Gibson raised eyebrows when his “The Passion of the Christ” was done entirely in the archaic language of Aramaic. Now Diesel has revealed that he wants to make a three-part swords and sandals epic based on the life of Hannibal. And he wants to do the films all in Punic, the language that was spoken by the Alps-crossing conqueror, but not by anyone for 2,000 years.
That last note isn’t quite true. There were apparently still Punic-speakers in the time of St. Augustine, as I believe he relates in his correspondence (and Wikipedia tells us that it might have survived into the 7th century, though I do not know of any references to Punic-speakers in the 7th century), but then the history of Punic is not something I would expect entertainment reporters to know all that well. A Carthaginian trilogy would be great fun (but who would pay to make it?), and Hannibal is probably one of only a few great generals of classical antiquity whose story has never been, as far as I know, brought to film. Shih-huang-di has been covered, but Ashoka fans everywhere are impatiently awaiting a proper adaptation of his life that does not have Kareena Kapoor in it.
The question I have is this: when will the Armenians in Hollywood get their act together and produce a screen adaptation of the epic story of the Vardanank’ (entirely in Grabar, of course)? For some background information on the Vardanank’, read the entry on the Battle of Avarayr (451).
You can also read this, but try to ignore the Theodore Rshtuni worship in the section on the 7th century if you can. If Theodore Rshtuni initiated a policy of “compromise between Arabs and Byzantines,” Vidkun Quisling was a hero to his country. Rshtuni’s “compromise” was effectively to side with the Arabs against the Byzantines, who were still ruling the country at the time. Some Armenian nationalists have long regarded him as one of the great national heroes because he helped overturn the church union with Constantinople, thus reestablishing Armenian “independence” in church matters at the expense of making a deal with the Muslims. (And, yes, I do see the parallels with the Byzantines in the 15th century–but I would not therefore say that Lukas Notaras and Mark Evgenikos initiated a policy of compromise between the Latins and the Turks!)
However, telling the story of the Vardanank’ these days might be complicated by some recent developments. Because Armenia has been pinned between the basically hostile states of Turkey and Azerbaijan, it has been forced to rely heavily on its ties to Moscow and Tehran, which has also necessarily hurt her position with Washington. Partly as a result of this close relationship with Iran, the long and close connections between Armenian and Iranian cultures have become much more important for a lot of ethnic Armenian scholars and Western scholars of Armenian history (Armenian vocabulary is heavily dependent on Iranian words). Part of this shift has involved something of a revisionist effort aimed at the Battle of Avarayr and the memory of Vardan Mamikonean, who is also commemorated as a martyr and saint in the Armenian Apostolic Church. In some of these new interpretations–which are by no means widespread, but which are becoming more popular–seeing Avarayr as a fundamental clash between the Christian Armenian and Zoroastrian Iranian worlds has become less fashionable and there is a tendency to judge Vardan, who has hitherto been the archetypical national hero, as someone who led his people into disastrous resistance against an overwhelming foe. (It is as if Scots started to belittle William Wallace for being too confrontational.)
Earlier, pre-Soviet efforts by Armenian intellectuals to emphasise their people’s considerable common ties to the European and wider Christian world no longer necessarily command the attention that they once did, and the story of cultural exchange and interdependence between Armenians, Iranians and other peoples in the region has consequently gained in prestige. Before the Vardanank’ suffers from the revisionist idiocy that has afflicted other great mythic moments of national struggle, we need a major feature about Vardan. Maybe there is an opening in Gibson’s schedule.