Malkhaz Kobiashvili                                                                                                                                                                 # 12

 On the Bibliological Activity of Giorgi the Athonite

     Giorgi the Athonite (Giorgi Atoneli) was not the first Georgian translator of the Bible and he did not make a complete translation of this most important source of old spiritual writing because the greater part of his creative activity was devoted to editorial work. Nevertheless from the beginning, it can be stated that nobody has made such an outstanding contribution to the Georgian literature as he did. One cannot but appreciate true value of the contribution of the earlier translators of the biblical texts, although the names of many of them have not even come down to us through the history, and at the same time, it is impossible not to mention the role  that Euthymius the Athonite (Ekvtime Atoneli) played in Georgian biblical study.

Despite this, even when Giorgi the Athonite was editing the work of his great teacher, he created a monument which acquired the force of canon in the course of many centuries. Perhaps there is no need to mention how much the text edited by Giorgi benefited to Georgian writing, Georgian literary language and development of artistic thinking for centuries. Naturally, it is just from this point of view that Giorgi the Athonite’s activity is of particular importance.

Around thirty years ago, more precisely in 1979, Professor I.Imnaishvili issued the editions of the four Georgian Gospels according to Euthymius and Giorgi the Athonite supplied with explanatory notes (Imnaishvili 1979) This publication gives a clear idea of the colossal work invaluable from the national viewpoint which was carried out by these two outstanding figures, particularly by Giorgi the Athonite. The established general view or impression concerning this question has been supported by good reasons that make possible to discuss what Giorgi the Athonite’s edition adds to Georgian writing, Georgian literary language and how he contributes to further development of artistic thinking. One thing is to be mentioned in advance: were it not for such remarkable translations of the biblical books, Georgian writing and artistic thinking would have failed to make it that far. The point is not that Georgian writers used biblical artistic images later. However, if the significance of the translated monument is confined only with this, perhaps we won’t be right. Information given by the translation on artistic value of an original is only a part of that influence which can be produced by the translation on original writing. The highly artistic translation in itself is an independent fact of the national writing, an important event which reveals rich resources existed in a language and forms them into artistic patterns. A work of literature, which represents certain artistic value in the original, turns into inspiration in the hands of a true creator-translator and causes revitalization of such corresponding words in the depth of the second language which might not be found in the original writing.

If Giorgi the Athonite had been limited only with new edition of the Gospel, even then he would have done great contribution to the native writing. Moreover, great is his contribution if we also take into consideration the fact that Giorgi the Athonite worked  a great deal at the Davitni and  new edition of the Gospel. According to Eprem Mtsire’s recording “he translated it from Greek not only once” (Shanidze 1945).  In Davitni ‘s testament Giorgi the Athonite himself stated that he compared Georgian translation with numerous Greek manuscripts in order to render the original with the greatest precision. The phrase “vita chuensa enasa movidoda” (as it is articulated in our language) represents a kind of formula which expresses general principles of translation method observed by the Athonite representatives.

Giorgi the Athonite’s creative credo envisaged two aspects essential for artistic translations: information accuracy, i.e. proximity to the original and nature of his own native language: on the one hand the principle of “vita chuensa enasa movidoda” and on the other hand, the accuracy of information. For example, in the text of the Gospel according to Matthew (24:36), he points out the words “artsa zeman” (not even the Son) which are not rendered in the translation because “these words have not been written in three Greek Gospels, neither have I written them” (Kekelidze 1960). The writer’s concern is addressed to the protection of these two principles: “Do not omit an and don, neither rametu because these an and don were familiar to us too, and though nothing was spoilt by using this or other word we won’t leave it or erase … much wisdom is not required for those who know this about our work” (Kekelidze 1960).  

In our view these words do not express the creator-translator’s arrogance or indicate confidence only to the authenticity of the chosen original, but they mean more than this. It is stylistic part that is emphasized here as it concerns such parts of speech as …(conjunction “da” (and) or “tsa” particle), … (“xolo” (but), …”rametu” (  ) or such words as “ghmerti” (god) and “upali” (the Lord) and a personality (rhetorician or philosopher)  to whom the “adornment” of Giorgi’s translation might occur, is also indicated. Giorgi the Athonite warns that he is familiar with such things too but “unlike the original, I did not omit and add anything in the translation unless it was not obligatory, only what corresponded to our language was added”.

At the same time when Giorgi the Athonite so selflessly defends the work from the infringements, he does not exclude the existence of any differences from the original in Greek, or the possibility of a new translation in Georgian. Along with deep faith of the translator his modesty is also felt.

It has been noted that while working  on the biblical books, namely the Gospel, not only one concrete task moved Giorgi the Athonite, for instance,  correction of the semantic mistakes of an old translation, or only stylistic perfection. The writer did his best for the perfection of the Gospel processed by him: to render the original with the greatest precision and articulate it in natural Georgian. For him the “natural Georgian” meant not just syntactically and morphologically correct translation but it must have sounded Georgian as it was spoken by his contemporaries. In his edition Giorgi supported the forms already introduced into the oral speech at his time but they were not dialecticisms instead of archaisms but the forms which further were established in literary language.  As is seen, for Giorgi all new meant progressive. Probably, at his time in spoken language more than one form termed by us as dialecticism, barbarism or slang could have been spread. However, these forms failed to seduce the true writer and scholar. Thus, it can be said, that while working on the translation of the Gospel, Giorgi the Athonite solved three main tasks. He corrected semantic mistakes in the translations of his predecessors with the help of Greek manuscripts chosen by him and through comparison presented the text more close to the original. On the other hand, he improved Georgian text in such way as to avoid the influence of Greek syntactic constructions. Finally, he voiced Georgian translation into modern language and at the same time strictly defended the interests of Georgian writing.


  1. Imnaishvili 1979: I. Imnaishvili, Two last editions of the Georgian Gospel, Tbilisi, 1979.

  2. Shanidze 1945: A.Shanidze, Two old editions of the Georgian Gospel, according to three Shatberduli manuscripts (897, 936, 973 years) Tbilisi, 1945.

  3. Kekelidze 1960: K.Kekelidze, History of Georgian Literature, v.I, Tbilisi, 1960.



Volume 3, Issue 2


Rustaveli Institute of Georgian Literature

Georgian Electronic Journal of Literature