For the Understanding of Aghaza’s Literary Character in Vazha-Pshavela’s poem “Host and Guest”

Aghaza occupies an outstanding position among Vazha-Pshavela’s literary heroes due to her internal complexity and dramaticism (the poem “Host and Guest”). In Georgian literary criticism the issue referring to the conscience in Vazha-Pshavela’s epic poetry is usually discussed in relation to Aghaza. The scientific literature points that “…Vazha-Pshavela illustrated the tragedy of conscience on the example of Aghaza’s personality” [Kiknadze, 2005:433-434]


    Initially, Aghaza appears in the third chapter of the poem. Upon returning home together with Zviadauri, Jokola calls his wife to host the guest. Aghaza’s entrance is preceded by a sort of an artistic pause as if the poet intentionally prepares a reader for meeting a new prominent character.


“A beautiful woman appeared

Dressed in black. Her body was

As slender as a silken thread.

She was a star torn down from heaven”

[Vazha-Pshavela, 1981:22].


    A physical beauty and a spiritual loveliness are merged in a literary image of Aghaza. The revelation of her internal world starts at the point, when she encounters the scene of Zviadauri’s “sacrifice”. Aghaza, charmed by the courage of the guest, cannot stop the tears and shows an amazing compassion for him. Upon bemoaning Zviaduri, Aghaza is completely obsessed with a terrible anxiety. Although she blames the Kists for ignominiously killing a brave man, she casts the doubt on the fairness of her and her husband’s conduct and fails in finding the serenity. Some of the researchers explain the grounds for Aghaza’s pangs of remorse by her sexual sympathy for Zviadauri. According to Ilia Nakashidze’s viewpoint, “Beautiful Aghaza fell in love with dead that made her commit a dangerous transgression” [Nakashidze, 1955:131]. According to Kita Abashidze, Aghaza “is obsessed with love and is subordinate to it. She disobeys the community and does not subordinate her passion and intention to anybody. She masters her heart and soul herself. As her husband sacrifices himself to the sense of friendship, she is enslaved by a fatal power of the feeling of love” [Abashidze, 1955:178].

     Italian Kartvelologist Luigi Magarotto has the similar viewpoint regarding Aghaza’s sympathy for Zviadauri. According to his words, similarly to the chivalric poems, in “Host and guest” “… the “forbidden” love between the hero of the poem and a virgin (or a married woman) plays a significant role. However, overcoming it becomes necessary due to the strict traditions existed in the community of the Kists. Aghaza, who met Zviadauri at  the night of his visit, expresses her love during the sacrifice of Zviadauri at the cemetery” [Magarotto, 1999:43].


    Despite the fact that some literary critics reject the possibility of the existence of the amorous elements in Aghaza’s compassion for Zviadauri1, it is interesting, how the text and subtexts of the poem present a real basis for the expression of the above-mentioned opinion.


     Zviadauri spends only several hours in Jokola’s family. Vazha-Pshavela makes no indications regarding the appearance of a slight sexual sympathy in Aghaza’s inner self. Kita Abashidze’s words seem surprising in this respect: “As soon as Jokola’s wife sees Zviadauri, she becomes charmed” [Abashidze, 1955:178]. According to the poem, Aghaza treats Zviadauri as a guest and a friend of her husband. Vazha does not pay any attention to the flow of her thoughts and emotions as far as nothing unusual is happening to the woman. The author says nothing about Aghaza’s spiritual state even when Zviadauri is captured by the Kists.


     Aghaza reveals a special compassion for the guest as soon as she witnesses his amazing bravery. Zviadauri’s personal power and steadfastness have a profound impact on a delicate soul of the woman and she gets completely mesmerized with this marvelous scene. Allegedly, in order to get rid of the misapprehension, the poet specially defines the cause of Aghaza’s anxiety:


“The man’s brave death

Was etched on her heart.

