A Word on Shot'ha Rust'hveli
(N.B. - due to problem of the transcription/transliteration of the Georgian words, personal names as well as the title of Rustaveli's epic poem in this article differ from the generally accepted ones, i.e. Shot'ha Rust'hveli instead of Shota Rustaveli or "Knight in Tiger's Skin" instead of "Knight in Panther's Skin". A.M.)
The Knight in the Tiger Skin by Shot'ha Rust'hveli is recognized as one of the greatest works to have been created by human genius. Eight centuries separate us from the author of this immortal epic, but even today its life-affirming passion, shining humanity and heroic spirit, the ideas of patriotism and internationalism that it embodies and the elevated human feelings and moral ideals it expresses link this great literary monument of the distant past with the spiritual world of all freedom-loving peoples.
Rust'hveli's epic has become part of the heritage of all mankind. No less than the people for whom it was written, Europeans and Asians, Americans and Africans can gain from this work something more than a romantic, knightly tale brilliantly told in verse. This is so due above all to the fact that in the past 100 years Rust'hveli's immortal epic has been translated into many world languages.
For centuries Rust'hveli's work, the product of an unknown world and written in a still unstudied tongue, survived only in the native land of the poet, south of the Caucasus mountains in the gorges of the rivers Chorokhi, Rioni, Kura and Alazani.
For world culture the appearance of The Knight in the Tiger Skin was akin to a major archaeological discovery. The Russian public figure, Yevgeny Bolkhovitinov, was the first person of the larger world to take note of this priceless treasure. Writing in 1802, he observed enthusiastically of the poem that “the scenes of action resemble those of Ariosto's poem Orlando Furioso, but the beauty, the originality of the pictures, the naturalness of the ideas and sensations are Ossianic”.
The Knight in the Tiger Skin was written on the eve of the fatal catastrophe which befell Georgia in the “golden age” of its history, when this small but powerful feudal country stood at the height of its political, economic and spiritual renaissance. Scarcely had the book appeared than Georgia was for many centuries torn from the outside world, its once famed culture known only to very few.
Even in the 19th century, although Rust'hveli's epic had been noted and many had tried to bring it, if only in part, to the knowledge of the world, The Knight in the Tiger Skin remained an enigma to the foreign reader. It was only at the turn of the century that the veil concealing the work was drawn aside.
“As Homer is Greece, Dante Italy, Shakespeare England and Calderon and Cervantes Spain, so Rust'hveli is Georgia. ...A people, if it is great, will create song and carry in its bosom a world poet. Such a monarch of the ages, still unknown to Russians, was Georgia's chosen one, Shot'ha Rust'hveli, who in the 12th century gave his motherland its banner and call – ‘Vephistkaosani’- Wearer of the Snow-Leopard's Skin. This is the best poem about love ever written in Europe, a rainbow of love, a fiery bridge linking heaven and earth.”
These words belong to the poet Konstantin Balmont, who translated The Knight in the Tiger Skin into Russian. He recalls his first encounter with Rust'hveli thus: “I first became acquainted with Rust'hveli amid the expanses of the ocean, not far from the Canary Islands, on an English ship bearing the name of Athene, beautiful goddess of wisdom. On board I met Oliver Wardrop, who gave me an English translation of The Snow-Leopard Skin, of which he had a proof copy, to read. The translation had been done with great affection by his sister, Marjory Scott Wardrop. To touch the Georgian rose amid the immensity of the ocean dawns, with the kindly complicity of Sun, Sea, the Stars, friendship and love, of wild water-spouts and fierce storms, produced an impression which I shall never forget. “
Balmont's translation, the first full and truly poetic rendering of the work, began to appear as early as 1916 in magazine instalments.
The English writer Marjory Scott Wardrop visited Georgia in the 1890s. There she met the outstanding Georgian poet and public figure, Illya Chavchavadze, who introduced her to Rust'hveli's poem. Filled with admiration for the work, she threw herself into study of the Georgian language and in 1912 Shot'ha Rust'hveli was brought to English readers in a prose translation. Thus this ancient Georgian poem appeared almost simultanenusly in two world languages.
