SHOTA RUSTAVELI

RustaveliIntroduction

Of Shota Rustaveli (c.1172 - c.1216) the author of the Georgian national epic, The Knight in the Panther's Skin, very little is known for certain. According to legend, he was orphaned as a child and was brought up by an uncle, who was a monk. The early introduction to religion is reflected in his later poems, which are often religious and philosophical.

There are many legends about Rustaveli’s varied education, and his later travels in Arabia, Byzantium and Greece. Some say he went to Jerusalem when he grew old and died in a Georgian monastery. Others that he wrote a series of odes to the Queen Tamara, who ruled during the twelfth century, when Georgia achieved her greatest power and influence. As a reward, the queen appointed Rustaveli treasurer of the court, and he duly fell in love with her. What is sure is the greatness of The Knight in the Panther's Skin, an epic of adventure, friendship, and courtly love, which helped create the Georgian literary language.

The Knight in the Panther's Skin tells of a young prince seeking a friend's beloved, who has been captured by devils. Shota Rustaveli used ideas from Chinese, Persian, and ancient Greek philosophy, and in describing the questing adventures of three hero-knights the poem includes rich philosophical musings that have become proverbs in Georgia. As in most epics, the characters are larger than life: brave, generous, fair-minded and constantly battling the powers of evil. The poem is not concerned with everyday events but with the romantic constants of literature. Rustaveli himself considered poetry one of the oldest branches of wisdom, and saw it as the poet's duty to evoke strong emotions and 'inflame the heart'. The 1576 quatrains of Vepkhis-tqarsani are written in a particularly difficult form, the shairi ( 4-line stanza with monorhyme and long lines of 15 or 16 syllables), but the poem is one of the masterpieces of medieval European literature and has been translated into many languages.

Georgia is not well known in the west, but developed and kept its remarkable individual literature despite invasions by Arabs, Turks, Mongols, Persians and Russians. The poetry began with liturgical psalms and hymns translated from the Greek, but reached maturity in the twelfth century with Chakhrukhadze, Shavteli and Rustaveli. Several of Georgia's 16th-17th century kings were graceful poets, strongly influenced by Persian models. More radical work came with the love poetry of Guramishvili (1705-92) and Besiki (1740-91), the first in language closer to the everyday and the second remarkably sonorous and elegant. Georgia was annexed by Russia in the early 19th century, and in the poetry of Chavchavadze and Orbeliani there are melancholy reflections on past greatness.

Nikoloz Baratashvili (1817-45) brought in Romanticism and new metrical forms, but the poetry of the second half of the century was sharper, with much criticism of czarist policies. Ilia Chavchavadze (1837-1907) wrote lyrical and narrative with strong didactic overtones. Akaki Tsereteli (1840-1915) was popular and Vazha Pshavela (1861-1915) wrote in the vernacular of his native Pshavi. The early twentieth century saw many poetry movements inspired by western influences: Symbolists ( Tabidze, Iashvili, Mitsishvili), Modernists (Gamsakhurdia, Grishashvili, Leonidze, Makashvili), Futurists (Shengelaia, Chikovani, Gogoberidze) and poets belonging to no particular school. Georgia enjoyed independence after the Socialist revolution of 1917, but the Red Army installed a Bolshevik government in 1921, and censorship increased under Stalin. Titian Tabidze was executed in the great purge of 1937, and Glaktion Tabidze committed suicide in 1959. Ideological restraints were relaxed when Khrushchev came to power, and Georgian poetry is again rich and varied and contemporary.

Georgian is a distinct Caucasian language, belonging neither to the Indo-European group nor the Turkic, and uses its own script. The language is not an easy one to learn, particularly its verbs, though there exists help in the form of language exchanges, cassettes, CDs, textbooks, phrasebooks, summer schools, and the Internet, sometimes free, and online dictionaries. The Knight in the Panther's Skin has seen many translations. Much of the critical literature is in Georgian or Russian, but recommended studies include J. Karst's Littérature gorgienne chrétienne (1934), A. Endler's Georgische Poesie aus acht Jahrhunderten (1971), M. Kvesselava's Anthology of Georgian Poetry (1958), A. G. Baramidze and D. M. Gamezardashvili's Georgian Literature (tr. 1968) and S. Dangulov's The Literature and Art of Soviet Georgia (1987). As ever, The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (1993) provides useful summaries and references.

Suggestion: The Knight in the Panther's Skin. Shota Rustaveli. Sabchota Sakartvelo. 1968. $25.00

The popular epic: this is a verse edition which is still in print.

Learning Georgian

Georgian can be learnt from books, tapes, courses and CDs, available at georgian language, multilingual, worldlanguage, arthur lynn, and hypnotictapes.

Free lessons and material are at omniglot, mongabay and kvali.

Other works, dictionaries, etc. can be ordered through grant and cutler, russkiekniegi, znanie, abebooks and alibris.

Georgian-English-Georgian online dictionaries are at language resources, multilingual books, word2word, seelrc and .

Some useful language exchanges: friends abroad, xlingo, mylanguage exchange, polyglot learn language, and lingozone.

Georgian Poetry

Georgian texts can be found at sakartvel and literatura.

Much of the critical literature is in Georgian or Russian, but recommended studies include J. Karst's Littérature gorgienne chrétienne (1934), A. Endler's Georgische Poesie aus acht Jahrhunderten (1971), M. Kvesselava's , Anthology of Georgian Poetry (1958), A. G. Baramidze and D. M. Gamezardashvili's Georgian Literature (tr. 1968) and S. Dangulov's The Literature and Art of Soviet Georgia (1987). As ever, The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (1993) provides useful summaries and references.

Sites for individual Georgian writers are as follows: Guramishvili, Ilia Chavchavadze, Akaki Tsereteli, Vazha Pshavela, Modernists (Gamsakhurdia, Grishashvili, Leonidze, Makashvili), and Glaktion Tabidze.

Rustaveli

For Shota Rustaveli see: wikipedia, and wikipedia2.

The Knight in the Panther's Skin has seen many translations: Wardrop, Beridze, Levan Chaganava, Stevenson, and Kapanadze. Online versions are free at Bouatchidzé (in french).

 

C. John Holcombe   |  About the Author    | ©     2007 2012 2013 2015.   Material can be freely used for non-commercial purposes if properly referenced.