Introduction to Agathangelos' History of the Armenians
Introduction to Agathangelos’
History of the Armenians
by Aram Ter-Ghewondyan
(Below is Robert Bedrosian's English translation of Ter-Ghewondyan's remarks, which appear on pp. 503-506 of Աղաթանգեգայ Պատմութիւն Հայոց [Agat'angeghos' History of the Armenians] (Erevan, 1983), a publication of Erevan State University. This book has the Classical Armenian text, edited by G. Ter-Mkrtch'yan and S. Kanayants' (1909), with a facing Modern Armenian translation by Aram Ter-Ghewondyan.)
Agat'angeghos' History of the Armenians, a work of the 5th-century Golden Age of Classical Armenian literature, already had acquired an international dissemination by medieval times. To the present, some two dozen editions are known, (one of which, and the fundamental one, is the Classical Armenian text of the present edition), in nine medieval languages and variants: Armenian, Greek, Syriac, Arabic, Latin. Ethiopic, Georgian, Coptic (a fragment), and Slavonic. P'awstos Buzand [the author of a 5th-century History of 4th-century events] is the earliest writer who mentions the existence of this work. However, the first to clearly speak about and characterize Agat'angeghos' History is Ghazar P'arpets'i [late 5th century], according to whom this work was called the Book of Grigoris. Movses Xorenats'i also was well acquainted with Agat'angeghos' History, displaying familiarity not only with the presently-known edition, but also with that lost edition, from which the Syriac, Greek and Arab translations have reached us. Sebeos [7th century] also styles this work the Book of Grigoris. The book also is mentioned by all subsequent Armenian historians, although the name Book of Grigoris has been forgotten and it is referred to as the History of Agat'angeghos.
The scholarly study of Agat'angeghos' History began already in the 18th century, when H. Stilting issued the text of its Greek translation along with a brief Latin translation in the series of Latin Lives of the Saints(Acta Sanctorum, Septembris, VIII, Antverpiae. 1762, p. 320-402). The first carefully executed publication of the Armenian text of Agat'angeghos (Venice, 1835), along with the development of Armenology as a discipline, served as stimuli which resulted in the publication of many studies (H. Anasyan, Haykakan matenagitut'yun [Armenian Bibliography] A. (Erevan, 1959) pp. 151-213). The Armenist V. Langlois, who translated Agat'angeghos into French (V. Langlois Collection des historiens anciens et modernes de l'Arménie, I Paris) expressed the opinion that the author could not have lived in the 4th century, and could not have been a lay person, but was instead a 5th-century cleric. The publication of A. Von Gutschmid's article "Agat'angeghos" was a serious step forward (A. V. Gutschmid, "Agat'angeghos", Zeit. d. Deutsch. Morg. Ges., BD XXXI, 1877, S. 1-60). He regarded the Armenian text of Agat'angeghos as the original, while the Greek text represented the translation. To him it was obvious that the author was a 5th-century cleric. Publication of the Greek Agat'angeghos as well as the 10th-century metaphrastic version by P. de Lagarde was another important step in the study of this question. (Agathangelus und die Akten Gregors von Armenien, neu herausgegeven von Paul de Lagarde, Göttingen, 1887). B. Sargsean summarized the direction of the study of Agat'angeghos in his extensive monograph (Agat'angeghos ew iwr bazmadarean gaghtnik'n [Agathangeghos and His Centuries-Long Secret] (Venice, 1890).
H. Tashean observed that there are textual disparities between Agat'angeghos and [a version of it in] the 8th-century Letter of Ge'ork the Assyrian. He was convinced that the compiler of Agat'angeghos took from Koriwn['s Life of Mashtots'] rather than the other way round. The compiler also took from other sources (H. Tashean, Agat'angeghos ar' Ge'orgay asori episkoposin [Agat'angeghos according to Ge'ork the Assyrian Bishop], Vienna, 1891, p. 35). G. Ter-Mkrtch'ean found that Koriwn was the editor of Agat'angeghos' History (G. Ter-Mkrtch'yan, Agat'angeghosi aghbyurnerits' [Agat'angeghos' Sources] (Vagharshapat, 1896); while, according to N. Biwzandats'i, the 4th-century Agat'angeghos, which was written in Greek, was translated into Armenian in the 5th century by Koriwn (Koriwn vardapet ew norin t'argmanut'iwnk [Koriwn Vardapet and His Translations] (Tiflis, 1900), p. 14). Thus, from historical, epic, and martyrological sources extant from the 4th century an Armenian cleric in the mid-5th century compiled the Book of Grigoris (Agat'angeghos' History), which was seen and described by Ghazar P'arpets'i and others. This author (editor) belonged to the circle of Mesrop Mashtots' students. From the standpoint of the dissemination of Agat'angeghos' History, the fact that it was translated from Greek had decisive significance, since it is clear that almost all foreign language editions derive from the Greek.
