The life of Saint David, founder of the David-Garejeli monastery in Eastern Georgia, belongs to the cycle of biographies known as The Lives of the Syrian Fathers, most of which were composed by the Catholicos Arsenius II of Georgia (c. 955-80). To these Syrian Fathers is ascribed the introduction of monastic institutions into Georgia. The historical background of their mission has been the subject of considerable discussion, especially as their biographies, in their present form, were not composed until four centuries after their deaths, with the result that facts are overlaid with legend and myth.

The approximate date of the Syrian Fathers' mission to Georgia can, however, be established by references to real personages and events. Thus, the life of St. David of Garesja mentions the Patriarch Elias of Jerusalem (494-513). Lives of the twelve other Syrian Fathers refer to a visit to St. Simeon Stylites the Younger (521-97), who is described as sitting in an oven, which he is known to have done between the years 541 and 551. There is also a reference to the Persian king Khusraus’s siege of Edessa, which took place in 544. The Georgian chronicle known as The Conversion of Georgia says that the Syrian Fathers arrived some two hundred ears after St. Nino’s apostolate. These allusions combine to show that the Syrian Fathers arrived, or were traditionally supposed to have arrived in the Caucasus at various times between the end of the 5th and the middle of the 6th centuries.

While the Syrian Fathers are revered among the fathers of the Orthodox Georgian Church there can be no doubt that they belonged to the Monophysite persuasion, as did Peter the Iberian, whose life we have read in the last chapter. Syria was a great centre of opposition to the edicts of the Council of Chalcedon. We have already seen with what vigour the Emperor Marcian (450-57) persecuted those who refused to accept the Chalcedonian formulation of the doctrine of Christ’s two natures. After a period of respite under Zeno and Anastasius, there was a fresh outburst of persecution between the years 520 and 545 under Justin I and Justinian. Contemporary analysts give a lurid picture of the excesses committed by the Byzantine authorities against the Syrian clergy and monks, many of whom were forced to flee abroad.

We also have to bear in mind that at the period under review the Georgian Church was itself sympathetic to the Monophysite cause. At the Council of Dvin in 506, the Armenian Georgian and Albano-Caucasian Churches united in condemning the dogma laid down at Chalcedon. Not until a century later did the Georgian Catholicos Kyrion formally reject the Armenian Gregorian doctrine and bring his flock back for ever within the Orthodox fold.

When we recall that the Syrian Fathers arrived in Georgia at a time when Monophysite monks expelled from Syria were taking refuge abroad, and that the Georgian Church was then on the Monophysite side, we must conclude that the Syrian Fathers were indeed Monophysite refugees anxious to continue their religious work in the more tolerant and congenial atmosphere of Georgia.

In general, the Syrian Fathers are pictured as lovers of a hermits solitary life. But they were by no means misanthropic in outlook. St. Iese of Tsilkani, for instance, obliged his parishioners by diverting the river Ksani to run through their town. Several of the Fathers were distinguished by their love of animals. St. John Zedazneli made friends with bears near his hermitage. St. Shio employed an obliging but rather inefficient wolf to guide the donkeys which brought supplies to his lonely grotto. But it is perhaps in the life of St. David here translated that the good relations existing between the Syrian Fathers and the animal world are brought out in the most touching and vivid light.

The First Thursday after Ascension Day -
The Life and Acts of our Holy Father David of Garesja

The homeland of this worthy and marvel-working Father was the Mesopotamian valley of Assyria, from which there have stemmed such a host of excellent and saintly men fertilized by the Holy Ghost and made into a spring-sown field of spiritual grace. But I could not discover when the saint was born, nor who were the parents from whom he received fleshly birth and upbringing, though we may assume that this noble branch sprang from excellent roots. As the good tree brings forth good fruit, so did the saint by his fruit make known the quality of his forbears.

Although I am ignorant of the names of his corporeal parents, his spiritual father is well known to all, namely the wondrous and noble John Zedazneli. This blessed Father John was from the borders of Antioch in the land of Mesopotamia. And by the guidance of the Holy Ghost, he arrived in this country of Georgia nearby the sacred capital city of Mtskheta. He longed for a hermits life, and said to his disciples, “My sons, why do you stand idle? Do you not know that the Lord Jesus Christ has sent and guided us here for the benefit of this country? For this is a virgin land. Now it is time for you to go away separately and strengthen our brethren to walk in Christ's ways.”

So our holy father David departed to dwell in desolate and waterless places, so that by an ascetic way of life in this transitory world, he might win for himself eternal bliss and rest everlasting. He therefore chose to live outside in the wilderness, and for this reason his desert abode is called Garesja. He took with him one disciple, Lucian by name.

When they had arrived in this uninhabited and waterless place they became very thirsty. Then they found a little rain water which had collected in a crack in a rock, so they drank some of it and lay down to rest in the shadow of the rock. Afterwards they walked this way and that, and found a cave in the crag and settled down in it. Whenever it became sultry or rained they rested in the cave. For food they collected roots and grass, as it was spring time, and plenty of nourishment for the flesh was to be found. So they collected provisions and glorified God, the giver of all good things.

After some days had passed, the meadows became withered and burnt up because summer had arrived. Suddenly there came three deer, followed by their fawns, and stood before them like peaceable sheep. Father David said, “Brother Lucian, take a dish and milk these deer.” And he got up and milked them. When the dish was full he took it up to the hermit. And he made the sign of the cross and it turned into curds, and they ate them and were filled, and glorified God. After that the deer came every day, except for Wednesdays and Fridays, and brought their fawns with them, so that they were contented in body and joyful in spirit.

But underneath, close by the cave where the saints resided, there was another cave, in which was a large and fearsome dragon with bloodshot eyes and a horn growing out of his forehead, and a great mane on his neck. One day the deer were going by the entrance to the cave when the dragon attacked them and seized a fawn and swallowed it. The terrified deer ran to the hermit and trembled. When Lucian saw them shivering with fright he said to St. David, “Holy Father, these deer have come flying to us and are shaking with terror, and they have left one of their fawns behind.” So the hermit went out with his staff in his hand. When he had reached the place past which the deer had come, he saw the dragon and said, “Evil dragon, why have you harmed our deer, which God has given us to comfort our weak flesh? Now depart from here and go far away into the desert. If you do not obey me, then by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ I will rip open your stomach with this staff of mine and turn you into food for the mice.”

