Collins: David of Sassun

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DAVID OF SASSUN

NATIONAL EPOS OF ARMENIA

[Translated by F.B. Collins, B.S.]


DAVID OF SASSUN

Strong and mighty was the Caliph of Bagdad[1]; he gathered together a host and marched against our Holy John the Baptist[2]. Hard he oppressed our people, and led many into captivity. Among the captives was a beautiful maiden, and the caliph made her his wife. In time she bore two sons, Sanassar and Abamelik. The father of these children was a heathen, but their mother was a worshipper of the cross[3], for the caliph had taken her from our people.

This same caliph again gathered together a host and fell upon our people. This time—I bow before thy holy miracle, O sainted John—this time our people pressed him sorely, and in his affliction he cried unto his idols: "May the gods save me from these people; bring me to my city safe and well, and both my sons will I sacrifice unto them."

In Bagdad the mother lay sleeping, and she had a dream. She dreamed she had in each hand a lamp, and when their flames seemed ready to go out they flashed up brightly again. When morning came she told this dream to her sons, and said: "Last night holy St. John appeared to me in my dreams and said that your father was in great trouble and had vowed to sacrifice you. When he again comes home he will stab you: look to your safety."

Both sons cried unto their gods, took food with them for their journey, put gold into their purses, and set out on their travels. Coming to a narrow valley they halted there. They saw a river, and in the distance a brook clove the river to mid-stream, then mingled with its waters and flowed onward with it.

And Sanassar said to Abamelik: "He who finds the source of this brook and builds him a dwelling there, his race shall also wax mighty."

The brothers rose with one will and followed the brook upstream. They found its spring and saw its waters flowing as from a small pipe, and they ran down with the brook and increased till they mixed with waters of the great river. Here the brothers halted and laid the foundations of their dwelling.

And Sanassar hunted while Abamelik worked on the house. Ten, yea, twenty days they worked on their dwelling. It happened that once Abamelik came upon Sanassar asleep, worn out with fatigue, his venison thrown away unroasted. Abamelik was much troubled at this, and said, "Rise, brother, and we will depart from this place. How long shall we stay here and eat meat without salt? If it were God's will that we should have happiness, in our father's wooden palace we should have found it." And they mounted their horses and rode to the Lord of Arsrom.[4] Both came thither, presented themselves to him, and bowed before him.

Now both brothers were mighty men. They found favor with the Emir of Arsrom, and he asked them of their birth and of their tribe, and said, "What manner of men are you?"

Sanassar answered and said, "We are the sons of the Caliph of Bagdad."

"Hoho!" said the Emir, while terror seized him. "We feared you dead, and here we meet you living. We cannot take you in. Go whither ye will."

And Sanassar said to Abamelik, "Since we have run away from our father, why should we bear his name? From this day, when anyone asks us concerning ourselves, let us say we have neither father nor mother nor home nor country: then will people lodge us."

Thence they rode to the Emir of Kars, who gave the lads the same answer. They turned and rode to the King of Kraput-Koch. The King of Kraput-Koch scrutinized the lads, and they found favor in his sight; and Abamelik presented himself to the King and bowed low before him. This pleased the King greatly, and he said: "My children, whither came ye? What have you? and what do you lack?"[5]

"We have neither father nor mother nor anyone beside," answered the brothers.

And it came to pass that Sanassar became the King's tschubuktschi[6] and Abamelik his haiwatschi,[7] and they lived at the King's house a long time.

But Sanassar said one day to Abamelik: "We fatigued ourselves greatly with labor, yet was our house not finished. To-morrow make the King no coffee, nor will I hand him his pipe. Let us not appear before him to-morrow."

When the King awoke, neither of them was near. He called the lads to him and said: "I asked you once if you had anyone belonging to you, either father or mother; and you said you had no one. Why, then, are you so sad?"

And the brothers said: "Live long, O King! In truth, we have neither father nor mother. Even if we hide it from you we cannot hide it from God. We worked a little on a dwelling, but left the work unfinished and came away." And they told the King everything as it was.

The heart of the King was grieved, and he said: "My children, if such is the case, to-morrow I will give you some court servants. Go and finish your house."

Then the King arose and gave them forty servants, skilful workers, and each had a mule and a bridle.

Early in the morning they arose and loaded the beasts with their tools, and the two brothers led them to the dwelling. They travelled on and at last reached the spring and the threshold of their house.

Now Sanassar said to Abamelik: "Brother, shall we build the house first or the huts for the servants? These poor wretches cannot camp out in the sun."

And they began first to make the huts. So strong was Abamelik that he built ten huts every day, while the others brought in wood for their building. In four days they finished forty huts, and then they set about building the house and finished it. They set up stone pillars in rows—so powerful were they—and laid a stone base under them, and the house was made ready.

Abamelik rode to the King of Kraput-Koch and said: "We are thy children. We have built our castle: it is finished, and we come to you and entreat you, 'Come and give our dwelling a name,'" It pleased the King of Kraput-Koch that Abamelik had done this, and he said: "I rejoice that you have not forgotten me."