In discussing The Knight in the Tiger Skin we must inevitably begin by discussing its author. Who was Shot 'ha Rust 'hveli ? Do Georgian historical writings contain any mention of him ?
The earliest references to Georgia and the Georgian people are to be found in Herodotus, “the father of history”. Still earlier, Homer mentions a Georgian tribe, the Khalibi, while writing of the Trojan war. Descriptions of the state of Iberia and ancient Colchis are contained in the writings of Strabo and many Greco-Roman authors.
The age of Rust'hveli was, in world history, the time when the future captains Dzhebe and Subetey were riding and shooting beneath the burning sun of Central Asia, preparing for the wars to come. Bloody clouds were gathering in the incandescent skies of Mongolia; in the West the third crusade was raging and the terrible Saladin, having defeated the knights of Europe, was entering Jerusalem.
Both the political and spiritual future of Georgia and the life of Rust'hveli himself were bound up with these important parallel processes.
But in the meantime, the “Golden Age” reigned in Rust'hveli's homeland. On the throne sat T'hamar (1184-1213), a queen famed for her intelligence and beauty. Her state was united and strong, resting on the firm foundations, which her great forebear, David Aghmashenebeli (the Builder) (1089-1125), had laid. David had taken advantage of the crusades to expel the Arabs and Turks from his country after 300 years of domination.
Georgia's renaissance was closely linked to both Western and Eastern culture. It was at this time that “Iranian literature met the literature of the North, of Europe, that Leili met Isolda, Buddha the legend of Ahasuerus. Georgia was the land, where these two cultural streams, rushing towards each other, met. The focal point of this meeting, a man endowed with a remarkable lyrical gift, intelligence and passion, was Rust'hveli” (Nikolai Tikhouov).
History has no precise facts for us about the great Georgian poet, but The Knight in the Tiger Skin itself and a handful of other historical and literary documents now at our disposal make it possible to form a definite picture of the poet's personality and of the times in which his work of genius was created.
Shot'ha Rust'hveli's life and the time of creation of his poem exactly coincide, according to the events described in it, with the era of Queen T'hamar , down to the dynastic conflicts that reflected contemporary clashes at court.
It is fortunate that the author refers to himself more than once in his poem, introducing himself as Rust'hveli. “I, Rust'hveli, indited a poem. ... Hitherto the tale has been told as a tale; now is it a pearl of measured poesy. “
Of T'hamar the poet writes: “By shedding tears of blood we praise Queen T'hamar, whose praises I, not iIl- chosen, have told forth.” The lines: “I, Rust'hveli, have composed this work by the folly of my art,” and “I am sick of love, and for me there is no cure from anywhere”, clearly indicate the poet's unspoken love for the queen. Some Georgian scholars of Rust'hveli consider that the amatory conflict conveyed in the poem reflects the personal relations of poet and queen and it is possible that isolated coincidences occur, but we lack the corresponding historical and biographical documents to conclusively prove this.
In fact, we possess no precise historical information on Rust'hveli's character. However, the life of Queen T'hamar is presented relatively fully in ancient Georgian historical writings (“Kartlis tskhovreba”) and, in particular, in the stories by “Basil”, the queen's personal historian and court tutor.
Several people bearing the name Shot'ha appear in historical sources of the 12th and 13th centuries and in ancient deeds. Could it be that one of them is the poet ? Georgian scholars have long investigated this question, settling now on one, now on another Shot'ha as the author of The Knight in the Tiger Skin. (It is only since the examination of the Jerusalem fresco depicting Shot'ha that this dispute may, to a certain extent, be considered settled.) Who, then, was Shot 'ha, the poet from Rustavi ?
Two settlements in Georgia have laid claim to the poet. One lies twenty kilometres from Tbilisi, Georgia's capital, and was known throughout for its metallurgical industry. Eight centuries ago this Rustavi was a large administrative, economic and cultural centre in the kingdom of Georgia.
