1902 Encyclopedia > Armenian Literature

Armenian Literature

ARMENIAN LITERATURE. With the exception of a few fragments incorporated in later writers, the pre-Christian literature of Armenia has totally perished. The early Armenians seem to have possessed a body of traditional and historical songs analogous to the Shah-nameh of Persia, the memory of which lingered long among the common people, especially in the province of Koghten. Portions of these have been preserved by Moses of Khorene, and investigated by several modern scholars (see Vebk Hnuin Hayasdani, i.e., Chants hist, et pop. de l'Ancienne Arménie, J. B. Emin, Moscow, 1850; Dulaurier, Rev. des D. Mondes, 1852, vol. xiv. ; "Etudes sur les chants hist, de l'anc. Arménie," in Journal Asiatique, 1852). With the introduction of Christianity a great development of literary activity took place, which chiefly expended itself, however, in transla-tions from the Syriac and Greek. Armenian students were found in Athens and Byzantium, Alexandria and Rome, and some of them attained celebrity in their chosen pur-suits. To this tendency we owe the preservation, in Armenian, of many works that have perished in their original languages. Such are the Chronicle of Eusebius, some of the works of Philo, Bardesanes, Faustus of Byzan-tium, Lerubna of Edessa, &c. (see Wenrich, De auctorum Grœcorum versionibus Arabicis, Armeniacis, dec, Leipsic, 1842). The 5th century was one of the most flourishing periods of Armenian literature. It was then that Miesrob accomplished that modification and development of the Armenian alphabet which has frequently procured him the honour of being regarded as its inventor (see Fr. Muller, TJeber den Ursprung der Armenischen Schrift, 1865). The Old Testament was translated from the Septuagint by Isaac or Sahak, the patriarch (critical edition, Ven. 1805). These learned men were succeeded by a number of worthy disciples, such as Esnig of Golp (Koghb), Goriun the biographer of Miesrob, and David the Invincible, a keen student of Greek philosophy, who has left us Philosophical Definitions and translations from Aristotle (see " La vie et les ouvrages de David le phil. Armén.," by Neumann in Journal Asiatique, 1829). Yeghishe or Elisœus wrote a very popular account of the wars of Vartan against the Persians, which has been frequently translated (Neumann, London, 1830). Moses of Khorene is one of the most important as well as best known historians of his native country. In the 6th century all connection with the centres of Greek culture being cut off by the Persian monarchs, Armenian literature became almost extinct. In the 7th century John the Mamigonian continued Zenob's History of Daron (Taron); Sebeos composed a history of Heraclius ; Ananias of Shirag was the author of astrono-mical works, and Theodoras and Sahak wrote upon theolo-gical subjects. Among the writers of the 8th century the chief place is held by John of Osdin and Stephanus of Siunia; and in the 9th century we find John the Catho-likos, Thomas Ardzruni, and Miesrob of Hayotz-dsor. In the 10th century, Khosrov the Great, Ghevond or Leontina the Presbyter, Gregory of Narek, Moses of Kalkand, and Stephanus Asolik (Assoghik) may be mentioned; and in the 11th, Aristakes of Lastiverd, a national historian, and Matthew Yeretz (i.e., the Presbyter) of Edessa, the bio-grapher of Chrysostom.

The 12th and 13th centuries form a second great period of Armenian literature, during which the influence of Syriac is again perceptible. Gregory Magistros, who introduced the Arabic system of versification into his native language, Narses of Lampron, Mekhitar Kosh (see Journ. Asiat., 1841), John Vanacan (i.e., the Monk), Vardan the Great (Journ. Asiat, 1867), Vahram, and Sempad, are a few of the numerous writers of noté. From the 14th to the 18th century there is a falling off, the most important work, perhaps, being Thomas of Medzoph's History of Timour. In the 18th century a revival took place, which was mainly due to the Mekhita-rists of Venice (see Langlois, Notice sur le couvent Armé-nien de I' He Saint-Lazare de Tenise, Paris, 1863), and since then Armenian literature has acquired a development which is remarkable in the absence of national unity. Printing presses have been established in most of the cities where Armenians are numerous, the ancient writers have been published and studied, the vernacular literature has been enriched both by original productions and translations, and magazines and newspapers have been established in many of the centres of Armenian activity. The study of the Armenian language and literature by the savants of Western Europe has shared in the general development of Indo-European philology. The earlier labours of Rivola (1633), Villote, La Croze, Osgan, Villefroy, and Freret have been almost completely eclipsed by such men as Saint Martin (an Armenian by race), Dulaurier, Langlois, Boré, and Prudhomme in France; Neve in Holland; Emin, Patcanian, and Brosset in Bussia; and Windischmann, Marie, Spiegel, Justi, Neumann, and Petermann in Germany.

See Somal's Quadro della storia let. di Arm.; Karikin, Hist, de la lit. Arm.; Patcanian, "Cat. de la lit. Arm.," in Melanges Asiat., vol. iv. Petersb., 1860 ; Neumann's Versuch einer Gesch. der Arm. Lit.; Alishan's Tableau succinct de I'hist. tt de la lit. de VArm., 1860; Hamachod's Chronological succ. of Arm. Patriarchs (in Armenian).

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