Armenian Legends and Poems  at sacred-texts.com
In Armenian epics, the immortals stand in the background, the most prominent place being assigned to legendary heroes, to whom poets attribute divine descent, thus tracing the origin of the Armenian race to the gods. Unfortunately, the greater part of these epics is lost, though a few fragments are preserved, in their original shape, by Moses of Khorene.
The following is one of these fragments, which gives the general conception of the gods and the heroes descended from them:--
"Glorious and awful were the former gods. They were the cause of the greatest blessings
of the earth; also of the beginning of the world and the generations of men. From them arose a race of giants, with great limbs, fantastical, of stupendous stature, who, in their arrogance, conceived the impious idea of tower-building. But by the wrath of the gods, a mighty wind arose, overthrowing and shattering the structure. The speech of men was confused; there was general bewilderment."
Among the giants mentioned in this passage was Haik, the brave and illustrious chief--a famous archer, who is the patronymic hero of Armenia, and is described by Moses of Khorene as having curly hair and being beautiful to look upon, with brawny arms, well-set shoulders, and fiery eyes. Recoiling from submission to Belus, he, with his followers, went northwards to the foot of a mountain, where they took up their abode. Belus sent emissaries to him, bearing the following message:--
"Thou hast departed and hast settled in a chill and frosty region. Soften thy hard pride, change thy coldness to geniality; be my subject, and come and live a life of ease in my domain. Thus shalt thou find pleasure."
Haik's answer was to prepare for combat. The fights between Haik and Belus are minutely recounted. The dress of the two champions, their looks, their weapons, are all described in detail. At last Belus was vanquished and slain by his adversary.
Before the time of Moses of Khorene, Haik was known as a great hunter like the Greek Orion. In the passages in Job and Isaiah where "Orion" appears in the English Bible as the name of a constellation, "Haik" appears in the Armenian version.
The country that Haik conquered was named Hayastan, after him.
He was succeeded by Armenak, who extended the boundaries of his kingdom. This expansion is thus described by Moses of Khorene:--
"Armenak, taking with him all his host, goes to the north-east. He descends on a plain surrounded by high mountains, through which, from the west, murmuring streams flow. The plain extends towards the east. From the foot of the mountains gush springs no less limpid, mingling together to form little rivers, which, with gentle flow, run round the edge of the plain, parallel to the base of the mountains.
"But the southern mountain, with its white peak, at first rises straight up; afterwards it curves, looking beside the other heights like a hoary stooping elder amid youths."
Armenak was succeeded by Aramais. This king took up his abode on a hill beside a river, where he built a town which he named Aramavir. The river he called by the name of his grandson, Araxes. He had a son, named Shara, who was a glutton and had an immense number of children. He sent him to a very fertile place which was called, after him, Shirak.
[paragraph continues] Moses of Khorene quotes a proverb relating to Shara:--"If thou hast the gullet of a Shara, our stores are not the stores of a Shirak."
Shara had a son, Amasa. After him Mount Ararat was named "Masis."
Moses of Khorene mentions another descendant of Haik, whose name was Tork. He was ugly and of tremendous strength. He was able to break great stones with his hands. Once, when he was on the shore of the Sea of Pontus, he hurled huge rocks at the ships of his enemies and sank them. This incident reminds us of the Cyclops Polyphemus, in the Odyssey. Tork had also artistic proclivities. After dividing large stones with his hands, he smoothed them with his nails, and with his nails covered them with drawings of eagles and other pictures. 1
Then the historian gives a table of royal names down to Aram, whom he describes as industrious and patriotic, and who said that he would rather die for his fatherland than endure the sight of strangers devastating it. He collected an army of 50,000 and drove the foreign invaders out of Armenia. Epic poems, according to Moses of Khorene, praise Aram's valour in his conflicts with Barsham, King of Assyria, whom he eventually subdued. He was succeeded by Ara the Beautiful.
The romantic love of Semiramis for this king, which was a favourite theme of ancient Armenian song and epic, is elaborately recounted by Moses of Khorene. A translation of his narrative is given on page 23 of this volume. There are several variants of this story, which is still related in Armenia, and the names of many places as well as many superstitions can be traced to it.
