Translated from the Classical Armenian with Introduction and Commentary
by Abraham Terian
The Life of Mashtots‘ (d. 440 ce) is mostly praise for the inventor of the Armenian alphabet—the only inventor of an ancient alphabet known by name—and progenitor of Armenian literacy that began with the translation of the Bible. Written three years after his death, by an early disciple named Koriwn, it narrates the master’s endeavors in search for letters, the establishment of schools, and the ensuing literary activity that yielded countless translations of religious texts known in the Early Church. As an encomium from Late Antiquity, the LIFE exhibits all the literary features of the genre to which it belongs, delineated through rhetorical analysis by Terian, who comments on the entire document almost phrase by phrase.
Translated from the latest edition of the text (2003), provided here with the English translation facing, the LIFE is quite gripping for reasons beyond its extraordinary narrative parading historical characters playing collaborative roles. Foremost among them are the Patriarch of the Armenian Church, Catholicos Sahak (d. 439), and the Arsacid King of Armenia, Vr ?amshapuh (r. 401–417). The Roman Emperor of the East, Theodosius II (r. 408–450), also has a role. Koriwn is an eminently inspiring rhetorical writer, unconcerned about historical details considered to have been familiar to his immediate audience; still, historical elements abound. He is foremost among authors known to write in the newly invented script, and the marked influence of the LIFE is discernible in subsequent Armenian writings of the fifth century, dubbed ‘The Golden Era’.
ABRAHAM TERIAN is Professor Emeritus of Armenian Theology and Patristics at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, New York, where he also served as Academic Dean for ten years. He was Professor of Intertestamental and Early Christian Literatures at Andrews University for twenty years. More recently, he was Robert F. and Margaret S. Goheen Fellow in Classical Philosophy at the National Humanities Center, where this work was completed. Recipient of the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in the Humanities award and academician of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia and of the Ambrosian Academy of Milan, he has extensive publications in Hellenistic, early Christian, and medieval studies.