So the King gave Abamelik his daughter in marriage and made him his close friend. After the wedding the King and the young pair came together at the palace—and Uncle Toross[8] was with them—and they mounted their horses and departed. Abamelik rode before them to point out the way. When they were approaching the castle the King suddenly turned his horse as if to ride back again, and said: "You have given your castle a name and have purposely brought me here to try me."

Abamelik said: "May your life be long, O master! Believe me, we have given the castle no name. We have but built it and made it ready."

"Very well. It may be that you have given it no name, but as you have set up rows of stone pillars let us call it Sausun or Sassun."[9]

Here they remained several days. Uncle Toross was also married and stayed at Sassun, but the King returned home.

And Abamelik was strong and became a mighty man. From the environs of the Black Mountain and the Peak of Zetzinak, from Upper Musch as far as Sechanssar and the Plains of Tschapachtschur,[10] he reigned, and built a wall around his dominions. He made four gates. Often he shut his doors, mounted his horse, and captured whatever came in his way, both demons and beasts of prey. Once he penetrated into Mösr and ravaged it, and he went in to the wife of the Lord of Mösr and lay with her. She bore a son, and the King of Mösr knew that the boy was Abamelik's and named him Mösramelik. But afterward Abamelik slew the King and took his wife and became King of Mösr.[11]


Now Sanassar dwelt at Sassun, but the gods of his fathers gave him no repose, so he travelled to Bagdad to the home of his father and mother. His father, sitting at his window, saw his son Sanassar come riding up, and recognized him, and the caliph said: "My life to thee, great god! Thou hast brought back thy victim. Certainly in thy might thou wilt restore the second soon."

The mother—she was a Christian—began to weep and shed tears over her children. The father took a sharp sword and went out to meet his son, saying: "Come, my son, let us worship the great god in his temple. I must sacrifice to him."

The son said, "Dear father, your god is great and very wonderful. Truly in the night he permits us no rest. Certainly he will bring the second victim to you by force."

And they went into the temple of the god, and the son said: "Father dear, you know that we left your house when we were yet children, and we knew not the might of your god."

"Yes, yes, my son, but kneel before him and pray."

The son said: "What a wonderful god your god is! When you bowed before your god, there was a darkness before my eyes and I did not see how you did it. Bow once more before him, that I may learn to worship him."

When the father did the second time the son cried: "Bread and wine, the Lord liveth!" and seized his club and hurled the caliph full seven yards distant to the ground. And with his club he shattered all the images where they stood, put the silver in the skirts of his robe and carried it to his mother, saying: "Take this, mother, and wear it for ornament!"

His mother fell full length and bowed herself and said: "I thank thee, Creator of heaven and earth. It is well that thou hast rescued me from the hands of this cruel man."

They found Sanassar a wife and placed him on the throne in his father's place, and he remained at Bagdad.[12]

Now Abamelik, who reigned in Mösr, left his son Mösramelik to rule in his stead and went to Sassun. Many years passed and children were born to him. To one he gave the name Tschentschchapokrik. The eldest son he named Zöra-wegi, the second Zenow-Owan; while the third son was called Chor-Hussan,[13] and the youngest David.

Of these, Tschentschchapokrik and Zöranwegi proved to be ne'er-do-weels. Zenow-Owan had such a voice that he dried seven buffalo hides in the sun and wound them round his body so that it should not rend him. But the cleverest of all was David, and to his strength words cannot do justice.

Abamelik's life was long, but old age came upon him. Once he sat sunk in thought and said to himself: "Enemies are all about me. Who will care for my children after my death? Mösramelik alone can do this, for none beside him can cope with my enemies."

He set out to visit Mösramelik,[14] but he was very aged. "Mösramelik, my son," he said, "you are truly of my blood. If I die before you, I intrust my children to you. Take care of them. If you die first, confide yours to me and I will watch over them."

He returned and lived in his castle. His time came and he died. Then Mösramelik came and took the children to his house, for he had not forgotten his father's command. Sassun mourned the death of Abamelik for seven years. Then the peasants feasted and drank again with Uncle Toross, for they said: "Uncle Toross, our lads have grown old and our pretty girls are old women. If thou thinkest that by our seven years of weeping Abamelik will live again we would weep seven years longer." Uncle Toross gave the peasants their way, and said: "Marry your lads and maidens. Weeping leads nowhere."

And they sat down and feasted and drank wine. Uncle

Toross took a cup in his hand and paused: he was thinking about something, and he neither drank nor set the cup down. His son cries from the street: "Father, dear, there are the mad men of Sassun. Take care, they will be jeering at you. Let us go away."

Uncle Toross turned to his son and said: "Oh, you dog of a son! Shall I sit here and feast? Did not Mösramelik come and take our children away? Abamelik's children in trouble, and I sitting at a banquet? Oh, what a shame it is! Bread and wine, God be praised! Truly, I will drink no wine till I have fetched the little ones." And Uncle Toross went out of Sassun and came to Mösr. He greeted Mösramelik, and they sat down together. Said Uncle Toross: "Now, we are come for God's judgment. It is true that you made an agreement with Abamelik, but if a man sells a captive he should first wait on the lord."[15]

They arose and went to the court,[16] and Uncle Toross was given the children.

But Mösramelik stood in fear of these children, and he said to Uncle Toross, "Let these children first pass under my sword, and then take them with you."