Semiramis invited Ara to Nineveh to be her husband, promising him the half of the kingdom, but Ara refused her offer, having a wife already. Semiramis thereupon sent an army against Ara, with orders to capture the king alive and bring him to her; but, instead of the living king, they brought his corpse. Semiramis, who, as is well known, was wont to practise magic, laid the body on a certain high place, in order that the gods might descend and restore it to life by licking the wounds. This height is still called Lezk, and in former times others used it for the same purpose as Semiramis: The idea of this mode of cure probably originated from the fact that wounded men, lying unconscious on the battlefield, have often been revived by the licking of dogs and other animals.
In Moses of Khorene we find this story about the childhood of Sanatruk. One day, he, under the care of his mother and his nurse, was walking among the mountains of Kordua, when suddenly a high wind arose, accompanied by a snowstorm, and separated the mother
from her son. For three days and nights the nurse and the child were buried in the snow, but the gods sent a miraculous white animal which rescued them and brought them home alive. 1
But, though such legends as these may have some foundation in fact, there are others that are entirely fabulous, like the following, which is related by Moses of Khorene:--
The heir to the principality of Ardzruni, when a boy, fell asleep in the open air. A storm of rain came on and drenched him; and then the hot sun shone down and scorched him with its rays; whereupon an eagle flew up and hovered over his head with outspread wings, sheltering him from the assaults of nature.
In the fourth century A.D., we find a similar story told of Prince Mushegh Mamikonian. After his death his relatives put his body on a high tower, believing that the spirits would descend and restore him to life. This story is found in Faustus Byzand (A.D. 337-384).
The animals figuring in such stories as these are not represented as merely adjuncts to man, but as independent individuals who act in accordance with their own characters and inclinations. Plato, in his Republic, gives a slightly different version of the legend of Ara. Er was an Armenian (or, as some commentators say, "The son of Armenios"), a native of Pamphylia. He was slain in battle, and ten days afterwards, when the bodies of the dead were taken up, already in a state of corruption, his body was found unaffected by decay and carried away home to be buried. And on the twelfth day, as he was lying on the funeral pile, he returned to life and told them what he had seen in the other world.
The name "Er" is evidently a variant of Ara. The story, as told by Plato, has all the features of a transplanted legend.
Moses of Khorene says that, after the death of Ara the Beautiful, Semiramis passed the rest of her days in Armenia, which place she greatly loved. Here she established the city of Van. A picturesque account of its foundation given by the historian is included in this volume (page 33).
The following account is given of the end of Semiramis:--
Being pursued by her enemies, she ran away on foot, and, becoming thirsty, she stopped to drink water from the Lake of Van. Here she was overtaken by the "swordsmen," whereupon, after taking off her magic bracelet and throwing it into the lake, she herself was turned into stone.
With regard to the bracelet of Semiramis, the following story is even now commonly told in the neighbourhood of Van:--
Once Semiramis saw a bracelet in the hands of some little boys, who had found it in the river, and were examining it with curiosity. Semiramis, knowing that the bracelet had magic powers, took it away from the children. By means of this jewel, she allured youths to their destruction. This licentiousness brought her into general disfavour. An old man, at last, snatched the bracelet from her and ran with it towards the sea. Semiramis rushed after him in a fury, but, not being able to come up with him, she let down her long hair and used it as a sling to hurl a great rock at him. The weight of the rock pulled out her hair. The rock itself fell into a ditch near Artamet. Semiramis, through fear and amazement, was turned into stone. The old man threw the bracelet into the Lake of Van. Even now a rock is shown at Artamet which bears the name of "the Rock of Semiramis."
Then Moses of Khorene speaks of Tigranes I., who, in conjunction with Cyrus, put an end to the kingdom of Media. The epics say of Tigranes that "his face was of lovely hue, his eyes were soft and lustrous, his shoulders stalwart, the calves of his legs were well-shaped, he was altogether fair to look upon; in food and drink he was moderate; he was of lofty mind, eloquent in speech, and masterly in the conduct of affairs. Just and equitable, he weighed each man's acts in the scale of his mind. He was not jealous of the great nor did he despise men of low estate, but spread the mantle of his care over all men alike. He increased our treasures of gold, silver, and precious stones. Under him, men and women wore fine garments, of divers colours, richly embroidered, which made the ill-favoured to look fair and the beautiful to look like demi-gods.
