By LEE AVDOYAN
Michael E. Stone, professor of Armenian Studies and Gail Levin de Nuir Professor of Religious Studies at Hebrew University, delivered an illustrated lecture on Oct. 23 on the little-known medieval Armenian "Book of Adam" (Adamgirkÿ) by Aakÿel of Siwnikÿ. The event was co-sponsored by the John W. Kluge Center, the Near East Section of the Library's African and Middle Eastern Division and the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia.
Prosser Gifford, director of the Office of Scholarly Programs, introduced Stone and noted that in addition to his scholarly pursuits, he "is an avid and published poet. His appointment as senior distinguished visiting fellow was for a project which is a happy marriage of his passion for poetry with his study of Armenian manuscripts."
Stone began his lecture by setting the 14th-century lost work in context; he described the rich Armenian literary traditions that led up to its composition and the history of the province of Siwnikÿ and of two of its monasteries (Gladzor and Tatÿew), which were renowned both as religious and educational institutions.
"Studies included mathematics and music, scribal arts and painting, grammar and rhetoric, as well as Bible and theological studies proper. The training at Gladzor and Tatÿew produced a learned clergy and did much towards the preservation of Armenian religious and cultural institutions."
Into this milieu was born Aakÿel (ca. 1350) , who was educated in Siwnikÿ and wrote works on grammar, philosophers, liturgical and even secular poetry. In 1401, already recognized as an accomplished poet, he was asked to write a poem on Adam and Eve. This, according to Stone, became his major work.
"Why, you may well ask, is Aakÿel's Adam Epic important?" Stone asked. It is because "it is unique in medieval Armenian literature." Although Armenians had long written about the Adam and Eve saga, Stone said, none had produced anything "so long, complex and intriguing as that work." Aakÿel stood both at the apogee and the end of this long and rich literary tradition, according to Stone.
In tracing and illustrating the various themes in this rich work, Stone read long segments from a translation he has prepared, based on his examination and collation of all extant manuscripts and published editions of the poem.
"Aakÿel describes the beauty of Adam and Eve in the garden in lyrical languages. His eyes were entranced by the inner vision of Paradise."
The glory of Paradise was the indescribable,
Of marvelous appearance and enchanting,
The flowers gave brightness to brightness,
Like the sun and the moon.
Adam's countenance flowered with glory,
And was like light, radiating,
Flashes of light streamed from him,
And scintillated like fire. …
"The paradise Aakÿel foresees," Stone concluded, "is what God prepared for the saints. In this paradise given to Adam, God could be seen; in it God could be heard. It was this paradise that Adam lost and Christ restored. This central dynamic and theme dominated, led and focused his remarkable work."
Stone was in residence at the Kluge Center from August through November as a senior distinguished visiting fellow in order to examine a manuscript of this 13th-century Armenian literary composition, which is in the custody of the Near East Section. While making progress on his translation of this work, he also examined and co-authored an article on an 18th-century Armenian ecclesiastical textile, which is also in the section's custody. He was accompanied by his wife, Nira, who is herself a recognized scholar of Armenian art; she examined and completed an article on two 18th-century Armenian missals.
Michael Stone received a bachelor's degree and doctorate from Melbourne University and a doctorate from Harvard in Near Eastern languages. Although he is currently at Hebrew University, he has also taught at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California at Santa Barbara. He is internationally recognized as both a practiced Armenist and a specialist in Dead Sea Scrolls research, founding and heading centers and international organizations dedicated to the study of each.
Stone has published widely on the apocryphal traditions in Judaism and Christianity, Jewish literature and thought, the history of the Armenians in the Holy Land, Armenian literature, Armenian epigraphy and paleography and Armenian manuscripts.
A cybercast of the lecture can be viewed on the Library's Web site at www.loc.gov/locvideo/stone/.
Lee Avdoyan is the Armenian and Georgian area specialist in the African and Middle Eastern Division.