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The History of Lazar P'arpec'i.

This is a welcome addition to Thomson's series of translations of Armenian historical sources, bringing them into the wider scholarly domain - the more so because of the importance of the events it records. Composed at the end of the fifth century C.E., Lazar's tripartite account charts a hundred-year span from the division of Armenia between Byzantium and Iran in 387 through the dissolution of the monarchy in 428 and Yazdgard II's devastating campaign of mid-century to re-impose Mazdeism as state cult, which led to the Armenian defeat at the Battle of Avarayr. It culminates in the successful revolt mounted by the author's patron Vahan Mamikonean which restored religious toleration by the treaty of Nuarsak in 484.

As he informs us in the preface, Thomson published an earlier draft of the central portion of the History as an appendix to his translation of the parallel narrative of Elise encompassing the years 449-464. Carefully negotiating the discontinuities of Armenian and English idiom, it provides a smooth, felicitous rendering of Lazar's text. In addition, the translator renders a letter ascribed to the author and directed to his patron (pp. 247-66), as well as one of the earliest fragments of the history (pp. 274-75), palaeographically dated to the tenth to eleventh centuries, which differs in certain respects from the form preserved in the full manuscripts copied some six hundred years later. The translation is accompanied by brief exegetical footnotes and further clarified by a useful index of technical terms (pp. 297-99).

The concise introduction touches lightly on the work's dating and transmission history before contextualizing the author's project within the unfolding tradition of Armenian historiography. Here Thomson offers an illuminating overview of the values and priorities of the aristocratic class whose outlook the work reflects. It is a pity, however, that he does not allow himself the opportunity to elaborate on a number of the critical issues the book raises, which he had broached in earlier studies.

Lazar's first section focusing on Catholicos Sahak (d. 438), whose national importance was compounded by marital ties to the Mamikonean house, has had its integrity queried by Akinean and other critics. Thomson adopts this approach with regard to a vision (pp. 5, 26) vouchsafed to the hierarch concerning the future of both Armenia's royal and primatial lines (previously the catholicate had also been hereditary). The interpretation of the figure of three and a half branches as three hundred and fifty years before worthy scions of those families return to office (p. 69) is patently secondary; yet, arguably, much of the surrounding material can be associated with contemporary concerns over legitimacy of government in church and state.

Another passage is problematized by conflicts in presenting the invention of the alphabet and the ensuing process of translating the Bible at the beginning of the century between Lazar and Koriwn, who wrote in the mid 440s. The latter designates his teacher Mastoc as protagonist in both endeavors, which are appreciably advanced during consultations in the Syriac-speaking environment of Edessa and Samosata. Lazar however, arrogates priority for the catholicos and locates the whole action in Greater Armenia. Thomson rightly notes Lazar's references to conversations with eyewitnesses in connection with certain later events (p. 22), yet here we should seriously consider the effect of literary Tendenz.

In this regard, the translator demonstrates the animus felt by the historian toward all things Syrian, which manifests itself throughout his account. Although Armenian nobles and clerics were clearly divided on their assessment of Syrian relations, Lazar's perspective is portrayed as outside the mainstream at the turn of the sixth century in the light of the two sides' cooperation on Christological debates (p. 31). At the same time, granted the internal Syrian polarization between Nestorians and Monophysites, of whom the former predominated in Iran and the latter in the Byzantine empire at this juncture, one might posit that Lazar's inimity is primarily focused on the former - hence his portrayal of the Syrophone clergy of Iran being overawed by the appearance of the Armenian catholicos Giwt during his audience with the shah (p. 166). Similarly, if we accept the evidence of the above-mentioned letter, we note that Lazar selected Amida (with its hellenized Syrian ambience) as his place of refuge until it was possible for him to return to Armenia.

The book also includes probing analyses of the function of dreams and visions in early Armenian literature; monks and monasteries; and titles accorded the primate of the Armenian church (pp. 267-74). The second of these excursus is particularly important for its reappraisal of our presuppositions on monastic nomenclature. This applies especially to the term vank (commonly rendered "monastery"), bearing in mind the solitary and eremitical way of life which emerges from narrative sources. In view of the Syrian influence on early Armenian ascetic practices, it might be fruitful to pursue this line of inquiry in connection with the corresponding Syriac term dyr, which shares the same basic semantic range of "dwelling, lodging." The book is accompanied by a detailed and accurate map of contemporary Armenia drawn by R. H. Hewsen.

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Author:Cowe, S. Peter
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1996
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