But the dragon exclaimed, “Do not be angry, O servant of God Almighty! If you want me to go away from here, lead me up to the top of that mountain, and promise that you will not take your eyes off me until I have reached the river which flows on the south side of the hills, because I am afraid of thunderbolts and cannot endure them.” St. David gave his promise, and the dragon set out with St. David escorting him and reciting a psalm. And the rocks of that place wobbled from the tread of the dragon.

When Lucian saw this, he was afraid, and fell on his face and lay as if dead. And St. David led the dragon up as far as the top of the mountain, and the dragon began to scramble up to the peak. When the dragon had left the plain, St. David set off back towards his desert abode keeping his eye on the dragon. But the angel of the Lord spoke from behind him and said, “David!” So he looked round, and as he turned the dragon was struck by a thunderbolt and completely burnt up.

When St. David saw this he was very sorry and said, “O Lord, King of Glory, why didst Thou kill this dragon which put its trust in me, in spite of which Thou hast relentlessly destroyed him?” Then the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why are you sorry, O virtuous follower of our Lord Jesus Christ? for if the dragon had entered the river waters, he would have passed on into the sea. By eating the fish there, he would have grown enormous in size, and have overturned many ships in the ocean and destroyed many living souls in the seas. So do not grieve because the Lord has shown His mercy in this way, but go to your cavern, because your disciple Lucian has fallen on his face and is lying terror-stricken from fear of the dragon. Stretch out your hand and raise him up and strengthen and fortify him, and both together glorify God who has freed you from the fear of that detestable monster of a dragon.

On this the angel departed. David went and found Lucian quaking with fear, lying on the earth, and he stretched out his hand and raised him up and said, “Brother Lucian, why were you frightened of a worm, which God has shriveled up with fire in an instant? Now do not be afraid, for the might of God is with us, and God’s grace protects all that fear Him.” So Lucian was cheered by the hermit's words and gave thanks to the Lord.

Then several days went by, after which some hunts-men arrived from the borders of Kakheti, for in that wilderness, even up to the present day, there is abundance of game, including deer and wild goats and a countless variety of other sorts of game. When the hunters came they spied this way and that and caught sight of the hermit’s deer going into the cave in the rock. Then the hunters hastily turned aside to trap them in the cave in the rock. As they reached the hermit's cavern they saw the deer standing while St. Lucian milked them. When the men saw this, they were stricken with fear and ran in and fell at the feet of the holy hermit and said to him, “How is it, Holy Father, that these deer, wild animals of the field, are so tame as to be more peaceable than sheep brought up in a domestic farmyard?”

He said to them, “Why are you astonished at the glories of God? Do you not know that He tamed lions for Daniel, and saved the three children unharmed from the fiery furnace? So what is so wonderful about these deer? Now go and hunt other game, for these animals are granted by God for our feeble flesh.”

But they replied, “Great is the glory of the Lord it is fitting for us also to share in your holy way of life, saintly Father.” Their hearts were stirred, and they wept and said, “We will not return home again, but shall remain here with you and not leave you any more.”

But the hermit said to them, “My sons and brothers, this place is uncomfortable and confined. You had better go home.” And with difficulty he managed to persuade them to depart.

When they had finished hunting they went away and spread the news through all that country. From all sides people hastened to St. David's presence and begged to be deemed worthy to stay with him. But be said in reply, “Brothers, this place is lacking in comfort, and no food for the body is to be find in these parts.” But they treated him. saving, “Do not abandon us, Holy Father. If death should overcome us in your presence it would not seem like Tenth to us When he had failed to persuade them, he said “Since you have been granted faith in God, go and fetch spades and dig water cisterns, and also caves to live in. And they obeyed him and did what he told them.

After the brethren had gathered together, a worthy and virtuous monk, Father Dodo, heard this news. He also came before David, and they greeted one another. When a few days had gone by, a large number of other brethren collected, and David said to father Dodo, “Go, Brother, to the spur of that crag which stands opposite us, and take with you the other brethren, for they wish to be mortified externally in the flesh for the sake of the life of their souls.” St. Dodo obeyed his command and went and built the hermitage which is called after our most holy Queen, the Mother of God, the glory of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and from Dave to day the number of the brethren increased and all together they glorified God.

The holy father David came out every day to the caves in the cliff and there peacefully offered up sacred prayers, and with his sweat and tears watered those places as with a spring. One day when he was praying thus, there arrived a certain man belonging to a tribe of barbarians from the district of Rustavi, and he was hunting game. Now his hawk brought down a partridge near the place where St. David was praying, and the partridge took refuge by the hermit and perched by his feet, and the hawk perched close by. This vas by divine intent ,so that this hunter should himself be hunted by the grace of God. Then the barbarian hurried up to take the partridge from the hawk.

When he saw the saint standing in prayer, and the partridge sitting by his feet, the barbarian was amazed, and said, “Who are you?” David replied in the Armenian language. “I am a sinful man, a servant of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I am imploring His mercy, to forgive me all my sins, so that I may leave this transitory life in peace and quietness.” Then he asked again, “Who looks after you and feeds you here?” David replied, “He whom I believe in and worship looks after and feeds all His creatures, to whom He has given birth. By Him are brought up all men and all animals and all plants, the birds of the sky and the fishes of the sea. Behold, this partridge which was fleeing from your hawk has taken refuge with me, the sinful servant of God. Now go away and hunt other game, for today it has found a haven with me, so that it may be saved from death.”

The barbarian replied, “I intend to kill you, so how do you expect to save the partridge from death?” But St. David said, “You can kill neither me nor the partridge, for my God is with me and He is powerful to protect.”

At this word of the saint the barbarian, who was on horseback, drew his sword to strike St. David on the neck. When he raised his arm, suddenly it withered away and became like wood. Then the barbarian realized his wickedness and got down from his horse and fell at the hermit's feet, and begged him with tears to rescue him from the error of his ways.

Then St. David had pity on him and besought the Lord, saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, our God, who didst come down to give life to the human race, Kind and Merciful One who didst cure the hand that was withered up - likewise, O Heavenly King, just as Thou didst see fit to do this, so cure the arm of this barbarian, that he may understand and recognize Thee and glorify Thy name.” Then the saint took his hand, and when he touched it, in an instant it was healed by the grace of God.