The spectacle had struck the woman

Like an arrow in the heart,

It obliged the lovely woman

To mourn the slain man as a duty”

[Vazha-Pshavela, 1981:38].



     The motivation of Aghaza’s action is clearly explained. The woman’s unease is not caused by the death of the beloved person, but by observing “a man’s heroic death”. This exalted, astonishing picture captures Aghaza’s heart. As a result, she becomes Zviadauri’s mourner. Aghaza’s compassion is reinforced by one more substantial psychological factor. The woman’s tender heart takes pity on the man, who is bidding farewell to this world without his relatives’ sympathy and consolation:


“I felt so sorry for the wretch,

Meeting his death in foreign parts

With neither relative nor comrade

Nor anyone to pity him.

But when they killed him with the knife

He wasn’t flinching in the least”

[Vazha-Pshavela, 1981:45].


    Supposedly, the woman’s words expressing her admiration for the fate of Zviadauri’s wife are cited by the researchers, who claim the existence of the amorous elements in Aghaza’s compassion (as the evidence of their viewpoint):


                               „I can’t imagine that the woman

                                Who used to lie down by his side

                                I cannot believe it,

                                Her passion for her husband waning”

        [Vazha-Pshavela, 1981:45].



    Aghaza expresses her emotions with a womanly frankness and sincerity. “Her wife must have been happy” - she thinks and it does not mean at all that she yearns for being in her place. According to the poem, there exist no grounds for creating such desire in the inner self of Aghaza as far as Zviadauri does not possess any personal traits that the woman may miss in her husband. Aghaza is charmed with Zviadauri’s steadfastness. This quality is an essential trait of Jokola’s character. Aghaza knows her husband’s indomitable, fighting spirit and manly firmness due to which he “has thrown the Kists into disorder many times before”.


    According to the poem, Jokola and Aghaza have a delicate spiritual relationship. At first, the woman feels awkward to tell her husband the truth about mourning over Zviadauri, because she does not know how he will perceive this behavior, but at last, she manages to open her heart. Jokola’s respond is appropriate to his personal dignity:


“You wept? You did a gracious thing.

How can I be the judge of this?

If always has been fitting that

A woman mourns a good brave man”

[Vazha-Pshavela, 1981:45].


     This fact does not do any harm to the relationship between the wife and the husband. Aghaza’s greatest fidelity and love are clearly revealed in the amazingly exciting poetic picture of mourning over Jokola.


                        “The wife cried over Jokola,

                          She often shed the tears.

                          The Alpine chamois

                          With an outstretched neck,

                          With a thick hair and a moony face

                          Embraced her husband as a pearly button”

  [Vazha-Pshavela, 2009:303].



    The most substantial is the fact that in the final scene of the poem the characters get together again in the mythological vision:


“They are drinking to courage,

 To each other’s respect

 For the rites of host and guest,

 To brotherhood and sisterhood”

 [Vazha-Pshavela, 2009:305].



     Vazha-Pshavela clearly and distinctly indicates that Aghaza’s affection for Zviadauri should be considered only in terms of the relationship between a brother and a sister.


      It is worth mentioning that the critics, being profoundly aware of the European literature, seek the amorous nuances in the relationship between Aghaza and Zviadauri. They review “Host and guest” in the context of the poetics of European romantic novels commonly enriched with  amorous triangles. Considering a whole spirit of Vazha-Pshavela’s literary writings, it can be immediately realized that the search for such details in the poem is not natural. Grigol Kiknadze, as one of the best researchers of Vazha’s poetry, remarks: “the episodes pointing to amorous and erotic relationships occupy an insignificant place in Vazha-Pshavela’s creative works. A vast majority of Vazha-Pshavela’s poems are completely free from such motives… only after making great emphases upon the facts, some of the critics saw an amorous nuance in Aghaza’s compassion for Zviaduri. This interpretation made an unpleasant impression due to its groundlessness” [Kiknadze, 2005:433-434]. As a matter of fact, Vazha-Pshavela’s heroes are the individuals with a pure and an honest spirit, who charm a reader with their sincerity and fairness. Therefore, seeking the amorous motif in Aghaza’s compassion is an obvious violation of the text. It replenishes neither its artistic nature nor the poem itself.


