Armenian Jerusalem
First known Armenian epic
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
                  In   Armenian   mythology,   Vahakn   Vishabakagh   was   a   god   of   fire   and   war   worshiped   anciently   and historically   in Armenia,   a   member   of   a   troika   of   deities   along   with   with Aramazd   and Anahit.   He   has   also been   identified      as   the   Greek   deity   Hercules.   In   the   Armenian   translation   of   the   Bible,   "Hercules, worshipped at Tyre" is renamed "Vahakn".                All   those   ancient   heroes   were   treated   as   gods   living   among   men.   Vahagkn   was   enlisted   within   the ranks   of   the   Armenian   kings,   as   a   son   of   the   Orontid   Dynasty   (or   Yervanduni   dynasty,   6th   century   B.C.), together with his brothers — Bab and Tiran.                This   is   how   the   great   Armenian   historian,   Movses   Khorenatsi,   describes   the   origins   of   Vahakn   in   his immortal birth song:     In travail were heaven and earth,     In travail, too, the purple sea!     The travail held in the sea the small red reed.     Through the hollow of the stalk came forth smoke,     Through the hollow of the stalk came forth flame,     And out of the flame a youth ran!     Fiery hair had he,     Ay, too, he had flaming beard,     And his eyes, they were as suns!                This   is   the   only   part   of   the   epic   that   has   survived.   Hisrtorians   believe   that   the   other   stanzas   of   the poem   described   how   Vahakin   fought   and   vanquished   dragons,   earning   himself   the   title   of   “Vishabakagh”, (dragon   reaper),   from   “vishab”   (dragon)   and   “kaghel”   (to   reap).   He   embodied   the   ideals   of   courage, steadfastness   and   loyalty,   qualities   also   enjoyed   by   Hercules.      He   was   also   worshipped   as   a   sun-god,   a rival of Baal-shamin and Mihr.                Over   the   years,   the   song   gained   in   popularity   and   was   sung   to   the   accompaniment   of   a   lyre,   long after the conversion of Armenia to Christianity.                The   reed   is   an   important   ingredient   in   ancient   mythology   because   of   its   connection   with   fire   in   its three forms.
               The   ancient   pagan   Armenian   cosmology   boasted   some   of   the   most   endearing   heroes and   deities,   chief   among   them   Haig,   who   is   acknowledged   as   our   prime   ancestor.   Stories of    his    blood-curdling    battles    with    the    evil    Pel/Bel    are    awe-inspiring:    they    both enthralled,   terrified   and   entertained   us   as   we   sat   at   the   feet   of   our   teachers   at   our parish school, the Tarkmanchats.                Sassoutsi   Tavit   (David   of   Sassoon),   the   shepherd   boy,   was   the   scourge   of   the scavenging   lions,   and   would   sleep   “noosh   noosh”   with   a   rock   for   a   pillow,   without   a   care in the world, until the morning.                One   of   the   most   inspiring   memories   we   cherish   is   the   discovery   of   the   first   known Armenian   epic,   the   tale   of   Vahakn   the   Dragon   Slayer.   The   one   with   the   red   beard   and eyes like the sun.                The   passage   on   the   left   is   the   earliest   known   piece   of Armenian   literature. An   all   too brief   epic   poem   that   embodies   nodes   of   the   quintessential   excellence   of   our   Armenian language. An English translation appears below.