Recently, G. Lafontaine published a critical edition of the Greek text, based on numerous manuscripts (La version grecque ancienne du livre arménien d'Agathange, edition critique par G. Lafontaine, Louvaine, 1973). In the 10th century, when the well-known Foreword about the rebellion of Ardashir in the Greek Agat'angeghos already had been attached to the beginning of the work, Symeon Metaphrastes summarized the entire work and inserted it into his Greek Lives of the Saints. Agat'angeghos and its abbreviated metaphrastic edition spread throughout the medieval Christian world. From the Greek Agat'angeghos was translated the short Latin edition. Also from the Greek is the recently discovered abbreviated Greek Life (G. Lafontaine, "Une Vie grecque abrègèe de St. Grègoire l'Illuminateur," Le Muséon, LXXXVI, 1-2, 1973). From the metaphrastic edition, translations were made into Georgian, Italian (17th century), and Slavonic. There also exists a Georgian fragment which was translated directly from the Armenian Agat'angeghos. G. Garitte discovered that an abbreviated Georgian translation of the Teaching of Gregory also has been preserved, which previously had been known under the title On the Faith. Up to this time, the work had been attributed to Hippolytus (G. Garitte, "Le traite gèorgien 'Sur la foi' attribué à Hippolyte," Le Muséon, t. 78, 1-2 (1965), p. 119-172). In any case, the Greek Agat'angeghos had the most translations into Arabic, from which group we have the full translation (A. Ter-Ghewondyan, Agat'angeghosi arabakan nor xmbagrut'yune" [The New Arabic Edition of Agat'angeghos] (Erevan, 1968).  According to G. Garitte, an abbreviated Arabic Life was translated from an intermediate Coptic text (G. Garitte, "Une Vie arabe de St. Gregoire d'Arménie," Le Muséon, LXV, 1-2, 1952). In Lisbon at the beginning of the 20th century, Father E. Pareira published the abriged Ethiopic text of the History of Gregory the Illuminator (Vida de S. Gregorio, patriarca da Armenia. publ. por F. M. E. Pareira, Lisboa, 1903).
All the aforementioned editions, which are directly related to the Armenian text of Agat'angeghos' History which has reached us, constitute one group of editions. There is still another group of editions whose Armenian texts have not been discovered, but currently we have at hand Syriac, Greek, and five Arabic translations (editions). In philology these are provisionally called Lives. A radical upheaval in the study of Agat'angeghos was brought about in 1902 by N. Marr's discovery of a defective Arabic edition at the monastery of Saint Catherine, in Sinai. The complete manuscript of this edition was discovered much later and the missing section has since been published (A. Ter-Ghewondyan, Agat'angeghosi arabakan xmbagrut'yan norahayt amboghjakan dzer'agire" [The Newly Discovered Complete Text of the Arabic Edition of Agat'angeghos] (Patmabanasirakan Handes 1(1973). A study of the manuscript found by Marr made clear that the Armenian Agat'angeghos which has reached us is not the only Armenian-language text about Armenia's conversion in existence in the early Middle Ages. N. Marr correctly assumed that the Arabic edition he had discovered must have been translated from Greek which, in its turn, must descended from an Armenian text (Marr, pp. 162-163). N. Marr's assumption was confirmed when G. Garitte published a newly discovered Greek edition in Escorial (Spain). The Arabic in certain sections was a translation of this Greek text. According to G. Garitte, the Greek must have been translated from Armenian (G. Garitte, Documents pour l'é du livre d'Agathange, Vatican, 1946). In 1961 in Ohrid (Macedonia) a new Greek edition was discovered which, in its arrangement, is close to the group known as Lives (La Vie grecque inèdite de St. Grégoire d'Arménie, Analecta Bollandiana 83, f. 3-4, 1965). Recently, yet another new discovery has been published by M. van Esbroeck: an Arabic (Karshuni) Life, written in Syriac characters (M. van Esbroeck, Un nouveau témoin du livre d'Agathange, REA, VIII, Paris, 1971, pp. 13-167). After studying this manuscript, van Esbroeck concluded that its Syriac exemplar must have been translated from Armenian. The manuscript states that it was translated in 1178 by an Asori/Syriac scribe. And indeed, the Syriac exemplar was subsequently found and published (M. van Esbroeck, La resumé syriaque de l'Agathange. Analecta Bollandiana, 95, f. 3-4, 1977).
Considering data from the newly discovered multilingual editions of Agat'angeghos, it is now possible to make the following conclusions. In the first half of the 5th century, an edition was put together whose Armenian text has not yet been discovered. However, from it Syriac, Greek, and Arabic editions were derived. These are called Lives. Apparently, this Armenian original, over the centuries, was forgotten. The edition known to us today was created in the mid-5th century, and is regarded as canonical by the Armenian Church, and throughout the entire Middle Ages it was used as a sacred book. The first publication of Agat'angeghos took place in Constantinople in 1709. The Venice 1835 publication was made with the comparison of a few manuscripts. The critical edition of the text was published in 1909, prepared by G. Ter-Mkrtch'yan and S. Kanayan. In the 19th century, Agat'angeghos was translated into Italian (Storia di Agatangelo. Versione italiana. Venezia, S. Lazzaro, 1843), French, Swedish, and English (S. C. Malan, The Life and Times of S. Gregory the Illuminator (London, 1868). Recently, Robert Thomson has translated into English the Teaching (The Teaching of Saint Gregory. An Early Armenian Cathecism, tr. by R. Thomson, Cambridge, Mass, 1970) and also the History (Agathangelos, History of the Armenians, trans. and comment. by R. W. Thomson (Albany, N.Y., 1976). The present Modern Armenian translation was first published in 1977 (Sovetakan grogh series, A. Abrahamyan and V. Ar'akelyan, editors) and it was the History portion only. As for the Modern Armenian translation of the Teaching, it appeared first in the journal Ejmiatsin (1978 4,6,7; 1979 2,5,6).
Selections from Agathangelos’
History of the Armenians
The Life and History of Saint Gregory