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Illustration from Rusthaveli Manuscript (Public Domain Image)

The Man in the Panther's Skin

by Shot'ha Rust'haveli

translated by Marjory Scott Wardrop


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Georgia is a central Asian region which is situated in the mountains between the Black and Caspian seas. This, the 'Man in the Panther Skin' (also known as 'the Knight in the Panther Skin') is a 12th century medieval epic poem. It is considered one of the masterpieces of Georgian literature, and has been called the Georgian national epic. The author, Prince Shota Rustaveli, was a noble in the court of Queen Tamar, and served as her treasurer. He was also a painter who created frescoes in the Georgian monastery of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. We do not know specific birth and death dates for Rustaveli. The poem was first printed in 1712 in Tblisi. This translation is, thankfully, into clearly written prose, unlike some of the awful 19th century attempts to versify translated poetry. Wardrop's translation, which she modestly called an attempt, makes enjoyable reading.

The poem, strangely enough, is not set in Georgia, but in fictionalized versions of Arabia, Persia, India and fairy-tale lands set in the environs of the Indian Ocean. (However the characters are at one point described as speaking fluent Georgian!) There are two chief male protagonists, Avt'handil and Tariel. Tariel, the eponymous 'Knight in the Panther's Skin' is made heir to all India, but tragically falls in love with his adoptive sister, Nestan. Driven mad by this love, he ends up killing the man she is to marry and fleeing India. Nestan is also spirited away to parts unknown. The search for Nestan, described as radiant as the sun, so beautiful that everyone she meets falls in love with her, is the central thread of the story. Avt'handil, the suitor of the Queen of Arabia T'hinat'hin, sees Tariel wandering disconsolate one day and goes in quest of this mysterious knight. Eventually they meet up and after a long quest end up finding Nestan. Nestan and Tariel marry, and Avt'handil marries T'hinat'hin. I have appended a short synopis of the story to this etext, based on my reading notes.

The narrative and characterizations are remarkable for a work of this period. Rustaveli had great psychological insight, providing backstory and motivations for his cast. The women characters are well written and memorable (particularly the merchant P'hatman). Rustaveli's female characters are not just props as in some of the medieval romances. Emotional relationships between characters of the same sex (both male and female), like the Biblical David and Jonathan, are portrayed as tender and sensual, shedding light on how our conventional sex roles are modern cultural constructs.

For technical reasons, I had to omit most of the footnotes from the body of the text. However, I did type in some of these footnotes by hand where they clear up obscure passages. Since a facsimile of this particular translation is in print and the footnotes are mostly of interest to scholars, this should not present a problem.

John Bruno Hare, June 1st, 2006.

Title Page
Introductory Quatrains
I. Story of Rostevan, King of the Arabians
II. How The King of the Arabians Saw the Knight Clad in the Panther's Skin
III. Avt’handil's Letter to His Vassals
IV. Avt’handil Sets Forth in Quest of Tariel
V. The Telling of His Tale by Tariel When He First Told It to Avt’handil
VI. Tariel Tells the Tale of His Falling in Love When He First Fell in Love
VII. First Letter Written by Nestan-Daredjan to Her Lover
VIII. First Letter Written by Tariel to His Beloved
IX. Tariel Writes a Letter and Sends a Man to the Khatavians
X. The Letter Written by the King of the Khatavians in Answer to Tariel
XI. Letter of Tariel to the King of the Indians When He Triumphed Over the Khatavians
XII. Letter of Nestan-Daredjan Written to Her Beloved
VIII. Tariel's Letter in Answer to His Beloved
XIV. Tariel Hears Tidings of the Loss of Nestan-Daredjan
XV. The Story of Nuradin P’hridon When Tariel Met Him on the Seashore
XVI. Tariel's Aid to P’hridon, and Their Victory Over Their Foes
XVII. P’hridon Tells Tariel Tidings of Nestan-Daredjan
XVIII. The Story of Avt’handil's Return to Arabia After He Had Found and Parted From Tariel
XIX. Avt’handil's Request to King Rostevan, and the Vizier's Discourse and Entreaty
XX. Avt’handil's Discourse With Shermadin When He Stole Away
XXI. The Testament of Avt’handil to King Rostevan When He Stole Away
XXII. Avt’handil's Prayer in the Mosque, and His Flight
XXIII. King Rostevan Hears of Avt’handil's Secret Flight
XXIV. Avt’handil's Second Departure and Meeting with Tariel
XXV. Here is the Going of Tariel and Avt’handil to the Cave, and Their Seeing of Asmat’h
XXVI. Of the Going of Avt’handil to P’hridon's When He Met Him at Mulghazanzar
XXVII. Of Avt’handil's Going to P’hridon's When He Parted From Tariel
XXVIII. Avt’handil's Departure From P’hridon to Seek Nestan-Daredjan
XXIX. The Story of Avt’handil's Arrival in Gulansharo
XXX. Avt’handil's Arrival at P’hatman's; Her Reception of Him and Her Joy
XXXI. P’hatman Becomes Enamoured of Avt’handil; Writes Him a Letter and Sends it
XXXII. The Letter of Love Written by P’hatman to Avt’handil
XXXIII. Avt’handil's Letter in Answer to P’hatman's
XXXIV. Here is the Slaying of the Chachnagir and His Two Guards by Avt’handil
XXXV. P’hatman Tells Avt’handil the Story of Nestan-Daredjan
XXXVI. The Story of the Capture of Nestan-Daredjan by the Kadjis, Told by P’hatman to Avt’handil
XXXVII. Letter Written by P’hatman to Nestan-Daredjan
XXXVIII. The Letter Written by Nestan-Daredjan to P’hatman
XXXIX. The Letter Written by Nestan-Daredjan to Her Beloved
XL. Avt’handil's Letter to P’hridon
XLI. Avt’handil's Departure From Gulansharo, and His Meeting with Tariel
XLII. Tariel and Avt’handil Go to P’hridon
XLIII. The Council of P’hridon, Avt’handil and Tariel as to the Assault on the Castle of Kadjet’hi
XLIV. The Going of Tariel to the King of the Seas and to P’hridon's
XLV. The Wedding of Tariel and Nestan by P’hridon
XLVI. Tariel Goes Again to the Cave and Sees the Treasure
XLVII. Here is the Marriage of Avt’handil and T’hinat’hin by the King of the Arabs


Appendix I. Translation By Professor Marr Of The Introductory Quatrains
Appendix II. Bibliographical Note
Appendix III. Groups of References


Synopsis of The Knight in the Panther's Skin, by John B. Hare