ARLEZ, (Arm. aralez or yaralez), term for a supernatural creature in Armenian, of uncertain etymology. Arlezkʿ (plur.) were believed to have licked the corpse of Ara back to life, hence the most common folk etymology, from “Ara” and Arm. lez- “lick.” Eznik Kołbacʿi (5th cent. A.D.) explained that the Arlez was a kind of dog (Ełc ałandocʿ, ed. Mariès, Patrologia Orientalis, Paris, 1959, par. 122), and Movsēs Xorenacʿi relates an ancient tradition that the young prince Sanatruk and his nurse were rescued in a snowstorm by “some miraculous white animal sent by the gods,” which, Xorenacʿi explains, was a dog (2.36 = History of the Armenians, tr. R. W. Thomson, Cambridge, Mass., 1978, pp. 177f.). The 10th-century writer Ṭʿovma Arcruni refers to “the village of Lezkʿ, where they recite the legend of the healing of the wounds of the dead Ara,” i.e., where the ara-lezkʿ licked him back to life (see V. Vardanyan, ed., Tʿovma Arcruni ev Ananun, Patmutʿyun Arcrunyacʿ tan, Erevan, 1978, pp. 225, 366 nn. 431-32). It has been suggested that the Armenian legend of the arlez may be traced to Assyria, where the god Marduk, called “resuscitator of the dead,” is referred to at Ḥarrān as mry dklbww “lord of the dogs,” (see K. Y. Basmačean, “Yaralēzkʿ” Bazmavēp, Venice, 1897, pp. 525-31; and R. Ajello, “Sulle divinità armene chiamate aṙlēz,” Oriente Moderno 68, 1978, pp. 7-8, 306). It is as likely that the arlez, part of the archaic Asianic legend of Attis (Arm. Ara), came to be seen as a spirit-dog of Zoroastrianism, associated with the funeral rites of exposure (often in a high place: see Ara; on the significance of dogs in Zoroastrianism, see “Death and the Mysteries of the Dog,” in M. Boyce, Stronghold, pp. 139ff.). Armenians continued to revere dogs in Christian times; Armenian and Byzantine writers note that during the fast of Aṙaǰaworacʿ, commemorating early Christian martyrs, some Armenians worshipped a dog (see N. Akinean, in Handēs Amsoreay, Vienna, 1904, pp. 313 and A. Matikean, Aray gełecʿik, Vienna, 1930, p. 159). [The word is variously spelled in the mss. with -r- or -ṙ-.]
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Originally Published: December 15, 1986
Last Updated: August 12, 2011
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Vol. II, Fasc. 4, p. 412