Two objectives prompted Mesrop in the accomplishment of his great work; the diffusion of the Christian faith in his own country, and the emancipation of the Armenians from the influence of foreign preachers. The first works translated from Greek and Syriac texts were those devoted to religion and piety — the Old and New Testaments, the writings of Ephrem the Syrian, the Hexameron (six days of creation) of Basil of Caesarea, the homilies of John Chrysostom, the Ecclesiastic History of Eusebius, History of the Conversion of Edessa, the (apocryphal) correspondence of Jesus with Abgar by the Syrian Laroubna, the Syriac liturgy and that of St. Basil. The original works composed in Armenian were those of Korioun, Yeznik, Agathangelos and Phaustus. There are hymns attributed to Mesrop and Sahak.
No Armenian literature in writing existed before Mesrop's era. Movses of Khoren (Khorenatsi) cites certain names as of historians dealing with Armenia; Mar-Apas Katina (identified by some critics with Berosus),º Olympus (Ughicub) of Ani, the archpriest of Hormuzd (Aramazd), Bardesan and Khorohput, Iranian annalists. Khorenatsi's statement as to the existence of such historians as these has been disputed by some authors, but their opinion is debatable, because Armenia, in the stage of civilization which she had then attained, could not have remained without possessing any inscribed annals at all. The upper class of her population was highly cultivated; life within the royal court and satrapalº mansion was colorful p370and rich in the display of artistic taste. There were men of letters among the nobility; Tigran the Great's son Artavazd had written tragedies and treatises in the Greek language which Plutarch mentions with praise;a Vrouyr, a man of royal blood, was a distinguished poet; Parouyr, a native of Göksun, Cilicia, the Proeresios of the Greeks and known as "the prince of orators," was a teacher of elocution in Rome; Gregory of Nazianzen, his pupil, speaks of him in admiration.
Nevertheless, the real Armenian literature of those days is to be traced in the oral hymns composed by the songsters, of which a few fragments only have been quoted by Movses Khorenatsi and Grigor Magistros. These chants were numerous, various and very popular. For centuries they lingered on people's lips, despite the efforts exerted by the Church Fathers to eradicate them as heathen relics. That old poetry vibrated with epic inspiration; it sang the powerful and serene gods; Aramazd, "the source of mankind," "the father of the gods and all heroes," "the architect of the universe," "the creator of heaven and earth," "the wise," "the valiant"; Mihr, the invisible fire, son of Aramazd, the essence of universal life, the god of light and heat; Nana, the goddess of maternity, the patroness of the family; Astrik, the goddess of beauty and wisdom, the patroness of virgins; Anahit, goddess of fecundity and of wisdom, "the pure and immaculate lady," "the mother of chastity. She is the glory of our Nation and its protectress. Through her the Armenian land exists, from her it draws its life."
Many images and shrines were dedicated to Anahit, under the name of Oskémair, the Golden Mother. The name Anahit was borrowed from the Zoroastrians. On her festival day a dove and a rose were offered to her golden image, hence the day was called Vardavar, "the Flaming of the Rose." Her golden statue in Erez (Erzinjan), was captured by the soldiers of Antony.
Upon the introduction of Christianity, the festival of Anahit became the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ. This is also the Armenian "water-day," on which occasion the people amuse themselves by throwing water at each other. On that day, the people had to show the progress they had made in art and in other occupations p371during the year. Races and other competitions took place, the victors being crowned with wreaths of roses. When the doves were flying, the High Priest sprinkled the people with the water of Aradzani (the eastern tributary of the Euphrates), and the people in turn sprinkled each other. The origin of this custom dates back to the traditions of the Deluge.
Vahagn was the god of force, the lover of Astrik, who battled with dragons. He was credited with a miraculous birth; the fires of Heaven and earth and the sea, crimson in the light of dawn, travailed to bring him into being. Vahagn cleared Armenia of monsters and saved it from evil forces. His exploits were known also in the abode of the gods. Having stolen grain from the barns of King Barsham of Assyria, he ran away and tried to hide himself in Heaven. The grain he dropped became the Milky Way, which is called in Armenian, Hartgogh — "Galaxy or Milky way," "Tack of the Chaff-Stealer." Venus, the Roman goddess of beauty and love, was also the wife of a fire-god, Vulcan.
The theme of another song referred to by Khorenatsi is the romance of King Artashes. Addressing himself to Sahak Bagratuni, his patron and Maecenas, he wrote as follows; "The deeds of Artashes are known to thee through the epic songs which are chanted in the province of Goghten"; that is to say, his founding of Artashat (Artaxata),1 his alliance by marriage with the royal house of the Alans, his sons and their descendants, the loves of Satenik with the Vishapazounq (progeny of dragons), who were of the race of Astyages (Azhdahak), his wars with them, the overthrow of their dynasty, their slaughter, the burning of their palaces, the rivalries of the sons of Artashes, the intrigues of their wives, which further fomented the discord among them. "Although these things are well known to thee through the epic songs, I will, nevertheless, narrate them again and will explain their allegorical meaning."
Another epic stanza, consisting of only four lines, refers to Queen Satenik's love for Argavan, the chief of the Medean prisoners, whom p372Artashes heaped with honours. The passage implies that Satenik was desirous of getting certain herbs — khavart and khavardzi — from under Argavan's pillow. If she could put them under her own pillow, Aragavan's affection would be insured.
One of the Artashes epics was sung by minstrels as late as the eleventh century. Here are some of its lines, as set down by Grigor Magistros. They are supposed to be expressions of the king in his last moments, during a foreign campaign; —
"Who will give me the smoke of the chimney and the morn of Navasard,2
The running of the stag and the coursing of the deer?
We sounded the horns and beat the drum
As is the manner of kings."
The obsequies of Artashes were celebrated with great splendor. He was much beloved by his subjects, some of whom committed suicide at his grave. Professional female mourners (Yegheramayr) and singing maidens, dressed in black with hair dishevelled, followed the hearse, clapping their hands and moving in a slow dance. The funeral songs depicted the life of the deceased, his stature, the manner of his death and his domestic relations. The song called upon the dead man to arise from his slumbers. It rebuked him for remaining deaf to the prayers of the survivors, and vouchsafing neither word nor smile to them. Then came laudatory epithets addressed to the dead, and finally, farewells and messages through him to deceased relatives.3
Of all the epics from which Khorenatsi gives fragments, the only one that has survived among the people in complete form, with numerous variants, is Sasma Dzur. the Bible contains the following p373reference to the story; "And it came to pass as he (Sennacherib, King of Assyria) was worshipping in the house of Nisroch, his god, that Adramelech and Sharezer, his sons, smote him with the sword, and they escaped into the land of Armenia" (2 Kings, XIX, 37 and Isaiah XXXVII, 38).4
The epic related the doings of the two brothers and their descendants in Armenia. It is still handed down orally among the Armenians. Khorenatsi says that he himself heard these poems sung to the accompaniment of various musical instruments. The love of the old pagan religion and manners continued in the province of Koghten — abounding in orchards and vineyards — where the old poems were chiefly sung, long after the introduction of Christianity. These poems prove that the Armenians, even under Paganism and when they had no alphabet, had a perfected poetical language, which, in its construction, imaginative force, brilliancy and grammatical development, bears the impress of literary culture.5
Armenian literature contains a volume of religious poetry, represented by the Sharakan, the compendium of church hymns and chants. Some of them were written in the fifth century, and they were enriched by later additions, down to the thirteenth century. The oldest author known by name is Komitas the Katholikos (619‑628). Sahakdukht, a noblewoman of the eighth century, wrote Sharakans and composed music. Modestly concealed behind a curtain, she gave singing instruction to both sexes. "They were angelic songs on earth," says the historian Ghevond Yeretz (Leon the Priest). Singers and musicians who were also poets were called in Armenia "philosophers."
Petros Getadartz, the Katholikos, visiting Constantinople in 1050, took with him a company of singers, whom he presented as a gift, for the service of the Byzantine Court. The twelfth century p374Bishop Khatchatour of Taron invented musical notes, quite unlike and unrelated to European ones.
Armenian hymns, somewhat plaintive and monotonous in the Eastern style, have nevertheless a peculiar charm and often rich color. Great tenderness, hope, devotion and supplication are their characteristics. A vein of mysticism runs through many of them, especially those written by Grigor Narekatsi (951‑1009), who think his name from the monastery of Narek, south of the Lake of Van. Narekatsi wrote elegies, odes, panegyrics and homilies. He is famous also for verbosity. In one passage the word "God" is embellished with ninety adjectives. The influence of Arabic literature is noticeable in the Armenian of this period. Narek, the Book of Prayer, was once regarded with veneration but little short of that accorded to the Bible itself.
Some pagan melodies must have found their way into the hymn tunes of Christian Armenia.