"Tigranes, the bringer of peace and prosperity, caused all men to grow fat with butter and honey. In his day, the infantry became cavalry, slingers became skilful archers, dagger-bearers were equipped with swords, and naked soldiers were provided with shields and armour."
The historian adds that the splendour of the arms and equipments was enough of itself to drive back the enemy.
As the head of a band of warriors, he performed many valorous deeds:--"We were under the yoke of others, but he put other nations under our yoke and made them our tributaries."
His rival, Astyages, King of Media, was always suspicious and distrustful of him.
One night Astyages had a terrible dream. The next morning he summoned his courtiers. They found him sighing, looking on the ground with gloomy mien, and heaving groans from the depths of his heart. " When the courtiers inquired the reason of his behaviour" (continues
the historian) " the king remained silent for hours, then in a sad voice he related his dream, which was as follows:--
"'To-day I was in an unknown country, close to a mountain, which rose very high above the ground; its summit was covered with ice. It seemed to me to be in Armenia. After I had gazed for a long time, it appeared to me that there was a woman sitting on the summit. Her garments were purple. Her face was covered by a blue veil. Her eyes were beautiful. She was tall, with rosy cheeks. She was in travail, and for a long time I looked on her with admiration, then I beheld her give birth to three heroes, all of equal stature: the first, sitting on a lion, soared towards the west; the second, seated on a leopard, went towards the north; the third, bridling a huge dragon, defiantly attacked our kingdom. In these confused dreams, I seemed to be standing on the roof of my palace, and the covering of my chambers was adorned with beautiful fountains of variegated colours. The gods that had crowned me were standing there, with wondrous faces, and I, with you, was honouring them with incense and sacrifice. Suddenly looking up, I saw the man who was seated on the dragon wing his course in our direction, desiring to overthrow our gods. I advanced to the attack and engaged in fight with that youthful hero. First of all, with lances we pierced each other's bodies, calling forth rivers of blood, and past our sunlit palace flowed a crimson sea. For hours we fought also with other arms. But, to be brief, the fight ended in my defeat. I was bathed in sweat, sleep forsook me, and ever since I have felt as if I had no life in me. For all these visions signify that the Armenian king, Tigranes, is about to attack us. And whosoever amongst you, by counsel or deeds, wishes to aid me, and aspires to the honour of being a king, equal to myself, let him speak.'"
Then the story goes on to tell how Astyages, in order to prevent Tigranes from making war on him, proposed that his rival's sister, Tigranuhi, should be his wife; therefore Astyages sent to Tigranes one of his councillors with a letter accompanied by many precious gifts. Moses of Khorene gives the letter, which runs as follows:--
"Thou knowest, beloved brother, that of all the gifts of the gods to us none is more precious than the multitude of our dear ones, especially when they are wise and valiant. The reason of this is that, in such case, quarrels will not arise from outside, and if they arise, they will be unable to make their way within and will disperse themselves. Having seen the great advantage of such relationships, it has entered my mind to confirm and strengthen the love that is between us, so that, both of us being secured on all sides, we may be able to carry on the affairs of our kingdom in greater safety. All this will be ensured, if thou wilt give me to wife thy sister Tigranuhi, the Great Lady of Armenia. I hope that thou wilt look favourably
on this proposal, that she may be the Queen of Queens. Mayest thou have a long life, fellow sovereign and dear brother."
We have presented this letter as a matter of curiosity, because in none of the early European epics are there texts of letters. This usage is characteristically oriental. In Isaiah we read of the letter of Sennacherib to Hezekiah; there is also a letter in the Persian Firdusi's Shah-nameh.
After his marriage with Tigranuhi, Astyages tried to set her at enmity with her brother, and once he contrived cunningly to entice Tigranes to become his guest in order that he might slay him. But his wife perceived his treachery and secretly sent a message to her brother. Tigranes accepted the invitation of Astyages, but came accompanied by a great army. He postponed his attack till his sister had made her escape. In the battle which ensued, Astyages was killed.
