There’s such a zest to this account of the Armenian approach to dealing with invaders: translate everything you can get your hands on, regardless of your relationship with other nations or cultures. As for Mashtots, inventor of the Armenian alphabet, he should perhaps also be the patron saint of translators. No sooner had he nailed an alphabet, than he got stuck into to turning the Bible into Armenian.

Makes me look at my own efforts in foreign languages and award myself a resounding ‘must try harder’.

Source: Imperium, Ryszard Kapuscinski, trans. Klara Glowczewska (New York: Vintage International, 1995), p. 50

Image source: Credit: Wellcome Library, London.  L0067987 Armenian 14; Collection: Asian Collection; Library reference no.: Or Armenian 14.

Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0


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‘So comes into being that phenomenon unique in world culture: the Armenian book. Having their alphabet, Armenians immediately go about writing books. Mashtots himself sets the example. He had barely produced the alphabet, and already we find him translating the Bible … Already by the sixth century, they had translated into Armenian all of Aristotle. By the tenth century, they had translated the majority of the Greek and Roman philosophers, hundreds of titles of ancient literature.  Armenians have an open, assimilative intellect.  They translated everything that was within reach. …  When the Arabs conquered Armenia, the Armenians translated all the Arabs.  When the Persians invaded Armenia, the Armenians translated the Persians!  They were in conflict with Byzantium, but whatever appeared in the market there, they would take and translate that as well.’

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