Nana Pruidze                                                                                                                                                                            # 14

On Transformation of Folklore Images in Akaki Tsereteli’s Works

(on the example of Kudabziketi)

In modern folkloristics “the expression of some collision and conflict existed in social and family relationships that became impossible to solve in concrete historical reality due to which it reshaped in fantastic fiction” is identified as basic genre feature of a tale (Gusev 1967: 124-125). However, fantastic fiction is closely related to the reality. Tales instruct the readers, strengthen the faith in the invincibility of the good, praise courage, obstinateness, true love, sympathy, gratefulness and all those feelings which make a man perfect.

It is no coincidence that children are raised on tales. Only instructions and explanation cannot make impression on them. A child should empathize with the fate of favorite hero and join the fight against the evil, triumph over a defeated enemy. After all this it becomes unnecessary to teach specially what is good and what is bad.

A tale has great educational function and ability of psychological impact.  It fascinates equally both children and adults. Akaki is an excellent narrator of fairy tales. While judging about poetics of Akaki Tsreteli’s prose, Grigol Kiknadze states: “When we say that Akaki’s prose is poetic it means that the stories  narrated there are fabulous. The nature is also like that, the characters are noble and the style is musical. When we say that the stories are invented, this means that Akaki narrates not fairy-tale but the true story is rendered by the writer with fabulous attraction. His realism is a part of folk creativity or the specimen of personification of folkloric realism in individual art” (Kiknadze 1978: 281-281). We should also add that besides realistic prose saturated with fabulous fragrance, Akaki wrote pure tales too. When Georgian scholar E.Virsaladze characterizes fairy-tale in general, she identifies its main components: ready formulas, epic repetitions, triplication, common places, short verses, and rhythmic prose. It seems as if Akaki Tsereteli’s works are implied. It is true, the folk tale is the most significant monument of literature but in the opinion of some scholars special importance must be ascribed to the so-called author’s tales. Story-tales were created by such great writers as L.Tostoi, N.Saltykov-Schedrin, Vazha-Pshavela. The latter touched this issue more than once. In Vazha’s view  “nor matter how great is a tale, if it does not pass through the poet’s fantasy and mind, if the poet did not breath in it the breath of life as the Lord God did to Adam formed from the dust of the earth and implant a tale or legend into one’s own soul and heart, nothing will come out of it.. A tale is just a seed and its power is only in the seed but shouldn’t we ask on what soil this seed is sown? The soil is a poet who produces from one seed thousands”(Vazha-Pshavela On literature and Art 1967: 179-180).

Traditionally the classification of tales occurred according to the content. There were distinguished fairy tales, day-to-day tales and animal tales. The classification was criticized by Vladimir Propp of the Russian school (Propp 1946:). He pays attention to the structure and considers a tale according to formal and structural signs. In this aspect of particular importance is the isolation of the characters (function by Propp is the same as motif by Veselovski and element by Bedie), moreover that the number of functions is limited, only their succession is always the same. The functions are mainly in couples: prohibition-violation, struggle-victory, etc. V.Propp differentiates main constituent parts of the tale: function of characters, uniting elements, i.e. motivation, and appearance of the characters, accessories and attributive elements (Propp 1969: 83).

As a rule, the number of the characters is limited. Within the frames of one tale not more than seven functional characters can be found. They are: antagonist, donor, savior, king’s daughter or her father, sender, hero and false hero.

It is interesting to note that the following observation made by the scholar: all predicates give composition but the subject and other members define the plot.

A.Tsereteli created Kudabziketi (“Land of the Stuck-up”) in 1899 and called it a fairy     story. It is true Kudabziketi displays the features characteristic of story as well as fairy-tale. It is started with ready tale formula: “Once upon a time” and narrates the story of an imaginary country, Kudabziketi, inhabited by Natsarkekias (a ne'er-do-well or lazy borne). The structural order characteristic to a tale is essentially broken, although in the end there is traditional personage, an old woman, the same as donator who has magic praying power by which she helps Natsarkekia-s out of trouble.

In this fairy-tale story the popular hero of Georgian folklore Natsarkekia underwent a kind of transformation. Earlier his main negative trait was laziness; in other respects he did not lack courage, sharp mind or keen insight.  As to Natsarkekia-s from Kudabziketi they cannot boast with any positive traits of their “celebrated” forefather. For the poor short men even their bothering worm is a great thing, though they have high self-esteem. “An empty sheepskin is easy to blow up… The same is a man: the emptier his mind and heart, the sooner he puffs up and looks big” [6: 188]. This disease takes deep roots in the country of Kudabziketi too. Other negative phenomena are also rooted. Young and old alike are fond of talking and remember nothing but their own self. The author remarks with irony that there was constantly heard only “I and I” (Tsereteli 1958: 188).