When he witnessed the might of God he began to entreat him greatly with burning tears and said :O St. David, “O servant of the Living God, my son at home is lame in both legs and completely unable to get up. Now I place my trust in your saintly virtues that you may pray for him to the Lord. If he is cured, then God's kindness will be all the more glorified, and I will bring the child before your holy presence to be blessed by you, and I and all my household will worship the name of Jesus Christ. I will present you with abundant pr visions, and you and all your followers will be generously provided with the fruits of my estate.”

St. David answered and said to him, “Go to your house, and if it please God, you will End your son cured.” So he went home in a cheerful mood, especially as he had had a successful day's hunting. When he arrived at his home - Behold now Thy wondrous works, O Christ! this lame child of his, which used to crawl on all fours, walked happily out to meet his father! When his father saw him completely restored and perfect in limb he got off his horse and offered up thanks to God.

When it was dawn he loaded donkeys with great quantities of stores, including bread and vegetables, and went out to the holy hermit, bringing his son and two other children of his to receive his blessing. Then St. David collected all the brethren together and fed them with the stores he had brought. When they rose from dinner. Father David asked whether he had any boon to ask of him, and he begged to be accorded holy baptism. Then St. David told him to take some of the provisions and go to Father Dodo and feed also the brethren who were there and receive their blessing too. And the worthy Father Dodo gave a joyful and cordial welcome to the barbarian man and his children and servants, and blessed them. In accordance with Father David's orders he gave them a priest, from whom he and all his family received baptism, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

A certain time elapsed, and the assembled brethren became very numerous. Then the blessed David summoned his disciple Lucian and said, “Brother Lucian, if it be pleasing to God, I want to go to the holy city of Jerusalem to pray at the Holy Places and worship at the life-giving sepulchre of our Lord Jesus Christ.” With some difficulty he managed to persuade Lucian to remain with the brethren, and he himself set off for Jerusalem, accompanied by a few of the brothers.

When they had arrived at the place which is called the Hill of Mercy, from which the city of God, the holy Jerusalem, can be seen, they all raised their arms towards heaven and offered up thanks to God. But when St. David saw Jerusalem he fell upon the ground and said to them, “No, brethren, I may venture to advance no farther from this spot, for I judge myself unworthy even to approach those holy places. But you go and pray for me, a sinner.”

After he had spent much time there in praying and lamenting, bowed down towards the earth, he picked up three stones and packed them in his scrip as sacred relics, as if they had been hewn from the very sepulchre of Christ. After this he turned round and walked joyfully along the road which leads to Garesja. But God, astonished at his candour and faith, wished to make manifest the renown of His servant, who from excess of sincerity did not dare to enter Jerusalem. So that night He sent an angel to speak in a vision to Elias, Patriarch of Jerusalem, saying:

“There is come as far as my city of Jerusalem my own particular servant David, and by his faith he has carried away with him the grace and favour of Jerusalem. So now send runners out swiftly to catch lip with him, for he is going along the road leading away from the city dressed in a felt cloak. He has an old scrip in which there are three stones which he has taken as sacred relies from the place whence he turned back. Tell those men to take these stones away from him and give him back one only, and they art to speak to him as follows: Thus the Lord commands you - Through your faith, you have taken away the grace and favour from my holy city of Jerusalem, but it has seemed good to me to restore two parts to Jerusalem, so that the city may not be entirely excluded from my mercies; but I will present a third of it to you to take back to your wilderness. Go then in peace and take this stone as a sacred relic to your hermitage, as a memorial and a testimony to your faith.”

When the Patriarch had seen all these things in his dream he started up out of his sleep and immediately summoned swift messengers and told them everything he had seen and heard from the angel in the vision. So they left the city and quickly went about their errand, and overtook the holy father David and informed him of everything the Patriarch had told them. In the scrip which he carried with him they found the three stones, and they took two of them away from him. But one they gave him hack as the Patriarch Elias had directed them. Some time later, St. David reached his hermitage, and all tic brethren greeted him with joy and good wishes when they heard of the arrival of their spiritual shepherd. And even today that stone remains in the hermitage effecting great miracles of healing right up to the present time.

And David, this great shepherd and father of ours, went out from day to day to visit and encourage the brothers who lived in remote parts, and strengthen them in the campaign of virtue. Now when a considerable time had passed in this way, his ship was full of the good cargo and inexhaustible riches of virtue, and it was time for it to be carried up to the heavenly shores above. So he summoned all the brethren whom he had gathered together and instructed them with words of paternal exhortation. Afterwards he partook of the immaculate and immortal mysteries of Christ, being the sacred flesh and holy blood of our Lord Jesus. Then he raised up his hands towards God and committed his soul to Him, and relinquished his body, worn out with much toil, to he committed as earth to earth, while the brothers who had gathered round wept bitterly over the loss of their good shepherd.


David Marshall Lang (6 May 1924 – 30 March 1991), was a Professor of Caucasian Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He was one of the most productive British scholars who specialized in Georgian history.

Selected bibliography
    Lives and Legends of the Georgian Saints (New York: Crestwood, 1976)
    The Last Years of the Georgian Monarchy, 1658-1832 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1957)
    A Modern History of Georgia (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1962)
    The Georgians (New York: Praeger, 1966)
    The Peoples of the Hills: Ancient Ararat and Caucasus by Charles Allen Burney and D.M. Lang (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971)

The material presented by D. M. Lang and B. Sisauri [Master of Divinity - Georgia, Email: b.sisauri(at)mailcity.com]

"Blame a friend to his face, an enemy behind his back"
Wise Saw


In  Rhetoric  it  is  written:  A  man  should  begin  everything  with  an  introduction.  This  is  true, Let us so begin.

Whoever recognizes himself in the image of Luarsab, whoever applies to himself what is written  of  Luarsab  willof  course  begin  to  throw  mud  and  call  the  simple  author  of  this  story  a  "fool".  Let  them  be  well  assured  that  we  have  naught  to  do  with  individuals,  we  write  of  a  general evil.

