Armenian Jerusalem
First known Armenian epic
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.