THIS is an attempt to give a faithful rendering, word by word, of a book which is the mirror of the soul of a cultured people with a great past; the mirror is chipped and tarnished by time and mischance, but the loving labour of scholars may soon renew its lustre and repair some of its injuries. Even in the state in which it is here presented the work can hardly fail to provoke interest. The history of the poem makes it worthy of perusal, for it has been in a unique manner the book of a nation for seven hundred years; down to our own days the young people learned it by heart; every woman was expected to know every word of it, and on her marriage to carry a copy of it to her new home. Such veneration shown for so long a period proves that the story of the Panther-clad Knight presents an image of the Georgian outlook on life, and justifies the presumption that merits tested by the experience of a quarter of a million days, most of them troublous, may be apparent to other races, that such a book may be of value to mankind, and chiefly to those peoples which, like the Georgian, came under the influence of Greek and Christian ideals. Here we are dealing with no alien psychology, but with a soul which, though readily responsive to the great cultural movements of nearer Asia, 1 showed in a thousand years of struggle that its natural gravitation was towards Western Europe, whither with pathetic constancy it kept its gaze fixed. 2 Iberia of
the East and Iberia of the West, the high-water marks of Arab conquest, were both fertilized by the Semitic flood, and, whether or not they have some ancient ethnic affinity, this has given them not a few common characteristics; Spain had Christendom at her back, Georgia carried on her glorious crusade in isolation till the struggle was hopeless, and a century ago she was forced into an alliance with the Russian Empire. From her situation, geographical and political, Georgia was the country most likely to show that approximation of Eastern and Western thought typical of the epoch of the Crusades, and in these latter days it is largely due to the infusion of Iberian blood that Turkey and Persia have still sufficient vitality to attempt reforms.
It might have been expected that a people whose life was a ceaseless fight to keep for Christendom the bridge between Asia and Europe would have put into its greatest artistic effort an uncompromising confession of faith; but freedom of thought rather than fanaticism is characteristic of Shot’ha, so at various times, down to the eighteenth century, the orthodox clergy destroyed manuscripts of the poem, and the editio princeps of 1712 could only appear because its royal editor appended to it a pious mystical commentary. We find one reference apiece to Mohammed (1010) and Mecca (1144), and three mentions of the Koran (339, 514, 1144); the official representatives of Islam are spoken of with scant sympathy (339). To Christianity as an ecclesiastical system we have, possibly, allusions (Easter Eve, 536; icon, 247; shrine, 1345; halo, aureole, 226, 229, 1110, 1410); there may be a few quotations from the Scriptures ("gall of bitterness," 99; "hart and waterbrooks," 835, 1564; "tinkling cymbals," 772;" charity faileth not," 1520; "through a glass darkly," 110, 656, 707, 1431; "hidden treasure," ?882; "be content," "judge not," 18; "rivers run into the sea," 49); the Biblical personages incidentally mentioned are--Adam, Beelzebub, ?Ezra, Goliath, Levi, and Satan, and the geographical, names Eden, Euphrates, Gihon, Pison, and Gibeon, are used in similes; there seems to be a reference to the doctrine of regeneration (184), and another perhaps to purgatory (785).
[paragraph continues] When he wrote his poem, Rust’haveli had evidently no violent prejudice for one religion more than another, but was of a critical and eclectic turn of mind, and formed for himself a working philosophy of life, showing Persian and Arabian tendencies, but with so much of Christianity and Neo-Platonism as to bring it near to Occidental minds. "The Georgians in the tenth and eleventh centuries interested themselves in the domain of philosophy in those same questions which occupied the leading minds of the Christian world of that period both in the East and the West, with this distinction from the others--e.g., Europeans--that in those days the Georgians responded earlier than others to the newest tendencies of philosophic thought, and worked in a panoply, exemplary for its time, of textual criticism directly on the Greek originals." 1
There is throughout the poem manifest joy in life and action: God createth not evil (1468, 1485); ill is fleeting (1337); since there is gladness in the world, why should any be sad? (687); it is after all a good world, fair to look upon despite its horrid deserts, a world to sing in either because one is happy or because one wishes to be so (946); there are flowers to gaze on, good wine to drink, fair apparel and rich jewels to wear, beasts worth hunting, games worth playing, foes to be fought, and friends to be loved and helped. There are grievous troubles, but they are to be battled against; it is a law with men that they should struggle and suffer (776); for them is endeavour, and victory lies with God (883); however black the outlook, there must be no shirking, for the one deed especially Satan's is suicide (728, 768, 815, 854, 1169); the game must be played to the end manfully, and God is generous though the world be hard (911, 1338); He will make all right in the end (1365), and sorrow alone shows a man's mettle (945). The keynote is optimism quand même. Life is a passing illusion (1572), brief and untrustworthy (1575), in itself nothing but a silly tale (697); we are gazers through a cloudy, distorting glass (110, 656, 707, 1431); our deeds are mere