In 1265 the town was utterly destroyed by the Mongols. The builders of modern Rustavi were confronted by a striking sight while clearing a section of the ancient ruins: the headless skeleton of a young girl separated by some metres from her skull. An axe was in the girl's hands. She had evidently been defending herself from an invading Mongol soldier, who beheaded her with his sword. Beside the girl’s skeleton the remains of her devoted dog were found. On that day, 700 years ago, the Mongols also beheaded the town which considers itself the birthplace of Shot'ha Rust'hveli.
The second Rustavi is a small village in the south of Georgia, on the border with Turkey. This part of the country is sometimes referred to as Meskhetia.
The cliff town of Vardzia, which dates from the l2th century, is located here. This cave complex served both religious and secular purposes and had remarkable frescoes depicting Queen T'hamar and members of her family. Here, too, are found the multi-level Van Caves, cut in the l3th century, and the fortress of T'hmogvi, birthplace of Sargis T'hmogveli, author of the Dilarget'hiani, who is mentioned in The Knight in the Tiger Skin. The fortress of Khertvisi and many other historical monuments, which played a major role in the political and cultural life of ancient Georgia are also located here. Meskhetia gave Georgia's culture many outstanding figures, writers, scholars, artists and philosophers. Scholars confirm that the name Shot'ha was particularly common in this province in the 10th, 11th and l2th centuries.
According to tradition Shot'ha Rust'hveli came from this corner of southern Georgia and many scholars now consider that Shot'ha Rust'hveli was a Meskh from Rustavi in Meskhetia. But which of the Shot'has mentioned in historical sources was the poet ? The majority of Georgian literary sources name the author of the poem as Shot'ha, treasurer of the court of Queen T'hamar.
Rust'hveli figures in popular tradition as a minister of the queen. He is supposed to have been educated first in Georgia, at the academies of Gelati or Ikalto, and then in Athens or on Mount Olympus, where many Georgians studied at that time. The poet became a master of Greek, Arabic and Persian and gained an intimate knowledge of the literature and philosophy of these countries before receiving a high post at the court of Queen T'hamar.
Indeed, his poem indicates that Rust'hveli was well read in the ancient philosophers, including Heraclitus and Empedocles; however, many Georgian scholars now assert that the principal source of his ideas was the writings of such Georgian thinkers as Petrus the Iberian, Ioane Laza, Ioane Moskh (Meskh), Yefrem Mtsyre and Ioane Petritsi, who radically revised the ideas of the ancients.
Academician N. Y. Marr consistently advanced the view that Georgians of the 10th and 11th centuries were studying the same problems which were occupying the most advanced minds in Christian countries of West and East during the period and that they were ahead of Europe inasmuch as they were able to respond before anyone else to the new philosophical trends and possessed a model apparatus of philosophical criticism for the time.
According to the same sources and to popular tradition Shot'ha Rust'hveli travelled widely - as is also evident from The Knight in the Tiger Skin - journeying in his old age to Palestine, there in Jerusalem to die. Georgian scholars now have all the necessary documents to prove conclusively that Rust'hveli was minister of finance at the court of Queen T'hamar.
It is known that as early as the 5th century Georgians founded the Monastery of the Cross in Palestine. For twelve hundred years they carried out a great educational and cultural mission from this monastery until it was captured by the Greeks in the 17th century.
There, in the course of the centuries, a history of the monastery was written and information was compiled on its leading figures, the names of whom were inscribed in a “Memorial Book”. Hundreds of volumes in Georgian, Greek and other languages used at that time by Georgians in Palestine, including the “Memorial Book” and the church calendars, passed into the possession of the Greek church and are now kept in the library of the Greek patriarch in Jerusalem.
Georgian scholars have at their disposal only a number of microfilms, among them copies of the church calendars. One of these microfilms states: “On this Monday the funeral mass of the treasurer, Shot'ha, is to take place.” This entry relates to the first quarter of the 13th century .
