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Moses of Chorene

Writer, poet, or hymn writer, and a grammarian, b. date of his birth is unknown, d. end of the fifth century

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* Published by Encyclopedia Press, 1913.


Moses of Chorene (MOSES CHORENENSIS), perhaps the best known writer of Armenia, called by his countrymen "the father of history" and the "father of scholars", and celebrated as a poet, or hymn writer, and a grammarian. A native of Choren or Chorni in the province of Darou, when young, he was sent by Mesrop, the founder of Armenian literature, to study in Edessa, Constantinople, Alexandria, Athens, and Rome. Upon his return, he is said to have assisted Mesrop (407-433), in the translation of the Bible into Armenian. The date of his birth is unknown, but the above fact would indicate that he was born towards the end of the fourth century, and his death is generally placed about the end of the fifth. The following works are attributed to him: "Treatise on Rhetoric"; "Treatise on Geography"; "Letter on Assumption of B. V. M."; "Homily on Christ's Transfiguration"; "Oration on Hripsinia, an Armenian Virgin and Martyr"; "Hymns used in Armenian Church Worship"; "Commentaries on the Armenian Grammarians"; and "Explanations of Armenian Church Offices". The most celebrated work, however, is the "History of Armenia Major", practically the only work preserving the early history and traditions of pre-Christian Armenia, but like other histories of this kind, abounding in legendary and fictitious narratives, historical inaccuracies, etc. It is divided into three parts: (I) "Genealogy of Armenia Major", embracing the history of Armenia from the beginning down to the foundation of the Arsacide dynasty (149 B.C.); (2) "History of the middle period of our ancestors", extending from 149 B.C. to the death of St. Gregory the Illuminator and the reign of King Terdat (A.D. 149-332); (3) the third part brings the history down to the overthrow of the Arsacide dynasty (A.D. 428); a fourth part was added to the work by another and later writer who brought the history down to the time of the Emperor Zeno (474-491). Recent researches, however, have shown that this famous "History of Armenia" is not the work of Moses of Chorene.

The reasons for discarding the traditionally received attribution have been ably summarized by Dr. Bardenhewer as follows. The author of the "History of Armenia Major" calls himself Moses of Chorene and pretends to belong to the fifth century, to be a disciple of Saint Mesrop, and to have composed his work at the request of Isaac (Sahak), the Bagratunid prince who fell in battle in 482. These personal statements are shown to be untrustworthy for internal and external reasons. In his account of his own life the author contradicts such fifth-century writers as Koriun and Lazarus of Pharp. Carriere has shown recently that he makes use of historical sources posterior to the sixth and even the seventh century, e.g. Armenian versions of the "Vita St. Silvestri" and the "Church History" of Socrates. Only since the ninth century have traces of his work been found in Armenian literature. This, however, does not dispose of the historical personality of Moses of Chorene, who is one of the venerable fathers of the Armenian Church, and who really lived in the fifth century. Lazarus of Pharp bears witness to the existence in the fifth century of an Armenian bishop named Moses and a distinguished writer. We do not know the reason why this eighth- or ninth-century writer assumed the name of Moses of Chorene. He makes it clear that he intends to glorify the Bagratunid dynasty which from the end of the seventh century surpassed in splendor all the other noble houses of Armenia. In 885 Aschot I, a descendant of that house, was recognized by the Caliph as King of Armenia. Vetter conjectures that the secret aim of the pseudo Moses of Chorene was to prepare the way for the accession of this house. In spite of its really late date, the author's narrative is generally speaking, trustworthy. He draws largely on ancient authorities, though occasionally modifying them in a capricious way, and embodies his own ideas in their context; but it cannot be maintained, as some have done, that he invented these authorities. His witnesses for the ancient history of Armenia, even as late as the second or third century after Christ, were principally legends and folksong, and it is precisely this legendary element that lends to the work its special charm and value. The "Geography" and "Rhetoric" mentioned above are of course no more genuine works of Moses of Chorene than the "History". All three works are by the same author, as is evident both from the testimony of the manuscripts and from intrinsic criteria. The author's own statement leads us to believe that the "Geography" is an extract from the description of the world by Pappus, an Alexandrine author of the fourth century of our era. The "Rhetoric" is entitled "Chria" in the Greek manuscripts, and follows such Greek models as Aphthonius and Theon. The minor writings mentioned above await a more thorough examination into their genuineness (Patrology, Shahan, 1908, pp. 595-6). The first edition of the "History of Armenia" was published at Amsterdam, 1695; the second at London, with a Latin translation, 1736; the third at Venice, 1752; it was translated into French (Venice, 1841), and Italian (ibid.). The best translation is that made by Langlois in his "Historiens Anciens de l'Armenie" (Paris, 1867), II, 47, 175. The Armenian Mechitarist Fathers of Venice have issued several editions of the work in 1827, 1843-64, etc.

GABRIEL OUSSANI


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