     Let us see more concretely, why Aghaza feels a terrible pang of remorse at the end of the poem. The poet describes impressively opposite feelings, which arose in the woman’s sole:


“Zviadauri’s death was like

A ghostly vision in her eyes.

But this was no full-blooded weeping,

For though she wept she held it back.

She feared the opinion of the village

And also felt the fear of God

Whose anger would be wreaked on those

Who mourned the Chechen people’s foes.

Such was her mind’s thought, but her heart

Went its own way”

[Vazha-Pshavela, 1981:38].


     According to the text, Aghaza feels the sense of guilt not because she was unfaithful to her husband and fell in love with a strange man, but because she has breached Islamic religious commandment – she mourned a pagan enemy. Aghaza is afraid of God, which, in her opinion, “will vent his wrath on” the mourner of the enemy of the Kists. Despite this fear, the “heart acts in accordance to its will”. The woman feels an internal demand of mourning over Zviadauri and cannot stand the flood of emotions. According to E. Fromm’s terminology, there is the struggle between authoritarian and humanistic consciences in Aghaza’s soul: on the one hand, the consciousness of the guilt originated on the basis of the fear and reverence for the outer authority and on the other hand, the voice of the true ego stemming from the deepest entrails of the humanities2. Aghaza’s spiritual balance is disrupted due to this self-duality.


    Despite the fact that Jokola tries to soothe the turbulent conscience of his wife and to persuade her that mourning over a worthy man is not a vituperative conduct at all, Aghaza does not feel internally confident about her own innocence. She still doubts the correctness of her and her husband’s behaviors: “Both of us are sinful. The Kists cursed my husband… I am more sinful. I cried for a stranger”. Vazha-Pshavela as a writer possessing a great psychological intuition, excellently reveals the woman’s differently-arranged psyche. “Alongside with an internal strength, weakness is also typical of Aghaza. She, as a woman, depends on others’ (public) opinion, which is the pillar of truth and individuality of her character. Bearing the consciousness and outlook of the community in herself, Aghaza perceives and evaluates her thoughts, emotions, activities precisely from this viewpoint” [Vasadze, 2010:81]. For this reason, the feeling of guilt does not abandon her and appears in the form of the torturous visions.


“What is this rumbling sound she hears?

A ringing swells up in her ears...

She catches, coming from the graves,

The angry protests of the dead.

A shriek of bitterness builds up

Like a burst of children’s crying.

“Have you no conscience, what have you done!”

They cry outraged. “May God almighty

Turn his anger on your head”

From their graves they shout at her”

[Vazha-Pshavela, 1981:39-40].



   Aghaza dreams that she is confronted by the whole world. She is considered as a traitor. Aghaza is hexed by “grass, stones, sand”. Her desperation reaches the highest point, when the Kists do not even allow her to bury her husband in the cemetery: “Everyone turned back, everyone stood aside and I cannot bury the dead in the cemetery”. Aghaza sees the indifference. She “is burnt with a flameless fire”. Finally, rejected from everyone and tormented by the pang of remorse, she commits suicide.


     Aghaza is a realistic character suffering a tragic fate and a split consciousness. She sacrifices herself for her own belief and the indifference and cruelty of the society due to which she wins a candid compassion of readers.

[1] e. g. refer to [Kiknadze 2005:433-434], [Benashvili 1961:125-126], the analysis of Aghaza’s behavior is very interestingly presented in T. Chkhenkeli’s and I. Evgenidze’s  works [Chkhenkeli 1989: 176-183], [Evgenidze 1989:367-373].

[2] The characteristic of these concepts by Fromm. Refer to [Fromm, 1998: 3-16].


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