Of this Tigranes, Xenophon says a great deal in his Cyropaedia, from which we cite the following incident:--
The Armenian king having revolted against Cyrus, the latter invaded Armenia and conquered him. Cyrus intended to deal very severely with the rebel monarch, but Tigranes, the son of the Armenian king, persuaded him to be more lenient. Xenophon gives a long conversation, discussing the terms of peace, in the course of which Cyrus asked Tigranes, who was newly married and greatly loved his wife, what he would give to regain her freedom, she having fallen into the hands of the victor, together with the other women of the royal family. "Cyrus," was the Prince's reply, "to save her from servitude, I would lay down my life."
On which Cyrus replied: "Take, then, thine own, for I cannot reckon that she is properly our captive, for thou didst never flee from us." Then, turning to the king, he added: "And thou, Armenian, take thy wife and children, without paying anything for them, that they may know they come to thee freely."
On the return of the king and prince, after this interview, there was much talk at the Armenian court about Cyrus; one spoke of his wisdom, another of his patience and resolution, another of his mildness; one also spoke of his beauty, his fine figure and lofty stature, whereupon Tigranes turned to his wife, saying: "Dost thou think Cyrus handsome?"
"Indeed," she answered, "I never looked at him." "At whom, then, didst thou look?" asked Tigranes. "At him," was the reply, "who said that, to save me from servitude, he would give his own life."
Of all the epics from which Moses of Khorene has derived incidents or of which he gives fragments, the only one that has survived among the people in complete form, with numerous variants, is Sasmadzrer. There is a reference in the Bible to the story which is related in this poem.
In 2 Kings xix. 37, and Isaiah xxxvii. 38, we read:--
"And it came to pass, as he (Sennacherib) 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."
Moses of Khorene tells the same story, adding that the Armenian king assigned an abode to Sharezer in the south of Armenia and to Adramelech in the south-east.
The epic, referred to above, relates the doings of the two brothers and their descendants in Armenia, among the rest the founding by them of the city of Sassoon.
The poem is divided into four parts. It is still transmitted orally, word for word, in Armenia; in many places in poetical form. During the last forty years, several versions of it have been taken down in writing and published, and these have received much attention from scholars. We cannot do more than mention this most interesting production; the space at our disposal forbids our giving even an outline of its contents.
So far we have derived our information from the prose versions of passages in the epics found in Moses of Khorene either as quotations or as paraphrased in his own words. But that historian has also given a few extracts from the poems in their original form, being the first historian to do so. To these extracts we now turn.
Although they are very few, they convey some idea of ancient Armenian poetry. The historian says he has himself heard these poems sung to the accompaniment of various musical instruments, of which he gives long and minute descriptions. According to him, these poems were sung chiefly in the province of Goghtan (the present Agulis, in Russian Armenia). This place abounded in gardens and vineyards, and produced a variety of good wines. The people were gay and fond of merry-making. Their love of the old pagan religion and manners still continued long after their conversion to Christianity. In this respect they resembled the Saxons of Germany, and, even in the early part of the fifth century, they observed pagan rites, sometimes openly, sometimes secretly. One of the old Armenian songs, describing the birth of the Armenian king Vahagn, is given in this volume, page 10. This is supposed to be a myth describing the rise of the sun over the sea.
At sunrise the sky gradually becomes light; between the light and the darkness there is a
kind of struggle; all nature is waiting in expectancy of a life-giving power, of the rising of the sun. It seems to be this expectancy of nature and man that the poet likens to the travail of heaven, earth, and sea. The "crimson reed" is perhaps the long red gleam sent forth from the East over the sea at dawn.
