Mythological and Mythical Classes in ‘Life on Ancient Roman Paths’


In any fiction book after a thorough study one can find after a thorough study mythological and mythical classes, even if it is not evident at first sight. Literature internally forwards the fragments of the initial way of thinking, which surely has undergone through different changes in the course of time, but is still inherited from generation to generation. In the following analysis different mythical and mythological evidences found in the twentieth century Armenian writer Vahan Totovents’ “Life on Ancient Roman Paths” novel and their comparisons with legends of other countries are going to be discussed.

 People usually memorize the images that are dear to them; those memories fade with the time. Later with the help of imagination, they are trying to restore them, and after each effort people set themselves apart from the present time idealizing both memories and people.
So Vahan Totovents from his country with hindsight looks at his years of childhood, touches the bouquet of memories, smells it, but when the flowers fade, going into the illusion of his consciousness, felt the fragrance at its most. And Totovents is trying to get the gone, slightly forgotten fragrance. The novel is written in epistolary genre, the author tells the stories from his person, the author’s childhood is illustrated which is presented by the main hero through a chain of memories. Studying “Life on Ancient Roman Paths” by Vahan Totovents it becomes evident that there are bounds with various mythological realities, however, at first sight it seems that there is no connection with folklore phenomena. With thorough study it is revealed that there are not only affections of various mythological stories and eposes, but also evidences of ancient beliefs.
In the novel there are influences of totemic worship, the fireplace gathering around the family, and totem-animals.
As a matter of fact, “Life on Ancient Roman Paths” is a solid structure where the totemic, mythical, mythological, biblical and epic, along with the real are embodied. The aspects of Armenian and eastern cultures can be seen in the novel. The author braids together the past and the present of the society with different characters and invisible threads.

The City as a mythological space

Totovents was born in the West Armenian town of Mazire, in Elazığ (Armenian`Kharberd) region. However, the name of the town in the novel, which is described as the hometown of the main character, and where the main cases occur, is not mentioned. This is done on purpose. Of course, in tales kingdoms and cities do not have names, and so is the town of his childhood tales, without name. It becomes time-and-space-based breakthrough point where fates, actions cross, the times go back and forward and create holes, which author uses to introduce the reader what was going on in different times. During the whole novel with such shifts the reader gets familiar with the town, people, the feelings of the characters. Just in this town the old roman paths are crossed, through here pass the eastern tales and wonders of the desert. Here marched the roman army and finally here was the Armenian fate judged.

Like in “Hundred Years of Solitude” by G.G. Márquez, Macondo is the dream utopia of the author, here the town is the collective dreamy picture, and why not, the collective dream picture-character of the western Armenia.

The Picture of Mother

The novel begins with the birth of the main character and upcoming activities are described in the form of revelation. A blue eyed blond baby is born, who first appears in his mother’s leaps and since that day his memories about him begin, he gives the first marks about his mother. His mother was a god-fearing woman. The only book she had read was the gospel. She was having meal with the poor, she was doing charities conditioning, that nobody would know, and the most important of all, she prayed. V. Totovents brought the picture of his mother to the sanctification, comparing her with Jesus Christ. “… There have been two Christians in the world. The one was the Christ himself, a Jew, and the other was my mother, an Armenian”.

Describing his mother he puts her above the ground, he gives her mythical characteristic along with biblical ones. When the heroine learns about the lover of her husband, with silent patience accepts the fact, puts up with it and loving her husband she starts to love his crime.
This phenomena of forgiving betrayal of husband is also mentioned in “Daredevils of Sassoun”, epic poem, however, drawing comparisons with heroine of the novel, Armaghan, the wife of Mets Mher when learns that her husband has gone to Miser (Armenian: Մըսըր), vows to never let him back and become for him a sister but spouse. In the epic poem the betrayal is not obviously depicted, it is considered not power, but weakness. Eventually Armaghan accepts Mets Mher on the cost of life, while not by forgiving him but on purpose to have an heir. The epic woman breaks her vow for the sake of the family’s future. In the Armenian epic poem, the pride dominates the love and the wealth of the nation dominates the life and pride.

In spite of this obvious difference, there are epic characteristics in the heroine of the novel. She has unnatural power, can pick up a tub full of water, and when carrying things never asks for help to anyone. She displays her unnatural strength during childbirth too. “Only half an hour before the childbirth she refused to work, some painful frowning was hardly noticed on her face, then she smiled delicately, moved aside, separated, held her ribs, and there was born one of us. They say some of us when they were still inside her, they started to cry.” Her milk is epic as well, so overflowing that mothers, who do not have milk take their children to her to feed.
The picture of mother is depicted with the warmest and sweetest shades, the sun rising from blue mountains and even from that sun her voice is still heard. “The sun itself is a mother, blue-eyed and blond-haired”. Though the mother goes with the sun and the author waits impatiently for the blissful morning, when mother will again “cry with the hyacinth pipe of the sun”.
Signification of Death

In the novel the terrible meaning of death is also internally expressed. Before his death the father of the author feels that he is leaving, and he calls the carpenter master Margar, so that he made a coffin. Hadzy Effendi was preparing for his death as much as a bridegroom prepares for his wedding. In a prophetic spirit he feels a month ago that he is going to die and with peaceful silence prepares himself for that day. The feel of untimely death of death in future deceased has its own mythological and mythical bases. In the old Greek mythology the Death reprimanded beforehand with his rocket about his coming, and the person started the preparations for the day. Hadzy Effendi felt about his upcoming death with some mysterious ways known only by him, and also he asserted that he had been warned about it, he knew it well.

