The Most Told Story of Medieval Armenian Literature?

 

from the Rochester Bestiary, c. 1230, Royal MS 12 F. xiii, f. 30v.

The story of “Armen the dog” (now forgotten) is attested by at least 4 medieval Armenian historians in the period 1100–1300, making it one of the most told stories of High Medieval Armenian literature. This fact alone certainly makes it worth retelling here.

The first and most detailed account of this incident was recorded sometime between 1110–1125 in Matthew of Edessa’s Chronicle:

"Then Gagik arose from the emperor’s presence and, in great glory, [he and his princes] headed for their own lands. Shahnshah Gagik reached the city of Caesarea in Cappadocia. As he was furious with the Byzantines already, in the greatest rage he [decided to] attack the metropolitan [bishop] of Caesarea, whose name was Markos. The impious Markos was a big, evil, and loathsome heretic, so vile that he had named his own dog Armen. Earlier, Gagik, king of the Armenians, had heard all about this and was really seething. However, because he himself was among the Byzantines, he was unable to do anything. Moreover, the metropolitan was great, renowned, and formidable throughout the entire House of the Byzantines. Yet he greatly cursed the Armenians, calling all dogs Armen. Beyond this, [Markos] had brought indescribable mourning upon the Armenian people when he heard that the emperor wanted to [re]baptize the sons of [Armenian] kings as Romans [Chalcedonians]. At all the lodging places where Gagik arrived, he ordered all the Armenian troops to disgrace the glorious Byzantine women. He so insulted them, since he never again planned to enter Constantinople. Rather, he thought to go to Alp-Arslan, sultan of the Persians, and to rule over the throne of the kingdom of the House of the Armenians. For the sultan had summoned Gagik many times, but the latter’s Christian faith had blocked this.

"Now when Gagik was near the metropolitan[‘s residence], he wanted to lodge with him. [Gagik’s] chief messengers went and told the heretic Markos: “Gagik, king of the Armenians, wants to lodge with you today.” When Kyr Markos heard this, he was happy and commanded that his entire house should be decorated. Then, unwillingly, he went out before Gagik with priests and, with great grandeur, brought him into his house. Markos made a great feast. However, Gagik was extremely angry that entire day. When they began to gladden themselves with wine, Gagik said to Kyr Markos: “I have heard that you have a very powerful dog and I would like to see it.” Markos thought that [Gagik] wanted to make that dog his own, and so he spoke on other matters. However, when Gagik repeated his words, they called the dog. But it did not come, since they did not dare to call out Armen.

"Then Gagik said: “Call him by his own name, so he comes.” Then Markos, overcome by drink, called to the dog: “Armen, Armen.” And the dog bounded over, like a lion. Seeing this, Gagik inquired: “You call this dog Armen?” Vastly embarrassed, Markos replied: “We call him Armen because he is brave.” Gagik responded: “Now we shall see who is the brave one, Armen or the Roman.” It happened that [the Armenians] had prepared a large sack and, at this point, Gagik signaled with his eyes and his attendants surrounded the dog. With great labor they got it into the sack. Kyr Markos, seeing this, thought that they wanted to take the dog away with them. He started to get angry and to lambaste the retainers. At that moment, Gagik made a hand gesture to the attendants who surrounded the impious Markos on four sides, seized him, and, with great force and violence, threw him into the sack with Armen. And Gagik said: “Let’s see who is more vigorous and ferocious, the Byzantine metropolitan or the dog he calls Armen.”

"At this point Gagik commanded that they should violently beat the dog. [The dog,] enraged, attacked Markos, biting him with its teeth. In this manner, for much of the day, they beat the dog, which furiously shed the blood of the loathsome heretic Markos, who emitted many loud screams and shouts. In this fashion, a frightful battle took place at the bottom of that sack, accompanied by the gnashing of teeth and piteous groans. Thus did [Markos] perish wickedly — he who had been a wicked, foul curser [of Armenians] became dog food. Then Gagik ordered that his entire home be looted, as [Markos] had been wealthy and quite renowned. An inestimable treasure of gold and silver was taken, along with 6,000 sheep, 40 pair of yoked buffalo, and 20 [pairs of] oxen. [Gagik] gathered all this up and went to his own home, with a multitude of horses and mules. This is what Gagik did among the Byzantines — something no one had dared to do, not before or after. He never again entered Constantinople or responded to Byzantine summonses."

The story of Armen and the cruel murder of Markos took place in 1065, following the disastrous capture of Ani by the Seljuks, which the contemporary historian Aristakes Lastivertc’i had described in his History some 50 years prior to Matthew’s writing. Ani then came under the control of the (Kurdish) Shaddadid dynasty, which had already ruled Dvin and Gandzak.

In the 13th century, over 100 years after Matthew’s Chronicle was written, Smbat Sparapet recounted the story of Armen in his own Chronicle, which was based in part on Matthew’s:

"Then Gagik left the emperor’s [Dukas’] presence with great glory but wrathfully, and as he traveled along he had the glorious [Byzantine noble]women and their daughters disgraced, and he ravished their treasures. He had resolved never to return to Constantinople nor to respond to any Byzantine summons. He thought to go to Alp-Arslan, sultan of Persia, and to rule from the throne of his kingdom, since [the sultan] had called him many times. It was due to his Christian faith that he had not done so.

