Irina Natsvlishvili # 7
Historical Narrative and Artistic Imagery in Akaki Tsereteli’s Poem Natela
Abstract: Georgian literature always displayed an interest in relation to classic past but artistic thinking of the 19th century added special topicality and value to the historical narrative.
The plot of the Akaki Tsereteli’s poem Natela is based on that historical narrative which is known from the chronicle “The Life of Kartli”, though it is amplified with contextual or artistic details. The poet by means of artistic imagination expands the plot and story, and unlike historical narrative makes other accents, transfer the attention to Natela’s literary image whish is essentially the product of his imagination. With this Akaki transforms historical narrative into a new type of narrative (with modern interpretations of the term) in which attention is mainly focused on fiction.
Key words: Historical Narrative, Artistic Imagery, Discourse, new type of narrative, Poem Natela
Georgian literature always displayed an interest in relation to classic past but artistic thinking of the 19th century added special topicality and value to the historical narrative. If in conditions of a new colonial state against the background of unacceptable reality the ideal which evoked romantic but in reality unattainable aspiration was the aesthetic zed past for the poets at the turn of the century, in the light of the world outlook principle of the man /woman of the sixties – “the present originated from the past is the parent of the future”, - the history with its bright figures and names, was perceived as nation’s spiritual food on the road of shaping dignified present and future. This is the purpose that Akaki Tsereteli’s poem Natela serves.
Under the title of the poem the author specifies – “an old story”. It is interesting to note that Akaki says nothing on literary origination of his own source and the events rendered in the poem are called by him simply as an “old story”. Perhaps, this specification done by the poet under the title gave rise some scholars to believe that significant part of the poem was based on folk legends and renderings.
The plot of the poem is based on that historical narrative which is known from the chronicle “The Life of Kartli”, though it is amplified with contextual or artistic details. Tsotne Dadiani’s heroic deed done at the Noin court of Charmaghan Mongols contains less than two pages in the “Centenary Chronicle” but has a form of compositionally bound novel and it is narrated against the background tropological interpretation of the Gospel: Tsotne arrived at Anis and voluntarily joined his compatriots-in-arm who had been captured by Mongols in order to share their fate, in fulfilment of the law of Christ announcing that the highest level of love is “to sacrifice oneself for thy neighbour”. It is this passage from “The Life of Kartli” that must have inspired Akaki’s creative fantasy.
As far back as Georgian scholar Ivane Lolashvili noted some similarities between the poem and the chronicle and then another scholar Prokle Kekelidze (Kekelidze 1961:) specially compared these two texts and with the help of relevant parallels he gave evidence that the poet borrowed from the Chronicle not only Tsotne Dadiani’s story but the pictures reflecting historical developments of the 13th century. At the same time based on the relevant materials and arguments the scholar considered that Akaki had studied many other historical sources while working on the poem. Namely, he used Vakhushti Bagrationi’s History of Georgia (issued by D.Bakradze, 1805) with publisher’s commentaries, Marie Brosset’s History of Georgia, Ingilo Janashvili’s letters and Stefanoz Orbeliani’s records, although according to P.Kekelidze, Akaki creatively extended Tsotne’s historical image and added numerous interesting artistically treated episodes into his life. (Kekelidze 1961: 233).
To these similar episodes in the poem and chronicle which are widely discussed in scholarly literature, several more passages can be added but we consider that the dependence of the basic part of the plot of Natela on “The Life of Kartli” is so obvious and undeniable that it does not require any additional arguments. To our mind, in accordance with modern stage of the studies into literary criticism, it is more interesting today the analysis of that discursive context which includes one and the same historical narrative, although perceived differently by means or thanks to this discourse by the reader of medieval or a new epoch.
From the onset historical poem Natela was evaluated differently by the scholarly society. Apparently, the negative attitude of critically-minded scholars in relation to the poem was mainly caused by Akaki’s version which was different from the traditional historical narrative. The “element of a fairy tale” as “Natela’s story” is called, seems completely unsuitable and even diminishing the heroism which in the course of centuries nourished Georgians soul. Perhaps, in contrast to such attitude there appeared a desire to seek the source of Natela’s artistic image if not in historical then in partially historical context, even in the form of rendering a legend.
