Manana Kvataia                                                                                                                                                                          # 3


Allegorical Narrative of Akaki’s Drama Translations


Abstract: The article aims at showing the translations by Akaki Tsereteli. He considered the translation of specimens of literature from foreign languages into native language as a matter of “special concern”, a means of development of writing and language.


Key words: foreign country, contemporary, attitude.


Akaki Tsereteli considered the translation of specimens of literature from foreign languages into native language as a matter of “special concern”, a means of development of writing and language. To his mind, a translator of remarkable classic works should thoroughly know the language from which translation is made, have good command of native language and by talent be equal to the author of the original. As far as these three components together are rarely found, the writer stated that “translation is generally a shadow of an original”.

Along with brilliant translations of the poetry Akaki left us several plays of the outstanding authors translated into Georgian at different periods of time. As a director of Georgian theatre, producer and dramatist, the writer undertook responsibility for the repertoire of the theatre – “the greatest school of life” – because he believed that two things are essential for the performance: the first is that it should be really a catharsis of our life, enlightener of our minds and hearts and the second is that it should become the place from which our language sounds “with all its richness and might”. The performance of the plays translated from foreign languages on the Georgian stage had the other function too: the familiarization of the society with them contributed to gain knowledge of intellectual achievements of various peoples of the world and promote a dialogue between different cultures.

While considering Akaki Tsereteli’s drama translations the issue of a text and context relation deserves attention. Taking into consideration the chronological aspect, the writer also responded to a concrete moment of Georgian reality. Akaki’s translation of Skapen's Treacheries by Moliere (1622-1673) was published in 1873 in the journal “Krebuli” (#8). In the same year the play was staged in the city of Kutaisi and according to the “Droeba” information it “turned into real folk comedy”. Akaki himself indicates that in the works of  “an Azerbaijanian Moliere”-  Mirza Fatali Akhundov (1812-1878) “Azeri’s life is clearly seen as in mirror”. Akhundov’s play Khan’s Vizier  was translated by him in 1897 and published in 1898 in his own collective works “Akaki’s Collection” (#7). Alexander Sumbatashvili’s (1857-1927) drama “Betray” was translated by A.Tsereteli from January 19, 1905 to April 14. It is interesting to note how the play  is assessed by the writer himself: “I must kiss the hand that created for us the  Betray”. There existed the translations produced by G.Kipshidze, N.Avalishvili and Kote Meskhi. On January 20, 1904 the drama “Betray” was staged with A.Tsereteli as a director but the performance was not a success. This failure likely caused the writer to translate it by himself. An artist Sobolchikov-Samarin (1868-1916) remade into play the novel Quo vadis, Domine? (Whither goest Thou?) by the Polish writer Henry Sienkiewicz (1846-1916) This play was quite sensational in Russia. Georgian theatrical company was included in its repertoire in the years 1908-1909 and its Georgian adaptation was entrusted to A.Tsereteli. According to the newspaper “Paskunji” the play “translated by Akaki in excellent Georgian language was staged, although there existed other translations too.

It is known that while translating Akaki Tsereteli gives priority to realistic plays rather than the creations like Bions, Ibsen, Maeterlinck because in his own words “their artificial decadence does not say much to the feelings of a modern Georgian”. At the same time, by our observation, he was interested in the plot, content, real plane of the translated compositions with which he introduced the readers or audience the recognized foreign authors and different cultural space, as well as allegoric narrative with which in conditions of strict censorship of that time he shared with his people true word and progressive ideas. This was possible by means of “double coding” of these texts, dichotomy of narration and discourse. In this respect the function and resonance of dramatic works, moreover, the plays intended for stage were even greater. At the same time the audience was fascinated with universal, eternal concepts sounded from the stage which equally suited all times and peoples.

According to assessment of the “Droeba” Moliere’s Skapen's Treacheries translated by Akaki looks as if “taken from our reality”. As the writer indicates Mirza Fatali Akhundov’s play Khan’s Vizier was translated with the purpose of familiarization with the life of neighboring Azeri and not for stage. Allegoric narrative is especially well seen in A.Sumbatashvili’s Betray and in the drama Quo vadis, Domine? remade from H.Senkevish’s novel. Narrative discourse of these texts is also selected from the view point of precedent and concrete story relation.

M.Kharbedia who generalizes the views of foreign literature theoreticians write: “As far back as in Indo-European tradition the cases of language inhomogeneities were frequent which served the opposition of stylistically marked and ordinary speech… The so-called diglossy (bilingualism) acquired the function of double coding in the text which meant that one and the same content could have been rendered twice in the text, at two different levels (Kharbedia, 2008:195). This “double coding” in antique drama was formed in the dialogue relation of melik and iambik, koros parties and dramatic dialogue.