Uncle Toross told the lads of this, and Zöranwegi said, "Let us pass under his sword and escape hence"; and the other two said the same. But David said otherwise: "If he wishes us dead he will not kill us to-day, for the people will say he has murdered the children. Under his sword I will not go. He does this so that I shall not lift my sword against him when I am a man." Uncle Toross got the boys together, that they might pass under the sword of Mösramelik, for he was very anxious. David was rebellious; he stood still and went not under it. Uncle Toross seized his collar and pushed him, but David would not go. He ran past it at one side and kicked with his great toe upon a flint until the sparks flew. And Mösramelik was frightened and said: "This child is still so young and yet is terrible. What will happen when he is a man! If any evil comes to me it will be through him."

Uncle Toross took the children and came to Sassun. Zöranwegi he established in the castle in his father's place, but David, who was the youngest, was sent out to herd the calves.

What a boy David was! If he struck out at the calves with his oaken stick, he would throw them all down, and forty others beside. Once he drove the calves to the top of the mountain. He found a herdsman there who was abusing his calves, and said: "You fellow! What are you up to? Wait now, if I catch you, you will get something from my oaken stick that will make you cry Ow! ow!"

The fellow answered David: "I am ready to give my life for your head if I am not a shepherd from your father's village. These calves, here, belong to the peasants."

David said, "If that is so, watch my calves also. I know not what time I should drive them home. When the time comes tell me, that I may drive them in."

Then David drove in the calves on time that day, and Uncle Toross was pleased and said: "Always be punctual, my son; go out and come back every day at the right time."

"Uncle Toross, it was not my wisdom that did this. I have hired a comrade who will watch over my calves and see that I am ready with them."

Once his comrade tarried, and David was greatly vexed. It appeared that a religious festival was held in the village, and on this account the young man was detained. Finally he arrived, and David said to him, "To-day you get nothing from me."

The young man said: "David, I am willing to die for you. From fear of your anger, I waited not for the end of the service of God in the church, and not one spoonful of the holy soup[17] has passed my lips. I drove out the calves and am here. Now you know why I tarried."

David said: "Wait here; I will bring you your dinner."

He set off with his oaken stick over his shoulder. He came to the village, and found that all the people had brought corn to the priests, who blessed it. David stuck his oaken stick through the handle of the four-handled kettle, and, full as it was, lifted it to his shoulder and walked away. The priests and the peasants wondered at it, and one cried, "Truly, he has carried off a kettle!"

A priest cried out, "For God's sake, be silent! It is one of those mad men of Sassun. Take care or he will come back and break our ribs for us. May he take the thing and fall down with it!"

And David took the kettle of grits to his comrade, whom he found weeping on the mountain.

"Ha, ha," said David, "I know why you weep. I have brought the grits, but have forgotten butter and salt. That is why you weep. Eat the grits now, and have salt and butter this evening."

But the youth said. "David, I am ready to die for you, What need have I of salt and butter; forty thieving Dews have come and driven away our calves."

David said, "Stay here and watch these calves, and I will bring back all the others"; and he went after the calves. He followed their tracks to the entrance of a cave and paused. He cried out with so loud a voice that the Dews were frightened, and were as full of fear as is the devil when Christ's voice is heard in hell.

And when the leader of the Dews heard the voice he said: "That is surely David, Abamelik's son. Go receive him with honor, else he will strike us dead."

They went out, one by one, and David struck each as he passed with his oaken cudgel, so that their heads fell off and only dead bodies remained in the place. He cut off the ears of all the forty and buried them under a stone at the mouth of the cave.

He laid down his club and entered the cave. There he saw a heap of gold and a heap of silver—indeed, all the treasures of the world. Since his father's death they had robbed and concealed their plunder in this cavern. He opened a door, and saw a steed standing fastened to a ring. David was sunk in thought, and said to himself: "Uncle dear, this property belongs to you, but this beast to me. If you give it to me—good. If not, you travel after those other fellows." Then he answered for Uncle Toross: "My child, the treasure and the beast should belong to you. What shall I do with them?"

He looked around and saw upon a pyre a copper kettle with four handles, and in it were his forty calves. He stuck his oaken stick through the handles and raised the kettle, poured off the water, pushed the calves' feet back into the kettle, lifted it to his shoulder, and went back to his comrade.

The two drove the rest of the herd into the village, and David called the owners to him and said: "If you deceive my brother a hair's breadth in the reckoning it will go badly with you. Sell this kettle. May it repay you for your calves."

He separated his own calves from the peasants', and went home. It was then midday. He said to Uncle Toross: "Take quickly twenty asses and we will go out and bring back treasure that shall suffice you and your children till the seventh generation."

And they took the asses and set forth. When they reached the cavern, Uncle Toross saw the bodies of the Dews stretched near the entrance, and they were swelled up like hills. In great fright Uncle Toross loosed his ass from the others and fell back.

David said: "You destroyer! I fled not before them living, but you fear them dead! If you believe me not, turn back and raise this stone. I concealed all their ears there."

Uncle Toross came back and took the asses, and they went into the cave. They made a pack of all the treasure and carried it away with them. David said: "All this treasure belongs to you, but the steed is mine. If you will not give it to me, you shall follow after them."