For many centuries scholars in the poet's homeland knew nothing of this. In the middle of the 18th century the Georgian public figure, Timote Gabashvili, visited Georgian antiquities in Palestine, among them the Monastery of the Cross in Jerusalem. Gabashvili described his travels in a book entitled A Journey, in which the following reference to the Monastery of the Cross occurs:
“Below the cupola the columns have been renovated and painted . . . by the treasurer, Shot'ha Rust'hveli, who is himself depicted there as an old man.” Gabashvili conjectured that Shot'ha the treasurer must have been the poet, Shot'ha Rust'hveli. He based his supposition that Rust'hveli was a minister of finance on the traditional legends of the people.
Who destroyed the cupola and columns of the monastery, restored and painted with the assistance of Shot'ha Rust'hveli, and when did this happen ?
The Monastery of the Cross was destroyed and rebuilt, repaired and reconstructed several times in the course of its history. It may be assumed that Shot'ha Rust'hveli arrived in Palestine after the destruction and capture of Jerusalem by the Egyptian sultan, Saladin, during the third crusade. Georgian scholars possess a document written by the Arab historian, Ibn-Sheded, which states that when in 1187 Saladin took Jerusalem, the Monastery of the Cross also fell to him. Queen T'hamar of Georgia offered a ransom of 200,000 dinars for the cloister. Some researchers speculate that the queen sent her minister of finance to Jerusalem on this mission.
Rust'hveli took part in restoring the walls and columns of the Georgian cloister in Palestine, which had been destroyed by Saladin. As a mark of gratitude, Shot'ha himself was depicted on one of the columns of the monastery. Rust'hveli was portrayed in secular dress, kneeling beside St. John Damascene, the great medieval Christian poet, and Maxim the Confessor, who developed Christian philosophy and theology on the basis of neo-Platonism. Of interest here is the fact that in the 7th century Maxim the Confessor opened up the way to the teachings of Dionysius the Areopagite, who was considered a neo-Platonist in the Middle Ages, although he was an orthodox Christian. Dionysius is referred to in The Knight in the Tiger Skin as “Dionos”; his thinking is entirely Christian and philosophical and, Georgian scholars assert, it is this view of the world that was the source of Rust'hveli's poem. The poet may have personally chosen a place for this fresco between these two saints.
All these facts have become known only in recent years, since Georgian scholars obtained a portrait of Shot'ha from Palestine, for the fresco of Rust'hveli about which Timote Gabashvili wrote in the mid-18th century and which was described by the members of a scientific expedition in the 19th century disappeared at the end of the last century. Georgian scholars arriving in Palestine failed to find it. How many secrets were buried together with the portrait! Indeed, everything that has been written above has come to light only since the rediscovery of the fresco. Georgian travellers to Palestine at the turn of the century sadly reported that the whereabouts of the portrait were unknown. The fresco seemed, indeed, to have been irrevocably lost.
This problem began to concern me fifteen years ago, when the idea was conceived of celebrating Rust'hveli's jubilee. I resolved to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding the Rust'hveli portrait in Palestine.
Our expedition, which consisted of Akaky Shanidze and Georgy Tsereteli, both members of the Georgian Academy of Sciences, and myself, arrived in Palestine in the autumn of 1959. I have described the scholarly work performed by the expedition in detail in Palestinian Diary and interested readers may refer to this. I shall confine myself here to noting that after careful investigation we succeeded in discovering the Rust'hveli portrait which, fortunately, had been neither erased nor damaged, but was hidden beneath a thick layer of black paint. From the 17th century on, Greek church figures had systematically resorted to actions of this kind to wipe out every distinctively “national” trace from the old Georgian monastery. We cleaned this fresco, which bears the inscription “Rust'hveli”, and brought a copy of it back to Georgia. The Palestine fresco is the most valuable biographical document bearing on the great Georgian poet and thinker that we possess today. The portrait and the J erusalem church calendar helped to conclusively prove that the poet Shot'ha Rust'hveli and the treasurer Shot'ha mentioned in Georgian historical sources and popular legends are one and the same person.
The original of The Knight in the Tiger Skin has been lost. It may have been reduced to ashes in 1225, when the ferocious Djalal-ad-Din put Tbilisi to the torch, or later, when the Mongols burned Christian manuscripts in the squares of the city. It could have been torn to shreds during raids by Persians and Turks. During that dark period much was destroyed and lost in Georgia.