The unwritten literature of Armenia consisted mainly of folk tales, fables, proverbs, and riddles. It appears to have been a custom in ancient times for a man to meet on the bank of a stream or in a public park the girl whom he wished to marry, and propound a riddle to her. A correct answer would assure marriage.
Charm-verses, used for fortune-telling, gave rise to another and extensive sort of literature. Once a year, on the eve of Ascension Day (Hampartzoum), young maidens who want their fortunes told, decorate a bowl with certain especially selected flowers. Into this bowl each girl casts a token — a ring, a brooch, a thimble. After filling the bowl with flowers of seven different kinds and water drawn from seven springs, they cover it with an embroidered cloth and take it by night to the priest, who says a prayer over it. Then they put it out in the moonlight, open to the stars, where it remains until dawn. At daybreak, supplied with provisions for the whole day, they go out of the village, carrying the bowl, to the brink of a spring, gathering on the way various kinds of flowers, with which they deck themselves. Arriving at their destination, they first p375play games, dance and sing; then they take a little girl, too young to know where the sun rises, who has been previously chosen for the purpose and dressed gaily for the occasion, and who does not know to whom each token belongs. They cover her face with a richly-wrought veil, so that she may not see the objects in the bowl, and one by one she draws the articles out of it. While she holds each in her hand, someone in the party recites a charm-song, and the owner of the token just drawn takes the song which accompanies it as her fortune.
Armenia must have had much word-of‑mouth folklore, which the elders recited during the long winter evenings to family groups and friends sitting around the hearth, describing deeds of valor by tribes and individuals. These treasures unfortunately have been lost, and have been partly replaced by Hebrew legends, through the ill-conceived zeal of the founders of the early Christian Church in Armenia, as in the entire Christian world of those days.
The literature of Christian Armenia was cultivated for the most part by the clergy; nevertheless, despite the intolerant spirit which had prevailed, the taste for ancient memories was deeply bred into the masses, and therefore the link between pagan poetry and the new culture was not entirely broken. Through the renaissance of that spirit in the fifteenth century, there sprang up in Armenia, even among the clergy, a class of popular, non-religious poets.
All foreign specialists in the study of the Armenian language agree in attributing to it an honorable place among the best interpreters of human thought. The translation of the Bible is regarded as a remarkable literary monument.
The ancient Armenian poetry dealt with the exploits of heroes, historical or legendary — Haik the mighty, of noble figure, with curly hair, bright eyes, powerful arms, brave and renowned among the giants; Aram, who captured the Medean tyrant Nukar, and with his own hand nailed him through the brow to the top of the tower of Armavir; Ara, the handsome, so loyal to his wife Nevart that he refused the hand of Shamiram (Semiramis), Queen of Assyria, who p376was so enamored of him that she fought a combat with him, endeavoring to take him by armed force; the King Tigran, who killed the tyrant Azhdahak of Media; the King Artashes II, who raised his country to an exalted plane of power and prosperity. Artavazd, the sullen and impetuous prince, cursed by his own father, the kindly Artashes, was precipitated by the genii of Mount Massis into a profound abyss, where he lives through all eternity, chained to a rock; for, "should he ever come out, he would destroy the world." The Armenian poets sang lastly, Torq, the giant who symbolized Force by crushing rocks with his hands, and sketching eagles on stones with his nails, who one day sank many vessels in the Sea of Pontus by throwing into it from a hill-top huge stones, which raised a tempest. Such are the traditions which reflect old Armenian memories, mixed with Oriental and Occidental fables. These chants, according to Victor Langlois, had been composed at various times by rhapsodists or popular bards who had free access to royal courts and aristocrats' palaces. We gather from what Khorenatsi says, that these oral poems of antiquity formed a complete epic, similar to the Shahnameh of the Persians. And yet they might have been isolated productions, such as songs of love, of dance and marriage, and sacred hymns dedicated to the gods.
Armenian poetry, as a form, offers certain characteristics of the Orient, but it also displays an intimate affinity and profound relationship with the art of the Occident. This popular poetry embraces all varieties — love songs, lullabies, children's songs, badinage, satirical couplets, prayers, funeral chants, dance motifs, songs of festivity and of weddings, tales in verse, national and historical chants, emigrants' laments and various others which glorify nature, extol the work in the fields, praise the birds, the seasons, etc. There are also popular epics, the most beautiful of which is that of David of Sassoon, the champion who, by his herculean strength, subdued lions and tigers, and who killed the tyrant Msramelik (King of Missr — Egypt) and freed his native land of the oppressor's yoke.
To the founder of the Armenian Church is attributed the compilation of Hajakhapatum (Stromatis) a series of discourses, in Greek, on doctrinal, dogmatic, moral and canonical subjects. To him p377also is ascribed the authorship of hymns in honor of the maiden martyrs, Hripsimeh, Gayaneh and their thirty-three companions.
The Armenian word Hajakhapatum might be interpreted as "frequently delivered narrations" or sermons, "Stromata" in Greek. Father K. Zarbhanelian and others are not certain as to Hajakhapatum having been edited in Greek, in which language St. Grigor was trained in Caesarea. We know that the schools established by King Trdat taught the Greek and Syriac languages.
Analyzing the style and trend of the work, some critics find it a mediocre production of doubtful origin and of a date later than the Council of Nicaea (325). Patriarch Tourian, a modern scholar, after refuting P. Vetter's opinion that Hajakhapatum was written by Mesrop Mashtotz, concludes his essay with these words;— "Should we assume it to have been compiled about the last part of the previous (fourth) century, it must have been the product of an alien writer, translated into Armenian afterwards."
All records of St. Grigor's marvelous enterprise are silent as to his book until the middle of the fifteenth century, when a certain Archdeacon Grigor of Jerusalem used the expression Hajakhapatum. This fact is another bit of proof against the contention that St. Grigor was the author of the book, and in favor of the view that he was a man of action in defense of the new religion rather than a devotee of abstract speculation.
Zenob of Clag, a Syrian priest, had accompanied St. Grigor from Caesarea to Armenia to assist him in the evangelization of the country. He was appointed Superior of the Monastery of St. Karapet — the Baptist — in the vicinity of Nine-Springs (Innaknian) of a stream in Taron.
The book of Zenob contains a letter of St. Grigor to Patriarch Leontius of Caesarea, thanking him for the relics of St. John the Baptists, by whose miracles the idols of Gissaneh had been demolished after a bloody battle. He thanked him also for sending to Armenia the anchorites Anton and Gronides. in his reply, the Patriarch of Caesarea congratulates St. Grigor upon the conversion of Armenia, he having received the details from certain travelers.
Zenob had been requested by Grigor to write the narrative of the assassination of King Khosrov, the disclosure of the relationship of Trdat with Grigor, the latter's incarceration in a dungeon, p378and his release to cure the King and to establish the Christian religion in Armenia.
Zenob's book, written in Syriac, has been subject to alterations and interpolations by copyists and translators, especially by Bishop Hovhan Mamikonian. Considered a compendium of absurdities by many critics, it has been praised by others for its interesting accounts of events.
According to Zenob, the pagan priests serving Kissaneh were black and long-haired, Indians by race, and because Kissaneh was tressed when he was compelled to accept Christianity, they made a habit of leaving a long tress of hair on the heads of their boys, in memory of their old cult. Such a custom prevailed in the Mamikonian family, whose home was in Taron, but Phaustus thinks it was common to all Armenians. Speaking of Artavazd, the son of Vatché Mamikonian, he says, "He was yet very young, and as such, in accordance with the religious custom of the Armenians, his head was shaved all around, retaining only a long tress of hair."
The Christians believed that the temple of Kissaneh was the "Gate of Hell and Sandaramet, the seat of a multitude of demons. As to Demeter, it was only known that heº and Kissaneh were brothers.
Patriarch Yeghisheh Tourian believes, on the authority of the French savant Sylvain Levi, that the story of Zenob cannot be entirely discarded. The efforts from 256 B.C. onward, towards the spreading of Buddhism in Hellenic lands may have had repercussions in Armenia, resulting in the establishment there of the worship of Kissaneh (Indian) and Demeter (Greek). The German orientalist, Lassen, saw on Armenian soil the traces of a Buddhist-Hellenic religious syncretion.6
Agathangelos, who is sometimes called a Greek, sometimes a Roman, was allegedly born in Asia Minor, within the bounds of Byzantine dominion. At the command of King Trdat, whom he is said to have served as secretary, he wrote a History of King Trdat and St. Grigor. This work covers a period of a little more than a century — 226 to 330 A.D. — which includes the reign of the valiant King p379Khosrov of Armenia. He describes the events as if by an eye-witness, but close study indicates that he had some sources for a part of his chronicle.
A few authors have disputed the very existence of a person of this name, the meaning of which is "evangelical preaching." Agathos means literally "good," and angelus "angel." This objection never brought forth a rejoinder. The appellation "Agathangelos" was not uncommon at that time. On the other hand, we have the fact that he was an object of veneration. Zenob and Khorenatsi call him "sincere and truthful." For Parbetsi he was "a God-blessed man." As for the book, it holds a very high place in the Armenian literature. The author was probably not proficient in literary Armenian, so he must have written in Greek, which he had mastered, along with the Latin.
