Armenian Legends and Poems  at sacred-texts.com
The Armenians took advantage of the weakening of the Arab power to form independent kingdoms. One of the principal noble families during the period of Arab dominion was that of the Bagratuni. This family was rich and powerful and had much land in its possession. Under the Arsacidae, the head of this family was hereditary "coronator" (i.e., he had the privilege of putting the crown on the king's head, on the occasion of a new sovereign). During the rule of the Arabs, the command of the Armenian army was given to this family. The Bagratuni, though extremely courageous and patriotic, were also cautious and tactful in their relations with the Arabs, whom they served faithfully, thus gaining the respect of the Khalifs. As they also won the love and esteem of their own countrymen by rebuilding and restoring what the Arabs had destroyed, they were able to act as mediators between the Khalifs and the Armenian people. In wars against the enemies of the Arabs, members of this family had many successes. Once a Persian prince revolted against the Khalif and a Persian army of 80,000 marched into Armenia. The Arabs were too weak to make any resistance, but Ashot Bagratuni with his troops defeated the invaders. After the victory, the Khalif of Bagdad sent a crown to Ashot, thus making him a king, thinking, "He is so powerful that, if I do not give him a crown, he will seize one for himself."
Thus in 885 Ashot became the first king of the Bagratuni dynasty. The Greek emperor, Basil I., also sent a crown to Ashot, with a view to gaining the friendship and influence of Armenia. During the dominion of the Bagratuni, the régime of the Arsacidae was restored and the country prospered. Ani, which was the seat of government during the greater part of this period, though formerly it was little more than a fortress, became one of the most flourishing cities of the time. It was full of fine edifices--churches, palaces, museums, etc.--and was called "the city of a thousand and one churches." Its fame even spread to foreign lands.
There were several other noble Armenian families with ambitions. In 908 one of these--the Ardzruni family--made the lands they held into a kingdom, called Vaspurakan, with Van as a capital city. In taking this step they were encouraged by the Arabs, who were watching with alarm the growing power of the Bagratuni.
In 908 another Armenian kingdom was set up with Kars as its capital.
Ashot III., who was then the king of the Bagratuni dynasty, was quite aware that the Arabs were encouraging the formation of small Armenian kingdoms, but he offered no opposition, leaving his rivals alone to serve the people each in his own way.
This Ashot was one of the greatest sovereigns of this dynasty. He was called "Ashot the Compassionate" because of his love of the people and his numerous charitable provisions for their benefit. It was said that he would never dine without sending for some beggars out of the street to share the meal with him.
The most renowned as well as the wisest and most powerful king of this dynasty was Gagik I. (990-1020), under whom the country enjoyed its period of greatest prosperity.
The danger of the Arabs was past, but now a new peril threatened the East, that of the Seljukian Turks, who came from Central Asia in search of a new country. Persia and Mesopotamia fell before them and they entered Armenia. Several of the Armenian princes offered them stout resistance with some success, but, fearing that this success was only temporary, others transferred themselves and their subjects to more secure parts of the country.
The Seljuks conquered Persia and established a Persian kingdom of their own, but the new Persia was no longer Zoroastrian, but Mohammedan. Armenia again became a battlefield. The Greeks also claimed the city of Ani, and this led to many conflicts in which the Armenians made a brave defence. The town, however, fell through treachery and the Greeks devastated some parts of the country, treating the inhabitants no better than the Arabs and the Seljuks had done. In order to weaken the power of Armenia, they also made attempts to exterminate the native princes and nobles.
About the same time, the Seljuks again invaded Armenia and completed the desolation which the Greeks had begun. They wrought great destruction in Ani.
The last king of the Bagratuni dynasty was unable to re-establish his kingdom and was killed by the Greeks. His two sons and his grandson were poisoned. So ended the race of the Bagratuni whose dynasty had lasted 160 years.
During the rule of this house, the country had a period of rest and the energies of the people were directed to the restoration and development of the country. The ruined monasteries and churches were rebuilt, schools were again established; commerce, arts, and handicrafts throve. This was a particularly flourishing time for the national architecture, which now assumed a new character. Most of the Armenian abbeys and churches were built during
this time, and as these places had always been seats of learning, alternative erudition revived, original writing and the transcription of manuscripts going on briskly within the convent walls. The literature of this period is chiefly of a religious character. In it we see traces of Arabic influence--the influence of the eighth century, when Arabic literature was at its zenith. The chief debt of Armenian literature to the Arabs is the introduction of rhyme, which is first found in Armenian verse in the eleventh century.
In dealing with this period, as we are only concerned with Armenian poetry, we must leave unmentioned the historians and other famous prose writers.