“Mose Khoneli praised Amiran, son of Daredjan; Shavt'heli, whose poem they admired, praised Abdul-Mesia; Sargis T'hmogveli, the unwearying-tongued praised Dilarget'h,” Rust'hveli tells his readers. Where are the Abdul-Mesia, the Dilarget'hiani and many other works now? They have been swallowed up by the black waves of history. Even today we cannot find these literary monuments and traces of them survive only in folklore, in the form of separate fragments, like magnificent ruins of the architectural monuments which are scattered the length of Georgia. It is a cause for great joy that The Knight in the Tiger Skin passed through flame intact.
The most ancient manuscript of Rust'hveli's immortal work extant dates from 1646. A number of earlier records have been preserved in the form of fragments, dating from the 15th century .One such fragment, consisting of only a few lines, was discovered recently during the comprehensive excavation and study of the Van Caves. An inscription by the hand of poetess Anna Rcheulishvili was found on a rock. She refers to her sufferings in words from The Knight in the Tiger Skin: “I am sitting in a castle so lofty that eyes can scarce see the ground.”
As a result of assiduous research work more than 150 manuscripts of The Knight in the Tiger Skin have been discovered and these are now kept in Soviet libraries. But not all these manuscripts are suitable for scholarly purposes.
The Knight in the Tiger Skin was first published in 1712 at the initiative and under the editorship of King Vakhtang, founder of the Georgian printing press. Vakhtang had apparently studied ancient manuscripts of the poem, of which far more existed in his time than now and which evidently dated from earlier period. On the basis of these manuscripts he produced a scholarly edition of the poem.
In the absence of the original the text of The Knight in the Tiger Skin underwent constant changes at the hands of copyists over the centuries. Many “embellishers” inserted new passages into the poem at will or in accordance with the wishes of those who ordered copies from them. In the 16th century a revival began in Georgian culture and literature and the popularity and influence of The Knight in Tiger Skin grew immeasurably. Copyists of the poem made various changes to the plot, while interpolators were revising the poem to bring it ideologically into line with the teachings of the Christian religion. For these reasons the primary text of the poem is distorted in many manuscripts. In subsequent centuries the poem was increasingly “enriched”. The first editor of Rust'hveli's epic had much to do in order to remove obvious insertions from the text and “turn obscurity into clarity”.
Illya Chavchavadze, prominent Georgian writer and public figure of the 19th century, did a great deal to discover the genuine text of the poem. However, even today the process of restoring the text to its definitive form is still continuing. The Georgian people bore its beloved work- The Knight in the Tiger Skin- through the flames of the ages, like “a Banner and a Call”, whose creator, “conducting his lover heroes through all kinds of trials, made them shine in life with such glory that they could never die. Herein lies the advantage of the Georgian genius over his European contemporaries and later poets, just as the Indian, Kalidasa, stands above geniuses of the drama thanks to his Sakuntafa. Here, after all, there is no devilish enchantment of death, but a full harmony of happiness, higher and more perfect than of Europe's geniuses. ..” (Konstantin Balmont). The people felt the spirit and philosophical essence of the poem-felt it and recognised in it the most precious contribution to its spiritual treasure-house. Generations of Georgians have worked and defended their land under this banner and in response to this call : “What is worse than a man in the fight with a frowning face, shirking, affrighted and thinking of death ? In what is a cowardly man better than a woman weaving a web! It is better to get glory than all goods !”
It is characteristic that people were and still are to be found in the inaccessible mountains of Georgia who know all 1,500 verses of Rust'hveli's poem by heart. Worthy of note, too, is the fact that for many centuries The Knight in the Tiger Skin was considered a bride's most valuable dowry. Every Georgian kept a copy of the poem beside his bed, together with the Gospels. Foreign travellers even considered that Georgians had two gods-Christ and Rust'hveli. The priests could not forgive the poet for this and in the centuries to come persecution began of the man whose portrait had, in his lifetime, adorned Christianity's most holy place-the Monastery of the Cross in Jerusalem. According to some sources, in the 18th century almost the entire first edition of his poem was thrown into the Kura River by clerics.