He answered: "My child, the horse and the treasure too are yours. What should I do with it?"

Uncle Toross let David mount the steed. He gave him the spurs and he bucked to right and left. This was no ordinary steed—the difficulties of managing him cannot be described.

They returned to Sassun with the treasure. David procured a beautiful falcon and rode off to hunt. The calves he had long ago given over.

Once, as he hunted, he rode across the soil of a poor man, whose family numbered seven heads, and the man had seven beds of millet. Four beds he laid waste, and three remained. Someone ran with the news to the old graybeard and said: "You are ruined. Go at once to your field, for before night he will destroy the other three beds."

The graybeard rose early and went out and saw his field was laid waste. He glanced about and saw David coming with a falcon on his hand. The graybeard cursed David and said: "Dost thou not fear God? Dost thou test thy strength on my grain-field? I have seven mouths to fill, and seven millet beds. Four thou hast destroyed, and three remain! If you are brave, go and get back your inheritance that extends from the summit of Mount Zözmak as far as Sechanssar. Mösramelik has taken it from you and draws wealth from it Go and get it back. Why try your strength on me?"

But David answered: "Old man, curse me not. Here is a handful of gold—use it." And as he said it he killed his falcon.

David returned home and said: "Uncle Toross, go and bring me my father's staff and bow. I am going to make war, for others consume my inheritance and none of you have said anything about it to me."

Uncle Toross arose and demanded of Zöranwegi in David's name the staff and bow of Abamelik, but Zöranwegi refused it. David sent a second time, saying: "If you give it to me, good. If not, I will see to it that your head flies off and only your body remains."

Zöranwegi was frightened, and surrendered the bow and baton, and Uncle Toross brought them to David. And David fell asleep and dreamed. The next day he took forty calves and went to holy Maratuk,[18] where he slaughtered the forty calves and bathed in their blood. Then he fell on his face and prayed and wept until God sent from heaven a sacred sign and a token. Even now the holy sign is to be found in Hawar at the house of Sork. David kissed the holy sign and put it under the right shoulder, and the token under the left.

Mösramelik knew that David, Abamelik's son, was come into manhood, and he gathered together a host to march against him. And he appointed a holbaschi,[19] who prepared his army and attacked David at Maratuk. He met on the march seven women, and said to them, "Sing and dance until I return," and they answered: "Why shall we dance and sing? We know not what we should say."

And Holbaschi sang for them:

"May the little women busy themselves grinding corn;
May the stout women help with the camel-loading;
For Holbaschi carries grim war to Sassun.
Strong yoke-oxen and red milch-cows he'll bring back
In the springtime; butter and Tochorton
Will be plentiful in the Land of Mösr."

Holbaschi saw the women begin dancing and singing, and started his host again and went to Maratuk and entered its gates. The daughter of the priest of Maratuk had often glanced slyly at David, and he was not indifferent to her. The priest's daughter went to David and said: "David, I am ready to die for you! Arise and see how many warriors are congregated in the courtyard."

When she had spoken she went out and closed all the gates from without. David stretched himself and cried: "Bread and wine, the Lord liveth!" and began to knock off the heads of the men of war. He beheaded them so that the bodies flew over the walls and the heads remained lying in the court. And he laid hold of Holbaschi, and tore out his teeth and drove them into his brow like nails. And he bent his lance till it curved like a dog's collar and put it around his neck. "Now," he said, "take yourself off and tell all to Mösramelik. If people still remain in his country let him herd them together before I come."

Holbaschi met the women a second time, and they were singing and dancing. And one of them sang:

"Holbaschi, dear Holbaschi, went hence like a cruel wolf,
Why come you back to us like a hunting dog?
Your lance lies on your neck like a dog's collar,
Thy mouth gapes like an open window,
And slime flows out like curdled milk from a skin;[20]
And whole caravans of flies buzz round it."

And Holbaschi sang:

"Oh, you shameless, worthless hussies,
I thought that Sassun was a free field.
Think not that only rocks and clefts opposed me.
There new-born children are fierce devils,
Their arrows like beams of the oil-mill;
And like windows they tear out the mouths of their enemies.
All the brave lads who went with me
Are fallen in Charaman.[21]
In the spring its waters will bring you booty,
Then your butter and cheese can be made."

Now David armed himself and marched against Mösramelik. He found a great host assembled and encamped near Sechanssar.[22]

David said: "I promise thee not to give battle till I have eaten rice pillau in the green and red tent," and he urged his horse forward and appeared suddenly from the west in front of the tent. Great fright possessed the army when they perceived this rider, and Melik said, "What manner of man art thou?"

"I am the son of a western king, and I have come to help you."

Melik pitched a tent for him, and they ate together seven days. On the eighth day David mounted his horse, rode twice before Mösramelik's tent, and said: "Now, come out, I want to fight you. How long, Mösramelik, are you going to encroach upon my inheritance?" And David cried: "Bread and wine, God lives!" and fighting began on all sides.

Uncle Toross heard of the combat. He tore up a poplar by its roots, threw it across his shoulder, and set out. He halted at the upper end of the valley in which the fight was going on. If anyone crept away David shouted: "Dear Uncle Toross, chase him back into the valley and I will be ready for him!"