Even an exclamation could fear the animals and birds destroying the country but who had time for it? The inhabitants of Kudabziketi had the most important problem to solve –they had to elect one candidate of two and make him an object of honor. These candidates were Mister Louse and Mister Flea. Could they search for better candidates when a bee was restless, silkworm was stinking, and a leech was blood-sucking? Did it count how each of them was of service for own country. In Natsarkekia’s imagination there was no living creature better than the Louse and Flea, and it concerned only the question who was better.  If everybody was lazy to become active in fighting with the enemy, they prepared for “fighting” before the elections with great care. If you saw Kudabziketi during these elections you would say: “The enemy had actually intruded to the country and the population took preparations to face the enemy and rescue one’s own motherland” (Tsereteli 1958: 190). Naturally these disorders brought grist for outer enemy's mill and cried with laughter: “Instigators, get it started, cut both heads down”. Soon the country fell into such trouble that everybody forgot both the louse and flea. It was a charmer who rescued Kudabziketi from danger. The ritual of casting spell was amazing: The old woman crossed herself three times, moved her head three times, spat three times into Natsarkekia-s eyes, blew up and prayed for “evilwishing”. After this, pouring the head with the water from washing the icon was necessary. In this case Akaki remains loyal to traditional folk belief according to which the water from washing the icon had magical power and could heal. In this fairy tale pouring the head with this water delivered Natsrakekia-s. As Natsrakekia-s watched the charmer with open mouth, more than half of water was poured in their mouth…so that it overflowed and they nearly sank… They started coughing. The old woman crossed herself again and prayed for soul struggling” (Tsereteli 1958: 191). The text of this prayer is explained by the author’s remark in the end notes, “folk prayer”, but it is obviously not so. Moreover that it is the text of pray that brings to light the author’s interpretation of Kudabziketi and Nastsarkekia-s. Besides Jesus Christ, there appear two saints: Virgin Mary and St.George. Both of them are especially close to the heart of the Georgian. As is known, Georgia is a country regarded as the appanage of Virgin Mary and St.George is one of the most powerful saints of Georgian people and at every step one can find a church after his name. And thus, St George informs Mother Mary who is sitting at the gates of paradise: “I have traveled over you appanage on foot and saw fell down, declined.” (Tsereteli 1958: 191). The Virgin became sad. Jesus got interested as to what was the reason of her grief. “I am crying for my part of land! I am bemoaning my kingdom being fell down today and forgotten by you, thrown on its own!” (Tsereteli 1958: 191), - replies the Virgin. Jesus’s response is logical and stirs up a reader’s faith: “No, my mother. How can I forget your kingdom? How can I lift my hand against your appanage?  I’ll only test it with Iob’s challenge so as to heal better and elevate! May damnation take devil that worries it and ugh those who look at it with evil eye” (Tsereteli 1958: 191).

When we read fairy-tale story Kudabziketi it is impossible not to see a kind of ideological similarity with David Guramishvili’s “The Misfortunes of Kartli”. Like his great forerunner, Akaki considers that the reason of Natsarkekia-s phenomenon is forgetfulness of service to God and country. David Guramishvili states that God more than once gave Georgians the sign in the form of natural disasters that they should change their way of life. At the same time strange animal and birds also greatly damage the population. Unfortunately, the Georgians failed to understand the meaning of all this and a judgment from on high followed.

According to Christian religion the punishment is one of the manifestations of divine care. Men should manage in their life time to deliver from sin. Otherwise they fell in century-long danger. That is using punishment why the Lord God tries to give it understand for men to their mistakes to repent in time. Repentance is an essential condition to find favor with God. Otherwise torture remains inconsolable. Both David Guramishvili and Akaki Tsereteli as true faithful thinkers develop this conception in their works.

God is always merciful and fair.  He equally loves and cares about the lost and righteous. The Georgians made a mistake forgetting the God’s commandments, but if they did not add sin to the sin then and did not start to deny the God as Iob’s test on virtue gave rise to his elevation, Georgians will suffer the same fate. Therefore, in Akaki’s view, hope, faith and love saves us from ultimate Natsarkekianizm and destruction. This is evidenced from the soft smile of Virgin which at the end of the tale covers the country.

In the fairytale Kudabziketi Akaki criticizes the society for the one concrete fallaciousness. It is true the writer starts the narration with such introduction where the time of action takes place in the distant past but succession of the events proves the contrary. Natsarkekia-s are definitely the writer’s contemporaries because it was in Akaki’s time when the elections turmoil  especially took bad form.

