MAKA ELBAKIDZE                                                                                                                                                                # 7



The main space dichotomy of the medieval chivalry romances – court/forest – expresses the artistic and structural opposition which exists between the court civilization (castle) and so-called wild nature (the world existing beyond the castle). “The descriptive and geographical details are not simply mimetic. They are determined both by the internal logic of the narrative itself, and by a long literary tradition of representations of nature. In stories, where the errant knights ride out to confront unknown, this  defamiliarization of a well-charted territory produces just what romance calls for: a realm of adventure” (Putter, 1995: 12-13), in the depth of which the process of  penetration of those moral values which is the basis in the formation of ideal person should be finished.

In the system of values of medieval period, the castle (court), i.e. civilized, organized environment was opposed to the forest (wild nature). In courteous romances it is King Arthur’s court  – the symbol of elegance, delicacy and courtesy. However, the antithesis castle/forest is more complex than it may seem at a glance, because one more binary opposition exists in the medieval chivalric romances – hunting forest and wild forest. The forest in which the knights are seeking for adventures completely differs from the forest where they are hunting. In the woods which are close to the castles the knights forget their everyday problems for a while and temporarily free from the load of the court life abandon themselves to enjoy bliss in the nature (cp/.” hunting in the field, mountain and hill foot; there were numerous dogs, hawks and eagles, return early”; The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, 470).

As opposed to the hunting forest, the wild forest is considered to be the negative of the court/castle (castle - as a symbol of elegance, refinement; forest - it’s total antipode). An errant knight wandering in the trackless forest feels himself lonely and solitary. Being far from the court ceremonies, he is surrounded by indifferent, gloomy decor which is antithetic to that of refined culture which follower he is (cp. “For a whole month he had traveled but no man had he seen or encountered,/ And though there was plenty of game, he neither hunted, nor slew it”, The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, 191).

There is threefold functional loading in leaving for the forest and merging with wild environment in The Knight in the Panther’s Skin: 1. It is linked with love and identified with roaming – “If the lover weeps for his beloved, tears are her due. Wandering and solitude befit him, and must be esteemed as roaming”, 31; “Since a true lover is destined to suffer alone, I leave you/ Leave you to roam like a madman weeping my heart out in anguish./Lovers must boldly go forth and seek brave quests for their loved ones, 775. Correspondingly, for a desperate and driven mad lover the forest, wild environment represents a kind of refuge where remote from people he can live in solitude plunging into his thoughts – “Maddened I roam  in the forests, worn out and faint from weeping”, 647; 2. As in chivalric romances the forest (antithetic environment of the court) appears as that lineal space on which the errant knight’s “path” on his quest for adventures goes and in the depth of which the process of forming his personality is to be finished. The notion of the roam which corresponds to the word gachra in the “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin,” is connected either with the fulfillment of lover’s errand (“Solitude favors the lover pursuing the will of his mistress”, 160) or adventure (“Idle repining is useless! Better to go forth and seek her”, 577). Both in the first and second case a strange space which is neutral, uninhabited and homeless – “he came to a desolate region, void of the children of Adam,/ For thirty days he traversed it, and met not a single being”, 181 - acquires significant symbolic loading because it is just here that the story of the knight’s quest is to be developed.

It should be noted that dichotomy between the forest and the court is perceptible both in the first and second case. In his quest maddened Tariel  finally abandons his community “the place of men” and  finds refuge in a deserted cave – “A fitting abode for me were the haunts of the stag and of goats”, (645), “ Ever since then I am here and can’t differ from animals, (649). His chivalric valor in this new space is reduced only to the function of a hunter. He satisfies his hunger only with hunt game, wears panther’s skin as garment. It is interesting to note that in order to return Tariel to civilized life, Avtandil and Asmat build their arguments just on the mentioned dichotomy – human world/ animals world : “With the wild beasts you wander, alone in the deepest of forests/ Shunning the friendship of men”, (269); “Can you attain your desire by weeping and roaming the forests?”, (866); 3.As it is in European chivalric romances, forest is a space between civilization centers (the court /castle) and its function is to show vividly the contrast which is necessary for differentiation of the structural unit of the quest or adventure from that structural unit as it is, let us say, feast, hospitality, etc. (“Now for a while I will leave, turn from the banquet and music, 164).

When the knight being tired from the roaming reaches the town/castle, the scenery instantly changes – no surrounding space, the forces of nature are not so tough and hostile any longer (“We went and surveyed his city. Never has man seen such splendors!”, 604; “We landed by night. When we came ashore we saw gardens before us”, 583. “When they arrived at the city they found a magnificent palace,/ Ministers seated in state, and slaves richly appareled./They entered the spacious court; and all who beheld them were ravished/By Avtandil’s beauty and grace and the knightly figure of Pridon”, 998). An important novelty of the Medieval narrative is the fact that this “new” scenery is seen from the vantage point of knights or personages and the novelty is expressed not only by those verbs which express the act of contemplation (cp. went, surveyed), but by those details which are easy for the reader to comprehend (“They arrived at a prosperous city, which was surrounded by orchards and a thicket of spacious gardens/Full of beautiful flowers fragrant and dazzling in color”, The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, 1049).

At the sight of a castle the hero becomes convinced that all the hardships which he had to overcome in his quest left behind and now he stands before warm hearted host whose house arouses in him the association with his own space (“They sat and banqueted gaily on choicest of viands and liquors./As a kinsman treats a kinsman, thus was Avtandil treated”, The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, 1000). On the other hand, the scenes of hospitality in a forest, in spite of the warmth shown by the host, lack of the comfort which is found in abundance in the scenes of the court. Despite Asthmat’s best efforts, Devi’s cave is not and can’t become a native space for Tariel. Therefore his hospitality lacks ceremoniousness and festivity: “Roasted some meal and bidding them eat, placed it before them/ Though they entreated and begged him to eat Tariel sat listless./ He bit off a piece of the meat but could scarcely swallow a morsel”, (912). Thus Tariel and Avtandil’s talk at the table lacks usual chivalric gaiety and proceeds in accordance with the situation. Here, as it is common during chivalric feast, much wine is not drunk – (cp.”There was gay feasting and drinking on scale befitting their power…/The gem-studded plates were of gold and the bowls of turquoise and ruby./the king gave command that all who were drunk be tended and cared for”, 476).

It is true, that the medieval court is an “ideal locus, where the courtly values can be explored, but in the accounts of the forest a concern for standards or refinement can continue to be a preoccupation of the narrative, precisely because it is cast as the inverted mirror image of the  forest or castle" (Putter 1995: 27). As a result we obtain a decoration which is able to show the contrasts so that not to break up the world outlook borrowed from imaginary world of these romances. Thus medieval knights and authors of romances not only safely escaped to the forest, hostile and homeless environment which “tries” to separate them from their roots, but they preserve their identity and even more improve those values which are dictated by chivalric code of nobility.



Putter 1995: Ad Putter, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and French Arthurian Romance, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1995

Rustaveli 1968: Shota Rustaveli, The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, Translated from the Georgian by Venera Urushadze, publishing house “Sabchota Sakartvelo”, Tbilisi 1968



Volume 1, issue 1


Rustaveli Institute of Georgian Literature

Georgian Electronic Journal of Literature