Allegoric narrative of the plays translated by Akaki Tsereteli is regarded at different levels: on the one hand, content and plot, on the other hand, on the level of universal, moral concepts which were of topical importance for our society at a particular point.

The author’s narrative of the translated texts which coincided with his own position was attractive for Akaki as a translator. “The judgment and interpretation as well as the ideas of temporality are indicated implicitly in the notion of narration, i.e. during narration not only  the sequence of events is observed by man, but also the interpretation of these events is made” (Miller). The author’s narrative conditions translator’s viewpoint too – this is the angle of vision by which the events and feelings are rendered (Kharbedia 2008: 208). Besides the author’s allegoric narrative of translated compositions and translator’s viewpoint, of special attention are the emphases put on the plays to be staged. Coincidence of these three components creates that unique world which has an impact on the audience in the theatre.

In Pol Ricoeur’s view the world which is produced in any literary work is a temporal world, i.e. time turned into human time as much as it is articulated with narrative means and vice versa, narration is as mush important as the primary narrativeness of time experience is shaped in it, i.e. the past, present and future have already had proto narrative structure (Kharbedia, 2008:201). According to E.Benveniste, the narration excludes the present whereas discourse excludes the past.

The authors, cultural space and chronotope of the plays translated by A.Tsereteli are different but their allegoric plane removes the boundaries of time and space. These texts maintain eternal values and topicality in various epochs.

Consequently, Moliere’s Skapen's Treacheries resonated with Akaki’s contemporary world that raised the curtain and unmasked falsehood and hypocrisy dominated in the 17th-century French society. The writer’s sharp eye could see negative sides and brought to the audience the true word from the scene. An attractive plot and accents of the play fascinated the spectators from different countries and at different time. Textual receptions of this comedic composition opened the eyes of Akaki’s contemporaries to the truth, and the translator had an opportunity to use Moliere’s play for circulation of those ideas which were relevant to his credo.

Perhaps, those fragments of Skapen's Treacheries in which Moliere  manifested various negative sides of public life, made Georgian readers or spectators think about their own state. Namely, the writer evaluated mercilessly but objectively the court and its officials of that time. According to the play the main character Skapen does not advice Argant to address this establishment: “All office workers there try to fleece you… Each of them for a penny is ready to break the law… The officer of justice will fabricate false notification and you will be pulled into deal. A prosecutor will sell you perfectly well for two pence. Your solicitor being bribed by defendant will accuse you … The secretary will play some trick on you.. The witnesses will betray you and say that they have not seen anything… Oh, sir! Save yourself, don’t even come close to the court! It is better for a man remain in trouble than address the court….. (Tsereteli New edition: 26). In such dark colors Moliere portrayed the servants of the justice and such attitude was not alien to the Georgians of Akaki’s epoch.

Mirza Fatali Akhundov’s play Khan’s Vizier exposes false and hypocrisy dominated in the Azeri society. With sarcastic colors the writer portrays that ugly reality which in his view threatened and hampered the evolution of the society. With the help of allegoric narrative of Akhundov’s text A.Tsereteli expressed his own position, which agreed with Georgian reader’s reception. One of the protagonists of the play – Khan is depicted by Azeri writer with dark contours. Tyrant, at first glance almighty, amoral and illiterate ruler, he has become the problem of the entire society. He appears as the highest arbitrator although his justice causes biting irony in readers. The author’s sarcasm in relation to illiterate but ambitious Khan is well expressed in the following episode of the play: “Oh, how hard it is to be Khan!.. If only there would be anything harder than this!? Everybody concerns only about one’s own family and I must care about thousands of people and have no rest! As far as I have position of a khan I differentiate application and complaint!.. Nobody has gone unsatisfied” (Tsereteli New edition: 80). Top officials having similar morale as Khan were also the problem in Akaki’s time. Allegoric narrative of “the Azerbaijanian Moliere” coincided with A.Tsereteli’s position and was understandable and acceptable for our spectators.

A.Sumbatashvili’s well-known play Betray is devoted to completely different theme in which national issues are drastically analyzed, the twists and turns of the history of Georgia are rendered interestingly. Both plot and allegoric narrative of this play meet the world outlook of Akaki’s contemporary spectators. As an example we present the main character Zeinab’s words said to Otar-Beg: “Nobody has been free! There is nowhere a plot of free land from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea. There is blood and violence everywhere. Everywhere Islam steps on the hearts of the suppressed. There is death and poverty, slavery, torture… (Tsereteli New: 116). Such refrains reminded the population being in the grips of the great empire their own miserable state.