The existing Greek copy of Agathangelos is a translation from an Armenian text, though the two do not entirely agree. The Greek contains pages which do not appear in the Armenian. There exists also an Arabic version of this ancient book. Alfred von Gutschmid is of the opinion that the History of Agathangelos is not the work of a single person, but is rather a collection of the writings of various authors of different periods. this view has been propounded by various scholars, from Cardinal Baronius and Fathers Papebock and Stilting to Langlois and Armenian experts.
That the Greek text was translated from the Armenian has been demonstrated also by linguistic proofs. Patriarch Tourian has cited a few nouns and place-names in the Greek text in their original Armenian forms; —
Yeraksh, the river, instead of the Greek Araxis:
Npat, a mountain, instead of the Greek Nipates:
Ekelisene, a province, instead of the Greek Akilesene:
Manya ayrk, a mountain cave, instead of the Greek Apelaion manes.
Aspet, a knight; Maghkhazoutune, a civil position of rank; and Spaskapetoutune, high-stewardship, all have the same form in Armenian and Greek.
The present text of Agathangelos is the work of several writers or copyists, who lived one and a half centuries after him, and reduced the historical work to a hagiographical compendium. No copy of the original Armenian translation has yet been discovered.
The earliest known manuscript, dated 1293, is now in the Library p380of Etchmiadzin. The Library of the Mekhitarists of Venice has several manuscripts, the oldest of which is dated 1634. Much older than this is 8th or 9th century manuscript, in middle Ergatakir and palimpsestic7 text, now in the Mekhitarist Library of Vienna.
Phaustus, sometimes called "of Buzant" (Pavstos Puzantatsi), a Greek by origin, wrote a History of the Armeniansb covering a period of sixty years from 330 to 390 A.D. Having lived in Armenia from his very early years, Phaustus became a naturalized Armenian, and attaining a Bishop's rank in later years, was admitted among the officials of the Katholikos under Nerses the Great. The work of Phaustus, written in Greek, before the introduction of the Armenian alphabet, was translated into the latter language. This history, although it containsº many fantastic narratives and figures, is nevertheless a picturesque work, valuable as a mirror of some aspects of the life in Armenia in the fourth century and abounding in colorful descriptions. Phaustus is said to have been born in the town of Buzanda (modern Bozanti) in Cilicia, not in Byzantium, as his surname would seem to indicate.
St. Sahak Parthev (the Parthian) was the son of the Katholikos Nerses the Great. As an issue of St. Grigor, he inherited the Patriarchal See in 375 A.D., while he was yet in adolescence. He probably began his education in Caesarea. He covered a span of fifty years on the throne, with short intermissions because of political troubles. He trained a considerable number of disciples to serve as evangelists. He himself attracted large audiences whenever and wherever he preached, in cities and countryside. His literary works included the wonderful translations from the Scriptures, as well as ritual and ceremonial writings, especially pertaining to the Holy Week. He died in 439, and was buried at Ashtishat, in the district of Taron.
Fourth century Greek authors mention a number of Armenian students who had gone to Athens and Rome to acquire higher learning. p381Proeresios (Parouyr Haygazn, the Armenian) stands at the top of the list. In his student days, he was so poor that he and his friend Hephaestion, having only one decent garment between them, wore it on alternate days. The name of Parouyr, unknown to Armenian authors, was first mentioned by Eunapius the Greek, his contemporary.c According to this witness, Parouyr was endowed with unusual physical excellence — beauty of countenance, robust constitution and a titanic stature.
Attracted by the fame of this genius of erudition, the Emperor Constantine II8 invited him to his palace in Gaul and entertained him magnificently, though the guest was very simple and ascetic in habits. He was sent by the Emperor to Rome, where he became an object of popular veneration, culminating in the erection of his statue, which bore the inscription, "Regina rerum Roma, Regi Eloquentiae" (Rome the Queen to the King of Eloquence).
The Emperor Julian, "the Apostate," a scholarly man, raised to the purple against his desire in 361 A.D., greatly admired Parouyr, and in a letterd spoke of his "exuberant and overflowing stream of speech . . . mighty in discourse, just like Pericles. . . ." In the hope of winning Parouyr to apostasy, Julian maintained him in a professorial chair, dismissing all others; but Parouyr remained loyal to his faith, and voluntarily resigned his lucrative post. He died at the age of 95. His pupil Eunapius had said several years before, "I saw him at 87, old and white-haired, silver-shining, as he used to say, but very active, the like of which I had never seen among the aged. I took him for an immortal being."
Among his admiring pupils were St. Basil of Caesarea, a great prelate, St. Gregory the Theologian, another celebrity, and Libanius, a famous non-Christian philosopher and rhetorician.
Mesrop, son of Vardan, was a native of the village of Hatzekats, in the District of Taron, succeeding Sahak as Locum Tenens. At first in military service, he was later appointed secretary of the Royal Chancellery, for correspondence in the Persian language. He had gained proficiency in the Syrian language in Edessa, after graduation from school in Armenia. He was destined, however, to win p382the undying gratitude of the Armenian nation by devoting the best part of his life to the spiritual and educational needs of his fellow-countrymen. Encouraged by the saintly Katholikos, he chose as his first field of activity the district of Goghten, the modern Akoulis (Ordupat) near the Persian side of the Arax River.
His efforts were amply rewarded. The task undertaken in Greater Armenia having been consolidated, there now remained Byzantine Armenia as an object of concern. The Greek clergy opposed the establishment of Armenian schools. Mesrop, accompanied by Vardan Mamikonian, was delegated by the Katholikos to visit the royal court in Constantinople. They were graciously received by the Emperor Theodosius II and their request was generously granted by the monarch and the Patriarch Atticus, a native of Sebast (Sivas), and of Armenian origin. An Imperial edict authorized the establishment of Armenian schools, with subsidies from the civil list. Finally, Mesrop was honored by the titles of "Ecclesiasticos" and "Akumit," and Vardan with the military rank of "Stradelat."
No literary works by Mesrop are known, with the exception of a few sharakans and prayers. The ritual of the Armenian church known as "Mashtots," is ascribed to a Katholikos Mashtots, whose tenure of office was only seven months in the year 897. According to Father Zarbhanelian and several ancient chroniclers, the main compiler of the book of the Armenian ritual was Mesrop Mashtots. Patriarch Ormanian holds a different view, conferring the honor on Katholikos Mashtots. This worthy cleric, the Bishop Superior of the monastery of Sevan, was a "real anchorite" with a "philosophical mind." For forty years he took only bread and water as nourishment. His death in 897, was brought on, says Ormanian, by the abrupt change in his way of life from that of a hermit to that of the highest dignitary of the Church. The compilation of the ritual had been achieved before his elevation to the Katholikosate. Ormanian reminds us of the heavy responsibilities of Mesrop Mashtots; requiring his full attention. Furthermore, even had the work been done by this Mesrop, the naming of the ritual would have been in honor of Sahak, his superior. Ormanian calls attention to the differences in the orthography of the names — "Mashtots" for the missionary-educator, "Mashdots" for the devout and saintly abbot.
The invention of the Armenian alphabet was soon followed by p383the translation of certain parts of the Bible, starting with the first verse of the Proverbs of Solomon; "To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding . . ." Mesrop's collaborators at that time were Rhupanos and two former disciples — Hovsep (Joseph) Baghnatsi and Hovhan Yegeghetsatsi. The original text was in Syriac.
The first Armenian letter-types, known as Ergatakir, are in the shape of the present capital letters,e as written by an iron pen or style. In the ninth century they were somewhat altered, the curves being replaced by rectangular forms. In the twelfth century appeared the "Bolorkir," the present printing letter's shape, to which was added in recent times another modified form known as the italic or running-hand.
The French Armenist, Auguste Carrière, discovered in Egypt a piece of papyrus with inscriptions in Armenian characters and Greek. Father H. Dashian believed that the papyrus was the sheet from the notebook of an Armenian resident of Egypt who was studying Greek. The date of the notebook could not have been later than the first half of the seventh century — before the Arab invasion.
The complete translation of the Bible into Armenian Grabar or classic, was made from the Greek Septuagint by the Katholikos Sahak with the collaboration of his able assistants. A second translation was made 25 years later from a revised copy brought from Constantinople by the Armenian student-translators known as "Targmanitch".
The Golden Age of Armenian literature, with a brilliant record of 45 years, was the achievement of the Translators' school.
