“The Knight in the Panther's Skin"

“The Knight in the Panther's Skin"

Readers from all over the world still passionately discuss “The Knight in the Panther's Skin” and its role in the treasury of world literature. An absolute masterpiece by a Georgian poet Shota Rustaveli never fails to amaze its readers. It is no wonder the poem has been translated into more than 50 languages by internationally acknowledged translators such as Marjory Wardrop, Marie Brosset, Arthur Leist, Gaston Buachidze, and many others. Recently, “The Knight in the Panther's Skin” has also been translated into Korean and Greek.
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The epoch of “The Knight in the Panther's Skin” and the first manuscript

“The Knight in the Panther's Skin” was written during the reign of Queen Tamar; However, the oldest surviving manuscript dates back to 1646. It is also well-known that Georgian emigrants, missionaries, and diplomatic figures took the manuscripts abroad, but they haven’t been returned to Georgia, nor is it known where the manuscripts are currently. 

Researchers of “The Knight in the Panther's Skin" claim that relatively old manuscripts were destroyed in the 13th-14th centuries, as a result of multiple invasions by Jalal ad-Din, Khwarezmians, Mongols, Persians, and other conquerors. Along with the oldest manuscripts of the poem, the autographic copy by the poet was also lost. 

Who is Shota Rustaveli?

შოთა რუსთაველის ძეგლი

Unfortunately, the information about the origin of the author of the poem, his social status and his work is very limited. Some claim Shota Rustaveli was an official at the Royal House, responsible for managing cultural affairs. Some even say he went to Jerusalem later in life to become a monk. This assumption is supported by a fresco of Shota Rustaveli in the Monastery of the Cross in Jerusalem (Jvari Monastery).

Shota Rustaveli Fresco in Jerusalem

The Shota Rustaveli fresco in Monastery of the Cross, Jerusalem was first discovered by Timothe Gabashvili, a Georgian religious and public figure. He visited the Georgian monasteries in the Far East in 1754-1756. In 1845, the Georgian scientist Nikoloz Chubinishvili repainted a portrait of Rustaveli with a pencil. Surprisingly, the researcher Niko Marr, when visiting Jerusalem in 1899, could not see the fresco anymore. Until 1960, this unique image of the poet was considered to be lost. In the same year, an expedition of Georgian scientists including Irakli Abashidze, Akaki Shanidze, and Giorgi Tsereteli, found the fresco. Scientists believe that the birth date of Shota Rustaveli was around 1160-1165, during the reign of Queen Tamar and her husband David Soslan.

Manuscript of “The Knight in the Panther's Skin”

For centuries, Georgians used to rewrite "The Knight in the Panther's Skin” by hand. Up until now, there are around 160 manuscripts of the poem, made by famous copyists like Mamuka Tavkarashvili, Ioseb Saakadze-Tbileli, Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani, Ioane Laradze, Petre Laradze, Petre Kebadze, Giorgi Tumanishvili, Manana Zedgenidze, Nino Zedgenidze, Ana Tumanishvili-Amilakhvari, and others.

The first copy of “The Knight in the Panther's Skin”

In 1712, “The Knight in the Panther's Skin” was printed for the first time in a printing house founded by Vakhtang VI. It is said that Vakhtang VI would only rely on the selected manuscripts to print the tale. By the command of the commander-in-chief, Zaza Tsitsishvili, he chose the 17th-century manuscript by Ioseb Saakadze-Tbileli.

Illustrations of “The Knight in the Panther's Skin”

For the Georgian people, embellishing the copies or manuscripts of “The Knight in the Panther's Skin” was always of utmost importance. One of the most famous authors and illustrators of the poem is Mamuka Tavkarashvili. Illustrated copies by Hungarian artist Mihai Zichy are also very popular. In 1881, Zichy started working on it at the request of the Georgian creative circles. 

In 1937, an artist Sergo Kobuladze dedicated his illustrations to the anniversary edition. In 1963, another famous Georgian artist Lado Gudiashvili came up with his take for another anniversary edition of the poem. Other artists such as Tamar Abakelia, Irakli Toidze, and Levan Tsutskiridze also worked on illustrating “The Knight in the Panther's Skin”. One of the recent illustrations was made by the amazing Rusudan Petviashvili and the book of her illustrations have been translated into French by Gaston Buachidze.

The printed editions and manuscripts of “The Knight in the Panther's Skin” are kept at the library archive of Tbilisi State University, the National Center of Manuscripts. Several valuable manuscripts are preserved in various private collections or national libraries outside of Georgia. For example, unique manuscripts from the 17th and 18th centuries are kept at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, in the Wardrop collection, while two manuscripts from 1702 and 1811 are kept in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

Significance of “the Knight in the Panther's Skin”

Scholars and scientists believe the poem is unique in various ways. In addition to the fact that “The Knight in the Panther's Skin” covers a large geographical area (India, Arabia), the work also features fictional areas. Fantasy, utopia, and anti-utopia are all present. The reader instantly recognizes the vast knowledge of the author. 

Ancient and modern researchers of Rustaveli work unanimously agree that “the Knight in the Panther's Skin” echoes the European worldview from the Middle Ages and Renaissance era. Further, it is organically related to European literature. Elguja Khintibidze dives deeply into this issue through his research, suggesting that “The Knight in the Panther's Skin” was the inspiration for Shakespeare when writing “Cymbeline”. It is safe to assume that Shakespeare would have read “The Knight in the Panther's Skin”, however, this assumption requires more research.

Golden Ratio

For the first time, it was academic Giorgi Tsereteli, who identified the "Divine Proportion", also known as the "Golden Ratio" enshrined in the poem. As Tsereteli suggests, it was Rustaveli who constructed such a voluminous piece of literature on the principle of the Golden Ratio.

Out of 1662 stanzas, 863 stanzas are based on the Golden Ratio principle. The formula is as followed: the Golden Ratio is the division of the whole into two unequal parts when the larger part is related to the whole just as the smaller part is related to the larger part.

The presence of the Golden Ratio, or the Divine Proportion in “the Knight in the Panther's Skin" raises the question of the metrical structure of Rustaveli's poem from a new perspective, giving its author a special place in the history of the world poetry", - Tsereteli suggests. 

They say... 

The interest in “the Knight in the Panther's Skin" remains constant. As Vazha Pshavela, a genius Georgian poet said: "Rustaveli is Georgia, and Georgia is “The Knight in the Panther's Skin. They are inseparable”. In the words of Ilia Chavchavadze, “the Georgian people put their tears and joy, heart and soul, thoughts, intentions, and feelings in it.” Konstantin Balmont would add: - "Just as Homero is Hellas, Dante - Italy, Shakespeare - England, Calderon, and Cervantes - Spain, Rustaveli is Georgia; Rustaveli is the embodiment of the proud spirit of the Georgian nation."

In the words of Georgian writer Tamaz Chiladze: “The Knight in the Panther's Skin" is the most “alive” book today. And it is not simply alive, it is immortal. Its uniqueness fascinates readers day in and day out. The strong influence of the poem might be compared to the impact of any religion or political doctrine. The name Shota Rustaveli denotes excellence, supremacy, and almost divinity. Shota Rustaveli is a Georgian nation.“

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