For  the  rest,  I  find  courage  in  the  truth  of  these  words:  "Blame  a  friend  to  his  face,  an  enemy  behind  his  back".  Where  now  art  thou  that  first  spoke  these  wise  words?  I  know  where  thou art: thou art in the people, unseen, and of the people.

I  know  too  what  thou  art  called,  thy  name  is  the  genius  of  the  people.  And  I  know  thy  nature: thou art infallible and always right. Thou and only thou givest to him whose heart is sore for "others". Thou doest this even when those "others" hold sympathy with their sorrows to be a sin. What are we to do? Some show .their sympathy by praising what is evil in a friend and some by blaming the evil. Of these two kinds of people the reader will himself perceive which has the greatest and truest sympathy and love.


I

Prince  Thathkaridze's  abode  was  a  fine  sight.  Imagine  to  yourself  in  the  midst  of  Kakhethi  in  a  little  village,  a  bare,  low-lying  spot  and  in  the  very  heart  of  it  a  two-story  stone  house. And after this manner were the stories: below was a wine cellar roofed with dry branches of vine and behind this cellar against the wall a little room with a balustrade.

On the balustrade, like a swallow's nest, there, was fixed up a narrow plank which played the part of a bed. A little way off stood a fireplace also of planks, on this side of it a shed upon which was placed a lop-sided grain-basket, a miserable, forlorn-looking object. There was a little garden  too,  fenced  round.  By  the  fence  could  be  seen,  near  a  leafytree,  an  old  straw  shed,  bent  and twisted on to its side by the vicissitudes of time. It was as if it would fain have lain down in the shade, but like an old woman suddenly stricken by an attack of rheumatism, it was stopped, all  crooked  and  surly.  The  courtyard  of  this  castellated  mansion  was  fairly  extensive.  It  was  engirt by an old paling which had been broken in more than one place and it had never come into the present owner's head to mend it. Evidently he is a Georgian!

The  fence  was  terminated  at  one  end  by  huge  red  gates,  of  which  one  side  perhaps  for  two years, — had been pursuing with a terrible frown a post, as if  it  would  seize  it and beat it, while the post bent still farther over as if to slip away. Beyond the red gate was a large barn. The straw of it was lying spread like a hillock on the southern side of the whole barn, so that the end of it lay on the chaff-place. The chaff-place was ludicrous, so idiotically meditative and raised on the one side, looking like nothing so much as a broken-winged goose.

In  my  early  childhood  I  have  seen  many  a  fine  sight  on  this  straw:  here  often  disported  themselves,  grunting  from  excess  of  sentiment,  tender  pigs,  many  a  time  with  their  soft  snouts  they burrowed in the fragrant straw, so energetically, with such delicacy as only pigs are capable of.  Then  their  fondling!  Their  caresses!  Oh,  these  are  indescribable.  However  contented,  these  pigs  treated  each  other  to  the  snout.  What  yelling  and  squealing  used  to  begin  then!  Thus  does  our peasant frequently bestow upon his newly made bride a blow of his fist as a sign of affection. Somebody has said: "Georgian love is an injury", and I say: a blow is after all, a kind of caress. In administrative matters this has yet another significance; there a blow is a means of instruction. That is not our affair.

The inside of the courtyard was as filthy as an old chinovnik's (official's) heart. It was a serious undertaking to reach the master of the house without dirtying yourself or  without  being  saluted by some unsavoury fragrance. This is the outside, — now, readers, we invite you to enter the house of Prince T'hat'hkaridze.

But we must warn you that if we go in we must be careful. The floor is of brick. That is nothing. This is the difficulty that here and there the bricks have been pulled up and in their place remain  hollowed  out  holes.  You  must  keep  your  eyes  very  wide  open,  for  if  your  foot  slips  in,  woe  to  your  enemy!  A  man  might  break  his  neck  or  else  his  leg.  It  is  true  indeed  the  host  will  make many apologies, but an excuse doesn't easily mend a broken neck nor is it the best remedy for  a  fractured  limb.  A  man  might  avoid  this  disaster  if  the  room  were  light.  But  alas!  it  is  not  even this. Although it has two windows, pretty small even for loopholes, still the room is dark, because  on  the  pine  window  frames  instead  of  glass  some  very  active  mind  had  fixed  oiled  paper. There is a proverb applicable to this sort of thing: "Cunning is better than force, if a man is ingenious". In ingenuity the cleverest European chatterer cannot excel a Georgian.

Many a time elsewhere have I seen such windows with ludicrous ornaments. Many a time have I seen the oiled paper on such a window pricked with patterns with a needle: sometimes a heart  is  portrayed,  sometimes  a  cross:  and  again  sometimes  something  like  the  following  is  is  written: "How did the bear go up the tree, lullaby, lullaby!"!

This of course must be a woman's work. And if it were indeed, what harm is there in it? Weary of reading her Psalter, with some sorrow on her heart, seated at the window to distract her mind and pass a wearisome day she may have taken her breast-pin and set her hand to this really entertaining work. She was idle and she acted in accordance with the proverb: "Useless work is better than useless sitting".

In T'hat'hkaridze's room there were two long divans opposite each other. So clean were the felt and carpets spread upon them, that when the Princess rose up, on every serene stop of the serene foot of her serene highness the clouds of dust rose so prettily that the beholder could not gaze enough. Between the two divans on the eastern wall was seen a besmoked, from the inside and  from  the  outside,  sad,  mournful  fireplace,  like  the  open  mouth  of  a  toothless  old  woman.  Here and there as adornments to the room were scattered various objects, such as: a muddy pair of white Qarabagh riding boots, a broken-mouthed copper jug, a greasy candlestick, dried herbs boiled in a copper teapot, a piece of the back of a dried fish, etc, etc.


II

Think not, readers, that this house belonged to some poor man and that therefore it was so pitiably neglected — no, he is the master of twenty men with well-built houses so that he is able to man as many as ten carts for agricultural purposes,  sheep  in  abundance  and  about  a  hundred  horses which are of no less value to an enlightened owner than so many slaves. So much for the live  stock:  now  let  us  count  up  the  property:  two  well  grown  vineyards  and  land  enough  for  a  hundred  and  fifty  days  ploughing  and  sowing.  These  possessions  serfs,  houses  and  land  in  the  hands of one who knows how to make the best of it are a choice morsel.

