One of the greatest medieval Armenian philosophers, scientists, theologians, poets, mathematicians, cosmologists, and a successor of the traditions of Aristotle was Hovhannes Imastasser (Hovhannes Sarkavag, 1047-1129).
Little is known about his biography. The information that we have comes from a manuscript biography rewritten in 1375. The author of this manuscript, apparently, lived in the middle of the 12th century.
According to a legend, Hovhannes Imastasser lived in Haghpat Monastery. He loved reading so much that he would spend entire days reading without eating.
Hovhannes Imastaser was also a reformer of the Armenian calendar. In the second half of the 11th century, the Armenian calendar had flexible dates. This caused some difficulties in setting the dates of church holidays. In order to avoid such confusion, Hovhannes Imastaser reassigned the date of each holiday, thereby creating a fixed Armenian calendar.
Being an eminent thinker of his time, Hovhannes Imastaser left behind numerous works on philosophy, mathematics, history, cosmography, fiction, and calendar theory. His writings were interpretive and religious in nature.
He also translated the works of many ancient and medieval authors, including Aristotle, Euclid, Porphyry, Gregory of Nyssa, and many others.
He was also a teacher and poet. He taught music, arithmetic, and grammar. He edited texts in the monastery of Haghpat and in the Cathedral of Ani. In addition, he founded several schools in Armenia.
Hovhannes Imastaser also contributed to the art of chanting psalms. His writing style was considered unrepeatable.
He participated in worship services as well. Georgian King David once even arrived from Georgia to Hovhannes to receive a blessing.
His poem “The Wise Conversation” – a philosopher conversation with a bird during a walk – has become particularly famous. A part of the reason for its renown is that it is the first Armenian philosophical poem.
Hovhannes Imastasser made a great contribution to the development of music as well. Thanks to him, Armenian music in Cilicia flourished. His musical activities were related to issues of musical aesthetics, songwriting, and performers. He also significantly enriched sharakans – the most ancient spiritual songs of Armenia.
The history of Armenian aesthetics was also strongly impacted by Imastaser. He developed systems for studying nature and its connection with human thinking. He believed that music manifests the desire of the human kind to learn and imitate nature. He thought that humans wanted to find harmony in nature and aimed to improve with it.