At last the army began to murmur: "Let them struggle hand to hand. He who overpowers the other has conquered."

Then said one of them. "Sit down, that I may slay you with my club," and the other said: "No, you sit down." At last they agreed that David, being the youngest, should sit, So he put his shield over his head, laid under it the holy cross, and sat down. Mösramelik made an onset from three leagues, burst upon him, and assailed him with a club, saying, "Earth thou art, be earth again!"

David said: "I believe in the high and holy cross of Maratuk. It is to me as if I were still eating rice pillau under the red and green tent."

Mösramelik sprung upon him three times, struck him with his club, and said: "Earth thou art, be earth again!" and David replied only, "I believe in the high and holy cross of Maratuk."

Then came Mösramelik's turn to sit down, and he was stubborn and would not. But the army reproached him and put his shield over his head, and he sat down. Then came Mösramelik's mother, and began to ask mercy, saying: "David, I am ready to die for you! Is he not thy brother? Slay him not; have pity on him!"

"O shameless woman! When he struck me, thou saidst not, 'Is he not thy brother!' But, may your wish be granted! One blow I will give up for God's sake, the second for your sake, but the third belongs to me, and when I strike either he dies or lives!"

David rode back and forward again, and seizing his club hurled Mösramelik seven yards deep into the earth. Then he ravaged Mösr and ascended the throne.


The Emir[23] of Kachiswan had a daughter, and her name was Chandud-Chanum.[24] Chandud-Chanum heard of David's valor, and gave gifts to a bard and said to him: "Go, sing to David of my beauty, that he may come hither and we may love each other."

The bard went to Sassun, for he thought David was there. He came to Sassun and entered Zöranwegi's castle, thinking David lived in it, and sat down and began to sing to Zöranwegi. Zöranwegi cried: "Go. Club him and hunt him forth. He thinks to bring David hither by cunning!"

They set upon the singer, dragged him to the valley, and threw him into the road. In the evening the shepherds returned on their oxen to the village. An ox became wild, and the herdsman fell off, and seeking the cause he found the bard, who wept and lamented and asked the herdsman:

"Which of the brothers lives in that castle?"

The shepherd answered: "Here lives Zöranwegi; yonder, in Mösr, David."

And the bard gave a piece of gold to the shepherds, and they gathered up the pieces of his broken tambur[25] and pointed out his way to him. He went and sang of Chandud-Chanum's beauty before David. David rewarded him richly, and said, "Go before, I will come," and the singer went and told all to Chandud-Chanum.[26]

David departed straightway and went by way of Sassun and the Heights of Zözmak. He found a plough[27] standing in his way. He freed the oxen, seized the plough-chain, mounted his horse, and dragged the plough down. And it fell from the summit of the Black Mountain plump into the aqueduct of the village of Marnik.

He drew on and perceived that a buffalo had got loose and run along the road and left its dung there. David looked at the dung and said: "If evil befalls me he is guilty of it who left the dung there; if not, it is also his work that it befalls me not."

From a side-path appeared a buffalo, and David had never seen the like before. He lifted his club to slay him when from the opposite side a shepherd came and began to scold the buffalo. David thought the shepherd was scolding him and said, "Fellow, what have I done to you that you rail at me?"

The shepherd answered: "Who are you? Ah, you are a Sassun brawler who has seen nothing of the world! I spoke to my buffalo."

"Don't be angry, youngster! It is a shame, indeed, that in my country I have never seen the like. Are there many such creatures in these parts?"

The shepherd said, "Come, and I will show you."

And they went to the field of Ausut, where the peasants hitched their buffaloes and drove them. David found the buffaloes with tongues lolling from the heat as they drew the plough. David felt pity for them; he unhitched them and drove them to the pond.

The ploughman began to curse him, and he said: "Ploughman, curse me not; only give me the chain into my hand."

He seized the chain and began to draw; the ploughman guided the plough and David ploughed nine furrows. Then the shepherd said to David: "That is not thy strength. Leave thy horse and then draw. We shall see whether it is thine or thy horse's strength."

David left his horse and ploughed nine furrows alone.

The shepherd then said to David: "It is already noon. Come now and eat, then thou canst go on thy way!"

David answered: "No, I will ride on. Thy children want to eat, and if I come nothing will remain for them."

However, they sat down and when the dinner was set out David crumbled all the bread and the vessels all at once, and the shepherd said: "Here, hide yourselves or he will devour us also."

David said: "Surely, brother, he who drags the plough must eat bread. How could it be otherwise?"

And he went his way to the city where Chandud-Chanum dwelt.


David came to the gates of the castle where Chandud-Chanum lived—to the place where all her suitors came to woo. He saw a youth standing near the door with a club in his hand, David said: "Ha, my lad, what do they call you?"

"My name is Gorgis."

"Gorgis!" said David. "When I marry Chandud-Chanum you shall be godfather! Now, Godfather Gorgis, who is in the house?"

"Matchmakers from the giants—Schibikan of Chorassan and Hamsa of Lori."

David said, "Take my horse and fasten him." And he took his horse and tied him.

Then David asked: "What kind of a club have you? Show it me."