The most remarkable Armenian poet under the Bagratuni dynasty was GRIGOR NAREKATZI (951-1009), who has been called the Pindar of Armenia and has also been canonised as a saint. From his pen came elegies, odes, panegyrics, and homilies. His sacred elegies (ninety-five in number) are elevated in style, showing Arabian influence, and very pure in sentiment. His canticles and melodies are still chanted in the Armenian Church. Verbosity is a characteristic of his work; in one passage the word "God" is accompanied by ninety adjectives.
He was greatly loved and revered by the people, but he aroused jealousy in some of his ecclesiastical colleagues. On one occasion, they went to the Catholicos with accusations against him. The Catholicos appointed priests to investigate the case. These priests repaired to the abbey where Grigor Narekatzi was, arriving about dinner time on a Friday. To their surprise they found roast pigeons on the table, and reminded Grigor that it was fast-day, whereupon the latter said, addressing himself to the pigeons: "If that be so, off with you!" and the roasted birds took to themselves wings and flew away. The astonished investigators, without going into the case, turned back and reported the miracle to the Catholicos. Of course this is an extravagant legend, but it shows the high estimation in which Grigor Narekatzi was held by his contemporaries.
The greatest work of this writer and the one on which his fame rests is Narek. It is divided into ninety-five chapters, and is a tragic devotional monologue composed of poetical prayers. Here the author reveals his heart and soul in converse with God. Hope, fear, love, faith, repentance, entreaty, aspiration, breathe as if mingled with tears in fine and noble lines and periods. There is a copious stream of epithets, a flood of rhetoric, an unfailing flow of ideas. With all this wealth of diction, this work is sincere and strikingly original, and gives evidence of the author's high-soaring imagination. He begins with an address to God, in which he represents himself as one of the vilest of creatures, saying that, if all the trees in all the forests of the world were pens and all the seas ink, they would not suffice to write down
his sins, but towards even such sinfulness as this the mercy of God is great, and the Creator is so powerful that it will be possible for Him to bleach the sins as white as snow.
This work gives evidence that its author had, on the one hand, great love of God and a firm faith, and on the other hand a vivid imagination and poetic fire. All this he has worded together with great skill.
Narek is a mingling of prose and verse. It begins in prose and then breaks into verse, then again, after continuing to some length, returns to prose, and so on. It was printed for the first time in 1673 at Constantinople; in all thirty editions have been published in different places. It stands by itself, being the only long mystic work in Armenian literature, mysticism being quite alien to the typical Armenian mind. Even the mysticism of Narek and a few other works of the same period has its own peculiarities. It is not so obscure as ordinary mysticism, partaking, rather, of the nature of allegory. Notwithstanding its unusual character, Narek was formerly regarded with veneration little short of that accorded to the Bible itself. Within recent times superstitious people ascribed to it miraculous medical qualities, believing that if certain chapters were read over a patient he would be cured. It was also believed that if any one read certain chapters--forty in number--with concentrated attention, banishing thought of everything else, he would have the power of controlling devils, but this it is said is very difficult and even dangerous, because while the reading is going on, evil spirits come and try to distract the mind of the reader, annoying, terrifying, and even torturing him; if his attention wanders, he may become possessed. All this shows the value and importance that were attached to Narek. At the end of this work, the author states that he finished writing it in the year 1001-2. Gregory of Narek also wrote several songs. Some of his prayers and sharakans are used in the church services. Another great writer of this period was Grigor Magistros ( -1058) who produced poetry of some value. He was of princely lineage and, unlike the Armenian authors who were his predecessors or contemporaries, he was a layman. He gained reputation as a linguist, a scholar, and a writer, and was one of the greatest politicians of his time. He received the title of "duke" from the Greek emperors Constantine and Monomachus. Early in life he gave up politics and retired to his estate, where he devoted himself to literary pursuits. He wrote both poetry and prose. His chief poetical work is a long metrical narration (a thousand lines in extent) of the principal events recorded in the Bible, from the Creation to the Resurrection of Christ. The author states that this work was written in three days at the request of a Mohammedan noble who wished to make acquaintance with the Christian Scriptures and who, after reading the poem, became converted to Christianity. Grigor Magistros was almost the first poet to adopt the use of rhyme, introduced
into Armenia by the Arabs. In his work Grigor Magistros tells some interesting stories which he has learnt from the peasants. One is the following. The lark, fearing that heaven would fall down, lay on her back, stretching up her feet towards the sky, thinking she would thus prevent the catastrophe. Some laughed at her and said, "With your spindle legs, you want to become a tree, O bird, with a mind capacious as the sea." The lark replied, "I am doing what I can."