Armenian Folk Story: The Golden-Headed Fish

This piece was told to me by one of my neighbors of Armenian descent. I came home one night to find my neighbors having a celebration to honor those who had died during the Armenian genocide from 1914 to 1923. Around the last few weeks of April, it is apparently a tradition to celebrate Armenian pride in honor of those who were killed. I was curious to hear more about the culture and took the opportunity to ask about some stories of Armenian folklore. I found myself talking to one of the older gentleman at the party, who was the uncle of my neighbor who lived at the house. He was very happy to indulge my curiosity about Armenian folklore and told one of his favorite stories about a fish with a golden head. It was definitely a story that many at the party had heard before, because many of them chimed in, laughing at certain parts and commenting on others.

The story he told was about “an old Egyptian king who went blind and was expected to die.” Physician after physician was brought in to see if they could help the “old king,” as my informant continued to call him. Apparently, one of them claimed that there was a fish with a golden head somewhere in the ocean that could provide a cure if caught. The physician said he would wait for 100 days to see if the fish could be caught, so the “old king’s” young princely son brought many men with him to find the fish. However, “after many and many fish were caught, they thought they would never find the one with the golden head.” Just at the 100 days, the young prince caught the golden fish, but at that point it was too late because the physician said he was going to leave. At that moment, the fish also looked up at him, scared for its life. Since the prince new that the special cure was only the secret of the one physicians, he decided to let the fish live. When the king heard what his son had done, he summoned an executioner. However, the queen intervened and rescued her son, and gave him the advice to take on servants who served out of charity and not money. This servant introduced the prince to another king who offered them the prize of his daughter if they could kill a monster. However, the princess was actually a monster herself that was looking to eat the prince, but the prince’s servant cut off her head and the prince was “married to another of the king’s daughters—he had many.” That night, the prince heard that his father had died and so he returned to Egypt. The servant then told the new king that he must go, but the young king was upset because he had saved his life. It was then that the servant revealed he was actually the fish with the gold head, who had come in human form to save the life of the young prince in gratitude for his kindness earlier on.

The story itself is an interesting one. I admit, it was a little long and confusing, but that might have also been because the informant had been drinking throughout the party. Still, there is a clear moral message that I find shares a theme with other folk stories from other cultures. It promotes acts of kindness and benevolence, for these behaviors will help ensure that others will be kind to you. I also found it interesting that the story was set in Egypt and the Middle East, which is quite far from Armenia. I asked the informant if he knew where the story came from and he said it had always been told in Armenia. This may have been brought to the region by foreigners, or the story was just set in a seemingly far-off and mysterious place to add to the excitement.

Source: Garen Bedrossian