Then why does it stand in such ill condition, asks the astonished reader. Because he is a Georgian, we reply, fully convinced that we have given a good reason.

Yes,   in   that   beautiful   home   dwells   a   Georgian,   free   from   care,   Prince   Luarsab   T'hat'hkaridze, a man of forty, with his inseparable spouse, Princess Darejan.

Prince Luarsab T'hat'hkaridze was a well-nourished  Georgian of the olden time, as round — I make no apology for the simile — as a well fatted calf. His Highness had the appearance of a  gentleman:  a  head  so  big  that  it  seemed  as  if  by  its  weight  his  thick  neck  was  fixed  in  his  shoulders like a nave in a wheel; his poppy cheeks were ruddy as Thurashian apples, a soft chin with triple fold, apt to kindle love great big eyes, always bloodshot as if he had a rope tied round his neck; a swelled, very considerably protruding, highly respected and respectable paunch, inert, fat,  hairy  hands,  squat,  big  feet-here  you  have  a  general  and  particular  description  of  Prince Luarsab's  "heaven-breathed  soul's"  worthy  covering.  This  heaven-breathed  soul  was  nowhere  visible, as if it had been choked through being buried in His Highness's fat. A Georgian should be careful of breathing in or letting out wind. May not our prince have let this "heaven-breathed" soul escape in wind?

Of learning, by the grace of God, he had none at all. If he had he would not have been so fat.  It  often  happens  that  when  the  soul  languishes  the  flesh  makes  holiday,  when  the  soul  blooms the flesh fades. This is why, they say, that consumptives are wise. I do not think, it ever struck our Luarsab to ask why he had no education, — just for that reason:

"It is the plague of the present day", he used to say sorrowfully, just as if the country was suffering from this plague.

His  Highness  was  right  too:  in  his  opinion  man  was  a  bottomless  jar  into  which  all  day  there  should  be  poured  provender  and  drink,  but  it  could  never  be  filled.  His  Highness  saw  in  himself, with his serene wisdom, that an untutored man could fulfil this function perfectly well, all the more if he is lord of herds and serfs, serfs who do not differ much from the herds.

"Times  have  changed"  Luarsab  used  to  say  with  a  groan,  "times  have  changed.".  Since  these infernal schools have been introduced, Sir, the virtue has gone forth from the Georgian. No colour is left in our children. As for eating, they do not know how to eat, and as for drinking they can't drink. What sort of men are they?! They understand books? Though I don't know anything about books am I not a man, haven't I a hat on my head! (*1) I don't lack flesh and colour. Books are not a trade for men, — that's women's work. Give me back the good old days ! Then everything was  done  in  the  proper  way,  everything  was  in  its  own  place...  A  good  horse,  a  good  gun,  a  strong arm, and a man was respected then" Ah! my Luarsab! I know thou art sincere, like every old-fashioned Georgian, but thou art wrong in longing for the olden times. Dost thou not know who  was  desirable  in  the  old  days?  Are  there  not  horses  now?  Does  not  the  gun  hit  the  mark  nowadays? Are there few strong arms? We still have all these things, but we lack that heart, that ardour,  that  patriotic  devotion  which  was  wont  to  use  a  good  horse  and  a  good  gun  in  a  good  cause. The men of by-gone times gave beauty to horse and gun, but now it is the horse and gun that adorn the man. The olden days were good, but the poet Besarion Gabashvili was not wrong when he said. "One 'I have' is better than a thousand 'I hads?'", — we will say this and bite our tongues, lest...

Though  Luarsab  lamented  so  much  the  plague  of  the  present  day,  still  his  face  always  wore a smile of imbecility peculiar to him. There is a saying: "If you yoke one ox to another it will  change  either  its  colour  or  its  temper".  I  never  saw  this  proverb  so  justified  as  in  Prince  Luarsab's house. His dear consort, Princess Darejan was indeed her husband's other self and they were "One soul and one flesh" as it says in Holy Writ. But how? The same rotundity, the same corpulency,  the  same  smiling  face  and  almost  the  same  stupidity.  These  two  tender  wood  pigeons, one in soul and flesh, lived wondrous pleasantly together, far from the vapid turmoil of the world. At cockcrow the happy couple opened their eyes: Darejan immediately flew out of the nest  while  Luarsab,  the  selfish  Luarsab,  often  indulged  himself.  With  the  coverlet  thrown  back  from his chest to turned on the other side with a snore, a groan and other noises of the kind. It happened even that he passed the dull time until dinner in this luxurious manner.

The Georgians say: "He who has plenty of hair on his body is lucky" If this be true, then beasts should be happy! If it be false why should so many of us try to act like beasts? Because if beasts are happy they are only happy because they are hairy.

What can we say about Luarsab's body? As for his chest it was covered with bristles like a pig, so that many doubtful creatures were able in times of alarm to find shelter there, but "... but what? Was not Luarsab happy? As many healths had been drunk in his honour as a Prince of his  standing  could  desire.  The  hair  on  his  body  alone  was  enough  to  rouse  the  envy  of  an  unfortunate man, apart from anything else. What indeed troubled Luarsab? Did he lack colour or flesh? When did he, like any other simple man, allow thought or care to rob him of sleep or of appetite? He had a good colour, the best of flesh, enough of drink, food and sleep. What more is needed by a Georgian who considers that good and bad luck depend upon hair, and for him, if it be his lot, happiness consists in fanning away flies with his hat all his days.

Reader, are you not weary? Of course you are: here there is no love intrigue, no murder, no wailing of hopeless maids, no leaping into the water, in a word nothing that adorns the story written to amuse, here there is nothing of this kind. Then you must be weary, of course. But you ought to know this, reader, that I have not written down this simple story to amuse you. I want this story to make the reader think, and if it wearies him it is because thinking and boredom are inseparable brother and sister. I want the reader to be wearied, not because it is not amusing but because he is made to think. If this simple work can succeed in doing this I want nothing more, nor did I desire more, my weary reader! If I cannot contrive to do this, what's to be done? I can console myself with this that idle work is better than idle "sitting" How many a useless man has become useful by this blessed proverb. I too perhaps...