A.Khakhanashvili laid the foundation to the viewpoint about borrowing the image of Natela from folk legend. He wrote that female heroic character of Akaki’s protagonist is pictured in the poem Natela, which plot is based on a legend” (Khakhanashvili 1913: 142-143), though the scholar did not specify which legend was used by the poet. The other scholar A.Toradze supports Khakhanashvili’s view but with a little precision: “As to Natela to our mind she is a legendary person. As is known from the poet the stone close to Tsotne Dadiani’s grave had an inscription: “Natela”. In people’s belief this Natela is the wife of the Odishi ruler - Tsotne Dadiani, who thanks to her decisive actions, rescued her husband and other Georgians from Nion’s captivity and our poet with his God-given talent interlaced …a historical evidence with the rendering about Natela invented by people’s fantasy and created to us a finished composition” (Toradze 1911). Actually, one part of the scholars accepted this note without arguing but others treated it with doubt. It really sounds doubtful due to several reasons: 1) If Akaki really had seen Tsotne Dadiani’s grave while traveling in the Khobi region and a stone near it with inscription “Natela”, he would definitely inform the society about this; 2) T.Zhordania thoroughly studied the history of the Dadiani family but he did not mention anywhere Tsotne Dadiani’s grave, neither Natela as his wife (Egri 1891); 3) There is no mentioning of Tsotne Dadiani’s grave by monk-priest Kalistrate who published materials concerning Khobi monastery in 1894 (M-P Kalistrate 1894:). He states that there are no gravestones, neither of the Dadianis, nor of catholicoses. And finally, a few moths ago, under the mural about which T.Zhordania informed the society from the pages of the “Iveria” in 1891 and as becomes known from the inscriptions, Shergil and Natela Dadianis together with their tem-year-old son are represented, the archeologists have found the tomb and grave which could belong to Tsotne Dadiani, but this fact has not yet been proved by scholars. Thus, the information that Akaki Tsereteli saw Tsotne Dadiani’s grave by which the stone was with an inscription “Natela” must be wrong. In the earlier folklore the name “Natela” as Tsotne Dadiani’s is unknown as well. According to traditional view, Natela is Tsotne Dadiani’s mother.
Apparently, when choosing the name for his protagonist the materials of the Khobi monastery inspired Akaki’s artistic imaginary. According to the first autograph of the poem it becomes evident that initially Akaki called his personage Pirimzisa.
Proceeding from the above mentioned, we consider that the image of Natela is a fruit of Akaki’s fantasy in spite of the fact that it resonates with Georgian traditions and mental consciousness. P.Kekelidze who thoroughly researched probable historical sources of the poem tried to link the image of Natela with known events from Georgia’s history. To our mind, these parallels are invented as well as an attempt to assume Akaki’s version of reality concerning Natela’s origination (Kekelidze 1961:).
As is seen such kind of search is directed to prove the “historicity” of the poem at least subconsciously, in response to those critics who criticized the poem due to “non-historicity” of the passages. In one of the letters entitled “Remark on Theatre” Akaki writes: “Generally, historical composition must be definitely based on the truth; but there is a certain kind of composition though not really historical but “look like historical”, or “like historical surname” when in the composition both action and personages are intentionally invented but so realistically that picture the time to which it belongs, character and circumstances and the events happened as the author described them and not otherwise” (Tsereteli, 1881:).
Natela is also “historical surname” poem which “generally belongs to historical compositions. With account of new developments and new reader the poet treats history in a new way, offers new narrative. If we scrutiny the text of the Chronicle, we can easily note that Tsotne Dadiani’s heroism is given against the background of Biblical tropology. The Chronicler amazed at the heroism of the celebrated Georgian, does not spare the epithets to embellish Tsotne Dadiani’s deeds but especially emphasizes the most important feature of his character – his ability to sacrifice himself for his friends which is considered the fulfillment of the key notion in Christianity (Chronicler 1987:98). The biblical quotation with which the chronicler immortalizes Tsotne Dadiani’s heroism is taken from the Gospel to John (John.15, 12-13). Biblical paradigm which is introduced into the narration by a chronicler is a certain index for explanation of personage’s character and essence of the event for which the author develops additional discussion, makes his own appraisal of a hero and situation. Thus, in the form of the episode reported in the Centenary Chronicle we deal with the unity of the history and discourse or the so-called documentary narrative. However, this discourse is also developed in the ideological context of its epoch.
It is true, as was mentioned above, in Akaki Tsereteli’s poem there is situational or phraseological coincidences with the text of the “Centenary Chronicle” but the poet by means of artistic imagination expands the plot and story, and unlike historical narrative makes other accents, transfer the attention to Natela’s literary image whish is essentially the product of his imagination. With this Akaki transforms historical narrative into a new type of narrative (with modern interpretations of the term) in which attention is mainly focused on fiction. At the same time the content of this invention moves the key hero of historical events Tsotne Dadiani into the background, though this fact does not diminishes his role. New narrative emphasizes the role and function of a woman in the course of history that must have had purposeful receptive load in 19th-century reality. As is seen, “the northern wind” quickly changed historical image of a Georgian woman that predicted disastrous output to the country being in great trouble. To N.Baratashvili’s romantic sadness and despair there was opposed active position and hope of the generation of the sixties. Akaki Tsereteli also put the image of a dignified Georgian woman in front of his satirical verses “Mashenka-s” (Russian girl’s name) probably with the hope that on the past sampling new graft will definitely bears fruit.
Egri 1991: Egri. Tsostne Dadiani and his Personality. Newspaper “Iveria”, 248. 1891
Kalistrate 1894: Kalistrate, M.M. Khobi Monastery and its Historical Source. 1894.
Toradze 1911: Toradze A. Creations by Akaki and Ilia. Newspaper “Kolkhida”. 165.1911.
Kekelidze 1961: Kekelidze P. Akaki Tsereteli’s Historical Poems. TSU Publishing House.1961.
Chronicler 1987: Chronicler. Centenary Chronicle. Science. 1987.
Tsereteli 1881: Tsereteli A. Theatre remark. Newspaper “Shroma”. 12. 1881.
Tsereteli 1977: Tsereteli A. Verses, poems. Soviet Georgia. 1977.
Khananashvili 1913: Khananshvili A. History of Georgian literature (XIX century). 1913.
Volume 4, Issue 2