Yeznik, a graduate of the Sahak-Mesrop school, completed his linguistic, theological and philosophical training in Edessa and Constantinople. He returned home in 432, bringing with him the canons adopted by the Council of Ephesus and a true, correct copy of the Bible in Greek. He was commissioned by Sahak and Mesrop to revise the "hastily made" first Armenian translation, bringing it into accord with the new text. The Refutation of Religious Sects by Yeznik, attacks non-Christian beliefs, such as that of the Magian preachers, of Greek philosophers and of the heretical Marcion. Yeznik's writings contain borrowings from various foreign authors, yet the Refutation is declared to be a gem, a splendid specimen of p384the Golden Age of Armenian literature, because of the unexcelled perfection of its language and style.f
Most of the Armenian historians and chroniclers, from the fifth to the fourteenth century, represent documentary interest concerning not Armenia alone, but also the Byzantine Empire and the nations of Asia. Korioun, the earliest Armenian-language historian, writing in the fifth century, has left a Life of Mesrop which contains many details of the evangelization of Armenia and the invention of the alphabet. Having received his early education under Mesrop, Korioun went to Byzantium for higher studies, returning to Armenia with other students in 432. Later, he was appointed Bishop of Georgia. He has been listed among the junior translators. His style is original, but somewhat obscure due to grammatical irregularities. To him have been attributed the translations of the three apocryphal books of the Maccabees.
David, "the Invincible" (Anhaght), was born in the canton of Harq, Taron. He was the son of Khorenatsi's sister. While tradition places David among the great figures of Sahak-Mesropian schools who had been sent to Athens for higher studies, Greek Fathers, admiring his rare eloquence and erudition, ignore his Armenian nationality. Even in early years in Athens he won triumphs over competitors in impromptu discussions on scientific and philosophical subjects. For this reason he was honored by the titles of "philosopher," "the omniscient," "thrice grand" and "invincible." His works include originals and translations. Among them are the Panegyric on the Cross, Rules of Philosophy, Instructions to Rhetors and the Grammar of Denys the Thracian.
Precise data regarding the life of Yeghisheh (Elisha) are lacking. Incidental and sparse accounts of later dates represent him as an armor-bearer or aide-de‑camp to Vardan, the Generalissimo, as an attendant, secretary, vicar, etc., who devoted his latter years to an ascetic life, during which he wrote the History of Vardan and of the Wars of the Armenians. First the province of Moks-Moxuan and then a cave opening upon the sea of Reshtounik (Lake of Van) p385have been named as the places of his seclusion. His work, an epic in prose, in which fiction is sometimes mingled with history, is placed in the first rank of Armenian classic literature. Some commentators have called him the Armenian Xenophon. Yeghisheh's task was not the pleading for a faction or party when he brands Vassak, the nakharar of Sewniq. In his religious zeal, he vigorously attacks the renegades in faith and exalts all who had contributed to the triumph of Christianity, including those who fell in the battle in 451, among them the martyred general, Vardan Mamikonian. Yeghisheh's book was written probably about 470. His claim to having been an eye-witness of events described by him should not therefore be taken literally.
Movses of Khoren, to whose "History" we are indebted for all the information we have regarding the fragments of the Armenian epics and legends, was born in 410 A.D. He was one of the fortunate young men who were sent abroad for higher education. Upon his return from Alexandria, in whose great library he had been studying, he was shipwrecked and taken to Italy. He visited Rome, and from there went to Athens and Byzantium.
After his return to his homeland, he retired into solitude, because of the persecution organized against him by the ignorant clergy, who were unsympathetic towards all students educated in the West. According to a recent theory, Khorenatsi aroused public resentment by his adherence to the formula adopted by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 concerning Christ's nature. He altered his stand on the subject in later years, however, and thus obtained the bishopric of a diocese, which placed him in a better position to write his History of Armenia.
Some critics, both European and Armenian, question the veracity of much of Khorenatsi's work, and place him in the eighth or even the ninth century. Most modern critics believe that the History bearing his name, although a work of great value, cannot be that of Movses, "the Philosopher," of the fifth century, but a compilation made by one or more writers in the seventh, eighth or even the ninth century. There are others, however, who firmly believe Khorenatsi to be a fifth century historian, whose book has been garbled by later hands. However this may be, all are unanimous in declaring the History a most valuable document, not only for its p386poetic language and picturesque style, but also for the epic and legendary fragments and traditional accounts concerning the Near and Middle East, which corroborate Latin and Greek authors.
To Khorenatsi, who has variously been called "The Armenian Herodotus," "Father of Historians" and "Father of Poets," have also been attributed several works on rhetoric, hymns, grammatical and doctrinal treatises.
Ghazar Parbetsi, well known for his History of Armenia,g and his letter addressed to Vahan Mamikonian, the Marzban of Armenia, had completed his studies in Byzantium in the second half of the fifth century. His narrative of events covers a period of 95 years, from 390 to 485, the first year of Vahan's rule. In the introduction to the book, written about 490, he points to himself as the third historian after Agathangelos and Phaustus. The second of his three chapters deals with the battle of Vardanians, on which he obtained his information from Prince Arshavir Kamsarakan and other eye-witnesses, and perhaps from records. His letter to Vahan is a self-defense against the imputations of venality raised by the monks, which had caused his dismissal from the Cathedral of Vagharshapat. Traces of popular or vernacular expressions in this letter have been noted by philologists. Parbetsi defends Khorenatsi, "the philosopher of blessed memory," who, he says, "met with much opposition and annoyance from the unlettered clergy, who called this enlightened man a heretic, and in their ignorance found fault with his books, besides showing many acts of unfriendliness towards him."
One of the last representatives of the school of Sahak-Mesrop, Hovhan Mandakuni was 75 years old when he was elevated to the Katholikosate in 478. He served until 490. He was a perfect leader and wise politician as well as an eloquent orator. Several sharakans and prayers now in use are ascribed to him. He had the good fortune to greet Vahan Mamikonian in the Cathedral of Douin in the happy occasion of his nomination as Marzban of Armenia by the King of Kings. In his sermon he urged as a Christian duty good will and tolerance towards those who had been disloyal to the Armenian national interests. During the protracted struggle against the Persians, Mandakuni had been a champion of the national cause.
p387 The literary style of Mandkuniº is remindful of the earliest translators of the Golden Age. He was noted for the regulations of liturgy, divine service, holy orders, baptism, marriage, etc. Following the example set by Greek church-fathers, he emphasized the rules of decency and modesty, especially in theatrical performances.
Anania of Shirak (Shirakatsi) is the only one among the early seventh century authors who produced scientific works, most of which, however, have been lost. An astronomical treatise entitled, Concerning the Skies, a collection of mathematical problems, a translation entitled Of Weights and Measures, a Chronology and a few discourses on feast days and calendars constitute Anania's surviving works. In recent years some critics claimed Shirakatsi to be the author of a "Geography" which had been attributed to Khorenatsi. We learn from his autobiography that he studied with the Greek master, Tucykos, in the city of Trebizond, and himself taught a group of pupils after returning home.
Movses, an historian, was born in the village of Kaghankatouq, province of Outi, Aghwania (Caucasian Albania), and died after 685 A.D. The chronicle of the following three centuries, contained in the third book of his work are additions by another Movses, the Dashkhurantsi, of the tenth century.
Like the History of Sebeos, the work of this Movses was not known until the middle of the nineteenth century, although his name was mentioned by others as one of the very eminent writers. Since the discovery of this manuscript, he is considered an authority on northern tribes, especially those of Aghwania or Albania. According to his own statement, he had accompanied Viro, the Katholikos of Aghwanq, as an attendant while traveling to the tent of the terrible chief of the Khazars. Much later, a second journey to the same court under another monarch, proved a beneficial one.
The unyielding spirit of the Aghwans impelled the Roman triumvir Pompey to subdue them by force of arms in the first century B.C. Although half-civilized and warlike they gradually moved towards the southwest and settled peacefully in the Armenian provinces of Outi, Artsakh and Paytakaran. In certain regions they gained prominence, despite their religious and cultural dependence p388on the Armenians. St. Grigor, the Illuminator, converted the Aghwans to Christianity and appointed a Katholikos for them in the person of Grigoris, one of his grandsons. Grigoris suffered martyrdom at the hands of a heathen mob in 342. Mesrop Mashtotz avenged him by returning good for evil. After having endowed the Iberians (Georgians) with an alphabet and a number of schools Mesrop left for Aghwania, and receiving encouragement in his mission from the authorities there, he was rewarded with gratifying results. On the other hand oppressive measures taken by the Byzantines compelled the Aghwans to adopt the Chalcedonian decisions. In the course of the eighth century the Armenian and Aghwan Churches held two united convocations in Partav, then a flourishing seat of the Aghwan Katholikos. The city, now in ruins, is known as Barda, not far from the Caspian sea-coast.
The Aghwan language, now almost forgotten, survives in a narrow area in Outi, on the banks of the River Kour. The close contact with the Armenians modified the Aghwan speech, which has been described as originally harsh and guttural.
The work of Kaghakanduatsi, known as The History of the Aghwans, ends in 685 A.D. It is of particular value because of information it contains about the manners, customs, religious concepts and ethnic divisions of Caucasian tribes — Huns, Khazars, Alains or Alans, Mazcouts and others, more than a dozen all told.