childish sports making for soul-fitness. The one way of escape from illusion is in the exercise of that essential part of ourselves which unites us with the choir of the heavenly hosts (771); love lifts us out of the mundane marsh (772); brother must act brotherly (914); we must loyally serve our chosen friends, those with whom we have formed a bond stronger than the ties of blood: for such we must die if need be (296). The poem is a glorification of friendship, and the story is of the mutual aid of three starlike heroes wont to serve one another (6); even the gratification of the tenderest love must be postponed to this high duty; the betrothed, the newly-wedded, must part for this (292, 685, 688, 1541); friend makes of himself a road and a bridge (685) by which his friend passes to joy. That women have their share in such friendships is shown by the fraternity between Asmat’h and Tariel, and it is a proof of the deep culture of the people that such bonds still exist; there is probably no country where men have so many pure ties with women, where they are bound by affection to so many with whom the idea of marriage is never permitted to present itself. It is to the influence of such customs that we may partly attribute the high civilization of the race; it is equally true that respect for women is a sign of ancient culture. Rust’haveli is the poet of the whole people, and refinement of manners is not limited to, or absent from, any rank of life; the passage (234, 235) in which Avt’handil forgets for a moment that he is a "gentleman" makes every Georgian blush, and even in these days of comparative degeneracy one never hears of any man behaving with discourtesy in the presence of a woman. Woman is man's equal; the lion's whelps are alike lions (39); the three heroines are queens in their own right, free to dispose of themselves in marriage, fitted to rule kingdoms; Dame P’hatman is Acting Collector of Customs and Master of the Merchant Guild in her husband's absence.
Friendship is thus the main fact of life, the thing that makes it worth living; but its highest form is that noblest love (12) of which some of the introductory quatrains treat.
[paragraph continues] This is the divine frenzy (27, 29), breathed only into the gentle, the fair, the wise, the brave, and the generous (9), unseating the charioteer Reason, antecedent to a nuptial choice, transforming the lover into the divine likeness, and thus preparing him for the creative act by which mankind is renewed from age to age. It is a tender feeling (9), pure in its essence (10), hiding itself from the view of the world (12), needing not love in return, but enduring patiently the wrath of the beloved (10); it is changeless in its object (11), steadfast to the end; when it is reciprocated it sweetens death, for in eternity it finds full fruition (1280-1282). It is in this passion, relentless and beautiful like the panther whose coat he wears, that Tariel is wrapped.
If in his advocacy of reticence in affairs of the heart, and his insistence on "playing the game," Rust’haveli makes a special appeal to British readers, there are at least two points wherein he might seem likely to lack their approval: his hyperbolic descriptions of grief at separation, and his hackneyed astronomic similes for human beauty. But such emotional excesses are by himself disapproved (855, 911), and they find parallels in our own literature as late as the eighteenth century, and with passages like those in 806 and 1423 we have numerous analogies in Western literature; it is to be remembered that every parting is looked upon as possibly, or even probably, the last, and is thus invested with the bitterness of death (994). The radiant loveliness of the heroes and heroines is described in terms of the brightest celestial lights, because the shining forth of the soul through a fair countenance is in sober fact more brilliant, even, than those heavenly bodies which were of old the objects of worship.
Then, again, there are three unpleasant incidents in the story: Avt’handil's murder of the Chachnagir, and his intrigue with P’hatman, and Tariel's assassination of Khvarazmsha. We are not concerned to defend the morality of those transactions, and prefer to suppose that they were as repugnant to Rust’haveli as to ourselves; they are necessary to the working out of the plot, and they
were all for the sake of women and directly instigated by women. As for Tariel's ill-treatment of Rostevan's men and the Cathayans, we are to presume that his madness is his excuse; like Hamlet, grief at a father's death, loss of both sovereignty and mistress, combined to produce a mania sometimes murderous in its manifestations; but as soon as he is cured, his natural kindness of heart returns, and his boyish disposition exhibits itself in frolic (1351, 1352).