We have already referred to Vahagn when dealing with Armenian mythology. In, the Armenian translation of the Bible, in 2 Maccabees iv. 19, the name "Vahagn" is substituted for "Hercules." This name is derived from the Sanscrit words vah, "to bring," and agn, "fire," and therefore means "fire-bringer." In connection with this, it is interesting to compare the Armenian legend with a similar legend in the Rig-Veda. The word "Agni" is the same as "Agn." The god Agni was born of the rising sun, to the accompaniment of thunder and lightning; of Vahagn the song says: "Out of the flame sprang the child." "His hair was of fire and a beard had he of flame"; Agni had "flaming hair and a golden beard." A comparison of the two poems shows that the similarity between them arises, not from the imitation of one poet by the other, but from identity of theme, for the belief in a fire-god or fire-hero, is common to all mythologies. According to Agathangelos, Vahagn was a favourite deity, and his temple at Taron was famous. King Tiridates, when greeting the Armenian people in a manifesto, says: "May Vahagn, of all Armenia, send you courage!" He puts the name of Vahagn after the names of Aramazd and Anahit. But, in Moses of Khorene, Vahagn is little more than an ordinary king, the son of Tigranes I., though the historian gives the story of his birth and his fights with dragons, as related by the poets. He also calls Vahagn the first of the Vahuni or priestly caste; but this caste was far more ancient than the historian thinks, as sun worship is one of the oldest forms of religion. 1
Moses of Khorene says, moreover, that there was an image of Vahagn in Georgia, where he was worshipped as a god.
As to the form of this poem--we note the parallelism, similar to that of the old Hebrew songs: "To Sisera a prey of diverse colours, a prey of diverse colours of needlework, of diverse colours of needlework, on both sides " (Judges v. 30). 1
The Song of Deborah, from which we have just quoted, is supposed to be the oldest passage in the Bible, and is a good specimen of ancient oriental poetry.
The songs quoted in Moses of Khorene are also examples of this poetry, and will therefore be welcome to scholars, as throwing light on this class of ancient literature.
The ancient Armenian form of verse has, doubtless, its own national peculiarities. One of its characteristics is that it consists of one main idea expressed in two or more sentences, regularly connected with one another. There are no complex sentences, only short simple ones, and the manner of expression is direct and definite, but, in order that they may not tire the ear by monotony, they are, by means of parallelism, systematically interwoven so as to form one consistent whole. Thus the different sentences become related to one leading thought. The words are carefully chosen and harmonious to the ear. Metaphor and allegory abound. In colour and splendour these songs might vie with any classical poem, and their existence is a proof that long before the Christian era the Armenians had a perfected poetical language, which, in its construction, imaginative force, brilliancy, and grammatical development, bears the impress of literary culture.
Most of the nouns and adjectives in this poem are in the diminutive form, which expresses endearment
karmrik = reddish
egheknik = little reed
patanekik = little boy
achkunk = little eyes
aregakunk = little suns
The adjectives used here do not qualify the nouns, but simply serve as epithets, or attributes, like the adjectives in the Homeric poems. The Armenian word dzirani, 2 used in this poem, does not always mean "red"; applied to a robe it means "red," applied to a belt it means "variegated"; it may originally have had the sense of "pleasing" (cf. Russian krasni, which originally meant "beautiful," but now denotes only "red-coloured").
Another of these extant songs, belonging to the time before the Christian era, has, as its theme, the love story of King Artashes II., one of the greatest kings of the Arsacid dynasty. The former, as well as all the other stories we have mentioned, belong to the Haikazian dynasty, but the story of Artashes II. belongs to the Arsacid dynasty and is contained in the second book of Moses of Khorene, the contents of which are less legendary than those of the first book. When narrating the story of Artashes, the historian addresses himself to Sahak Bagratuni, by whose command his history was written, in these terms:--
"The doings of Artashes are known to thee, through the epical songs which are sung in the province of Goghtan; that is to say, his founding of Artaxata (Artashat), 1 his alliance by marriage with the royal house of the Alans, his sons and their descendants, the loves of Satenik with the Vishapazuns (progeny of dragons) who were of the race of Astyages; 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 amongst them. Although these things are well known to thee through the epical songs, I will, nevertheless, narrate them again and will explain their allegorical meaning."
Then Moses of Khorene gives, in detail, a prose account of the deeds of Artashes and his son Artavazd, as they are related in the epic of Artashes, quoting, in the course of his narrative, the songs given in this volume on pages 48 and 49.
Besides these songs, there are included in the history two or three metrical lines, which must be extracts from the epic. One of these lines contains the reply of the Alan king when he is asked to give his daughter in marriage to Artashes: "From whence shall brave . . ." (see for the rest page 48, the last lines, in this volume). The same poem contains a description of the wedding (see page 49 of this volume).