David took the club and threw it into the air with such force that it is whirring till this very day. Then he said, "Godfather Gorgis, let us go in and eat and drink."

They went in, and David sat down, for he was tired and hungry, and every matchmaker, one after the other, handed David a cup of wine. David lost patience and seized the wine-pitcher and emptied it in one draught, saying, "Now say only what is well for you!"

The wine made David drunk, and when he let his head fall the matchmakers drew their swords to strike him, but when he raised his head they concealed their swords. They began this again when Godfather Gorgis called out: "Think not that you are in Georgia! No, this is a dangerous country." And when David heard him he said, "Now stand bravely at the door!"

The matchmakers sprang up and as they ran each gave Gorgis a box on the ear and escaped. David then turned to Gorgis and said: "Where can I see Chandud-Chanum?"

"In the garden of the King," Gorgis answered. "To-day is Friday and she will be there. Before her walk twenty slaves, and twenty walk behind her. We will go to-day and see her there."

So Gorgis and David went thither and concealed themselves behind the garden wall and waited. The slaves passed by one after another, and, when Chandud-Chanum came, David put his arm around her neck and kissed her three times. Chandud-Chanum said not a word. He kissed her again. Chandud-Chanum seized him by the collar and threw him against the wall so that the blood gushed from his nose.

David was angry and was going to mount his horse. "Godfather Gorgis," he said, "lead out my horse. I will destroy the city and depart."

Gorgis began to plead: "I pray you, put it off till morning. It is dark now. At daybreak arise and destroy the city and depart."

David lay in bed and could not sleep from anger. "Would it were dawn that I might rise and destroy the city and get away from here," he thought to himself.

Chandud-Chanum was still walking in the garden. A lame slave came to her and said: "Thy walk will end sadly. Take care, David is going to destroy the city and depart."

She took the cloth in which her evening meal had been brought, and wrapped her head in it. She turned and went straightway into the castle where David was and knocked at his door.

David said: "What insolent people live here! They will not wait till morning, but say, 'Arise, destroy the city and be off!'"

Gorgis arose and looked out of the window and said, "These are women, not men," and they opened the door.

Chandud-Chanum came to David and said: "You kissed me first for the fatigue of your journey, a second time for yourself, and a third time for God's sake. Why did you kiss me a fourth time? You are the son of your father and I am the daughter of mine. It has been said: Take to yourself a wife that you may have a son who is like his uncle. Do you think you have brought me the heads of the giants Hamsa of Lori and Schibikan of Chorassan, that you kiss me a fourth time?"

David's heart softened and he said: "If that is so I will go out at daybreak and bring you their heads." Then he added: "Very well, I go; if they are stronger than I they will kill me. For God's sake come and seek my body. On the right hand I have a birth-mark—a cross—by that you shall know me. Bring my body back and bury it."

So David set out. The giants perceived a rider coming, for the dust from his horse's hoofs rose to heaven: "This rider comes to fight with us. Perhaps he is of the race of Sergo."[28]

They called to him, saying: "Ho, fellow! who are you, and whence come you? Do you know Chandud-Chanum? Will you take this ring to her?"

David said: "Certainly I know her, but I have come to take your heads to the Princess Chandud. I know nothing about your rings!"

The eyebrows of Schibikan of Chorassan hung down over his breast and he fastened them across his back. Hamsa of Lori had an underlip so long that it reached the ground and swept it.

David and the giants began to hack and hew each other and they fought with clubs and bows until night. David cried: "I believe in the high and holy cross of Maratuk," and took his sword and cut both their heads off. He bound their hair together and hung them across his horse like saddle bags and their tongues furrowed the ground like a plough.

David rode away with their heads and had already traversed half the way when he saw approaching him, riding between heaven and earth, a rider, who called out to him! "Do you think you have conquered the giants Schibikan and Hamsa?" The rider sprang behind David and struck at him with a club. He crawled under the saddle and the club struck the stirrup and tore it loose, and it fell to the ground. David sprang out from under the saddle and cried: "Bread and wine, as the Lord liveth!" and swung his club over his enemy. The enemy dodged the blow, but his hair fell away from his face. David looked and recognized Chandud-Chanum; she had disguised herself and had come to meet him.

"O shameless woman!" David said. "You would disgrace me a second time."

They rode together into Chandud-Chanum's city. They arrived and dismounted and called Chandud-Chanum's father. David said to him: "Will you give me your daughter for a wife?"

Her father said: "I will not give her to you. If you will marry her and live here, I will give her to you. If you must take her away, I will not give her. How can I do otherwise? I have enemies all around me; they will destroy my city."

And David said: "I will marry her and stay here. I will not take her away."

So they were married and celebrated the wedding, feasting seven days and seven nights.

The time passed by unheeded, and when nine months, nine days and nine hours had passed, God sent them a son.

And David said to Chandud-Chanum: "If this child is mine, he must have a mark—he will show great strength." They put the child in swaddling-clothes, but instead of bands they bound him with plough-chains. He began to cry and stir in his cradle and the chain snapped into pieces.

They sent word to David: "The youngster is a stout fellow. He has broken the chains. But one of his hands seems hurt. He clenches his fist, and no one can open it."

