Newly Discovered Armenian Parable

on Zarathushtra's Laughter

Arthur Ambartsumian


[In memory of Shams-ul-Ulama Jivanji Jamshedji Modi]

Not only the Greek and Latin writers mentioned the Iranian Prophet Zarathushtra (Zoroaster, Zoroastres). It has been proved since 19th century, when A. V. Williams Jackson, professor of the Indo-Iranian languages in Columbia University, published in 1899 in New York one of his best books on Zoroastrianism, entitled "Zoroaster. The Prophet of Ancient Iran", where he also gathered most of the classical passages mentioning Zoroaster's name. In the Appendix VI "Allusions to Zoroaster in various other older literatures" A. V. W. Jackson observes the allusions to Zoroaster in Armenian literature. The old and medieval Armenian writers and histirians started to mention the Prophet's name from 5th centure in form of Zradasht, after invention of the Armenian alphabet.

Four main Armenian writers recounted about Zarathushtra: the historian Moses of Khoren (Movses Khorenatsi; 5-9 AD) in his work "Armenian History" (I.6; I.17), the monk Elisaeus (Eghishe, or Elishe; 5 AD) in his work "About Vardan and the Armenian War", the philosopher Eznik of Kolb (Eznik Koghbatsi, or Kolbatsi; 5 AD) in his work "Refutation of Heresies", the ecclesiastic Thomas Arzrouni (Tovma Artsruni; 9-10 AD) in his work "History of the Artsruni's family". In the history of Moses Zarathushtra is depicted as a king of the Bactrians, a Magian and a patriarch of the Medes, who was a contemporary of the Assyrian queen Semiramis. In opinion of the monk Eznik he seemed to be a son of Ormizd (compare: Plato, Alcibiades I, 121c-122a) and a grandson of Zarvan. According to this legend a son of Ahrmen threw down the son of Ormizd. One can assume that under a son of Ahrmen might be seen the legendary Zarathushtra's killer Brad-resh.

Recently reading a collection of the fables and parables of the Armenian medieval writer Vardan Aigektsi (13 AD) in a crytical edition by N. Y. Marr based on many Old Armenian manuscripts (Sbornik pritch Vardana/A Collection of the Parables of Vardan, Vol. I-III, St. Petersburg, 1899), we have found another very interesting and previously unnoticed allusion to Zarathushtra. It was in a parable entitled "The laughter of Zaratushtra" (here he is named as Zroastr, in Armenian "Tsitsagh Zroastri") which was entirely devoted to the Iranian Prophet. The parable deals with the birth of Zarathushtra, with very well known miracle of his birth, when he laughed instead of crying at his birth.

The tradition recounting the loud laughter of Zarathushtra as he came to the world is very old. We have account of Pliny the Second (Plinius Secundus, Naturalis Historia, VII.15): the child's brain throbbed so violently as to repel the hand laid upon his head - a presage of the future wisdom; an account of Augustine: Zoroaster alone is said to have laughed when he was born, and that unnatural omen portended no good to him; for he is said to have been the inventor of magical arts, though indeed they were unable to secure to him even the poor felicity of this present life against the assaults of his enemies; for, himself king of the Bactrians, he was conquered by Ninus king of the Assyrians (Aurelius Augustinus, De Civitate Dei, 21.14). The Iranian Prophet is also mentioned in the Preface of the Icelandic Snorra Edda, as the Assyrian king and one of the 72 builders of the Babylon Tower: he laughed before he cried when he came to the world (Edda Snorra Sturlusonar, formali 2; 12-13 AD).

It could be suggested that more detailed description of the marvelous birth of Zarathushtra had been recounted in the unpreserved Avestan texts, such as Spend-Nask, for instance (compare: Denkard, VIII.14). In Avestan Ard Yasht we found only one hint on this matter: during his birth and growth waters and plants were rejoicing (Yasht 17.18). The main accounts of the Zarathushtra's birth preserved in the Pahlavi Zoroastrian literature. One is in Denkard: ęk ęn paydâg kű-sh pad zâyishn bę khandîd "the first evidence was that he laughed during his birth". Many marvels connected with the young child frightened his enemies (king Durasrun, his relatives and servants) and they undertook several attempts to kill him, but it was in vain (Denkard VII.3.2-3, 24-25; 9 AD). Another one is in Vizidagiha i Zadspram i Juvan-Jam: "Vohuman entered into the soul of the baby and Zartusht laughed" (Ch. XIV, 12-17; 9 AD). This part of the Zadspram's book could be named as a Zoroastrian Gospel (Ch. XIII-XXIII) as it relates on the parentage, birth, mission, vicissitudes of Zarathushtra's life. Some additional references are contained in the Persian Zoroastrian writings, that means they preserved in the Persian translation or rendering. The large poem Zarâtusht Nâma (13 AD) ascribed to the Zoroastrian poet Bahram Pazhdu in the chapter Mu‘jiza-i avval va zâdan i Zarâtusht az mâdar ("The first marvel and birth of Zaratusht from mother") tells thus: bekhandîd chűn shud ze mâdar judâ "he laughed when was separated from mother". The same subject, but in prose is related in Dabistân-ul-Mazâhib (Ch. 14; 17 AD) and Ahvâlât-i Zarâtusht payghambar ("The Life and the Deeds of the Prophet Zarathushtra"), both are derived from the old Zoroastrian book entitled as Shâristân i chahâr chaman written by Farzana Bahram Farhad Yazdani. We also have two brief Muhammedan accounts of Muhammad ibn al-Karim ash-Shahristani in the book "Kitâb al-Milal wa an-Nihâl" (11 AD) and of Muhammad bin Khvand-shah bin Mahmud known as Mir Khvand or Mirkhond (15 AD) in his treatise "Rauzat as-Safâ’ fî sîrati-l-anbiâ’ wa-l-mulűk wa-l-khulafâ’".

The Armenian parable "The Laughter of Zarathushtra" expands the list of reference and continues the tradition of the Christian attitude to Zoroastrianism. The relevant passage from this parable in my translation from Old Armenian is as follows:

"Again the wisemen say that nature is limited: so the child is born with weeping and untill the fourtieth day he knows only weeping and sleep, but he does not know laugh. A someone laughed, whose name was Zroastr, and devils (devs) considered his deed as evil and burnt him on fire".

This newly discovered parable of the Armenian writer Vardan Aigektsi reflects the late Zoroastrian legend about the birth and the death of the Iranian Prophet. Some Zoroastrian books state that Zarathushtra has been killed by his adversary Brad-resh (Denkard V.3.2; Bundahishn; Sad-Dar; Dabistan). According to the Persian Shah-Namah (and perhaps also to the Sasanian Khvaday-Namag) the tragical event of magophonia has taken place in the fire-temple in Balkh.

This brief article was published in Iran by Iran News Corporation, please see "Iran News" newspaper, Vol. VI, No. 1579, Sunday, May 21, Tehran (Iran), 2000, p. 10.

Previously publication permission had been given to Fezana Journal-USA, Ushta-India (Ushta, A Zoroastrian Studies Publication, Newsletter, Vol. XXI, No. 2, June, Bombay, 2000, p. 3, 12), and several other issues.