LEVAN BREGADZE                                                                                                                                                                # 3

 Traditional Plot – New Content

 Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani’s writing mastery and originality is especially notable when we compare his fables created by remaking well-known plots to other authors’ versions. (From this viewpoint it is worth mentioning Aleksandre Baramidze’s comparative analysis of the fable “Beggar and a Jar of Boiled Butter” and the stories with the similar plot that we come across in Arabic and Persian versions of “Panchatantra”, “Hitopadesha” and “Kalila and Dimna”- Baramidze 1959: 42-45).

The aim of our research is to compare S.‑S. Orbeliani’s “Village Builders” with the Greek (Aesop), Armenian (Vardan), and Latin language (Gabriele Faërne, Italian poet of the 16th century; we are using the French translation by Charles Perrault) versions of this fable. (The latter has not been used by the researchers of “The Book of Wisdom and Lies”).

In Korneli Kekelidze’s opinion, the fable about the village builder “Dog and Cock” resembles Aesop’s fable with the same heading, although there are some differences in details (Kekelidze 1981: 457). K. Kekelidze does not name the different details and altogether he tells nothing about the fable except for the remark quoted above.

We would single out two most substantial differences:

1. In Aesop’s (Vardan’s, Faërne//Perrault’s) fable no mention is made of the intention to build a village in a funny way (by barking and crowing);

2. In Aesop’s (Vardan’s, Faërne//Perrault’s) fable we do not find the final remark of the deceived fox. In the of Greek, Armenian and Latin//French versions the dog kills the fox, but S.‑S. Orbeliani, for the sake of the final remark, lets the fox stay alive: `The fox in his eagerness to get hold of the cock no longer thought what he was doing, and started towards the dog. The dog sprang up and bit off his tail. The fox ran away up a hill, torn and bleeding, and cried:

’See what a pass my wits have brought me to: if you build a village in the same fashion, you too will discover your mistake!’~ (Orbeliani 1982: 26).

These differences change substantially the characters of the personages, as well as the main idea of the story, and as a result of those changes, despite the same plot, we get essentially different work.

According to Surab Awalischwili, “Niko Marr has revealed by means of many examples, that in Armenian manner the Greek fables acquire specific colours. The same should have happened in Georgia. This especially concerns to the fables, in which Aesopic core is a starting stage only, as, for example, in the “Village Builders”. If we compare the Greek version first to the Armenian fable with religious nuances (Vardan’s version is meant. – L. B.), and then to the tiny Georgian tale, which sounds like a politic satire (Orbeliani’s version is meant. – L. B.), than we will have three stages of development of the oldest material before our eyes” (Awalischwili 1933: 21-22).

The opinion that this fable by Orbeliani “sounds like a politic satire”, was repeated afterwards by Solomon Iordanishvili (Iordanishvili 1939: 201).

Neither Z. Awalischwili nor S. Iordanishvili gives us any more details to this question. Because of that, let us find out what artistic results were achieved by the above-stated changes in S.‑S. Orbeliani’s version.

Saba’s dog and cock are charlatans unlike to Aesop’s fable and other close versions: they want to make an “image” of businessmen, village builders of themselves, although they do nothing to that end, except for barking and crowing. They are substituting propaganda noise for business-doing.

In Saba’s version the image of the fox too has undergone changes. From the above quoted notable remark showing very well the grief-sorrow of a deceived liar, it is also clear that the fox is self-critical and denounces the charlatans. Therefore, Orbeliani’s fox, unlike to the foxes of other author’s of this fable, is no more a definitely negative character, villain. Self-criticism (self-irony) and unmasking the charlatans enrich the character of the fox with positive features, which arouses some sympathy towards him. (For Orbeliani it is typical that a character after suffering a defeat in cunning scolds himself, uses self-irony. Let us remember the end of the fable “The Wolf as Farrier”: “My father was a shoemaker; shy did I try to become a smith?” [Orbeliani 1982: 48], also the final self-ironical remark of the fox in the fable “The Fox in Holy Orders”: “When a priest asks for witnesses to a confession, he merits even worse than this!” [Orbeliani 1982: 24] and like that _ “So be it. A man should suffer a worse fate than this when he fails to carry out his father’s dying request!” from the fable “The King’s Testament” [Orbeliani 1982: 164]).