David came and sat down, looked at the hand and opened it. In the hand he found a little lump of clotted blood. "The whole world is to him as a drop of blood, and he will hold it in his hand. If he lives he will do wonderful deeds."

Then they christened the boy and gave him the name of Mcher.

Time passed and the boy grew fast, and David left him in Kachiswan with his grandparents, and took Chandud-Chanum with him to Sassun. The men of Chlat[29] heard David's coming and they assembled an army, built a rampart, formed their wagons into a fortress, and began to give battle. When Chandud-Chanum sent her lance against the wall she shattered it and the wagons flew seven leagues away. Then David went forward and drove the fighters away, saying to them: "Ye men of Chlat! what shameless people ye be! Ye wage war on women! Let me but take my wife to Sassun and I will come back, and we will fight it out."

But the men of Chlat believed him not. "Swear to us by the holy cross you carry; then we will believe you," said they.

David touched the token with his hand as he thought, but the cross was there and he knew it not, and the power of the cross was that no one could swear by it.

He took Chandud-Chanum to Sassun. Here he first knew that he had sworn on the cross, for he found the cross lying at his left shoulder where the token had been.

"Now it will go badly with me," said David. "Whether I go or whether I stay, it will go badly with me. And I must go."

He advanced, therefore, to give battle, and the men of Chlat pressed him sorely. His horse was caught in the reedy marsh of Tschechur.[30] With difficulty he crawled out of the bog and reached the waters of the Lochur.[31]

Once Abamelik had lingered at the house of Ibraham Aga, and forcibly entered the sleeping-room of his wife. Her name was Schemschen-Chanum. She had borne a daughter to Abamelik, who was now an ardent Mahometan. This daughter took up her bow and arrows and concealed herself on the sloping river-bank. When David bathed in the waters of Locher she shot him, assassin-like, with an arrow in the back. David arose and made a great outcry and his voice sounded even up to Sassun. Zönow-Owan, Chorassan, Uncle Toross, Tschöntschchapokrik, and Zöranwegi came together, for they heard the voice of David. And Zönow-Owan called to him from Sassun, "We are coming."

And they went forth to help David, who heard in the water the voice of his kinsmen. They came to the river and found David, who said: "Zönow-Owan, she seemed frightened at our calling. Go and find her."

And they sought and found the blue-eyed maiden. David seized her by one foot, trod on the other, tore her in pieces, and threw her into the village at the foot of the mountain. From this deed he named the village Tschiwtis-Tschapkis.[32] The village lies at the mouth of the Tschechur and is called Tschapkis to this day.

The brothers took David with them and moved on to Sassun. And after four days David died, and his brothers mourned for him. They went to Chandud-Chanum to console her and wish her long life; but Chandud-Chanum said, "Ah, me, after David's death I am but the subject of your scorn."

And Tschöntschchapokrik said: "Chandud-Chanum, weep not, weep not. David is dead, but my head is still whole."

Chandud-Chanum climbed the tower and threw herself down. Her head struck a stone and made a hole in it, and into this hole the men of Sassun pour millet and grind as the people of Mösr do; and every traveller from Mösr stops there before the castle to see the stone.

The brothers came to see the body of Chandud-Chanum, and they pressed on her breasts and milk flowed therefrom. They said: "Surely she has a child! If there is a child it must be in Kachiswan."[33] And they set out for Kachiswan and said to the governor: "A child of our brother and sister-in-law lives here. Where is it?"

"It is not here."

"We have a sign. In the breast of our sister-in-law was milk."

Then the governor said: "She had a daughter, but it is dead."

"We have a test for that also—for our dead. The grave of one dead one year is one step long, of one dead two years, two steps long, and so on."

They went to the church-yard and found not a single grave which stood their test.

Zönow-Owan said: "Bind leather bands about me. I will cry out."

The truth was, they had dug a cellar for Mcher underground, and hid him there and watched over him.

The brothers bound Zönow-Owan about the body and he cried out. Mcher knew his voice and would have gone to him, but his grandmother said to him: "That is not the voice of thy kinsman. It is the noise of children and the beating of drums."

When Mcher heard the voice for the third time he beat down the door and went out. One door destroyed the other. By a blow of his fist he sent the first door against the second, the second against the third, and so all seven doors were shattered.

Mcher saw his uncles from afar, but his father was not there. He asked, and his uncle told him the men of Chlat had slain his father. He fell upon his face and wept, and as he lay there his uncles wished to lift him, but exert themselves as they would they could not move him.

The tears of Mcher furrowed the earth and flowed like a river. After three days he arose, mounted his father's horse, and rode to Chlat. He circled the town and destroyed it—as it is even to this day. Then he ascended the mountain Memrut[34] and saw the smoke of the ruins grow ever denser. Only one old woman remained alive. He seized her, and, bending two trees down, bound her feet to the trees and let them loose. And thus he killed her. Since then no smoke ascends from Chlat.

Mcher permitted his uncles to return to their own dwelling-places and himself rode toward Tosp.

Men say he is still there, and they show his house, and even now water flows from the rocks for his horse.

On Ascension-night the door of Mcher's rock opens. But it is decreed that he shall not go out: the floor holds him not, his feet sink into the earth.

