 1893, assuming the directorship of a high school there, and in 1896, he was appointed head of the famous lyceum at Tsarskoe Selo. It was during his tenure at Tsarskoe Selo that he issued his first volume of original verse and translations, Tikhie pesni; the book was virtually unnoticed by the critics.
Annensky’s last post was as inspector of the St. Petersburg School District; he also lectured on classical literature at a private university for women. During this period, his friendship with the Acmeist poet and theoretician Nikolay Gumilyov gave him entrée into the literary world of St. Petersburg and brought him belated fame. Annensky died of a heart attack on November 30, 1909, the very day his retirement had been granted.