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haste, and departs while a chill, gloomy winter succeeds, suppressing autumn before it fairly has a chance to exist.
How much the utter seclusion of Armenian domiciles, apart from the centers of population, has had to do in developing, through the long winter for meditation, the poetic instinct, we can well surmise. These patriarchal abodes are snow-bound from October until May, and from such retreats chiefly have come the ancient and modern literature of Armenia.
There is great paucity of Armenian written literature prior to the Christian era. However, we have proof that the national enthusiasm for knowledge is not of modern inspiration. A people so proud will not willingly let their deeds of valor on hard fought fields die unrecorded. The names of heroes and sages were household words at every family altar and fireside.
Cherished names and historical events garnered in national songs and stories, were handed from generation to generation as sacred traditions for centuries, until the art of writing became common.
Modern archæologists have discovered and read ancient cuneiform records, which bear a remarkable analogy to the traditionary lore. Assyrian, Greek and Hebrew records help to fill in the missing links in an almost unbroken chain, so that Armenian tradition may be said to more nearly approach historical literature in value than that of any other nation of the earth. The unwritten history of the masses is confirmed in most essential points, at least by the modern reading of records of the few who were able to record the facts of history on the face of the rocks among the everlasting hills. Time has dealt kindly with those precious records, and the curious student may find full account of their discovery in the annals of archæology.
Like the tombs of Egypt, the cradle of the human race is slowly but surely giving up the secrets of thousands of years. The earliest and most valued of our historical sources is the work of Agathangaegos, who flourished in the third century of our era. He was the private secretary of King Tiridates of Armenia.
The rarest manuscripts I have seen are found in the alcoves of Armenian monastic libraries. About two thousand of them are preserved at Etchmiazin, one thousand two hundred in the convent of St. Lazaro at Venice; the Royal Library at Paris, through the emissaries of Louis XIV., contains about two hundred of them; Bodleian Library and British Museum contain but a few manuscripts.
Many of these manuscripts are the work of inferior or little-known writers, but all of them have a high value because of their great age and the painstaking care with which the laborious work of copying was done.
In the fifth century, A. D., Moses of Chorene, by his historical writings, became the Herodotus of the Armenian people. He treasured in his works the traditional history of his time, some parts of which continued to be handed down orally as of yore, the fidelity and accuracy with which the people transmitted them being much to their credit.
In the same century, a period of unusual intellectual activity, St. Mesrob, an illustrious prelate of an Armenian monastery, modified the alphabet to its present form, composed of thirty-eight letters. He is sometimes called its inventor, which gives him more honor than is his due. Prior to his introduction of the Armenian letters, the Greek alphabet was in use by our nation. The Armenian is an inflected language, with four conjugations and twelve declensions. It belongs to the Aryan branch of IndoGermanic family of languages. In syntactical structure, the classical Armenian bears a close resemblance to the ancient Greek. It has no grammatical gender or dual form.
Espousing Christianity early in our race, we experienced with that change a great revival of literary and intellectual activity, the first fruits of which were numerous translations of the sacred stories from Syriac and Greek. Armenian students were seen at all the educational centers of Europe, Alexandria and Byzantimm. To their translations are due the preservation in Armenia of many valuable writings, extinct in the original and all other tongues.
The Old Testament was translated by Sahak the Patriarch, from the Septuagint version. There are conflicting opinions concerning the final accomplishment of what is known as the “Queen of Versions.” Some parts are evidently from the Syriac and some from the Greek, but the greater part is from Septuagint. The sixth century may well be called the dormant era of Armenian literature. All intercourse with Greek centers of learning being cut off by the Persians, the pursuit of literature declined in its avidity.
During the seventh century several valuable historical and theological works were written. In the eighth century John of Osdin and Stephanus of Siunia were leading writers, while in the ninth, John the Catholicos, Thomas Ardzruni, and several others enriched the literature of the country.
The tenth was equally productive of leaders of thought through the medium of the pen. In the eleventh, Aristakes of Lastiverd, the national historian, flourished with numerous contemporaries; among them Matthew Yeretz, the biographer of Chrysostom. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries, in which Syriac influence predominated, was a second period of great literary activity. Later the Armenians of the west gave their literature such names as Rivola (1633), Villote, La Croze, Osgan and others, who were eclipsed by St. Martin. In Russia and France, Armenians ranked among the best writers; Speigle, Justi, Neumann and Pertermann in Germany have made enviable reputations.
In the present century the work of Armenian Romish monks of the convent St. Lazaro, Venice, may well rank first. This convent is the cradle of ancient and modern Armenian literature. Many translations from Europeau languages have been issued from this place along with valuable books of reference, dictionaries, and works of similar nature. The convent is particularly interesting to modern students and tourists, because it was there that Byron sojourned for a time, deeply interesting himself in Armenian literature and its expounders, the learned monks. This remarkable establishment has been greatly distinguished for its eminent services in the cause of morality and learning. In 1810, when a general order for the suppression of all monastic institutions in Venice was issued, St. Lazaro alone was exempted from its sweeping effects. Another proof of the high estimation in which the monastery stands, is shown by the fact that the Pope made it his usual custom to confer upon each new abbot of St. Lazaro the title and dignity of Archbishop, although the prelate has neither province nor subordinate clergy under him.
American missionaries have furnished scientific text books and are increasing the number from time to time. An Armenian who can afford them may have as good a practical library in his native language as the artizan or merchant could desire. From these facts some interesting conclusions can be drawn.
Through four-fifths of the Christian era, Armenian literature has enjoyed a more perfect continuity than that of any other Christian nation.
When Europe was passing through the dark ages, the Christian Armenians of the Orient were enjoying a season of unparalleled intellectual activity, creating for mankind a literature of no little value, and the day may yet come when her purest songs and highest thought may be ranked among those classics which are not the possession of any tongue or people, but have in them so much of man's heart and life that they belong to man as the legacy of the race.