Family and Fireplace

Despite everything, no matter if the inhabitants of the house are sharing the same blood or not, they all regard the others as indivisible parts of the family. Everybody from masters to the workers of the house, were a part of the “Family”. During the whole novel the idea of united family, fireplace is emphasized. It becomes an invisible power bounding together the family, around which the whole storyline is constructed. In ancient times yet they specialized the concept of the fireplace. At first it was just a fire in the center of the house, which women were to keep burning until their husbands came back from hunting. With the time this idea sustains metamorphosis and converts to the idea of keeping the family united, together, even an object of worship.

In the end not only the members of the family, but also who do not share the same blood, gather together around the idea of fireplace. for example Gogo, the servant, did not share the blood with the family of Hadzy Effendi, but he was so devoted and loved so much the children of the master, so that he dares to slap them when they made a mischief. The same goes on after the death of Hadzy Effendi, when Gogo continues to take care of children and their fancies with fatherly love and patience.


in the novel the expressions of the ancient human beings’ beliefs are noticed. Indeed, they are not seen in their initial ancient way and condition, but they have changed during the time and got new meanings. One of them is the worshiping of animals coming from early periods of human history. The ancient human worshiped some animals out of their imaginations and way of life. The original beliefs of the ancient Armenians included totems of dog, cow, bull, horse, ox. For getting his daily livelihood the human sweated as much as the ox. The ox was source of bread and consequently they should sing about the ox, worship and love ox, so that it worked better. There is the legend of “Ara the Beautiful and Shamiram”, where it is obviously seen that they believe and worship dog-figured Aralezes (mythical dog-figured creatures which, heathens believed, healed wounds by licking them), which lick the wounds of the dead bringing them to life. Besides, Kurkhik Dzalali in “Daredevils of Sassoun” was perceived not just an animal, but a member of the family. The horse of Hakob, Maran, also was getting this kind of attention and love. Maran had never seen a bridle in his life, it could freely walk inside the house, even during the meal when the great family gathered around the big table, the horse approached Hakobik and put its snout on his shoulder waiting for him to give a piece of sugar.

The Caravan

As it was mentioned at the beginning of the analysis the city was a crossroad between different roads. “Our street was a part of the road in ancient East, which started from Ancient Rome, came to the Byzantine old capital, ceased circling the Asia Minor, passed near our house and went till “the end of the world”-Baghdad”. In the imagination of these ordinary people the end of the world was Baghdad. There started the tales of one and thousand nights, and there started and finished eastern conversations. And the inseparable part of an eastern tale is the camel. The author remembers the caravan of camels pass by the door house, coming from Mesopotamia and going to Sivas, different active merchant cities of Asia Minor, and in autumn, when garden caught the sign of prosperity, they returned to endless deserts, to Babylonian and Arabic rich cities, full of diamonds and bright stones resembling sparkles. Like an eastern tale caravans were going there and here, and in the memory it seemed a wonderful thing, indescribable and unreal dream. The memories sweeten the palate of the author like sweet southern palm. From the depth of the memories he sees the events with touchable pictures, lives the past over again. “There goes a camel ornamented like a little eastern bride, with small pieces of mirrors, singing cocoons of spring, pieces of silk, colorful wool braids.
Significance of Love

Since yet the times of heathenism people celebrated the coming autumn, harvested, sang, danced cheered themselves up.

In ancient Rome they worshiped Dionysus, who was said to be the reproducer of nature, the god of viticulture and winemaking. That is why he was mostly worshiped by peasants. During the autumn harvest youngsters made a fire and danced with goat furs. It was a frantic revelry. It was the time when they took the crop from the uterus of the land, during these days many fell in love and thanked gods. Heathen Armenian had the equivalent of this god, Ara or Ara the Beautiful. In the novel the myth-belief has its own reflection. In the town of childhood tale they also made a fire in gardens during ingathering. All the girls were permitted to dance freely around the fire. In these days most of the girls met their fiancés. Their hearts burned with the songs, dance and fire. Those who had found a young heart, got lost in the big crowd, away from fires, under the reddened and sweet balls of grape, the eternal fire of love inflamed.

The Significance of Pigeon

Different people lived in the town, each lived their ordinary lives. with their unconscious tale. One of them was “pigeon player” Hakob. Pigeon play was regarded as the cruelest business. The elder men said “The pigeon is innocent, but it is death.” The pigeon was bad luck in dreams as well; when they saw a pigeon in a dream they were scared, when they saw a pigeon stop on a roof they crossed themselves. To offend someone they called them one who flies pigeons. The kids though loved pigeons. The mother of Totovents, however, a woman stereotypically shaped with those strange superstitions, although was afraid of pigeons, compared positive things with white pigeons. Pigeons are said to be divine birds. This biblical, fragile creatures though are perceived as misery givers. One of the characters in the novel, father Akob, killed his most precious things, doves. He cuts their heads off with his own hands and paints the white shirt with red blood.
It is not accidental, that the novel ends in thus scene. The author creates a symbolic picture, drawing comparisons between reality, dreams and childhood memories.

So, examining “Life on Ancient Roman Paths” it becomes clear that the novel is the carrier of various mythical and mythological codes, which are obscured behind the vail of the general storyline and they come out to be seen only in case of thorough investigation.


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  3. Սասունցի Դավիթ, Ե., 1961:
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Author: Arlina Sargsyan. © All rights are reserved.

Translator: Azatuhy Khachatrian.