The History, beginning with the Biblical stories of Adam and Noah, points to Japhet as the ancestor of the nation, and depicts its "glorious" events, past and contemporary. Faulty chronology, which creates confusion, and an occasional disregard of grammar are compensated by the author's warmth of expression and beauty of style.
Sebeos, the Bishop of the Bagratids, wrote the History of the Emperor Heraclius (610‑641), a valuable work,n narrating Byzantine and Armenian affairs, military, political and ecclesiastical.
Hovhan (John) Mamikonian wrote a history of Taron as a continuation of Zenob of Clag's work on the same subject.h
Katholikos Hovhan of Otzoun ofº Otznetzi (in Tashirq) known as "The Philosopher," whose pontificate lasted from 716 to 728, was venerated for his saintly life and deep learning, even by the Arab p389conquerors. He wrote hymns, sermons, canons and ecclesiastical rules, his discourse against the Paulikian sect deserving special notice.
Ghevon (Leon) (720‑790?), a priest, the only Armenian historian of the eighth century, has left a brief account of events during a period of 125 years, ending with 790, and mostly concerning the Arab invasion of Armenia. It contains a translation of a long letter supposedly written by the Emperor Leo III (718‑741) to the Khalifa Omar II.
Shapouh Bagratuni, son of Ashot I and a military commander, wrote the history of his time, especially that of his princely family. He was the first lay Armenian to write a book in his native tongue. He was the father of Queen Mlkeh, the wife of King Gagik of Vaspurakan (Van). His name is well known through a Gospel especially written for his daughter's use, it being the second in antiquity (906) of the six oldest surviving manuscripts in the Armenian language. The first one, dated 887, is now in the State Library at Erevan. The manuscript gospel of the Armenian monastery of Jerusalem bears the date of 602, though this is still a matter of doubt and controversy. Of the History of Shapouh, no copy has so far been discovered.
Katholikos Hovhannes VI, the historian, has left a record of his times — for the most part a sombre story with only occasional brighter glints — prefaced by a brief sketch of Armenian history from the beginning. He seems to have used Khorenatsi's work as a guide.
Thovma (Thomas) Ardzruni wrote the history of his princely and illustrious house, under the orders of Grigor, "the Lord of the Ardzrunis and the Prince of Vaspurakan." Later hands have made additions to Thovma's original text, which ends with 905, the time of King Gagik of Vaspurakan (Van). This author had a searching mind and extensive knowledge. He made journeys in person to ascertain the truth of unproved statements. The sources of his information p390concerning the earliest periods were fifth century scholars such as Mambreh, his brother Movses and Theodorus — none of whose works now survive. Of special interest is Thovma's description of the primitive society of the almost inaccessible mountains separating the district of Taron from that of Aghtzniq (modern Bitlis). "The people of this region have been called Khoyt (rough), because of the rudeness of their manners and speech," yet they were known as hospitable and friendly towards strangers. They had the habit of reciting the Psalms according to the early translations of Armenian Vardapets, which they knew by heart.
Grigor, younger son of Bishop Khosrov Antzevatsi, born in the village of Narek, district of Rshtuni, south of the Sea of Van, was devoted to monastic life from an early age. He became a famous writer and a saintly figure. He was even persecuted by jealous clericals because of his popularity.9
While still young, Grigor wrote a commentary in simple style on the "Song of Songs" of Solomon. He later produced eulogies and panegyrics which were considered sublime. They were dedicated to St. Mary, to the Apostles, to the Cross of the Monastery of Abaran and to St. James of Mdzbin10 (Nissibin). Meanwhile he also wrote to the Superior of the cloister of Gjav, cautioning him against the Paulikian heresy.
Narekatsi's masterpiece is the Prayer-book (Aghotagirq), known as the "Narek," a penitent's lamentations in 95 chapters. In the language of Patriarch Tourian, "The work is an expression of anguish, a cry of wicked and unclean souls, as well as a voice of longing and of soaring towards eternal holiness and sublimity. His meditations, for the most part buried under a mysterious obscurity, now and then p391burst out like a flash of lightning which illuminates the tenebrous depths of a sorrowful world. Had the sincere words and ardent faith of a repentant sinner been less mixed with literary art and rhythmical lines, the entire work might have been less obscure. Nevertheless, his poetic zeal for conversation with God has enriched the language with a new zest, influenced by the strange tendencies of his time."
"The Prayer-book of Narekatsi," says Father Zarbhanelian, "although mysterious and difficult to understand, is marvelously beautiful, and has such a sweetness of style, that both Armenian and foreign philologists are unanimous in vouching that no such work has yet been seen in other nations."
A French scholar, Eugene Boré, travelingº in Armenia in 1838, altered his course in order to visit the ruins of the Monastery of Nark. In the mind of this savant, "Narekatsi's name ranks as that of the most profound doctor, most nearly perfect writer and most tenderly pious saint of the Armenian Church." The writings of Narekatsi reveal a vast knowledge of theological and Biblical subjects, of Armenian history, and of the ancient customs of the Church.
Of some twenty authors dealing with Narekatsi, the most elaborate text of Narek was published in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1948 by Archbishop Karekin, then the Primate of South America, and now Patriarch of Constantinople. This 386‑page volume, of large folio size, also comprises a translation into modern Armenian, each page of the modern version facing the classic original.
In his analytical, 46‑page introduction, the erudite editor portrays the recluse of Narek — the moralist, preacher, teacher, and idealist, as often engaged in conversation with God. Another rendition of the immortal Prayer-book into modern Armenian was made by Patriarch Torgom of Jerusalem, a venerable and profound scholar and fervent admirer of Narekatsi.
Other writers have expressed the following interesting views regarding the author of Narek.
That his manuscripts have been altered, and subjected to interpolations or mutilations by ignorant and audacious copyists.
That he was not a pessimist; he was rather an optimist, with reliance on God's infinite mercy for the sinner.
That in non-religious verse, he was more of a troubadour than a poet.
That his world was not exclusively internal or speculative; he searched for facts about his surroundings. His description of a ship-wrecked sailing vessel, for example, displays broad knowledge of the subject. It should be remembered that the sea or lake of Van was not far from the Monastery of Narek.
Taking into account all these opinions and evidence, competent authorities, including Patriarch Yeghisheh himself, admit that Narekatsi's Prayer-book remained for more than 900 years the magic wand for good, which charmed, enchanted, healed and guided multitudes towards the heavenly heights.
Grigor Magistros, linguist, scholar and public functionary, was another writer of Narekatsi's period. A layman of the princely Pahlavouni family, he was the son of Vassak Pahlavuni, the general who had defended the city of Ani against the Greeks. Grigor served some time as Governor-general of the province of Edessa. The Byzantine Emperor Constantine I (Monomachus) bestowed upon him the title of Duke. He studied both sacred and secular literature, Oriental as well as Greek. He collected all Armenian manuscripts of scientific or philosophical value that were to be found, including the works of Anania Shirakatsi, and translations from Callimachus, Andronicus and Olympiodorus. He translated several works of Plato — The Laws, the Eulogy of Socrates, Euthyphro, Timaeusº and Phaedon. Many ecclesiastics of the period were his pupils.
Foremost among his writings, are the "Letters" numbering eighty which shed much light upon the political and religious problems of the time. His poetry bears the impress of both Homeric Greek and the Arabic of his own century. His chief poetical work is a long metrical narrative of the principal events recorded in the Bible. This work, we are told, was written in three days at the request of a Mohammedan noble, who, after reading it, became converted to Christianity. Grigor was almost the first poet to adopt the use of rhyme introduced into Armenia by the Arabians. Unfortunately, his language is often almost unintelligible, because of artificiality and unusual words, especially when he deals with philosophical, scientific or mythological subjects.
p393 Here is a fable written by Magistros, as related to him by the peasants; —
"The lark, fearing that Heaven would fall, lay on her back, holding her feet up towards the sky, thinking she might thus prevent the catastrophe. Some laughed at her and said, 'With your spindle legs, you want to become a tree, O bird, with a mind capacious as the sea.' The lark replied simply, 'I am doing what I can.' "
Stepanos (Stephen) Assoghik (992‑1019) wrote a Universal History (up to 1004 A.D.) in which events relating to the Bagratid period occupy a considerable place. Oukhtanes is another historian of Armenia, of the same period. Aristakes of Lastivert, the "Armenian Jeremiah," mournfully relates the story of the disastrous events of which he had been an eye-witness: domestic frictions, massacres, pillage and intrigues leading to the downfall of the Bagratid dynasty. He devoted two chapters to the activities of a certain religious sect, Paulicianism, spread out from the Tondrak, in Armenia.