When  Luarsab  was  in  the  state  of  bliss  above  described  it  was  death  if  anybody  interrupted  his  enjoyment  and  luxury,  that  is,  turning  over  and  over  in  a  gentlemanly  and  honourable manner on the divan. He was angry if a guest came, said silly people, but surely this was not because he was mean? I wonder that you should think such a thing! Can meanness and a Georgian  be  found  together?  Do  not  frost  and  fire  destroy  each  other?  If  he  disliked  visitors  it  was only because he had to get up and dress. Getting up even was nothing, this had no terrors for Luarsab:  but  it  was  dressing  that  was  the  death  of  him.  He  passed  the  whole  summer  without  letting anything come near his body except his shirt and its companion garment, if he was left to his  own  devices;  if  not,  everything  additional  was  a  burden  to  him.  In  winter  he  put  a  fur  coat  over his shirt, unless any important personage was invited, for instance the district judge. At the time of which I write the judge was a big bogey: nowadays, since that weary learning has come in,  the  judge  is  not  looked  upon  as  anybody  in  particular,  but  formerly  ugh!  ugh!  What  a  great  man  he  was.  He  was  such  a  big  man  that  a  proverb  was  made  about  his  entertainment  by  the  lesser nobility: "Don't think it a joke to have a judge for your guest". That entertaining a judge is no joke every peasant even knows very well nowadays, and formerly the princes knew it too.

Darejan  was  not  as  lazy  as  Luarsab;  in  this  respect,  'fore  God;  they  were  certainly  not  alike;  it  turned  out  that  they  had  the  same  colour  but  not  the  same  character.  Whenever  the  princess opened her eyes wide she flew out from the divan like a falcon, fastened her petticoat, tied a kerchief round her neck, put on a chintz 'gown — sometimes in her haste, wrong side, first — thrust her bare feet into slippers, and, with a "Now boy!" went down to the strawhouse where the servants reigned, that is in misery and only to a certain extent, and brooded wrathfully over their pent-up feelings. This useless pottering about on the part of our princess was wonderful and ludicrous.  This  fat,  dumpy  woman  often  stood  on  her  feet  from  morning  till  noon  and  rolled  about like a ball. She was not as idle as she seemed: here she poked with her elbow a bleary-eyed girl  dozing  over  her  sewing,  here  she  slapped  the  head  of  a  smoky,  ragged  little  urchin,  who  yawning  and  lazily,  was  cleaning  for  the  evening  the  greasy  candle-sticks  of  the  night  before;  here  she  scolded  one  —  for  what?  The  princess  herself  hardly  knew  why;  there  she  abused  another — why? The princess did not know this either; she cursed, swore, raged; in a word, she poured  forth  on  her  subordinates  all  the  pent-up  wrath  of  the  night  and  then,  weary  and  exhausted, went into the house; if she met the maid she could not resist giving her another nudge, with a supplementary "May a thunderbolt strike you", if she was in a good humour — and thus worn  out  she  rolled  into  the  room,  where  sometimes  the  bloated  prince  had  rolled  over  like  a  wine-skin and if it was summer, counted the flies on the ceiling. On one noteworthy occasion he expressed an opinion and they started a discussion, This was in the middle of the hottest time in summer,  before  dinner,  when  Darejan  had  just  finished  a  journey  of  the  above  description  and  came back into the room with a throbbing in her head and wet with sweat. Luarsab looked round, and seeing that the sweat flowed in beads over her ruddy cheeks said to himself with satisfaction: she is a fair tower of strength in the household, she is a fine woman! I thank thee, my Creator, that thou hast vouchsafed me such an one.

When  he  had  said  this,  content  with  his  unclouded  lot,  the  prince  pleased  with  God  and  man,  turned  over  on  the  other  side.  This  turning  over  and  over  was  a  sign  that  Luarsab  was  pleased at something.

"Where have you been, my dear, that you are so tired?" he then enquired of the princess.

"How  can  you  ask  me  where,  my  dear?  if  you  have  a  house,  a  household,  a  yard,  you  must keep a sharp look-out, may your troubles light on my head!" replied the princess.

"Just so, my Darejan, just so, I honour you for it! it is woman's work.

"Well!" replied his consort, self-satisfied with his praise: "You must keep your eyes wide open with servants or they will do nothing but eat. Young people want looking after."

"Of course, of course!" "Many a woman does not know how to attend to her business".

"No, they don't know, if they did it would be a good thing, so it would!"

"Sometimes you must rage at them without a cause. If you abuse them it won't do them any harm. Now see how I abuse them, how angry I get, how I rage and curse, and all for what? So that they may fear and respect me, otherwise! ..."

"Of course, of course, otherwise! ..."

"That's what peasants are like; like a stubborn ass, if you once give it its head, then, even if you hold a bunch of berries before its nose you cannot make it budge a foot if you don't rage at it".

"Of  course  you  must  roar  at  it,"  replied  Luarsab,  again  enchanted  at  his  wife's  wisdom:  "of course, they are like stubborn asses".  "I am right, am I not?" "Of  course  you  are  right,  quite  right.  Even  the  dream  of  a  woman  would  be  true,"  chattered Luarsab inconsequentially. He himself did not know why he had dragged dreams into the conversation.

They were both silent. Luarsab fixed his eyes on the ceiling, where swarms of flies were sitting. Darejan began knitting a sock.

In a short time Luarsab called out:

"I  say",  Darejan,  of  you  are  a  clever  woman,  guess  how  many  flies  there  are  on  that  beam?"

"Where?"

"There, on that beam of the ceiling."

Now don't say that while they had been silent that ridiculous Luarsab had been counting the flies. How should Darejan know.

"How many are there?" said Darejan, "tell me, then I'll count them".

"I could find out that way. But guess, that is where the sport comes in".

"Is that how I am to do it? Very well, I say there are thirty."

"Oh! Ho! Ho! You, you can't guess.

"Well, how many are there?"

"How many? shall I tell you? No, I won't".

"Tell me if you know."

"As I am a man, there must be forty, Oh ! Ho! Ho! you ... I have guessed.

"Yes, you have guessed... you counted, as you did the other day; I could guess like that too".

"God bless you! may my good father be damned if I counted."

"Then how do yo know there are forty?"

"How? because I am intelligent".