The name of a country itself “Kudabziketi” reminds Giorgi Tsereteli’s novel “Kikoliko, Chikoliko and Kudabzika”. Who is “Kudabzika”? - The naked rat on the pedigreed horse, a nobleman who considers the whole world dust under his feet. But it is enough for him to stay without horse that he becomes the poorest man in the world. The publication of G.Tsereteli’s composition in the newspaper “Droeba” started in the years of 1866-1870 and Akaki’s tale is written in 1899. Maybe the characters portrayed by Giorgi Tsereteli inspired Akaki’s creativity.

Kudabziketi is inhabited by Natsrkekia-s. Akaki in his critical letter “Mixed Thoughts” which was published in the newspaper “Kvali” in 1894 devotes special attention to the problem of Natsarkekia-s. “Natsarkekia, the popular Georgian fairy tale character is given to us who is as funny as Don Quixote, Falstaff, Ivan the Fool. However, Natsarkekia differs from others “ (Tsereteli 1961: 125). In Akaki’s view, Don Quixote and Falstaff express national character and at the same time they are universal. As to Ivan the Fool, the writer considers this image a product of typical Russian national character. He himself does not know where he goes; why he comes but his “luck, external power” always help him. As to our Natsarkekia, it is an amazing type. Being physically weak he is well aware about it and that is why never bullies anybody but he is skillful in the use of shield and this shield is his intellect. He not only hits back Devis attacks but also managed to subordinate them”(Tsereteli 1961: 125). If Natsarkekia is an old type, product of old culture of the mankind, a new type is pictured by G.Tsreteli, the author of the “Ttraveller’s Letters”. It is “Kudabzika” a product of helpless and not well understood culture”. It is not accidental that the writer termed his fairy country by the name of a new time “generalized” hero and settled it with such personages that are the products of old culture.

Akaki’s Natsarkekia expresses Georgian nature in general. If not the idleness, the labor of owner of his intellect would be rewarded greatly. Due to our small number if we ever hit the enemy it happened because of our wit and self-sacrifice. Natssarkekia has no pretences. He does not like to show himself. He is fond of philosophizing sitting by the fire-side with a stick poking the ashes all the time. This surrounding adds a kind of attraction to his image but sucked up Natsarkekia does not excite sympathy. His wit and craftiness are suppressed and instead of defeating the Devis he dissipates his talent on gluttony. But perhaps there is the ground for optimism in it. Kudabzikoba as new acquired disease can be easily treated and Natsarkekia again remains potential hero defeating the Devi. 

A century later the Georgian scholar Guram Asatiani arrived to the similar conclusion when referring the folkloric image of Natsarkekia to “national identity”. While considering Georgian character and aesthetic nature he mentioned, “…both Kiriletsa and Natsrkekia are constituent parts of Georgian character” (Asatiani 1982: 62).

By 1884 Akaki had already created literary variant of folk tale on the theme of Natsarkekia. It is noteworthy that the writer termed his “Natsarkeki” a story, although actually he did not add any essential change in the tale. More precisely, nothing new was added, if we don’t count that instead of sister-in-law he introduced brothers that does not change the plot essentially. The most visible change of the plot is that Akaki removed the episode in the end of the tale when frightened Devi is tied with the rope by the fox around the waist and brought him to Natsarkekia. Akaki used to say present day writers do not khow to put dot. As the above mentioned episode did not add to the plot anything interesting from the ideological point of view then the author removed it from the basic plot without regret. In the same way Akaki considered unnecessary the episode of digging off the wine jag ( It is true the hero’s craftiness is mainly manifested here and ability to make quick decisions in extreme case but it seems illogical when a host sends a guest of honor for wine. For Akaki’s soft literary taste, clearly, the existence of such kind of rude detail could not be liked by him.

Besides the above episodes nothing has been taken off by the author  but those insignificant modifications which is noted in his version of a tale considerably changes the ideological plane of the story and makes it possible to read it in new light.

First of all, the disappearance of traditional formula – “Once upon a time” is evident. This is quite logical, because the author identified his “Natsarkekia” as story and the tale’s ready formula appeared unnecessary.

According to the folk tale Natsarkekia is terribly lazy and heavy built (while discussing the folk Natsarkekia we are based on the variant recorded by Tedo Razikashvili (Natsarkekia 1987:). Akaki’s Natsarkekia is not active because he is totally weak. So the strong man turned into the weak, idler, little man. He is not lazy to do things but physically unable to do what his brothers can.  He is a dreamer who restlessly draws strange figures on the ashes the essence and meaning of which is known only to him. Guram Asatiani considers that “…this is not a simple parasitism. This is “philosophical” idleness – employed constant dreaming of the impossible, the fate of an incorrigible projector and romantic” (Asatiani 1982: 62).