Zeinab’s word awoke in people the nostalgia for independent Georgia: “At that time free Georgian was seeking for free choice in free Georgian woman… Lord together with his saints smiled to Georgia and blessed the country which was protected and blessed the only people in the entire east who was still in service to the cross” (ibid).

Zeinab also dreams about country’s bright future and longs for that day when every Georgian will fight for the liberation of Georgia: “I am waiting for the day when people’s patience is exhausted and their wrath overflows like a bitter stream, when a human being will awake in each slave! And my son will lead this people and free warriors will join it” (Tsereteli New edition: 119).

Those passages of the Betray are of interest where the author (and, hence the translator) remind the people to be careful. Zeinab is well aware about the strength of the enemy and that is why she instructs her son Erekle: “Our army is unarmed… You should know how well the enemy is equipped… One imprudent step and we will be killed! Who knows for how many decades our country will go back (Tsereteli New: 126).

The translation of the play Whither goest Thou? depicts the epoch of Neron’s rule but the allegoric plane coincided with the reality of A.Tsereteli’s epoch  is clearly manifested.

This play was translated when the Russian empire of the beginning of the 20th century had already come into decline with the last decade of the Romanov’s ruling. In such circumstances the spectator could easily understand the allegorical emphasis of the play. “The palace turned into cattle-shed. Caesar is a stupid and dangerous clown, the Romans are drunken cattle. There is no place for me here”, - one of the protagonists characterizes the reality in Rome, the writer Petronius and his words reminded the spectator the surrounding reality.

At the beginning of the 20th century new wave of fighting for freedom flew over the Russian empire. At this juncture the authorities had to make concessions to democratic changes which often had the character of show. In this situation Petronius’ words sounded:”Citizens! Unusual amusements are waiting for you. Caesar will arrange such entertainments you’ve never seen” The crowd is excited: “Bread and wine? Amusement? Petronius will do what he promises. Bread, amusement!.. Presents!.. Sights!.. (The noise transfers into peasant noise). Bread and entertainment!” Petroneius’s response says much: “Very well! Hurah that you greet Caesar who cares about you, feeds you and now my poor ones, please go away! I must talk with Caesar about your welfare……(Tsereteli New: 119).

Naturally, Akaki Tsereteli’s credo and position was expressed in Petronius’s blaming words referring to the authorities: “You should take my tip… Deceive people but make no mistake, make people follow the Christians, torture them, but have the courage to tell them plainly that Rome was not burned by them... Don’t let the offspring think that “Neron had burnt Rome but as a mean Caesar and poor-spirited poet he shifted the blamed on innocent people”...(ibid, 200-201).

The play Whither goest Thou?  is dedicated to the search for a way out from a tough reality. For the author of the play the universal way for salvation is Christian belief and morale. Glavk’s words evidence this: “God granted us life not only in this world and death is a new life. Instead of torture there is eternal life, rejoice instead of tears and instead of slavery – the royal position. After death there is an eternal life in the kingdom of God (ibid, 195).

Such comfort is also manifested in the words of another protagonist – Fabius: “Believe and pray! Pray with all your heart! … even if you fell in the lion’s mouth, believe that God can rescue. Now I will go and comfort my poor brothers. Peace with you. Faith is the way out” (Tsereteli New edition: 203).

Christian woman Ligia also consoles her friend: “Don’t torture yourself, my dear! Calm down! Well, think here is Caesar and there is all mighty, generous and merciful. There is no death any more!” (ibid, 204).

The play preaches the highest ideas of humanism. Fabius is preaching: “Remember, kids, the one who gave birth to us loves everybody and therefore the one who loves man he fulfills Lord’s commandments. However, it is not enough to love people of your country, because the Son of Man shed his blood for everybody. It is not enough to love only good people; you should not hate the evil ones too. Only through love the evil can be eliminated” (Tsereteli, new: 186). Such hopeful ideas reminded the spectators the highest human values and awaken in them the feeling of kindness and freedom. We believe that namely this should be the “comforting function” of theatre and literature which in U.Eco’s words gives opportunity to understand the unlimited diversity of the events which happened or will happen in a real world.




Benveniste 1974: Benveniste E. General Linguistics. Moscow: 1974 (in Russian).

Tsereteli New edition: A. Tsereteli’s new academic issue volume X (A. Tsereteli’s translated dramatic compositions. Compiler M.Kvataia). Prepared for publication.

Kharbedia 2008: Kharbedia M. Narratology. In: Theory of Literature. Tbilisi: Lit.inst. Publishing house, 2008.



Volume 4, Issue 2


Rustaveli Institute of Georgian Literature

Georgian Electronic Journal of Literature