Enough has been said to show the main idea of the poem, and in the Appendix will be found groups of references to particular points of interest, things abstract and concrete. It now becomes necessary to say something of the poet, though we have much less historical knowledge of him than of Shakespeare. His life seems to have lasted from 1172 to 1216. The personal name Shot’ha is said to be a form of Ashot’ha, an appellation of the idol of Armaz (Ormuzd), and is occasionally met with in the chronicles of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Rust’haveli means Rust’havian, man of Rust’havi; one place of that name was an episcopal see, but the other is evidently the poet's birthplace, for he describes himself as a Meskhian (1572); so it is from Rust’havi in the district of Akhaltzikhe (which means Newcastle) that he came; he was thus of the race of Meshech (Gen. x. 2; Ps. cxx. 5; Ezek. xxvii. 13, xxxii. 26). Tradition says he was early left an orphan in the care of an uncle who was a monk, that he was educated at the church school of Rust’havi and the monasteries of Tbeti, Gremi, and Iqalt’ho, and was then, in accordance with the custom of the period, sent to Athens, 1 Olympus, and Jerusalem. On his return he wrote Odes 2 in honour of the sainted Queen T’hamara (A.D. 1184-1212), and as a reward was appointed treasurer at the brilliant court of that great and good sovereign, whose reign saw Georgia's political power and literary culture at their highest point of achievement. We are told that his native
place was given to him as an estate in lieu of salary. There is a document preserved in the Tiflis Synodal Archives, dated 1190 (?), signed by him as royal treasurer; he must have been singularly precocious if the date of his birth were really 1172. The popular story tells how, hopelessly in love with his queen, he retired to the monastery of Holy Rood at Jerusalem, where, on a pillar, over a portrait is the inscription: "May God pardon Shot’ha, the painter of this. Amen. Rust’haveli." 1 It seems strange that the word "Rust’haveli" should be added after "Amen"; in any case there is a portrait which readers can accept as not discordant with the character displayed in the epic. Many legends are attached to his name; they represent him as enamoured of T’hamara and married to an unworthy wife.
The oldest manuscript is said to be an undated parchment, which, according to Plato Ioseliani, was the property of a Colonel Gregory Tseret’heli; another copy, on paper, is alleged to be of the year 1443; and a third is dated 1678. These were used by King Vakhtang VI. for his edition of 1712; but they have apparently been lost, and, so far as we know, there is no existing manuscript earlier than the seventeenth century, and none dated before 1646. 2 It is most desirable that attention should be devoted to the purification of the text.
The poem is written in quatrains of rhyming lines of sixteen syllables, with an accentuation dividing the lines into halves . 3 It is meant to be sung to the "Davidic" harp (1574), which may have come to the Caucasus with the Jews of the Babylonish Captivity. In the remoter parts of the country, minstrels may perhaps even now be heard chanting the story of Tariel.
The following transliteration of a quatrain will give an idea of the verse, and may help to remove from the language the reproach cast upon it by some writers who had not even an elementary acquaintance with it:
The Europeans who have heard of Georgian think it a cacophonous assemblage of consonants with many gutturals and a sparing use of vowels. It is true, indeed, that groups of consonants repellent to a Western eye and ear are frequently found, and herein lies the vigour of the language. A modern Turkish poet addresses a Georgian lady thus: "O thou whose speech is like a lion's roar!" This, however, is but one phonetic aspect of a tongue which in its love lyrics and lullabies can be as soft and caressing as Italian, ("sweet-sounding Georgian," 692) in its rhetorical and philosophic passages as sonorous and dignified as Castilian. Georgian has been a highly-developed literary language from the dawn of the Christian era, and students of cuneiform are engaged in the task of tracing it back to the earliest periods of history; it has a vocabulary so rich, a flexibility so great, that it renders metaphysical Greek works not only word for word, but sometimes syllable by syllable. In the monastery of Petritzos, now called Bachkovo, in the Rhodope, founded, or renovated, by Georgians in 1083, and still bearing traces of their occupation, was a philosophic seminary where many Neo-Platonist and other translations were made. One of the monks, John Petritzi, in the late eleventh or early twelfth century, wrote thus: "In the translation of difficult speculative and philosophic works I consider myself obliged to apply all possible simplicity, and follow the peculiarities of the language (of the original) to the utmost." In commenting
on this passage, Professor Marr 1 writes: "John Petritzi translated not only ideas, but words, even words existing in the Georgian language: terms do not satisfy him unless they cover the original etymologically, or even in some cases by the number of their syllables. . . . To him we owe a ready-made philosophic terminology in the Georgian language, marvellously exact and concisely rendering by Georgian roots all those terms which in European languages are borrowed from Greek and Latin."
It was such a language that Rust’haveli used, with a perfection of art which makes a foreign student at first despair of perceiving even the outline of the story. A quatrain may have four quadrisyllabic endings apparently identical (e.g., asadages, 136), and no little knowledge and thought are needed to arrive at the sense in which each of them is to be taken. The beginner is occasionally tempted to believe that the poem is rather music than narrative, that it aims more at inspiring moods than speaking clearly to the intelligence; it is only after some labour that the logical unity of the fable is grasped.
