Armenian epic poetry is famous for its 4 national novels, included different songs and mythological narratives.
National epics frequently recount the origin of a nation, a part of its history, or a crucial event in the development of national identity such as other national symbols. One of these forms is an epic poem. It is a literary work of epic scope which seeks or is believed to capture and express the essence or spirit of a particular nation—not necessarily a nation state, but at least an ethnic or linguistic group with aspirations to independence or autonomy.
The oldest armenian poetry is “Vipasanq”, which is a mythological novel with different epic songs and narrations about Tigran the Great, Sanatruk, Ervand, Artashes, Satenik, Artavazd.
Old mythology is either changed into historical, or it’s remained the same and referred to the events like (Ervand and Ervaz’s supernatural birth, little Artavazd’s extortion by dragons, Artavazd’s latch in Major Masis).
The second novel is “Persian War” (BC 3-4cc.) based on the historical events of Armenian inner and outer life and the main topic is Armenia and Sasanian Empire’s war, the conflicts and dramatic events that occurred between Arshakuni Kingdom and ministerial houses.The characters of the Armenian and Persian kings and leaders are epic characters based on real historical prototypes, such as Vasak, Mushegh, Manvel Mamikonyans.
The third novel is “War of Taron”, which has been preserved with some edits in Sebeos and Hovhan Mamikonyan’s historical novels. It consists of national conversations, legends and epic songs, and refers to Mushegh, Dayl Vahan, Smbat, Vahan Kamsarakan and Tiran Mamikonyan kings. Among the epic characters, Vardan and Vahan Mamikonyan brothers are excelled together with the reviews of fighting against Persians. Thus, this novel concerns to the Persian War due to its main plot and epic composition.
Daredevils of Sassoun
“Daredevils of Sassoun” is an Armenian heroic epic poem, which has been kept due to oral traditions with 160 versions of collections of the 19th century.
The poem has 4 generation history – Sanasar and Baghasar, Great Mher, David, Little Mher. The story begins with the origin of the family and the establishment of Sasna Home and ends with the latch of the last representative- immortal Little Mher. Moreover, the general theme is the contrast of the foreign and native countries. The next theme is the heroic marriage and the description of the victorious wars.
The oldest legend here is Sanasar and Baghasar’s birth, which has been worked out along with the historical legend of Assyrian Sinakherib king’s sons and their escape and the protection of Ararat country. To add, this legend has appeared in the history for the second time, and has been influenced by the Arabic caliphate of Baghdad, and by the events of Eyubyan kings’ domination (7-13cc.).
The basis of these three branches includes the legends of Indo-European Thunderous God and the God of light and solar- Mihr, which are put together with the ancient legend of the twin brothers from the first branch. Moreover, Daredevils of Sassoun has reflected the spiritual and material life of Armenian people and the drams and hopes of the working class. Thus, this epos is considered to be one of the most essential works, which describes the national folklore, and accordingly, it is an encyclopedia-archive about the religion, philosophy, traditions of the Armenian nation.
In 2012, the epos “Daredevils of Sassoun” has been added in the list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Humanity of UNESCO.
The epic songs are the verse compositions of the epic folklore, which are colored with mythological, religious and other events of historical figures.
The most ancient novels are dedicated to Gods, the birth and the deed of heroes, based on the mythical beliefs and imaginations (“The Song of Vahagn”). Other novels, such as “Narekatsi”, Karos khach” appear in the folklore later. And some of them have ritual meaning, which take place during the Christmas or New Year ceremonies.
The historical novels are the most popular ones, based on real facts with historical figures and have a short plot. The only novel, which has been totally preserved to nowadays is “The Song of Levon”- dedicated to capture of the son of Hetum the First in the 13th century. As regards “Mokats Mirza”- it is a sample of classical and historical novels. Relatively, the songs of Armenian heroes are the dominants, especially those of Russian-Persian and Russian-Turkish wars (Rostom Bek, Loris-Melikov, Ter-Ghukasov, Hasanghala’s battle) and heroes of Armenian liberation wars (Aghbyur Serob, George Chaush, Andranik). Besides these all, there are other expanded novels, which include religious-mythological, historical and everyday motives, plots and characters.
Translated by Christy Manukyan