"In Caesarea there was a metropolitan named Markos, very renowned and very rich in all luxury goods. He was a defamer of the Armenians and loathed them to the point that he had named his dog Armen, and referred to all dogs as “Armen.” Gagik had been informed about all of [Markos’] evil [activities] and was waiting for an opportune time to repay his evil with evil. When they arrived in Caesarea, they took lodging in the home of Markos. Markos came before them unwillingly. When they had dined and were making merry in drink, Gagik said to Markos: “I have heard that you have an enormous dog, and I would like to see it.” So Markos [summoning the dog] called out: “Armen, Armen.” Then Gagik inquired: “Your dog is named Armen?” Markos replied: “We call him Armen because of his great strength.” Gagik signaled his attendants who seized the dog.

"Then he ordered that a sack be brought. When Markos saw this, he became angry, thinking that they wanted to take the dog away from him. [Gagik] ordered that Markos also be seized and that the dog and Markos be put into the sack. Then he ordered the dog beaten, and the dog devoured Markos. Thus did Markos die. His home was subjected to looting, and they left with the booty. Gagik made bold to do this among the Byzantines, but he never returned to Constantinople nor did he answer their summons."

A third account of this event which we omit here is by Kirakos Gandzakets’i, a contemporary of Smbat’s, who wrote his History sometime around 1241. Last but not least, Vahram rabuni recalled this story in his History of the Rubenian Dynasty, commissioned by King Leo II (1270–1289). At the request of Leo, Vahram composed his History in verse. The following are the relevant lines (composed entirely in monorhyme), followed by a brief English translation in prose:

Նաեւ Հայոց՝ արքայն օծեալ,

 Այն որ Գագիկն՝ է կոչեցեալ. 

 Յայնքան չարիսն՝ նայեցեալ,

 Եւ զհանդերձեալն՝ նկատեալ։ 

 զԲոլոր աշխարհն՝ որոց տիրեալ, 

 Ի Հոռոմոց՝ կայսրն տուեալ.

 Եւ փոխարէն՝ իննքեան առեալ, 

 զԿեսարիայն՝ զհրչակեալ։ 

 Այլ եւ բազում՝ տեղեաց տիրեալ, 

 Կապպադոկիոյ՝ մասինն եղեալ. 

 Յորում Հայոց՝ ազգի բնակեալ,

 Ի մէջ Յունաց՝ պանդխտացեալ։ 

 Բայց հին նախանձն՝ արմատացեալ, 

 Որ յերկոսին՝ ազգսն տնկեալ. 

 Այն վերստին՝ առուգացեալ,

 Եւ խռովութիւն՝ մեծ յարուցեալ։ 

 Քանզի Մարկոս՝ ոմն անուանեալ, 

 Մետրապօլիտ՝ անդէն կացեալ. 

 Շուն մի ինքեան՝ էր մերձ կալեալ, 

 Նմին անուն՝ Արմէն ձայնեալ։

 Զոր արքային՝ Գագկայ լուեալ, 

 զՄետրապօլիտսն՝ ի ճաշ կոչեալ. 

 Ձայնել զանուն՝ շանն ստիպեալ, 

 Իսկ յայսմանէ՝ նա երկուցեալ։ 

 զՇունն այլով՝ անուամբ կոչեալ, 

 Որոյ եւ շունն՝ անլուր եղեալ. 

 Յորժամ Արմէն՝ անուն ձայնեալ, 

 Փութով առ նա՝ շունն դիմեալ։ 

 Զոր զերկոսեանն՝ արքայ առեալ, 

 Եւ ի միում՝ քրձի ածեալ. 

 Եւ հարուածովք՝ այնքան տանջեալ, 

 Մինչ երկոքեան՝ սատակեալ։

"Gagik, the anointed king of Armenia, considering these disastrous circumstances, and the dire necessity of the case, gave up his country to the Byzantine Emperor, in exchange for the great and celebrated town of Caesarea, and other places in Cappadocia; and in consequence of this, the Armenians lived as emigrants under the Greeks. But the jealousy which had existed for so many centuries between the two nations was rooted too deeply in the heart of every individual, and caused many disorders. The metropolitan of Caesarea, named Markus, had a dog, whom he called Armen. Gagik hearing of this, invited Markus to dinner, and asked of him the name of the dog: the frightened metropolitan called the dog by another name, but the animal did not hear; as soon as he called him by the proper name, Armen, the dog ran to him. The king [Gagik II] then gave orders that both the metropolitan and his dog should be put into one sack together, and beat and tortured to the point of death."

 The Greeks would later get their revenge by murdering Gagik.

These accounts do not only give us insights into the differences between the narrative styles of these authors, they also give us different perspectives on the fall of Bagratid Armenia. For example, where Matthew focuses on the weakening of Armenia due to the attempted conversion of Armenian royalty and nobility to Chalcedonianism, Vahram goes on to describe the weakening of Armenia due to land exchange and forced migration by the Byzantines. After the fall of Bagratid Armenia, it hardly took two decades for the Armenians to establish a new principality in Cilicia, but that’s another story.

And there you have it, one of the most told (yet little-known) medieval Armenian stories.

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