Once on Ascension-night a shepherd saw Mcher's door open, and the shepherd entered. Mcher asked him: "By what occupation do you live?"

"By brains," said the shepherd.

Then Mcher said: "We shall see what kind of brains you have! Take the nose-bag of my horse and hang it around his neck."

The shepherd tried with all his might, but could not lift the bag. He led the horse to the bag, opened it, and put the straps around the horse's neck. The horse raised his head and lifted the bag. The shepherd led him back to his place and said, "That is the sort of brains by which we live in the world."

Then the shepherd said, "Mcher, when will you leave this place?"

Mcher answered: "When plum-trees bear wheat and wild-rose bushes barley, it is appointed I shall leave this place."

And three apples fell down from heaven—one for the story-teller, one for the hearer, and the other for the whole world.


  1. From the sense and according to the time in which the action takes place, Nineveh must be understood here; and instead of an Arabian caliph, the Assyrian king Sennacherib. There is an anachronism here, as the reader will see, for a king living 800 years before Christ is called an Arabian caliph, though the caliphs first took up their residence in Bagdad in the year 755.
  2. The reference here is to the famous monastery of St. John the Baptist, which was built by Gregory the Illuminator during the fourth century, on the mountain of Kark, near the Euphrates, on a spot where heathen altars had previously stood. On certain days pious Armenians made annual pilgrimages to the place. Among them many poets and champions, who, with long fasts and many prayers, begged from the saint the gifts of song, strength, and courage. John the Baptist was regarded by the Armenians generally as the protector of the arts.
  3. So the Armenians called Christians.
  4. The original name of this city is Theodosiopol. It was founded by the Greek commander Anato in the year 412 A.D. and named in honor of Emperor Theodosius II. Later it was captured by the Sultan of Ikonika, Who named it Arsi-Rom, "Land of the Greeks." The Armenians call it Karin, after the old Armenian province in which it lies.
  5. Southwest from the Sea of Wan lies a high mountain called Kraput-Koch ("Blue Ridge," from its blue color). Probably there was a dukedom or kingdom of Kraput-Koch which served as a city of refuge for the wandering Assyrian princes. Perhaps the legend has preserved in the person of the King of Kraput-Koch the memory of the Armenian prince Skajordi.
  6. Pipe-bearer.
  7. The servant who prepares the coffee.
  8. Probably the King's brother.
  9. "Sassun" signifies "pillar upon pillar." This explains the origin of the name of Sassun, a district of the old Armenian province Achznik, south of the city of Musch. The residents of this district up to the present day owe their independence to their inaccessible dwelling-place.
  10. The names cited here exist to the present day. The places lie in the old districts of the Turuberan and Achznik in the present district Musch.
  11. The Armenians now call Egypt Mösr. This probably refers to Mossul.
  12. Here the story of Sanassar breaks off and he is not mentioned again in the tale.
  13. All these names are poetic and refer to certain characteristics of their bearers. "Zenow-Owan" means "melodiously-speaking John"; "Chor-Hussan" means "good singer"; "Tchentschchapokrik" means "sparrow"; and "Zöranwegi," "cowardly Wegi."
  14. To Mossul.
  15. This means that if a captive is to be sold his kinsmen have a right before all others to redeem him.
  16. Schariat, the name of the Turkish court of justice, stands in the original.
  17. Although me Armenians became Christians in the fourth century, they still retain many heathen customs which have lost all their original significance. They still sacrifice sheep and cows which have on the previous evening been given some salt consecrated by the priests. The meat is cooked in immense kettles and carried around to the houses. The shepherd speaks of soup of this kind.
  18. Maratuk is a monastery built on a mountain of the same name.
  19. This Turkish title shows that the legend has been altered at a late date.
  20. In Armenia, as is usual in the East, they make butter out of curdled milk; and for this reason the vessel is always covered with scum.
  21. A valley near Musch.
  22. Literally, a table-like mountain.
  23. "Emir," in the eyes of the orientals, is almost the same as "king."
  24. "Chandud" is a woman's name. "Chanum" means "lady."
  25. An instrument like a guitar.
  26. The song in which the bard praises the beauty of Chandud-Chanum is wanting. A certain carelessness is seen generally in the rest of the narrative.
  27. The Armenians use, in ploughing, a kind of plough which is drawn by from five to ten pairs of buffaloes or oxen.
  28. Sergo-Sarkus (Sergius) so the Kurds called the Christians, regarding them as descendants of St. Sergius, who is very popular among the Armenians of Wan and Musch.
  29. The city of Chlat (Turkish "Achlat") lies northwest of the Sea of Wan. In olden times it was famous for its splendor, its high walls, and its citadel. The inhabitants had been injured by David's father and wished to avenge themselves.
  30. A marsh at the outlet of the Kara-Su, a tributary of the Euphrates.
  31. A small river which empties into the Sea of Wan not far from Chlat.
  32. Literally, "I will tear in pieces and scatter."
  33. The small city of Kagisman, not far from Kars.
  34. A high mountain not far from Chlat northwest of the Sea of Wan. Many interesting legends about it exist. Haik, the ancestor of the Armenian Nimrod, is said to be buried here.