"But am I not intelligent too?"

"Yes, but how can a woman's intelligence come up to a man's? I saw by looking carefully that there were forty".

"But if there are not forty?"

"I'll bet you there are".

"Then let us count them".

The pair began to count the flies. It turned out that there were more than fifty.

"So you guessed?!" said Darejan reprovingly: "yes, you guessed. My lord has intelligence and that's why he guessed".

Luarsab was ashamed and became somewhat confused.

"They  had  flown  away,  there  were  forty,"  said  the  stupid  fellow  to  justify  himself;  "of  course they had flown away".

"All  the  better  if  they  had  flown  away,  wouldn't  there  have  been  fewer  left?  There  are  more than fifty there now".

Luarsab grew angry and said to himself: "Why did I chatter like that".

When he found himself entangled in his own net, grinding his teeth, at which the princess laughed aloud, he said:

"God damn! I am not such a child! I counted them four times"

"But you said you hadn't counted them".

"I  wonder  to  hear  you  say  so!  If  I  had  not  counted  them,  I  should  have  been  another  Solomon the Wise if I had guessed. Of course I counted them, God damn! I made a mistake or else I should have won, my soul's delight! By my life and by God, I should have won."

Thus spoke the deceitful Luarsab, and became sweet as sugar to his consort who had won on this occasion.

"And so you didn't count them, you imp, you?" repeated the princess with a smile.

"I have acknowledged it, my dear, what more do you want?"

"Your long life and happiness, my pet! what more should I want".

"Darejan!"...  said  Luarsab  in  an  aggrieved  and  bashful  tone;  "Darejan,  if  you  love  me,  don't call me pet."

"Why, my dear, why?"

"It doesn't befit a man like me, let me tell you with all due respect: people call little lap dogs "pet", it's a dog's name, but what sort of name is it to apply to a man?"

"But aren't you my little doggie? Aren't you? This is the first time I have heard you say so," replied Darejan sobbing, for she considered that if he objected to be called her little dog he must have ceased to love.

Luarsab  perceived  that  he  had  grieved  her,  and  all  to  no  purpose,—and  in  order  to  dissipate the idea of his ceasing to love her, he said grinning his teeth:

"Oh! I give in! Oh! I am your little doggie, of course I am! What an eloquent woman she is!" said Luarsab to himself. How prettily and poetically she spoke about my being a little dog! What a mastery of language !... How could she think of it?!"

He too wanted to invent some endearing epithet, but while he was trying to think of one there  swam  before  his  eyes  visions  of  stock  fish,  middle  cut  of  sturgeon,  leg  of  mutton  with  garlic and such things. With these objects in view what caressing epithet could a man think of?

Nevertheless Luarsab contrived to utter eloquent words:

"Do you know what you are to me? Cress of my soul, tarragon of my heart and my mind's —  what  shall  I  say?  Let's  say  salt.  Haven't  I  spoken  well,  if  I  have  not  may  your  good  and  renowned father be damned! Weren't they pretty epithets?"

Chattering  thus  Luarsab  enchanted  by  his  own  eloquence  gnashed  his  teeth  as  a  sign  of  joy. Nor was Darejan unhappy. Often did our couple pass the time in this way. Would that they, O reader!


III

Luarsab well knew how to "terrorize" the servants, as he himself would say. It is true he was  inclined  to  be  lazy,  but  after  all  did  not  such  a  large  estate  need  supervision?  The  cares  of  this estate drove him to spring from his couch. Then you should have seen what a fair sight our Luarsab  was  barefooted,  with  a  blue  sheepskin  hat  upon  his  head,  in  a  red  shirt,  with  his  inseparable companion.


(*1) In Georgian a male is a "hat wearer", a female a "mantilla wearer".



Ilia Chavchavadze
Works
Translated by Marjory and Oliver Wardrops
Ganatleba Publishers
Tbilisi 1987

What will the good backgammon player do, if he does not throw  the six in time


I

I am just what is called a lover of the chase. I have a strange liking for sitting at the foot of a tree in a shady, voiceless forest waiting with bated breath for the sighted quarry. There is an untiring  pleasure  in  this  enviable  occupation.  I  agree  with  you  that  hunting  is  a  sin:  every  creature is the work of God's hands, each has an equal desire to live on this: wide earth, but what is  to  be  done?...  Holy  Writ  assures  us,  not  falsely,  that  it  was  man  who  shed  the  first  innocent  blood of man on earth. Man is a shedder of blood, and I am a man. Many a time have I seen a deer  frightened  by  the  hounds,  many  a  time  have  I  seen  it  and  many  a  time  has  my  mind  been  captivated  by  its  free  beauty.  When  it  has  set  its  branching  horns  along  its  back  it  runs  swift,  beautiful and proud, while behind it barks the trained hound. The poor beast outruns the dog and falls into the clutches of man, who in these circumstances is more merciless and less to be trusted than  the  dog.  From  afar  the  keen-eared  sportsman  hears  the  deer's  footfall.  He  hears,  and  his  bloodthirsty  heart  beats  and  beats  with  sheer  impatience.  Now  it  comes  within  gun  range,  between  the  leaves  and  bushes  is  seen  its  sad,  melancholy  head.  The  dog  draws  near.  The  deer  pauses,  then  darts  round  like  an  arrow  into  the  bushes.  Thou  thinkest  that  since  thou  hast  changed  thy  way  thy  beloved  wood  will  give  thee  full  freedom  from  danger,  but  no,  J  whistle.  Then  you  should  see  with  what  sadness  it  stands,  with  what  wondrous  beauty  it  draws  up  its  neck, how in terror and despair it begins to turn its melancholy eyes, to prick up its ears and to sniff  with  widened  nostrils!  It  is  so  pretty  and  so  tender  and  yet  in  its  timidity  there  is  such  an  attractive  pride  that  you  would  think  that  it  had  gathered  all  the  grace  granted  it  by  nature  in  order  by  its  worth  and  beauty  to  soften  the  heart  of  the  hidden  foe!  But  man  is  not  so  tender-hearted as to be deterred by this, when it smelt the smell of man the deer resolved to flee, but the gun  thundered  forth  and  the  deer,  hitherto  living,  free  and  bold  was  stretched  on  that  grass  in  whose lap he had first opened his eyes to greet the world and where he now finally closed them in an eternal farewell. It had been its cradle and at the end it was its grave. You should see how resignedly and quietly the proud free beast died. But its tearful eyes always seem to be asking me this question: My slayer, God's world is large and wide — Why dost thou grudge me, innocent and peaceful, a span's length on God's boundless earth? These words sadden the heart until, the earth  has  dried  up  the  blood  spilt,  and  when  it  begins  to  dry.  then  I  call  to  mind  that  even  we  lords of creatures, the crowns: of things created, we who are made in the image of God, do not suffer each other to have room, — when I remembered that on every foot of ground trodden by man, some of man's blood had dried, then I consoled myself and, justified, I said to myself: "this at  least  is  well,  my  friend,  that  thou  diest  there  where  thou  wast  born.  We  men  sometimes  are  deprived even of that happiness".


