Armenian Jerusalem

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem has spearheaded the

publication of an English translation of a virtually unknown

Armenian medieval epic that graphically expresses the yearning

of the first people to convert to Christianity for salvation and


            The   translation   into   English,   the   first   ever,   was   the   work   of   the   noted Armenologist,    Michael    Stone,    director    of    the    university's    Armenian    studies program,   balancing   literary   felicity   with   faithfulness   to   the   original,   uncovering medieval   Armenian   poetic   tradition   through   its   more   than   6,000   gracefully translated lines.              Stone's   work   has   brought   alive   the   brilliance   of   paradise,   the   wickedness   of Satan,   and   the   inner   struggle   of   the   first   man   and   woman, Adam   and   Eve,   in   his rendition   of   the   early   15th   CE   epic   "Adamgirk:   The   Adam   Book   of   Arakel   of Siwnik."                Stone   notes   that   the   theme   of   Adam   and   Eve   has   fascinated   Armenians   for centuries.                "By   the   time   Arakel   composed   his   treasure   in   1401,   the   Armenians   had nurtured an extensive apocryphal literature about the first couple," he says.                "Yet,   although   there   were   Adam   and   Eve   poems   before   Arakel,   none   is   as long,   complex   and   intriguing   as   his   work.   Faced   with   the   pressures   of   external events,   with   the   erosion   of   the   church   and   its   faith,   Arakel's   interweaving   of theological   tradition   and   text   with   lyrical   language   and   vivid   imagery   produced a remarkable work," he adds.                Arakel,   who   was   an   abbot   of   the   famous   University   Monastery   of   Tatew, depicts   Adam   as   a   "newborn   flower"   whose   "body   shone   like   a   spark,   for   the light of the spirit inflamed him," in a resplendent vision of Paradise.                At   the   time   he   wrote   his   epic,   Armenia   was   suffering   under   the   yoke   of foreign    subjugation,    following    the    collapse    of    the    Kingdom    of    Cilicia,    and provided just the right kind of succor for his people.                Stone   says   the   work   is   comparable   in   scope   and   range   to   classics   such   as John Milton's "Paradise Lost."      He has not attempted to retain any meter or rhyming pattern.                "My   aim   was   to   navigate   between   the   Scylla   of   over-literalism   and   the Charybdis of inaccuracy for the sake of literary effect," he says.                Arakel   was   born   about   1350   CE   in   'Siwnik,   a   region   separated   from   the central   Ararat    province    by    a    range    of    mountains,    and    enjoying    a    sort    of autonomy   with   its   own   which   was   kingdom   founded   in   987   CE   and   lasted   until the 12th Century when the Mongol hordes overran Armenia.                Under   the   Mongols,   the   region   prospered   thanks   to   the   sagacity   and diplomacy   of   the   ruling   princely   family.   With   Prince   Elikum   Orbelian   at   the helm,    Siwnik    became    a    cultural    and    religious    center,    attracting    artists, architects, writers and intellectuals.                Arakel   has   a   distinguished   ancestry.   His   maternal   uncle,   and   mentor,   was none   other   than   Grigor   of   Tatew.   He   was   ordained   bishop   of   Siwnik   by   1401   and was Abbot of Tatew in the early fifteenth century.                Grigor   held   his   nephew   in   great   esteem   referring   to   him   as   "my   humble nephew in the flesh, born poet, virtuous Arakel."                     "Grigor    and   Arakel,    labored    from    within    the    walls    of    the    important monastery    of    Tatew    to    make   Armenian    tradition    secure    and,    through    the educational   system   they   developed,   to   transmit   learning   and   faith   to   their students," Stone notes.               At   Grigor's   urging, Arakel   began   an   epic   poem   on   the   story   of Adam   and   Eve, producing   four   versions,   which   Stone   has   now   translated   into   English.   Arakel also   composed   a   second   biblical   epic,   the   Book   of   Paradise,   which   is   shorter   and held   in   less   esteem.   "Adamgirk"   is   being   published   by   Oxford   University   Press and      is      available      at      all      good      bookshops      or      directly      from      OUP        ( in the UK and in the US).                "Arakel   writes   extremely   powerful   narrative   poetry,   as   in   his   description   of the   brilliance   of   paradise,   of   Satan's   mustering   his   hosts   against Adam   and   Eve, and   Eve's   inner   struggle   between   obedience   to   God   and   Satan's   seduction," according to the blurb.
This project has been supported by the Gulbenkian philanthropic Foundation, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and members of the worldwide Armenian community. Reproductions of the genealogical documents [domar’s] are courtesy Photo Garo, Jerusalem. Copyright © 2007 Arthur Hagopian
Market day in the Old City