Hovhannes Sargavak (Deacon John) (1045‑1129), honored for his erudition by the title of Sophestes (Philosopher) and appreciated by King David of Georgia, became the Superior of the Monastery of Haghpati in Armenia. He reformed the Armenian calendar, and has left mathematical studies besides doctrinal, ritual and devotional works. He collected over fifty manuscripts, theological and philosophical, and had them recopied by his pupils, after having corrected errors made by previous copyists. Hovhannes, also known as the Vardapet (Doctor), had his library in a cave, where he studied day and night. He died in 1129. His gravestone, under the belfry of St. Mary's Church at Haghpat, still bears his name — Sophestes Sargavak. The historian Alexander Yeritziantz, found a few Armenian manuscripts in petrified condition in 1873 in the cave of Karni, which is believed to have been Sargavak's study and library.
By the end of the eleventh century, there was developing a vernacular of the people (the Ashkharhabar) in which books for popular use began to be written. The Grabar, or ancient Armenian, continued to be the language of the Church. The "Golden Era" of ancient Armenian literature was of short duration — only twenty-five p394years — but the influence and inspiration of the period bespeak a quarter-century of marvelous activity.
Katholikos Nerses Shnorhali (1100‑1173), grandson of Grigor Magistros, born in Sof (Dzovq), on the mountain Duluk (Doliche), northwest of Aintab, was the most noted author of the "Silver Age" of Armenian literature. He earned the title, "The Gracious," because of the purity of his life, the eloquence of his sermons, and the elegance of his literary style. He was also known as "Klayetzi," after the name Hrom-Kala or Hrom-Kla, the Roman fortress on the west bank of the Euphrates which became the Patriarchal See, purchased from the widow of Josselin Courtenay, the last Prince of Edessa.
Nerses, an issue of the illustrious Pahlavuni (Pahlavid) house, received his early religious training in Karmir Vanq (the Red Cloister),j on the Black Mountains or Amanus, known as Ghiavour Dagh. At the age of eighteen he was ordained priest by his elder brother Grigor III, the Katholikos. He was so popular that the nomination was approved by all. He became famous even among Greeks, Latins and Moslems.
He was strongly in favor of an entente with the Greek Church. While still a bishop, he had an interview in Cilicia with Prince Alex, the brother-in‑law of the Greek Emperor Manuel, and also wrote three letters to the Emperor concerning the doctrines of the Armenian Church. The Emperor, on reading them, was delightfully surprised, and sent a messenger to the Katholikos, requesting him to permit his brother to make the journey to Constantinople.
But the death of Grigor in 1165 prevented this. Nerses Shnorhali, succeeding him, wrote to the Emperor of his inability to present himself at the Palace, reiterating his desire for harmony between the Churches. Manuel thereupon dispatched Theorianá, the famous scholar, to Hromkla, with a letter in reference to the desired union. Answering to the Imperial script, Shnorhali refuted certain errors ascribed to the orders and dogmas of the Armenian Church. In a later, shorter note, he explained in what sense the Armenian Church professes the one nature in Christ, in conformity with the doctrine of St. Cyril of Alexandria (376‑444).
To keep his people informed of his negotiations with the Emperor, the Katholikos sent to the bishops and doctors of Armenia and her neighbors, copies or summaries of these papers. He had p395imparted the news of his brother's death by an encyclical letter addressed to the clergy, to monastic superiors, bishops, princes, civil and military officers, to farmers and women. The language of this document is impressive yet plain and clear, and full of allusions to the life, customs, morals, and defects of his flock. Particularly significant is the following remark of the Spiritual Head of the Nation; —
"Our people possess no royal and populous city where, occupying the patriarchal and doctrinal seat, we might teach the divine commands to our brethren in the manner of the first patriarchs and doctors of divinity. Forced to dwell 'in this grotto', we rather resemble deer in flight from hunters and dogs."
Nerses Shnorhali was a prolific writer and preacher. He sent numerous administrative circulars and special letters — such as the comforting message to the inhabitants of Edessa, who suffered from an epidemic of leprosy. Several married priests, one in Constantinople, another in Armenia, and a third whose domicile is unknown, assured an attitude of hostility towards the saintly Katholikos, endeavoring to undermine his policy of harmony. Shnorhali refuted their charges in a vigorous but dignified answer.
The great Katholikos had planned the convocation of an assembly for the discussion of the project of Church union, but he died in 1172 before his desire could be realized. His death put the movement in abeyance. The Emperor Manuel expressed his deep sympathy with the Armenians for their great loss.
Among the many prayers written by Shnorhali is one composed of twenty-four verses in prose, corresponding to the twenty-four hours of the day, beginning "Havadov khosdovanim —" ("Faithfully I confess —"). This has been translated into thirty-six languages and printed by the Mekhitarist Fathers of Venice. He also wrote commentaries on some parts of the New Testament, and edited "A commentary on a Eulogy of the Holy Cross," written by David the Invincible. The style of David, always enigmatical and obscure, was here utterly incomprehensible. Vardan Vardapet, of the Cloister of Haghpat, requested and received from Shnorhali an explanatory interpretation of the discourse. He also wrote "An Elegy on the Capture of Edessa from the Crusaders," by Atabeg of Moussul (1144), with an appeal to the five capitals of the world and to the Patriarchs of Jerusalem, Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria and Antioch. This poem is a source of information upon the times of the Crusades.
Also should be mentioned "Jesus the Son," an historical compendium p396of the Old and New Testaments in verse. Father Alishan finds it remindful of Milton's Paradise Lost. Neumann calls it a masterpiece. Jacob Villote characterizes it as "certainly divine." Shnorhali left yet another poem of an entirely different kind, "About the Sky and its Ornaments," written at the request of the Armenian physician and astronomer, Mkhitar Heratsi.
A great figure in the Silver Age of Armenian literature, Shnorhali wrote in the Armenian vernacular, to be read or chanted by the common people, even by the armed guards of the fortress. A History of Armenia in abridged form, rhymed, written in his teens, has won high praise. Among his many accomplishments must be mentioned his proficiency in musical art. He composed songs and taught them to the garrison of the castle, so that they might be used in replacement for discarded tunes. They begin with quotations from the Psalms of David. These are now parts of the morning and evening canticles of the Armenian Church.
His songs and sharakans are still sung in the Armenian churches. He wrote in all about 1500 lines comprising long poems, mostly in rhyme, as well as couplets of short lines, musical and sweet. One of his poems narrates the history of Armenia from the days of Haik up to his own time. King Leon III, 150 years after this poet's death, asked Vahram Raboun Vartabed to consequent the poem from the death of Shnorhali to his own time, 1275. Vahram wrote the desired sequel in 1,500 lines. "It is a bold act to continue the work of Nerses the Gracious," he apologized, but added that, aware that black threads are sometimes introduced into gold-thread embroidery, he consented to undertake the labor.
The Seleucians, by founding cities east of the Euphrates River, took the first step towards founding of Hellenistic culture in Armenia. Artavazd, son of Tigran the Great, wrote tragedies and discourses in the Greek language. A half-century — 550 to 600 A.D. — has been designated as the period of the Hellenistic School of Armenia, though scholars are not in full agreement as to the dates. Translations from the Greek of several works earlier than the sixth century are cited as proofs against them. In some of them Greek words have been adopted in composition, grammar, and syntax. This usage prevailed to such an extent that the translations are p397slavish and unintelligible, making necessary the aid of the Greek text itself.
Philhellenism has been attributed even to Sahak and Mesrop. The Katholikos Gute, enthroned at the age of 75 in 467, was famous as "full of Armenian learning; even more in the Greek." Armenian students were entranced by Greek culture. They specialized in non-religious and profane works, too, such as the Discourses of Aristotle and the Introduction of Porphyry. According to M. Abeghian, there were three cycles of Hellenism in Armenia — 1) from 450 to 475; 2) from 552 to 564; and 3) from 600 on. Another computation dates the beginning from the compilation of the Grammar of Dionysius of Thrace, in the second century B.C. H. Manandian classifies the translations into three groups. Khorenatsi's Hellenistic leaning is indicated also by the title, "Philosophos," bestowed upon him. The Syriac equivalent of the word is "Philosopha," the form adopted by the Armenians. M. Abeghian deals at great length with Khorenatsi's work on Rhetoric and Poetry — Pitoyits Kitq in Armenian, Xreia in Greek. This was the art of developing the life of a person or any profound subject in a treatise. Khorenatsi offers Demosthenes and Plato as figures and Justice and Honesty as principles on which to construct the writing.