We learn from ancient Armenian historians that weddings were times of great festivity, especially royal weddings. All the people of the country, old and young, were astir. In the great square they danced and sang, hand in hand. There was a special kind of song sung on these occasions, called "Tzutzk."
The marriage of Satenik was unhappy, because, besides the Vishapazuns, she loved Argavan, the chief of the Median prisoners, who was greatly honoured by Artashes. Another of the verses quoted by Moses of Khorene refers to this amour of Satenik. These lines throw some light on the nature of ancient Armenian metre. We quote the text here:--
The sense of the passage is not very clear, as it contains two words the signification of which is disputed. M. Emin holds that the meaning of these two words is the same, both signifying "crown," and he interprets the line as saying that Satenik loves Argavan so dearly that she would gladly exchange her royal crown for his princely diadem. After much controversy among scholars, Professor Khalatian discovered that, in one Armenian dialect, these words are the names of certain plants, about which there was a superstition that, if they were put under the pillow of the beloved being, and afterwards under the pillow of the lover, mutual affection would be ensured; therefore, according to Professor Khalatian, the passage means that Satenik was desirous of getting these plants from under Argavan's pillow.
In the time of Artashes science and poetry flourished.
One of the sons of this king, Vroir, was a poet; another was Artavazd, who was disliked by the people. The poem says that, when the prince was born, the Vishapazuns stole him, and substituted a devil in his place, and it was this evil spirit that went by the name of Prince Artavazd.
In this poem, also, there is an account of the obsequies of Artashes, which were celebrated with great splendour, for he was dearly beloved by his subjects, many of whom committed suicide at his grave, not caring to survive him. His son Artavazd, who was present, became very jealous and uttered a complaint which Moses of Khorene gives in the words of the epic (see page 65 of this volume).
We have omitted many other incidents of the story of Artashes, as given by Moses of Khorene, but it may be gathered, from what we have of the Artashes epic, that the whole poem was very lengthy.
From other sources we know that the poem was sung by minstrels as late as the eleventh century, for the well-known scholar of that time, Grigor Magistros, says in one of his writings that he has heard it, and he quotes some of its lines in their original form.
Artashes died in a foreign country while engaged in a campaign. In his last moments he is seized with home-sickness, as he remembers his fatherland. He recalls the spring of life and of the year, when the light of dewy morn, like a thin mist, is spreading over the towns and villages. The poem gives his dying words:--
We have already said that Artashes was a popular king, much beloved by his people, whose death was greatly lamented; this being so, no doubt the Artashes epic must have contained some striking dirges, composed in honour of this monarch, but unfortunately neither Moses of Khorene nor Grigor Magistros records any such songs in connection with him. The despair and melancholy which cast their shadow over pagans is conspicuous in ancient Armenian funeral songs. There were companies of professional mourners, called egheramark ("mothers of lamentation"), also there were groups of singing maidens. All these followed the corpse, dressed in black, with dishevelled hair, solemnly clapping their hands and moving in a slow dance. Moses of Khorene gives details of such obsequies as we have mentioned. Even now in some parts of Armenia such companies of mourners exist. Faustus Byzand describes minutely the funeral of a prince and gives also an account of the funeral of Queen Tigranuhi, of whom we have already spoken, adding that the songs sung in her praise, on this occasion, were such that Tigranes felt that they uttered all that was passing in his own mind.
The subjects of funeral songs were the life of the deceased, his stature, the manner of his death, and his domestic relations, so that a collection of these songs would furnish a biography.
We have also details of these dirges from other sources. The song opens with a prologue, addressing the deceased and calling on him to arise from his slumbers and carry on his usual occupations. It then goes on to rebuke him for being deaf to the prayers of the survivors and vouchsafing neither word nor smile. Next comes a description of the new dwelling that the departed has chosen for himself; the grave--an abode without doors or windows. Then comes a repetition of the words spoken by the dead man during his last illness, followed by a series of laudatory epithets, and finally there is the recognition that all prayers for his recovery have been unanswered, followed by an epilogue, taking farewell of the deceased and sending messages by him to dead relatives and friends.
