Passed down by word of mouth for a millennium and a half till its first transcriptions in the late 19th century, the Armenian epic “Daredevils of Sasun” presents a rich legacy of accumulated folk wisdom and creative insight on the human condition. Evolving from ancient mythic roots through folkloric antecedents up to its main period of gestation (8th-12th centuries), it tells the tale of the life, loves, and heroic struggles of four generations of the House of Sasun to establish their patrimony and uphold the wealth of their community against foreign onslaught. They embody their society’s ideals of freedom and nobility, empathy toward the stranger, and a spiritual affinity with all living things.
This monograph, translated from its Armenian original by S. Peter Cowe, is an excellent introduction to the epic and all related issues, maintaining a sound balance between the needs of a scholarly and more popular readership. Contextualizing his subject within the epic production of Western Europe, the Slavic lands, Anatolia and the Caucasus, and Central Asia, the author provides a clear summation of research on the epic, while probing new areas, and approaching some old ones from a new perspective. Of particular interest to the Western reader is the use of theoretical perspectives from Russian scholarship to illuminate aspects of plot, characterization, and symbolism.