Nerses of Lambron, Bishop of Tarsus in Cilicia, a member of the illustrious Hetoumian family, composed a number of works in vigorous style upon doctrinal questions. Having been severely criticised by the Eastern Armenian clergy because of his borrowings from the Latin ritual or mode of worship, Nerses answered them in a letter addressed to the Prince (later King) Leon. He compares his alleged innovations in the Church to the adoption by the Armenian aristocracy of European or Frankish manners and customs, which he himself considered progressive steps towards European refinement. His name has been entered among the Saints of the Roman Catholic Church, in recognition of his advocacy of the union of all Christian denominations.k
Mekhitar Kosh (Thin-bearded), the erudite vardapet, was an author of distinction besides being a preacher and a teacher. The most important of his works is the Law-Book, the first judicial p398treatise in the Armenian language. Mekhitar Kosh is well known also for his fables, 190 in all, which have won for him the title of "The Aesop of Armenia."l The following is a specimen; —
"The owl sent matchmakers to the eagle, asking his daughter in marriage in these terms; 'You are the ruler of the day, I am the ruler of the night. It will be well for us to form an alliance in marriage.' The proposal was accepted. But after the marriage, the bridegroom could not see anything by day, and the bride could see nothing by night. Therefore the falcons ridiculed them, and their marriage was unhappy."
This fable was intended as a warning against marriages between Christians and heathens.
A native of Ourha, the ancient Edessa, a cultural center, Abbot Madteos spent the major part of his active life there. He was the superior of Karmir Vanq (the Red Convent), near the town of Kessoun, east of Marash, the seat of Baldwin, the Latin prince. Madteos Ourhayetsi is said to have been slain during the storming of the city by the cruel Atabeg Zanghi of Moussoul in 1144.
The literary and historical knowledge of Madteos was limited, but his veracity has not been disputed. He is almost the only source of certain information about the political and ecclesiastical events of his time and area. A man of strong convictions, he was bitter against Greeks and Latins, especially against Frankish settlers, whose avaricious and imperious rule and ingratitude he condemns. He was a fervent Armenian patriot, lamenting the martyrdom of his people and exalting their heroic deeds. To him we are indebted for the record of two documents of importance — 1) a letter from the Byzantine Emperor Zimisces, to King Ashot I, the Bagratid; and 2) a discourse delivered in the cathedral of Aya Sophia, Constantinople, in the presence of the Emperor Constantine Ducas by Gagik II, the exiled Bagratid king, concerning the doctrinal divergence between the Greek and Armenian churches.
Ourhayetsi's work is rather chronological, covering two centuries from the second half of the tenth through the second half of the twelfth. He relates much about the early Crusades, and the battles between Byzantines and Arabs for the possession of parts of northern Syria and eastern Asia Minor. Byzantine authors such as Getrenos, Zonaras and Anna Comnenosº are well versed in their p399particular spheres, but uninformed regarding Edessa and neighboring lands which are treated by Madteos. His chronological mistakes have not been disregarded, however, by Patriarch Tourian.
Ourhayetsi, never tolerant towards Greeks and Latins, is also unsympathetic towards Syrians, judging by allusions made by Abulfaraj at a later date.
Mekhitar Heratsi of Her (Khoy, Persian Armenia), was a famous Armenian physician of the twelfth century, who left a medical book entitled, The Malarials' Comfort. The book had been written at the suggestion of the Katholikos, Grigor Degha (1173‑1193). This prelate's predecessor, the Katholikos Nerses Shnorhali, had dedicated one of his poems to the physician.
Hovhannes Vanakan Vardapet, born in the province of Aghouank (Caucasian Armenia) was the founder of a school and library in the monastery of Khoranashad. Two historians, Vardan and Kirakos, were among his disciples. Together with a number of his pupils, Vanakan had been a prisoner of the Tatars in 1225. Later, when released, they all resumed their work. Vanakan died at the age of 80 and was buried, in accordance with his own request, in that section of the cemetery "where are the graves of the poor." He left several homilies, but the History of the Tatar Invasion, a valuable source of first-hand information on the fateful events, as attested by his contemporaries, has been lost.
Vardan Vardapet Areveltsi (of the East) (1200?‑1271) has been honored with such epithets as thrice-exalted, erudite and great Sophestus. Having left his home in Armenia for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, he was entertained by King Hetoum and the Katholikos Constantine as a guest in Cilicia from 1241 to 1246. His literary remains include Commentaries on Daniel, the Pentateuch, Psalms and Songs. His principal and most important work is his History which begins with the Creation and ends in 1264, when he was sent by King Hetoum to the headquarters of Hulagu, the Tatar Khan, on a politico-religious mission.
Vardan Aykegtsi (Vardan of Aykeg) was the author of various works, among which are his Fables and a Geography, both of which have been mistakenly attributed by some to Vardan Areveltsi. Born in Marata, a Syrian village near Aleppo, Vardan lived for a time in Duluke (Doliche). Driven from there, he went to the monastery of Aykeg, in the Black (Amanus) Mountains. His Fables, commonly known as Aghvesagirq ("The Book of the Fox"), are said to have been only in part from his pen, many additions having been made by others. He died in 1250.
Sembat, born in 1208, brother of King Hetoum I, was trained as a soldier and appointed Marshal, corresponding to the Frankish Constable of the age (Comes Stabulis, French Connétable). His name appears on the records of many of the wars of Cilician Armenia. From 1248 to 1250 he was away from home, having been sent on a political mission to the court of the Tatar Khan. At the age of 69, in a victorious battle with the Egyptians, he was fatally injured when his horse crushed his leg against a tree while he was hotly pursuing the enemy commander.
Sembat also studied history and jurisprudence, and left valuable translations on these subjects. His Annals, an abridgement of the Chronology of Matthew of Edessa, with additional notes, was twice translated into French, as a source of information regarding the Crusades. Considerable value has also been attached to Sembat's translation of the Code of Laws of the Latin King of Antioch (Assises d'Antioche).11 His edition of the Law-book of Mekhitar Kosh, rendered in the vernacular idioms of the western Armenians and adapted to the requirements of the new times, has been considered even more important.
Kirakos was a disciple of Vanakan, together with whom he was for a time a prisoner of the Tatars. Vanakan was freed on the payment of ransom by friends. Kirakos, however, remained longer, to p401serve the Tatars as an interpreter, and finally managed to escape.
He is the author of a General History relative to events from 303 to 1265.m The last part of his book, dealing with the invasion of the Tatars and their cruelties is the more detailed. His work contains interesting and unusual sidelights about the Greeks, Persians, Arabs and Mohammed. He also speaks at length of the Aghouan neighbors of Armenia and their ecclesiastical connection with Etchmiadzin and Douin. Of especial value are his descriptions of the manners and customs of the Mongols. Kirakos is regarded as reliable in his frank and impartial statements of facts. His allusions to the gallantry of King Leon the Magnificent towards women are well known by the educated public.
Many additions to the Sharakan or Hymn-book by various composers from different centers resulted in confusion. As pointed out by the late scholar Manoug Abeghian, it was mainly through the efforts of Gantzaketsi — as well as of Vardan Vardapet — that the Church authorities succeeded in correcting this anomaly.
During the lifetime of this writer, the political tribulations of the Armenians had brought their intellectual and cultural level to a very low point.
Some of the stories reported by Kirakos seem fabricated, and the literary quality of his writing is considered below par by some critics, who, nevertheless, must admit the genuine merit of his work.
Hetoum, the Aytonus or Hayton of some western chroniclers, Lord of Coricos, a seaport of Cilician Armenia, was a scholar, linguist and theologian. His name is internationally known through his History of the Tatars, usually under its French title La Fleur des Histoires de la Terre d'Orient.o While a guest at the palace of Pope Clement V at Poitiers, he translated this work orally from his Armenian text, dictating it to a certain Nicolas Falcon, who compiled the book. It was later translated into Latin, Italian and Spanish. The work is full of interesting information concerning the farthest Orient, China, Persia, Armenia and western Asia. As a guide to these distant parts of the world, Hetoum of Coricos has been considered second only to the great Venetian traveler, Marco Polo. His later years were spent in Cyprus, where, in 1305, he had joined the religious brotherhood of Prémontré,º under the name of Friar Anton.
Hetoum II, King, statesman, warrior and monk, was also a man of literary attainments. He left a Memoir in rhyme, an historical sketch of the Hetoumian dynasty, from its foundation to his own days. He later joined a religious order, the Franciscans, assuming the name of Iohannes. A colored portrait of him has been discovered in Venice, with this inscription, B. Iohannes, Rex Armeniae, Seraphicum habitum suscepit, Anno 1294. (The Blessed John, King of Armenia, took the Seraphic (Franciscan) habit in 1294). A silver seal, made during his monastic life, a rare specimen, is now preserved at the Mekhitarist Monastery of St. Lazar, Venice.
A native of Sewniq, Stepanos was issued from the ancient family of Sissakan and for twenty years was Bishop of that province. After many years of research and gathering all the information available, he wrote a History of Sewniq, which is his principal work.
In this book are described the important political and religious struggles in Armenia, the foreign invasions with some reference to the Tatars. A student of religion, history, rhetoric and music, he obtained his ecclesiastical degree of Vardapet from Bishop Nerses, the Superior of the Monastery of Glatzor, a famous center of learning.