We learn from Moses of Khorene that, in his time, besides the epics, there was other pre-Christian Armenian literature, written and unwritten, of various kinds. We have had examples of songs and epical stories in their gradual development from the stage when man was weak and ignorant, when the people sought after the supernatural and the marvellous, and the subject
of epic songs was the mystic relation between nature and man, to the stage when the heroes are no longer gods, but men endowed with valour and every other virtue, without spot or flaw. The stories we have described are sufficient to prove that Armenia had a large store of epic and heroic poems, of which unhappily only fragments have come down to us.
Some specimens of other branches of pre-Christian literature figuring in the list of Moses of Khorene are Temple Books and Histories of Temples. Throughout ancient times members of the priestly class were the chroniclers of the nation's history and its instructors in wisdom; and there is no doubt that this was the case in Armenia. We know that the famous Gnosticos Bardazan, in the second century A.D., came to Armenia to collect material for his history, and in the fortress of Ani he made extracts from the Temple History, which was a chronicle of the doings of the Armenian kings.
Armenia had its own written histories which were, for the most part, destroyed on the introduction of Christianity in the fourth century A.D. Moses of Khorene mentions an Armenian historian named Ughup, who was a priest presiding over the temple of Ani in 150 B.C.
To continue the list--we find Books of the Kings, containing chronicles of kings and their works, and Collections of Historical Songs, which were kept in the temples. These collections were in existence in the fifth century A.D. Moses of Khorene gives extracts from them and they were also sung by minstrels.
Tueliatz Songs recounted the doings of kings and princes in chronological order, hence their name, Tueliatz, or chronicles.
There were also other species of literature, such as Historical Legends, not included in the list, from which Moses of Khorene makes quotations elsewhere, such as the History of the Origin of the Bagratuni Race, the History of Haik, and four other books, without titles, of which he speaks with great admiration.
There is mention of a poet, by name David, who wrote The Wars between Armenia and Media, founding his narrative on Armenian minstrel songs. Unfortunately, none of his works have come down to us.
There is also mention of an Armenian translation, from the Greek, of an epic called Legends of Aramasdes and Hermia. Some scholars think that this must be one of the lost books of Homer, as there are still extant some fragments of an Armenian translation of the Homeric poems.
The Hindoos believed that originally dramas were invented by the gods and were performed in heaven. They were brought to earth by Brahma and introduced to men. Whether the ancient Armenians held a similar belief we cannot tell, but it appears that they had, in
early times, a drama of their own. The themes of their plays were the doings of the gods of the earth, but there is no record that in Armenia drama ever reached such a high level as it attained in Greece. It may be noticed that, though Persia, the neighbour of Armenia, was rich in lyric and epic poetry, it produced no dramatic literature. It is true that, in Mohammedan times, the Persians had a religious drama; but this merely formed part of their worship and has never had an independent development.
But the Armenians must have done better, as mention is made of Armenian drama by Greek and Roman writers, from whom we learn that King Artavazd I. 1 wrote tragedies, some of which were known to Plutarch. We also learn from Plutarch and others that, in the time of Tigranes II., there were theatres in Armenia, and Plutarch records that, when Lucullus entered Tigranocerta, he found a body of actors busily engaged in preparing to produce a drama in the theatre newly built by Tigranes, and made use of them in the games and other public diversions in honour of his victory. Armenian historians also make mention of the theatres in Armenia. As late as the fifth century A.D., Hovhannes Mandakuni, a religious author, wrote an essay against theatres and actors, which shows that, even after the introduction of Christianity, drama survived in Armenia.
At later periods, in Law Books, restrictions on theatres are mentioned.
In order to determine the date of the Heroic Poems, we must define the different periods of Armenian history. It is now generally accepted by scholars that, towards the end of the seventh century B.C., the Vannic or Chaldean kingdom fell before the invading hordes of Cimmerians or Scythians, and, during the period of anarchy, Armenians also entered the country, which was henceforth to bear the name of "Armenia." The only uncertainty with regard to this migration is about the date. It is universally agreed that it cannot have been later than the seventh century B.C., though it may have been earlier. In the fifth century B.C. Xenophon found Armenia an established kingdom under Tigranes I. Vahe was the last of the Haikazian dynasty. He fell in the war with Alexander the Great in 330 B.C.