Some controversy has arisen as to the dramatic story which forms the groundwork of the epic, and not a few inkhorns have been emptied by commentators on the passages, "This Persian tale now done into Georgian" (16) and "I, Rust’haveli, have composed this work by my art" (15). It may here suffice to say that no trace of such a Persian story has yet been discovered; and even if it were found, our author's fame would thereby suffer no more than Shakespeare's does from Luigi da Porto's novel. Perhaps Rust’haveli used a pre-existing fable; this, at least, seems the simplest way of accounting for the episode of Avt’handil's intrigue with P’hatman, which is treated with distaste, though it serves to throw a brighter light on Tariel as the faultless lover compared with his sworn brother the tactful, heroic man of the world, and the poet would hardly have invented it, or even used it, unless it had
been indispensable in the working out of the plot. It is true that nearly all the characters have Persian names--perhaps none but Tariel, T’hinat’hin, Davar, and Avt’handil are originally Georgian (and the last is doubtful)--and a large number of Persian words are used 1; but this seems to be due partly to a desire of avoiding the appearance of hinting at current events, and partly to a fashion of the time, the natural result of literary sympathies between two neighbouring cultured peoples. There is something to be said in favour of Professor Khakhanov's theory, 2 that the folk ballads about Tariel and Avt’handil, of which variants are still sung, especially by the mountaineers, were part of the popular literature before the T’hamaran age; while the historical fact of the great queen's elevation to the throne during her father's lifetime was used as a preface to the story.
There is a point to which attention might be given: In Arabic literature one of the earliest forms is that of the eulogy in brief epigrammatic verse. Now, in The Man in the Panther's Skin we find a remarkably frequent use of the word keba (praise); in a score of quatrains 3 keba occurs; we also meet with the Arabic word khotba (3, 1009, 1025) in approximately the same sense, and there is one reference to a professional eulogist, makebi catzi (1527); finally, one passage (1574) says the poem is made up out of kebani (eulogies). It is for scholars to inquire into the matter, and see whether the numerous kebani may not be more ancient than the poem, and perhaps the determinant factor in the choice of the verse form (called shairi); whether, in fact, Rust’haveli did not take from oral tradition certain short verses uniform in their prosody, and weave his work round them after their pattern. In the Athos manuscript of the Georgian Bible, copied in A.D. 978
for the great warrior-monk T’hornici from an earlier translation, the "Song of Songs" is Keba Kebat’ha; this seems to show that in ancient Georgia the keba, or eulogy, was the poem par excellence. 1
The English translation endeavours to present the author's ideas and expressions with such fidelity that it may be of use to those who wish to read the original. This version was begun in Kent in 1891, and the first draft was completed at Kertch on November 1, 1898; but in spite of frequent revision and correction, carried on till December, 1909, it is imperfect, and the translator estimated that ten more years of study at least would be required to bring it to its final shape. Nevertheless, as it stands it is a contribution to Georgian studies in Europe, a steppingstone to help others in a difficult task. It is believed that several attempted literal translations into Russian (including one by the late M. Poltoratzky), and one into French (by M. Meunargia), exist, but the translator never saw them. Since her death an attempt has been made to publish a Russian version in a Tiflis newspaper, but the public received it so ill that the editor was, unfortunately, compelled to desist. Herr Arthur Leist's metrical paraphrase in German (Der Mann im Tigerfelle, Dresden and Leipzig, no date) gives an excellent summary of the poem, and is recommended to readers. Through the corruption of the text and the lack of critical editions and such aids, lexicographic, grammatical, philological, historical, as readers of other great literatures enjoy, there are many passages which seem incapable of satisfactory interpretation; these are rendered as literally as possible. It is a pleasing duty to set down here an acknowledgment of the generous assistance given in preparing this work for the press; so many have collaborated that it is impossible to mention them individually, but special thanks are due to M. Michel Tseret’heli for reading through the whole
manuscript, and to Professor Nicholas Marr, of the University of St. Petersburg, who has supplied additional material, and has permitted the publication, in the Appendix, of an English version of his Russian rendering of the obscure introductory and concluding quatrains, and of other passages. Helpers will find sufficient recompense in the thought that they are co-workers with one who loved Rust’haveli and Georgia.