That the love story contained in the poem unfolds in Moslem rather than Christian countries, principally in Arabia and India, was also not to the liking of churchmen. But whatever the forces opposed to it, The Knight in the Tiger Skin survived triumphantly through the centuries and is as popular today as it has ever been.
Rust 'hveli considered love the principal sign of human nature and humanity. His immortal poem is a hymn of love and its dominant note, struck by Rust'hveli with characteristic brevity and philosophical profundity, is the eternal truth that “only love exalts us”.
Let us turn our gaze to the cherished pages of The Knight in the Tiger Skin. But first we must clarify, if only in the most general terms, the soil from which the poem sprang, the spiritual atmosphere in which it flowered. Humanistic ideals and aspirations pervaded Georgia's culture in the age of Rust'hveli. Indeed, if one takes in the whole sweep of the period, one might form the impression that the forces creating Georgian culture before Rust'hveli had, as it were, hastened to erect the walls of this magnificent building so that the poet could crown it with a splendid dome, only a few decades before the fatal catastrophe that broke over his land.
The cultural advance in Georgia was remarkable for the pace of its development, its richness and creative tension. Following the adoption of Christianity, Georgia succeeded in creating more in the period between the 4th and the l2th centuries, amid unending defensive wars and under the constant threat of destruction, than could have been conceived of in so short a span of time. “During my trips to Georgia I saw the monuments of Georgian architecture, frescoes, etc.,” Alexei Tolstoy wrote. “I must say that when I met with these treasures of the 1Oth and 11th centuries I was convinced that Georgia had created all the prerequisites for the Renaissance and had produced works equal to those of Giotto two centuries before Giotto.”
The entire life of the Georgian people was filled with tireless seekings in the field of culture, and especially in that of belles-lettres. In the very first hagiographical works and soon thereafter in religious poetry and historical and philosophical writings as well, clear signs of an interest in man, in his total spiritual and physical being, emerged. Delight in man's beauty, love, which elevates him, and his search for truth began to come thematically to the fore.
Profound knowledge of the works of Aristotle and Plato revealed by Georgian literature of the time was not fortuitous; nor was the emergence in the 5th century, at the heart of religious literature, of highly developed belles-lettres, written in a rich literary language. Georgian culture in the 12th century was distinguished by particular variety and richness. The kingdom's two academies - Gelati and Ikalto -offered their students a general education while also serving as major centres of science and philosophy.
Moreover, as I have already noted, a lofty synthesis of Western and Eastern culture was brought about in Georgia by virtue of its geographical position. All this formed the foundation and walls of the magnificent edifice which would have remained incomplete had not Georgia produced Rust'hveli.
Rust'hveli accomplished and expressed with great power that elevated human ideal of which the medieval world-the medieval world alone could only dream. He raised man to heights inaccessible to his own and subsequent times.
The Gordian knot which medieval thinking, whether religious, philosophical or artistic, was unable to unravel is known to all. This was the gulf that had formed in knowledge between God and the real world, between creator and created. The best minds of the Middle Ages laboured in vain to find the solution to this mystery, but their conclusion was always the same: the deity alone is real, while the created world is only an appearance, an abode of evil and the possession of Satan. Mankind gazed with fascination into this chasm and at the two shores of the gulf without finding a way out of the problem. If philosophers were able to glean hope from a rejection of earthly things, placing their trust solely in “the other shore”, the fate of artists and poets was far more complex and difficult, for the very nature of their work placed them in the here and now, on the earthly shore, while the message conveyed by religion and philosophy was that only the life of the other world was real and everything earthly was worthy only of rejection and condemnation.
This sense of being in a hopeless spiritual dead-end left a deep and sombre mark on the work of medieval artists.
This, then, was the spiritual atmosphere of the age of which Rust'hveli was a witness. One preliminary observation should be made. Let us imagine for a moment that we know nothing of Rust'hveli's view of the world and that we have not studied his poem from this point. Nevertheless, it will be clear to everyone who has read it, even once, that the poet who emerges from its pages could not, simply in terms of his psychological cast of mind and spiritual make-up, have been an adherent of a dualistic concept of life.