The next Armenian dynasty was that of the Arsacidae, of which the first king was Wagharshag I., whose reign began in 149 B.C.
All the epical songs that we have mentioned belong to the Haikazian period, except the Artashes Cycle, which belongs to the Arsacid period. During the 185 years between these two periods, there was no national independence to supply themes for new epics and therefore there is no heroic poetry belonging to this interval.
The second period of Armenian literature (before the establishment of Christianity) extends from the accession of the Arsacid dynasty to the fourth century A.D.
During this period, learning flourished and the libraries in the temples and palaces were the centre of culture. The libraries in palaces were open to any one who wished to consult the archives with a view to writing histories of the countries, and in the temples the priests were engaged in compiling records of the past. In these libraries the histories of the Haikazian dynasty were kept. To this period belongs the epic of Artashes.
Under the rule of the Arsacidae, the number of the nobles greatly increased and the chief amusement of the king and the nobility was sport. Nearly every noble had his own park, which was full of all kinds of deer and in which special sporting parties were given. One of the chief attractions of these parties was the minstrels who sang songs specially composed for the occasion. As upwards of seventy families were ennobled under the Arsacidae, and entertainments were given both by them and by those of lower rank, it will be understood that the number of minstrels must have been large.
As we have mentioned, to this period belongs the Artashes Cycle (A.D. 85-126).
We have also some evidence as to the date of the epics from foreign sources. Armenian epics must have been known, not only in Armenia itself, but in other countries. In migration, their form must sometimes have changed, as, in Plato, we have found the legend of Ara transformed into the story of Er. As the story of Ara was known to Plato, we may take for granted that it existed in the fourth century B.C.
Strabo gives an erroneous etymology of the name "Armenia," which he derives from "Armenios." 1 Perhaps he had heard of Aram, whose story is told in the epics. This story is known to us through Moses of Khorene, who derives the word "Armenia" from Aram, and says that the country was called by this name only by foreigners. As to the etymology of the word "Armenia," there are many different opinions which we cannot discuss here; we will only say that the name "Armenia" is found in an inscription of Darius Hystaspes (510 B.C.).
We confine ourselves to one more foreign reference to Armenian epics, viz., that of the philosopher Olympiodorus, who, in an assembly of wise men at Athens, gave an account of an old book which had existed in former times and which contained the history of Noah and his descendants. He added that the incidents related in this book were still sung by Armenian minstrels to the accompaniment of various musical instruments.
133:1 Zarmaïr, another king of this dynasty, took part in the defence of Troy. The historian emphasises the fact that he was killed by Achilles himself.
134:1 It is interesting to recall, in this connection, some passages of Strabo. Speaking of Armenia he says:--"It is said that people passing by the foot of the mountains are often buried in the snow which falls from the summits. In order to be prepared for such a mishap, travellers carry with them two long sticks for the purpose of making breathing places for themselves, should they be covered by the snow. The sticks, at the same time, serve as signals to any other travellers who may happen to be passing."
139:1 Cf. the original text of the Armenian poem which is as follows:--
Erkner erkin ev erkir
140:1 The following lines from a Chaldean description of Ut-napisti, the Chaldean Noah's sacrifice after the Flood, furnish an example from Assyrian poetry:--
140:2 Dziran in Armenian means "apricot," therefore dzirani ="of apricot colour."
141:1 Strabo says about Artaxata that it was built upon a design which Hannibal gave to King Artaxes (Artashes), who made it the capital of Armenia, and Tournefort, the famous French botanist, who travelled in Armenia in the seventeenth century, exclaims, in reference to this fact: "Who could have imagined that Hannibal would come from Africa to Armenia to be engineer to an Armenian king? But so it is."
143:1 April, when the New Year commenced.
145:1 The son of Tigranes the Great.
146:1 "Armenios, one of the Argonauts, who was believed to have been a native of Rhodes or of Armenion in Thessaly, and to have settled in the country which was called after him, Armenia" (Strabo, xi. 530, etc.; Justin, xlii. 2; Steph. Byz. S. V. Αρμενια).