Briefly, if with Aesop, Vardan, Faërne//Perrault the cock and the dog are completely innocent, and the fox is only a villain (which is characteristic for the genre of fable), the Georgian writer overcomes this sketchiness, which ensures to this little text its place among great literary works.

We cannot say about any other version of this fable, that it is a political satire. Concluding part serves as a proof for this, where the moral of the fable is expressed:

1) Aesop:

“The fable proves that the clever people behave in exactly the same way, when they are under the threat from evil, they manage easily to treat their enemies adequately and revenge”; 

2) Vardan (The moral of the main version):

The fable demonstrates: When people come across sly, traitor, thief and other evil human beings they kill and suffocate them like a dog that did not get rid of a fox until strangling it”.

Vardan (A moral different from the main version):

“The fable demonstrates: Everyone who will attempt to deceive his friend will be caught by his own trap. This is what Christ says, as well as David and Solomon

Comparatively old Georgian translation:

“As Christ and Solomon say - the friend who is sly, will fall in a hole that he had dug for other”;

3) Faërne//Perrault:

“Fair cheating of the lair” (`C’est le vrai droit du jeu de tromper le trompeur~).

Saba’s fables are not accompanied by explanations entailing the moral. The readers of “The Book of Wisdom and Lies” should deduce the moral of the fable on their own, by taking into consideration the commentaries of the character who is narrating the story and the context. (As Z. Avalishvili remarks “the distinctive feature of this fable collection is that it does not contain moral didactics. The author leaves it up to a reader to recognize the moral of the fable and separate it from the whole text - Avalishvili 1933: 25). Ruka is the personage who narrates the story that is under our scope of interest. He means Leon and Sedrak under the false village builders, regards them as charlatans - They wish to bring up the prince, though they are completely illiterate in this; I feel they are preparing conspiracy against me, against the person who tries to unmask them.  (“You and that person are conspiring to ruin me and you will not spare me – that I know; if you do bring up the King’s son well, how foolish I shall look”. _ Orbeliani 1982: 26). As Ruka remarks himself, he makes debates about the principle issues of pedagogics with the royalty. He considers that they lead the up-bringing and educational issues of the prince in a wrong way and it is crucial for the kingdom.  

Thus, Orbeliani’s version, which is genetically related to Aesop’s fable, at the same time, differs from it (and from other versions close to it) by its artistic idea and with high artistic form of its incarnation.




Äsop 1978: Antike Fabeln. Aus dem griechischen und lateinischen übersetzt von Johannes Irmscher. Aufbau-Verlag, Berlin und Weimar, 1978.

Awalischwili 1933: Surab Awalischwili. Einleitung. In: Sulchan-Saba Orbeliani. Die Weisheit der Lüge. Artschil Metreweli, Berlin-Wilmersdorf, [1933].

Baramidze 1959: A. Baramidze. Wisdom of Lie. In: Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani. Anniversary Selection. Tbilisi, 1959 (in georgian).

Iordanishvili 1939: S. Iordanishvili. Comments to the Text. In: Orbeliani S.S., Wisdom of Lie. Tbilisi, 1939 (In russian).

Kekelidze 1981: K. Kekelidze. History of the Old Georgian Literature, v. II. Tbilisi, 1981 (In georgian).

Marr 1899: N. Marr. Selection of the Fables of Vardan. Sanktpetersburg, 1899.

Orbeliani 1982: Orbeliani S.‑S., A Book of Wisdom and Lies. Translated from the Georgian by Katharine Vivian. The Octagon Press, London, 1982.

Perrault internet:




Volume 3, issue 1


Rustaveli Institute of Georgian Literature

Georgian Electronic Journal of Literature