A world dislocated and divided was inconceivable to the author of The Knight in the Tiger Skin, just as heroes with divided souls or split natures were inconceivable to him. The characters of The Knight in the Tiger Skin are monolithic, whole, carved, as it were, from huge single blocks of stone. Even when Tariel has lost hope in meeting his beloved, despairs and is on the verge of madness, in flight from life and alone in the desert, he does not cease to be a whole person, for in the situation that has emerged and the circumstances fate has presented him with he cannot act, think or suffer other than as a whole person.
It is clear from what has been noted above that Rust'hveli's position is that of a monist. But what is the nature of this monism ? Can we suppose that Rust'hveli overcame the dualism of his age simply by dismissing the question of the other world and of the very existence of “the other shore” ? This point of view has been expressed by some Georgian scholars, who claim that Rust'hveli was absorbed by this world alone and that the sphere of his interests did not essentially extend beyond the bounds of the earthly.
I believe that thus posing and resolving the question means its over-simplification. The historical approach to this complex issue should not be neglected: there is little profit to be gained from ascribing to a 12th-century poet conclusions of which mankind became firmly convinced only in the course of the last century.
Free, unfettered thought should not be confused with the atheistic and materialistic thought. These domains were quite out of the question in the 12th century. Complex cultural phenomena and philosophical ideas must be explained on the basis of the laws inherent in them and not in terms of laws imposed on them from outside, even if this is done from the most advanced modern point of view and with the best of intentions.
No, Rust'hveli, contrary to the conclusions drawn centuries later by human minds, certainly did not dismiss the question of “the other shore” ; but, despite the dominant tradition of his age, neither did he turn away from the reality of “this shore”, even in theory. Rust'hveli was able to overcome the apparent contradiction, to bridge the gulf. How ?
The gulf was conquered by declaring it - and not the created world - to be an evil, which, in Rust'hveli's concept, was illusory. The gulf dividing creator and creation was only apparent. Anyone who wanted to enter into communion with God must demonstrate the illusoriness of the gulf, that separates man from his creator, by conquering Evil. Only active struggle against evil would give an opportunity for communion with the Almighty.
The world was not created by God for it to be made an abode of evil. The earth, adorned with incomparable and varied beauty, was created for people, since man himself was involved in God and was a part of him, created by him. Without man the unity and harmony of the world was inconceivable. According to Rust'hveli's concept of things, love, even in this world, could bring man into contact with the supreme harmony and thereby make him closer to the divine.
Man was given intelligence in order that he might know the world created for him and make his knowledge an instrument for achieving the supreme goal. For the truly wise man there was no gulf separating heaven and earth: he knew it was the gulf, not the world that was illusory. Apparently essential evil was only the product of ignorance and was overcome by active knowledge, which must not remain “wisdom for its own sake”, but which must be wholly directed towards the affirmation of good, towards the supreme goal of communion with God, towards the highest order and harmony.
It is here that the fundamental difference between Rust'hveli's view of the world and traditional medieval thinking lies. Rust'hveli considered that the world was created by God for man and that man himself was a part of God. It was therefore for man to live, create and act and not to reside in a prison of evil. The world was illuminated by the sun and the sun was the visible image of the creator. The source of all earthly light was God himself.The poet was convinced that one must love a real, living being, not a lifeless symbol of God. Love brought us into contact with the supreme harmony, since it was through love that evil was conquered, the fetters broken and the illusion that creator and man are divided dispelled.
Rust'hveli knew that in order to grasp the supreme truth man should not await heavenly enlightenment in a mystical ecstasy. The creator had endowed man with intelligence with the object of embodying in him His own nature. God and man were united by virtue of intelligence and it was for this very reason that the possibilities of human intelligence were limitless.
