The story of Ara the Handsome comes to us from the 5th century History of Armenia by Moses of Chorene (Khorenatsi). We begin with a translation of the story (and illustration) by Zabelle Boyadjian , and then trace an earlier version to Plato’s timeless book, The Republic.
by Zabelle Boyadjian (1916)
For a few years before the death of Ninus, Ara reigned over Armenia under his protectorate, and found the same favor in his eyes as his father Aram had done. But that wanton and lustful woman Semiramis, having heard […] for many years of the beauty of Ara, wished to possess him; only she ventured not to do anything openly. But after the death or the escape [of Ninus to Crete], as it hath been affirmed unto me, she discovered her passion freely, and sent messengers to Ara the Beautiful with gifts and offerings, with many prayers and promises of riches; begging him to come to her to Nineveh and either wed her and reign over all that Ninus had possessed, or fulfill her desires and return in peace to Armenia, with many gifts.
And when the messengers had been and returned many times and Ara had not consented, Semiramis became very [angry]; and she arose and took all the multitude of her hosts and hastened to the land of Armenia, against Ara. But, as she had beforehand declared, it was not so much to kill him and persecute him that she went, as to subdue him and bring him by force to fulfill the desire of her passion. For having been consumed with desire by what she had heard of him, on seeing him she become as one beside herself. She arrived in this turmoil at the plains of Ara, called after him Ararat. And when the battle was about to take place she commanded her generals to devise some means of saving the life of Ara. But in the fighting the army of Ara was beaten, and Ara died, being slain by the warriors of Semiramis. And after the battle the Queen sent out to the battlefield to search for the body of her beloved amongst those who had died. And they found the body of Ara amongst the brave ones that had fallen, and she commanded them to place it in an upper chamber in her castle.
But when the hosts of Armenia arose once more against Queen Semiramis to avenge the death of Ara, she said: “I have commanded the gods to lick his wounds, and he shall live again.” At the same time she thought to bring Ara back to life by witchcraft and charms, for she was maddened by the intensity of her desires. But when the body began to decay, she commanded them to cast it into a deep pit, and to cover it. And having dressed up one of her men in secret, she sent forth the fame of him thus: “The gods have licked Ara and have brought him back to life again, thus fulfilling our prayers and our pleasure. Therefore from this time forth shall they be the more glorified an worshipped by us, for that they are the givers of joy and the fulfillers of desire.” She also created a new statue in honor of the gods and worshipped it with many sacrifices, showing unto all as if the gods had brought Ara back to life again. And having caused this report to be spread over all the land of Armenia and satisfied the people, she put an end to the fighting. And she took the son of Ara whom his beloved wife [Nvart] had borne unto him and who was but twelve years old at the time of his father’s death. And she called his name Ara in memory of her love for Ara the Beautiful, and appointed him ruler over the land of Armenia, trusting him in all things.
According to the Encyclopedia Iranica, Moses of Chorene’s version diverges from the much earlier version told by Plato in Book X of The Republic, in which Ara (“Er, the son of Armenius”) resurrects after a visit to the afterlife.
He [Ara] was slain in battle, and ten days afterwards, when the bodies of the dead were taken up already in a state of corruption, his body was found unaffected by decay, and carried away home to be buried. And on the twelfth day, as he was lying on the funeral pile, he returned to life and told them what he had seen in the other world…
What Ara is said to describe sounds much like purgatory, with roads to Heaven and Hell… Only that The Republic was written about 400 years before the birth of Christ:
He said that when his soul left the body he went on a journey with a great company, and that they came to a mysterious place at which there were two openings in the earth; they were near together, and over against them were two other openings in the heaven above. In the intermediate space there were judges seated, who commanded the just, after they had given judgment on them and had bound their sentences in front of them, to ascend by the heavenly way on the right hand; and in like manner the unjust were bidden by them to descend by the lower way on the left hand; these also bore the symbols of their deeds, but fastened on their backs. […]
Despite the differences between the two versions, both regard Ara’s soul as immortal. Plato’s version also relates to the later (Pahlavi) Zoroastrian text Arda Wiraz (English translation here), which the Encylopedia takes as evidence of its Achaemenid genesis (the Achaemenid empire had by the time of Plato’s writing already encompassed Anatolia and the Near East as part of its much larger expanse).