David of Sassoun or Sasuntsi Davit is much loved and prized Armenian epic hero. He is one of the leading characters of the Armenian folk epic. He is gifted with supernatural characteristics that are linked with the nature and its forces.
If you have been to Armenia at least once, then you have probably heard of Sasuntsi Davit. He is not only mythical but also national Armenian hero who is a prevailing and prominent figure in Armenian popular culture.
He symbolizes Armenian people’s love for freedom and independence, all liberal aspirations and desires. Therefore, he is very much loved Armenian hero. If you want to learn more about him, just stay with us.
Who is David of Sassoun?
David of Sassoun or, as it is pronounced in Armenian, Sasuntsi Davit is the main hero of Armenian folk epic (Daredevils of Sassoun). In this story, he managed to defend his homeland and drove Arab oppressors out of Armenia.
All heroes of this epic are deeply humane. They are gifted with courage and high qualities, but they also have their weaknesses. The heroic battle of the Armenian nation against foreign invaders is perfectly illustrated in the image of Sasuntsi Davit.
This Armenian hero is a giant with a superhuman strength. He embodies all the power, all the best aspirations, thoughts and feelings of the Armenian nation. It is not surprising that he was the most beloved Armenian hero. David of Sassoun was incredibly patriotic, selflessly brave, peace-loving, high-minded and generous.
But, at the same time he had a freedom-loving spirit. Sasuntsi Davit’s patriotism is vividly seen in his fight against Melik of Musr. He had a real faith in his victory, which came from his unshakable consciousness of defending and protecting his homeland and the people from such oppressors as Melik.
Above all these features, Sasuntsi Davit has always been distinguished by uprightness, honest, sincerity, simplicity and by pure childish straightforwardness.
The Epic “Daredevils of Sassoun”
As the English “Beowulf” and the Greek “Iliad”, Armenians also have their own epic, known as the Daredevils of Sassoun. It deserves to be in the same line with all these well-known epics. The Daredevils of Sassoun is a long heroic poem in four cycles (parts). It tells about the adventures of four generations of a family.
David of Sassoun is the third part. It is preceded by “Sanasar and Baghdasar”, the Great Mher (also known as “Lion Mher”) and ends with “Little Mher”. The story of this epic poem involves fantastic deeds and feats, unbelievable adventures, within the main topic of good versus evil.
The fundamental idea of this epic is that all heroes, including Sasuntsi Davit, are fighting for justice. Initially, the epic was based on oral tales that date back to the 8th-10th centuries. For centuries, it was told by people until it was finally written down in 1873.
The Daredevil of Sassoun is definitely one of the most important and valuable works of Armenian folklore. In Armenian, the name Daredevil of Sassoun sounds like Sasna tsrer. The word “tsur” (crooked, hooked) has several meanings in Armenian translation, like crazy, insane, madly brave rebels, but in a good way.
In this regard, this word suits perfectly to each of the heroes of this epic in this or that circumstances of their lives. Furthermore, it is exclusively from a deep love towards the Armenian hero, that people also like to call Sasuntsi Davit as “Tsur Davit”.
How David of Sassoun Appears in Musr?
Since the beginning of his childhood, Sasuntsi Davit was growing up very fast, as all the five heroes of this epic. Not in days, but in hours, not in hours, but in minutes. In order to feed baby David, who was refusing to take any milk, the people of Sassoun decide to take him to Ismil Khanum’s place.
She had once bagged the Great Mher, father of Sasuntsi Davit, to come from Sassoun and help her as a helpless widow. Being confident in the strength of his loyalty, Mher leaves his beloved wife Armaghan and goes to Musr. Unfortunately, here he gets drunk by Ismil Khanum and opposed to his wish becomes the father of junior Melik.
But soon Mher returns to his wife and they have a baby, Sasuntsi Davit. He grows up side by side with Melik. Seeing the cruel strength and power of this baby giant, David of Sassoun, Melik of Musr decides to get rid of him. However, all his attempts fail. David returns to Sassoun and throughout some time becomes a real giant with a powerful strength.
David vs Melik: The Battle
In his fight with Melik, David was very just and fair, because he didn’t want to win just for his fame but for the welfare of the people. Before attacking Melik he shouted three times to wake Melik up and only after that started fighting. On the other hand, Melik was always cheating during their fight, like the time when he threw Sasunci Davit into a pit.
But, fortunately, he managed to escape and encouraged Melik to fight like a real man. Then Melik decided that each of them will have three chances to hit. Sasunci Davit gave the opportunity to hit the first to Melik, as he was the elder one. All three hits of Melik were quite powerful, but they failed.
Now it was David’s turn, but Melik asked him to let him go and lie under his tent. David agreed and, of course, this time Melik cheated as well. He entered into the pit and covered himself with forty layers of buff leather and some other things.
David of Sassoun’s generosity is vividly seen when Melik’s mother and sister ask him to hit them instead of Melik and he accepts their wish but refuses to hit them.
With his only one and last hit Sasuntsi Davit managed to cut Melik into two pieces. By the way David had inherited from his father a lightning sword, Tur-Ketsaki, and a talking horse – Qurkik Jalali. Besides the fact that this horse could speak human language, it also had unique and exceptional qualities, like the extraordinary strength and prophetic gift.
David of Sassoun’s Legacy in Armenia
There are many places, statues and streets that bear the name of the most beloved Armenian hero, Sasuntsi Davit. One of the most famous monuments dedicated to him is the one that stands in front of the Sasuntisi David Train Station. This is considered to be a very impressive statue that depicts the Armenian hero on the horseback, holding the lightning sword in his hand.
The sculptor of this masterpiece is prominent Armenian architect Yervand Qochar. This statue is really unique as it illustrates the warrior-like figure of David of Sassoun. He is depicted with such an aspiration for freedom that, actually, embodies the freedom-loving spirit of the Armenian people.
The statue was established in 1959 and since then the image of the statue has appeared on various postcards, travel guides, photographs, magazine covers, etc.
But this is not the only statue of this Armenian hero. Another similar monument is located in Fresno, California. Always being on the spotlight, this Armenian hero was always captivating for the sculptors, artist and just for the people who admired this epic.
Notably, there is also a gallery in Cafesjian Center for the Arts dedicated to this epic that is called Sasuntsi Davit Gallery. There you can find the Sasuntsi Davit relief, which is a multi-figure composition. It depicts more than thirty episodes from the epic and Sasuntsi Davit in the center riding his horse and holding his famous sword.
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