There was certainly no need for Rust'hveli to go beyond the bounds of Christian teaching for confirmation of his philosophical ethical ideas. If it was true that the objective seeker after truth could find every one of these principles in religious dogma, how much more so was it the case that they could be grasped by the intuition and wisdom of a poetic genius. It is also by no means impossible that Rust'hveli saw and perceived immeasurably more in Christian ideas than was accessible to ecclesiastical commentators. Of course, none of these truths would have been stamped on the poet's consciousness with such clarity and harmony had he lacked the philosophical experience of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite.
Once the gulf dividing creator and created had been overcome and the forces directly raising man to divine perfection revealed (love and wisdom), it inevitably became clear that man's activity had value for existence, both divine and earthly. Hence the vital conclusion that the earthly activity of man as he strives to commune with God is by no means all vanity and confusion in a world of vanity (as was claimed in the theories of the Middle Ages), but an integral part of an inconvertible process of development and movement in an indivisible universe. Ultimately this earthly human activity was contiguous with divine action. But, of course, only that cause which is directed by the active personality, filled with love and wisdom, to the supreme goal, to the divine ideal can itself be divine. Existence un-illuminated by the light of love and intelligence is doomed to stagnation and torment in the prison of evil, where everything is short-lived, illusory and transitory, barren and impotent. There all the laws of earthly life as a whole operate with implacable severity, but in a fog of lovelessness and non-under- standing, since, as we know, according to Rust'hveli's most important philosophical and ethical conclusion, “evil is in this world for a moment, goodness is immutable ,”
This is why, when we say that Rust'hveli raised man to inaccessible heights, we have in mind the idea of humanity and not simply of one man. Tariel and Avt’handil, Nestan and T'hinat'hin and their friends, too, are a living embodiment of this idea. They are truly pinnacles of creation, lords of nature, monarchs of the spirit.
Therein lies the explanation for the constant comparisons between the heroes of the poem and the sun and their frequent personification by the image of the sun. In turning to a general artistic characterisation of the poem, we should direct our attention to a particular circumstance. While the structure of The Knight in the Tiger Skin is extremely complex, being conceived and worked out on several levels, each of these levels is characteristically elaborated with the same thoroughness and consistency. The various levels interpenetrate each other and only by the most painstaking analysis can they be separated.
I believe that in all literature only the smallest handful of works are as perfectly constructed as Rust'hveli's poem. But even more important is that the poem, as conceived and created, presupposes an unusually wide audience. The Knight in the Tiger Skin has always been equally near and dear to the learned scholar and the humble toiler. Both find in the poem words addressed to them, comprehensible to them and dear to them. And each perceives its idea, which today shines with a special light at us, its millions of readers. This idea is simple and great. Rust'hveli reminds us, contemporary men and women, that man and man alone is the greatest value in the world and that he must be fine and perfectly harmonious. His body and soul, his mind, feelings and actions must be fine. It is man's appointed role and hence his obligation to develop within himself such a will that his thoughts and actions are directed towards good and towards noble ends only.
But Rust'hveli also warns us that for man to be truly great, for him to be elevated to heights which are worthy of him, a contemplative and passive humanism, no matter how noble or well-intentioned, is not enough. For “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Only activity-and heroic, self-sacrificing activity, if necessary-eternal, unflinching and tireless action can trample evil underfoot and ensure the triumph of good. “Evil is killed by good, there is no limit to good “' This is what makes a man a man and ensures the triumph of a world order in which true harmony reigns.
To liberate Nestan-Daderjan from captivity, incredible trials had to be undergone, intolerable torments endured, insurmountable obstacles overcome and more than human feats, almost inconceivable for ordinary mortals, carried out. This reflects Rust'hveli's moral maximalism: the poet never abased his heroes with petty tasks, difficulties and obstacles. But even if we leave aside the symbolism contained in the story of Nestan's capture and liberation and read Rust'hveli's poem from a purely modern point of view, in terms of what interests us most, the same wisdom that underlies every level of this sophisticated poem will unfold before us: evil can be subdued only by the active force of triumphant good and good can reign on earth only in irreconcilable and victorious conflict with evil.
This is why The Knight in the Tiger Skin has become a priceless treasure of the people, why this poem has constantly awakened and sustained man's faith in his own powers and in the triumph of good.