Last of all, this book, designed to be the translator's chief work, should contain some notice of her life. She was born in London on November 26, 1869; died at Bucharest on December 7, 1909; and was buried at Sevenoaks. She began the study of Georgian, as her learned predecessor, M.-F. Brosset, had done, with an alphabet and a Gospel, and when she had made some progress it was his grammar and dictionary she first used; as a girl of twenty she chose this as the idea of her life. She was already equipped with a sound education, and during her varied, busy career she not only used French, German, Italian, Russian, and Roumanian in the daily concerns of the household and the amenities of social intercourse, but applied herself to those tongues and their literatures. From early womanhood she spent nearly all her time abroad--in Italy, France, and North Africa, comparatively short periods; in Hayti over a year; in Roumania three years; in various parts of the Russian dominions about ten years. Her published works are--Georgian Folk-Tales; London, 1894 (D. Nutt). The Hermit, a legend by Prince Ilia Chavchavadze (in verse); London, 1895 (B. Quaritch). Life of St. Nino; Oxford, 1900 (Clarendon Press). She left The Man in the Panther's Skin and other translations in manuscript.
A letter to Ilia Chavchavadze, asking permission to translate The Hermit, was printed in his newspaper Iveria of September 8 (O.S.), 1894, as a model of style, and led to a revival of interest in their language and literature among the younger generation. On her arrival in Transcaucasia in December, 1894, she was received
with enthusiasm, and her travels during a second visit, in 1896, brought her into touch with every class of the people. She formed many lasting friendships, and kept up a large correspondence in the Georgian language. There is hardly a household in the Western Caucasus where her name is unknown. Others, have studied the language, literature, and history, of Georgia; she in addition felt an affection for the nation, 1 kept herself informed of all that concerned its welfare, and was sometimes able unobtrusively to do good work for it. To the less fortunate of her own countrywomen, with whom she had much opportunity of acquaintance abroad, she was a sincere friend and comforter; her loss was deplored even by many who knew her but slightly, for, though fragile and weak of body, she never spared herself in her efforts for others. Her intimates found in her a mastery of the arts that make an English home, subtle humour, strength of mind, and warmth of heart. Her reticence about her own achievements was such that few of those who prized her social charm and domestic virtues were aware that her leisure was devoted to study. She calmly, cheerfully, and helpfully faced pestilence, war, and other dangers; at three successive places of residence--Port-au-Prince (1902), St. Petersburg (1905), Bucharest (1907)--she heard cannon fired in civil strife, and she shared the perils, joys, and sorrows, of the peoples among whom she lived. In accordance with a wish she had frequently expressed, the nucleus of a fund for the encouragement of Georgian studies has been formed at Oxford, and her books and manuscripts are being transferred to the Bodleian Library.
iii:1 Professor Marr (t. xii., p. liv), points out that, while Georgian religious poetry was influenced by Byzantium, the secular poetry was closely akin to Iranic Islam; in the T’hamaran age the currents were distinctly apart, but later the two streams united.
iii:2 M. Tamarati, L’Église Géorgienne, Rome, 1910 (ch. xiv.-xvi.); and original documents (Latin, French, Italian) in his Istoria Catholicobisca, Tiflis, 1902 (pp. 563-836).
v:1 Marr, Ioann Petritzki, St. Petersburg, 1902, p. 61.
viii:2 Professor Marr thinks the Odes of the T’hamaran age, of which he recently published a scholarly edition (vide Bibliography), are by Rust’haveli.
ix:1 Journal of Biblical Literature, Boston, 1894, p. 179; translated from Professor Tsagareli's Svyedeniya. The portrait has been defaced.
ix:2 Professor Khakhanov, Ocherki, ii. 247, 248; E. T’haqaishvili, Opisanie rukopisei, t. ii. 57, 393, 395, 468, 554-592.
ix:3 A Sinai manuscript, apparently of the tenth century, contains a hymn for Christmas in honour of the B.V.M., written in rhymed lines of sixteen feet; it is not, however, divided into quatrains (Marr, t. xii., p. liv).
xi:1 Ioann Petritzki, p. 35.
xii:1 In the footnotes, words believed to be of Arabic and Persian origin are marked "A." and "P."
xii:2 Ocherki, ii. 252-255; but Professor Marr thinks the ballads are based on the epic.
xii:3 5, 46, 68, 144, 438, 450, 595, 603, 711, 754, 881, 968, 983, 1027, 1073, 1410, 1430, 1435, 1512, 1524, 1574.
xiii:1 Professor Tsagareli has published the Athos text of the "Song of Songs" in his Svyedeniya o pamyatnikakh (St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences).
xv:1 Cf. E. S. T’haqaishvili's oration at Tiflis on January 24 (O.S.), 1911, reported in T’hemi, No. 4, of January 31 (O.S.), 1911.