II

About  fifteen  versts  down  from  our  village  there  are  some  good  hunting  grounds.  But  why  there?  Everywhere  in  our  blest  land,  where  —  as  the  peasants  say  —  "Christ  God  has  shaken out from his generous bosom", everywhere are good places. Whatever you want is there, beginning with the graceful deer and finishing with the gentlemanly wild boar or the wise bear. Not  to  speak  of  birds.  But  down  from  our  village  were  my  favourite,  hunting  grounds.  Well  I  knew  their  disposition  and  I  had  my  game  marked  down  and  even  seen.  I  used  to  go  away  for  two  or  three  days;  when  night  drew  nigh  I  turned  into  a  little  village  where  I  had  a  worthy  peasant gossip. I would spend the night there and in the morning when the grey dawn appeared I went  down  to  hunt.  I  had  not  been  there  for  two  months,  when  at  last  I  longed  to  go  out.  One  fine,  summer  morning  I  said  my  prayers,  took  my  double-barrelled  gun,  called  my  hound  and went out. At the entrance to my gossip's village where the double hedge began, on the edge of a     cart road stood an old straw shed leaning against a byre. The entrance down into the stable was vaulted like the carpeted covering on a bullock cart. Round about this shed there was no trace of man.  It  had  been,  I  think,  abandoned  to  its  fate  and  forgotten,  like  its  owner  at  his  removal  or  death. Of course, I had frequently gone up and down past this shed, for it stood on the edge of the road, but for as many times as I had passed to and fro I had not once seen a living«creature here.

Perhaps  at  times  a  skinny  backed  peasant's  horse  which  could  go  no  farther  from  feebleness was enticed to the neighbourhood of the shed by the grass dried up with drought. But one  day  as  I  was  passing,  to  my  wonder,  I  saw  a  man  lying  at  the  door  of  the  stable.  That  was  nothing.  In  the  morning  when  I  went  past  I  looked  and  saw  the  man  still  lying  there.  In  the  evening, before twilight had quite yielded to darkness, I came back again I found the man there. It surprized me all the more as there was none but he. I resolved that I would certainly ask my godsire  who  he  was  that  evening.  My  godsire  answered  my  question  thus:  What  can  I  tell  you,  my son? No one here knows who he is. He is some needy peasant having no master; he is sick and came and settled there about a month and a half ago.

—Is he quite alone?

—How do I know? He has not any comforter there at any rate.'

—Then who provides for him?

—The world. On that road movement never ceases. There are always passers-by: it may be a man of God drops him a piece or two of bread. He asks for nothing more than that.

— He does not belong to these parts?

— What do you ask? If he belonged here how could he have so displeased God that his own folk would not have given to him. No, he is not of these parts. Have you spoken to the. man?

— Why not? I have spoken to him.

— Did he say nothing about himself?

— No. But the unhappy man was evidently educated.

— Perhaps you did not ask him about himself?

— How not ask him? Once he said to me: "I, says he, am a forgotten man, why dost thou want to know who I am? Look at me, my brother, and know me", — says he. He spoke no more of himself and I asked no more after that. I think he is hiding himself.

This made me wonder. By nature I am a lover of knowledge and now imagine how these fragmantary words of my godsire moved my heart to learn the man's story. What could he have to conceal? I thought to myself. I resolved that whatever might betide me, I would ask the poor man himself who he was.

One  day,  worn  out  with  wandering  in  vain,  and  empty-handed,  I  was  returning  to  my  gossip's. The sun was still high. It was the time when the cattle are let out of the byre. I saw the wretched man still lying in the same place. My heart could endure no more. I said: whatever may be, I will go and perhaps I shall persuade him to tell me something. I am a little tired too and it is a good way to my godsire's house. If it does no more good it will let the rheumatism out of my wearied knees, I went up and wished him "Victory" (*1)

God  grant  thee  length  of  days-he  replied  with  a  weak  voice,  and  he  came  forward  respectfully  when he saw I was of the princely class.

*  *  *
"Alas! O world, (Fate) what ails thee?
Why dost thou whirl us round?
What (ill) habit afflicts thee?  
All who trust in the weep ceaselessly like me.
Whence and whither earnest thou?
Where and whence uprootest thou?
But God abandons not the man forsaken by thee
(Rustaveli: "The Man in the Panther's Skin").

— He speaks truth who said that may thy troubles be upon me! If the world has turned to face away from me and not given me shelter,   still God's lap is broad!...

When  he  said  this  he  looked  up  to  God.  You  may  imagine  how  these  words  from  "The  Man in the Panther's Skin" astonished me from a beggar wrapped in rags!...

God bless the speech of that man whose words console even to the door of the grave such inconsolable ones! Peace be upon thy mighty soul, immortal Rustaveli.

— What shall I do? said I in my heart. This man cannot have been what he now is. My curiosity was unrestrained now that the man himself had prolonged the conversation with me and given  me  hope  of  learning  something  of  him.  I  wished  to  question  him,  but  did  not  dare:  I  recognized that a long familiar breath had suddenly inspired him with great melancholy. First I preferred that the cloud of melancholy should dissipate, then I would question him as to who he was. At last he turned towards me and for a long time fixed his black eyes upon me.  


(*1) The usual Georgian salutation.



Ilia Chavchavadze
Works
Translated by Marjory and Oliver Wardrops
Ganatleba Publishers
Tbilisi 1987