He was one of the champions of conservatism within the Armenian Church against the alleged innovations through Latin influence in Cilicia; and yet he was diplomat enough to enjoy three months' hospitality in 1286 at the court of the liberal King Leon II and in the palace of the Katholikos Constantine, by whom he was raised to the rank of Bishop — in his own words, a Metropolitan. Armenia Major and the adjacent countries were at that time in the grip of famine, as the result of merciless persecutions and devastation by the Tatars and other barbarian tribes. Under these conditions, Orpelian declared "death blessed desirable and blessed, life odious and miserable." Then, together with Nestor, the Patriarch of the Chaldean or Assyrian Church, and his twelve bishops, Stepanos was received by Arghoun, the Tatar Governor-general of Persia and Armenia, and given a cordial welcome, gorgeous ecclesiastical robes and a decree exempting the monasteries and churches from the vexatious taxes imposed upon them by local functionaries.
Hovhannes Erzngatsi (John of Erznga or Erzinjan) was nicknamed Blouz, probably because of his short stature. The little that has reached us of his voluminous works reveal an exceptionally gifted scholar, with treasured knowledge of vast scope. Living mostly in the latter part of the thirteenth century, he was also the last of the higher class of the Armenian authors of the ancient and medieval ages. Erzngatsi wrote hymns, commentaries, odes, eulogies, a Martyrology, an astronomical treatise on Celestial Elements, and a grammar. He was personally known and honored in almost every center of learning in Greater Armenia and Cilicia. As an outstanding orator, he was the main speaker on the occasion of the conferring of knighthood on Hetoum and Thoros, sons of King Leon II, which was celebrated at Sis in 1284. Having studied Latin, apparently at an advanced age, he translated certain parts of the Theology of Thomas Aquinas into Armenian.
Yessayie Netchetsi, famous for his erudition and for his virtuous life, was also known as an enthusiastic defender of the National Church. He was the Superior of Gaylatsor Monastery, where he had over 300 students. Nitch is a village where he was born in the district of Taron.
Thovma Medzopetsi (Thomas of Medzop), was the abbot of the Monastery of Medzop, near the town of Arjish, whose remains are on the northern coast of the Lake of Van. His annals give valuable details on the deeds of Lang-Timour (Timour the Lame), the most powerful and most dreaded conqueror after Jenghiz-Khan. He also describes the quarrels in which Timour's sons, Shah Rokh and Miran Shah, engaged with Kara Youssouf, the Turcoman, and his sons, Skandar, the Lord of Tabriz and Shah Mahmoud of Baghdad. A large part of Thomas's history has been translated into French by Félix Nève, of the University of Louvain. Thoma of Medzop died in 1446. Besides some devotional and chronological works, he left also a history of the reestablishment of the Cathedral of Etchmiadzin in 1441, a thousand years after the death of Katholikos Sahak, during which time the incumbents had to change their residence p404from district to district, because of political, military and other exigencies.
Arakel Tavrizhetzi (Arakel of Tabriz), a vardapet, is regarded as the best historian among those who wrote between the early fourteenth and the early nineteenth centuries. The marked place he holds is due, not to his literary style, but to his good order and method in recording facts. His work embraces sixty years, covering rather more than the first half of the seventeenth century, during which time eight Ottoman Sultans warred against the Persian monarchs, Khudabendeh, Shah Abbas I and Shah Sefi, with the object of occupying the Armenian provinces. In mournful words, Arakel describes the five years' famine as a result of those wars and of the terror spread by the Jelali marauders. The deportation by Shah Abbas I of the inhabitants of Jugha (Julfa) and of the Arax Valley, to the interior of Persia, forms an epic in his History. As spots of bright relief, he mentions some reforms and reparations accomplished by the three successive Katholikosi of Etchmiadzin — Movses III, Pilibbos and Hagop V. Of other interesting matters contained in Arakel's book we may cite the list of the then existing famous monasteries and scholars, and reports on the Armenian settlements in Julfa, Poland, etc.
Most of the Armenian Troubadours (ashough)12 were influenced by Moslem popular poetry, to which they in turn contributed, by composing and singing in the Turkish, Georgian, Persian and Kurdish languages. Something of their own national temperament and Christian mentality must certainly have been introduced into the Moslem poetry. The ancient Armenian translations, however, do not show any trace of imitation of foreign poetry; their only sources of inspiration were the Armenian popular songs. Among the best troubadours known so far, we may cite Frik, Hovassap and Ghazar of Sebastia, Naghash Hovnatan, Keropeh, Ohannes, Djivani and Nahapet Koutchak. This latter, the most original of all, was born probably in the fifteenth century. There are ecclesiastics, however, p405who have imitated the troubadours, such as Constantin of Erznga, Hovhannes of Telgouran, whose colorful and vibrant verses are likewise full of noble thoughts and sentiments.
A gifted Armenian ashough, son of Aroutin of Aleppo, born in Tiflis. He sang in Georgian, Turkish, and Armenian. Had entree even to the Georgian court. Has written touching love songs and others based on high principles. A widower at 60, he became a monk. When Persians invaded Tiflis, he took refuge in the church, saying, "I will not deny Jesus; I will not quit the church." He was slain there.
Despite their struggle for existence, the Armenians from the fifth to the fourteenth century never ceased to contribute to the literary and scientific movements. Spiritual liberty was always preserved in the monasteries, even among unspeakable horrors. The Armenians were seldom blessed by those long periods of peace and quietude which the nations of the West, the Byzantines, Arabs and Persians enjoyed during the stormy centuries of barbarism. And yet they must have had enough moral force not to abandon intellectual pursuits throughout the Middle Ages.
1 According to Strabo, it was built upon a design given to Artashes by Hannibal, the Carthaginian general, who had taken refuge in Armenia.
2 Navasard was the Armenian New Year.
3 The troubadours sang the plea of Artavazd to his father, the dead King. "As thou hast gone away, taking with thee the entire land, how shall I reign on the ruins?"
Then they sang the dead King's acrid retort; "Should you ride in hunting to the free and lofty Massis (Ararat), may the genii seize you and carry you up to Massis; may you remain there and never see the light again!"
4 According to cuneiform inscriptions, only one, Arad-Ninlil, of the five or six sons of Sennacherib, committed the crime. His name has been corrupted to Adramelech. Sharezer, his alleged accomplice, the Nebo-Sar‑Esher of the cuneiform inscriptions, was the prefect of Markashi (Marash). They were pursued and defeated near Karkemish, and took refuge in the land of Ararat about 700 B.C.
5 See Armenian Legends and Poems, by Zabelle C. Boyajian and Aram Raffi, London, 1916.
6 In the development of religion, the process of growth through the coalescence of different forms of faith and worship.
7 A palimpsest is a parchment or tablet which has been used twice or three times, the earlier writing having been wholly or nearly erased.
8 Son of Constantine the Great. When the Empire was partitioned at his father's death in 337, he received as his share Britain, Gaul and Spain.
9 The story was told that when messengers from the Katholikos of Ani (Barsegh or Basil), came to investigate certain heresies charged to Narekatsi, they were invited by him to dinner during a Lenten week. The main dish was roast pigeon, of which the guests declined to partake. Thereupon Narekatsi ordered the pigeons to take flight, which they did, with extraordinary effect in favor of the host.
10 Mdzbin, a fortified town, was in the district of a borderland on the southwest of Armenia. The monasteries of Gjav and Abaran are located in the province of Moqs, in southern Armenia.
11 No copy of the original text of this book has yet been discovered. The students of Frankish medieval jurisprudence have had recourse to the French translation from the Armenian of the Constable, made by Father L. Alishan.
12 The word ashough is from the Arabic asheq, a lover, a troubadour, a person inflamed by love, who travels, wanders here and there, playing on a violin or other instrument and singing of beauty.
c Eunapius' Lives of the Philosophers and Sophists remains the main source for his life, and the sole source of the inscription that will be cited. In addition to the Life of Prohaeresius, the careful student will also check the Life of Julian. (A French translation of Eunapius is also online.)
d Despite a footnote in the Rouquette edition of Eunapius (the French translation mentioned in my preceding note), I've been unable, so far, to find this passage in Julian's letters.
j the monastery of Haghpat: see this excellent page at Armeniapedia, with a photo.
k the monastery of Karmirvank: now ruined; see this page at ArtsakhWorld, with several photos.
l Nerses: See the article Nerses of Lambron in the Catholic Encyclopedia (1911); but neither there nor in the official Catholic sources online that refer to him, have I been able to find him referred to as a saint. (See for example Pope John Paul II's Letter to the Catholicos of Cilicia, or the text of John Paul's homily at Etchmiadzin.)
o La Fleur des Histoires de la Terre d'Orient: The complete text of Hetoum's History of the Tartars is online at Robert Bedrosian's Armenian Historical Sources in his own English translation: The Flower of Histories of the East.
Images with borders lead to more information.
History of Armenia
R. Bedrosian's Armenian History
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
Page updated: 3 Feb 13