According to the folk tale Natsarkekia lives with his sister-in-law. Once the bored woman taken an opportunity of her brother-in - law’s absence when he went to the Easter service locked the door and wouldn’t let him in. When Natsarkekia realized that his sister-in-law was not joking he himself decided to leave himself. He only asked her for a sheepskin bag full of ashes, some cheese and an awl. According to Akaki’s version, the hero whose only drawback is the physical weakness is a burden to his brothers. The only thing they appreciate is physical strength, or the way of life using force for achievement of one’s purpose. They drive their brother out not only from the house but from the country too. This detail makes the reader guess that the story is of allegorical content.

Further it seems that the narration does not break the tale’s model but the style of the hero’s action is totally different. At the sight of the Devi (an ugly giant cannibal) Natsarkekia got frightened, opened his sheepskin and let the smoke go to attract his attention. Akaki’s Natsarkekia shouted to the dumbstruck Devi arrogantly: “I don’t want to get my feet wet. Come over here and carry me across the river”. Psychologically Akaki’s version seems more truthful. The writer puts an emphasis on the power of word. The irrelevance between Natsarkekia’s appearance and form of speech must have surprised the Devi and excite suspicion, then it becomes easy to deceive it. The dialogue between Natsarkekia and the Devi is quite interesting. To his question who he is that dares so much, Natsarkekia replies: I am “Vermitsana” (didn’t recognize you)! Be aware, I excuse you thrice but for the fourth time no force can save you”. The nickname made up by the hero of the tale “Vermitsana” makes puzzle not only the Devi but the reader also notes that he is really unknown hero. He was not appreciated by his brothers and that is why they expelled him from the country.

Triplication and threat characteristic of the tale are compositionally significant. Otherwise the Devi’s panic terror would be unclear. The fairy triplication appears when Natsarkekia is trying to make threatening impression on Devi.

The manner of narration is typical to Akaki’s style, extremely refined and free. The author selects the words very carefully which directly in visual plane gives the reader image of the happening. Thus, for example, when our heroes compete in standing of the dust with each other, the Devi “gazunzuldeba” and Natsarkekia “gakunkuldeba”. These two words are image-bearing words. It is evident, on the one hand, the awkwardness of Devi’s huge body and on the other hand – short Natsarkekia’s quickness and flexibility.

According to the tale Natsarkekia remains timid up to the end. He fails to dare the Devis dwelling. He loaded the camels with everything that can be taken and sets off home to his sister-in-law. Akaki’s Natsarkekia is quite different. In a style befitting a brave and self-confident person he not only escapes from Devis fortress but he takes his brother there too. Boasting and self-respect are not in his nature. He just reminds his brothers a folk saying: “Haven’t you heard that

This saying acquires special essence in the 19th century. The generation of the sixties including Akaki Tsereteli was well aware that Georgia could not defeat this huge Russian Empire. New, more efficient means should be chosen for fighting. Such weapon was knowledge. In his tale Akaki makes a reader believe that it is possible to defeat rude physical power.

Instead of Akaki’s Natsarkeki’s traditional formula “And they lived happily ever after,” there is verse riddle, said quickly. The verse ideologically is connected with the hidden plane of content and gives a kind of “key” for its correct understanding. The author’s concept is clear: you should not get acquainted with the enemy as a coward otherwise he attacks you more decisively. The trouble often happens with a man because of one’s own wastefulness and not by disposition of God and the service for the country’s benefit will always be rewarded by God. 

    Thus Akaki Tsereteli for expression of his creative interests, as a rule, uses those folk images which at the same time are national and typical. The writer treats folklore material relatively “freely”: borrows separate details, modifies some passages of the plot to a certain extent or offers new ones instead of them. The most characteristic feature of A.Tsereteli’s attitude to folklore material is that he imbues fairy tale with the social and political sounding, and thus makes readers reflect on contemporary problems.


  1. Gusev 1967: Gusev V.E The Problems of Folklore in the History of Aesthetics,  L., 1967 (in Russian).
  2. Kiknadze 1978: G.Kiknadze. Problems of Literary theory and History, Tbilisi, 1978 (in Georgian).
  3. Vazha-Pshavela, On Literature and Art 1967: Tbilisi, 1967 (in Georgian).
  4. Propp 1946: Propp V.Ya. Historical Roots of Fairy Tale, M., 1946 (in Russian).
  5. Propp 1969: Morphology of a Tale, M., 1969 (in Russian).
  6. Tsereteli 1958: Tsereteli A., Complete collection of works in 15 volumes, vol.VIII, Tbilisi, 1958
  7. Tsereteli 1961: Tsereteli A., Collections in 15 volumes, v.XIII, Tb., 1961.
  8. Asatiani 1982: Asatiani G., Sataveebtan (At the Foundations) Tb., 1982 (in Georgian).
  9. Natsarkekia 1987: Natsarkekia, Georgian Folk Tale, Tb., 1987.



Volume 3, Issue 2


Rustaveli Institute of Georgian Literature

Georgian Electronic Journal of Literature