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The Performance of the Armenian Epic of “Daredevils of Sassoun” or “David of Sassoun”

The Performance of the Armenian Epic of “Daredevils of Sassoun” or “David of Sassoun”

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The Epic of Sassoun is a work of literature in its own right, comparable in cultural importance to Homer’s Iliad. The tale takes place in the ancient Armenian province of Sassoun–Armenia’s equivalent to Sparta–where David of Sassoun, a willful 6th-century young man who stands in defense of his homeland against Arab invaders despite overwhelming odds, has been passed down orally for centuries until it was finally written down.

Daredevils of Sassoun illustrates the collective knowledge and heritage of the Armenian people, their regional peculiarities, mythology, philosophy, religion, and even regional recipes. The epic is usually performed with a lyrical voice and rhythmic pronunciation to the rhythms of duduk. When visiting local regions, you will always find someone willing to retell this story with tremendous enthusiasm.

The epic falls within the tradition of heroic folktales that dramatize and voice the deepest sentiments and aspirations of a nation. The epic is told in a lyrical voice with rhythmic enunciation, while separate cantos are sung in a rhyming poetic style. It is performed annually on the first Saturday of October (Epic Day holiday in some villages), during weddings, birthdays, christenings and major national cultural events.

Usually the epos teller sits, wearing national costume and is accompanied on the duduk, a woodwind instrument. The epic-telling art has no gender, age or professional limitations. It is transmitted through families as a vocation, most strongly in rural communities with close links to folklore culture. There are 160 variants. Performances nowadays last up to two hours with the epic narrated in parts. It is commonly cited as one of the most important works of Armenian folklore, functioning as an encyclopedia and repository of the entire range of knowledge about the heritage of Armenian people, their religion, mythology, philosophy, cosmology, customs and ethics.