The Book of Flowers

David Turshyan, Librarian, International Languages Department,
Image: woman sitting on a chair holding a flower

Picture a book that can gracefully endure the trials of the centuries—the water, the fire, the sword. What will this book be about? In what language will it be? There is an old legend about an artist-scribe who was being burned along with a precious manuscript. As the fire was consuming them both, his disciples asked, “What do you see?” And he replied, "The manuscript seems to be burning, yet the letters are flying away."

Manuscript (from Latin: manus - hand + scriber - to write, literally “written by hand”) was the cherished child of our medieval past. The printing press was yet to be born. In those days, manuscripts were illuminated with natural pigments, such as the one derived from lapis armenus—a color of enchanting beauty—the color of our blue planet from space. In medieval Armenia, the artist who illuminated manuscripts was called a "maker of flowers"—in Armenian: ծաղկող. Why flowers? Although in those days, the verb form to flourish—ծաղկել—also meant to embellish—զարդարել—the answer may take us back to one of the earliest discovered epics of humanity, preserved on clay tablets—The Epic of Gilgamesh—in which a king, having witnessed the death of a friend, sets out on a journey to the mountain with twin peaks in search of the flower of immortality.

Now let’s picture a book born of a book – a book of flowers. "Like a light wondering through the darkness, it wavers, but it comes. It cannot see what dangers it is passing through—neither winter, nor dark. Fire doesn’t burn it, heat cannot suffocate it. Is it a miracle that protects it, or mere chance?... A thousand hands have kept, caressed, touched these flowers, this beauty of life, and thousand upon thousands of eyes have looked at them in love and sorrow... The book smiles. Is it simple, or carefree, or crafty? Does it know how to manage its affairs? Or is it wise, and aware of the writing on its path?" This is a book about a book—an illuminated manuscript—a living portable garden. The short video is a glimpse into this book—The Book of Flowers.