15 May 2003, 01:22

Rustaveli, Shota

Georgian poet of 12th century, author of the epic Warrior in Tiger Skin (another variant of the title's translation - Warrior in Snow-Leopard Skin).

Very little reliable biographic data about Rustaveli are extant. Even the years of birth and death of the poet are unknown. The main data source is the prologue to the epic, dedicated to Queen Tamara (ruled in 1184-1207) and her co-ruler and husband David Soslani. Thus, the epic (which is not Rustaveli's first work) was created not earlier than the late 1180s and not later than the first decade of the 13th century. In the prologue, it is mentioned twice that the epic's author is Rustaveli (or: Rustveli), which means "owner of the Rustavi estate" or "native of Rustavi". According to some data, Rustaveli completed his education in Greece. Rustaveli is considered to be the state treasurer of Queen Tamara; his signature on one of the acts dated 1190 is extant. Rustaveli also restored and painted the Georgian monastery of Sacred Cross in Jerusalem. According to a legend, he was hopelessly in love with his sovereign lady and finished his life in a cell in this monastery. A fresco has been detected on one of the columns of the monastery; at scientists' assumption, it depicts Rustaveli.

Warrior in Tiger Skin is one of the greatest epics of the world's literature. The epic contains a total of 1637 verses, 16 syllables in each verse. It has reached us in multiple manuscripts, with a large quantity of interpolations and addenda and a sequel known as Omaniani. The reason for the extinction of the ancient manuscripts of the epic close to the date of its creation is the large number of intrusions of foreign troops into Georgia and disasters associated with it, as well as the fact that the poem was persecuted by the clergy as a laic composition opposing the Christian humility.

There exist over 50 editions of the epic in Georgian. The first edition under the editorship of Vakhtang the Sixth was published in Tbilisi in 1712. The epic has been translated into the languages of many nations of the former USSR and into foreign languages. There are five complete translations of the epic into Russian (authored by: K.D. Balmont, P.A. Petrenko, G. Tsagareli, S. Nutsubidze, and N.A. Zabolotsky).

The question where Rustaveli borrowed a plot for his epic is still unanswered as well. There are three opinions expressed in the literature: the first is based on the words of Rustaveli himself, who claims in 16th verse of his epic that "he found a Persian story and versified it like a big pearl passing from hands to hands"; however, a Persian original has never been found. The second opinion was first expressed by professor D.I. Chubinov, who proves that Rustaveli did not borrow the plot of Snow-Leopard Skin from Oriental writers; it was created by himself and directed at glorification of Queen Tamara. The third opinion belongs to A. Khakhanov: comparing Rustaveli's poems with the folk songs about Tariel, he supposed that the artificial epic of 12th century has a base in folk poetry, similar to how Faust and Hamlet go back to medieval folk traditions. Rustaveli used a folk saga to depict a great history epoch.

The characters are representatives of many nations, including invented ones. Skillfully using the approaches of artistic masking, Rustaveli truthfully depicts Georgia's realities contemporary to him. The epic combines two basic narrative cycles: an Indian one - Tariel and Nestan-Daredjan line, and Arabian - Avtandil and Tinatin line. The deep psychological portrayal of the characters and depiction of the inner nature of the events are the basic features of Rustaveli's innovations. He created a gallery of live, sanguineous, plastic temperaments; his characters are self-denying, fearless strugglers for the triumph of justice and happiness; they are generalized, typified images of the progressive people of 12th-century feudal Georgia. The epic's main female character, benevolent and meek Nestan-Daredjan, is possessed with the spirit of protest when she finds out that she is to expect a forced marriage. The heroine firmly endures the incarceration in Kadjet fortress, which is a symbol of tyranny, barbarity, and the earth's darkness. The three blood brother warriors' struggle for Nestan's liberation ends victoriously. The optimistic idea of the justice prevailing over the lawlessness and good over evil is in the ground of the epic: a human should dare - he can reach the complete happiness on the earth.

Rustaveli's epic is the enthusiastic anthem to a free, earthly, pure, and sublime love. The poet denounces rudely sensuous, carnally vile love. The epic brightly expresses the idea of worshipping a woman, poetically grounds the possibility of moral and intellectual equality of a man and a woman.

The epic is penetrated with the patriotism idea. Rustaveli's political ideal was a united, strong, monocracy state headed by an enlightened and human czar. The poet denounces feudal faction and separatist tendencies of the noblemen and appreciates sensible life that a noble person deserves. His heroes are not afraid of the death. The poet stigmatizes the pseudo-knights, fainthearted mock-warriors, dastard, betrayers, perjurers, flatterers, and hypocrites. He glorifies the knightly bravery and valor, courage and daring.

The Warrior in Tiger Skin unquestionable bears a certain resemblance to Western-European knight novels and Eastern epico-dramatic poems of the Middle Ages; however, on the whole, Rustaveli took his own path. As a great humanist, in order to counterweight the church ascetic morals, he proclaims personal freedom, freedom of thoughts and emotions, the human life not predestined by the divine intent. Rustaveli incarnated the ideals and aspirations of his nation, but his is far from the national limitedness. The world of his ideas is of pan-civilization important. The poet had forestalled the humanistic ideas of the early Renaissance with his freed thoughts.

Having absorbed the riches of the ancient Georgian written culture and simultaneously following the best of the folkloric traditions, Rustaveli developed and elevated the entire Georgian poetry. The epic is written in an elegant, light, musically melodious verse called shairi. Rustaveli was the trendsetter and unexcelled master of this verse. Rustaveli's poetic speech is characterized with metaphors and aphorisms. The lyric preludes and epistles graphically frame the plot and animate the narration without breaking the dynamism of the action. Rustaveli was the founder of the new Georgian literary language.

Shota Rustaveli's name is given to Georgian Drama Theater, Tbilisi Theater Institute, and Scientific Institute of Georgian Literature of the Georgian Academy of Sciences.

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