Analysis of Katharine Vivian’s English Translation of “A Book of Wisdom and Lies” by Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani

Many ideas and opinions have been expressed regarding  the meaning and purpose of translation over the centuries. It is noteworthy that all scientists and researchers agree on one issue:  the translation should reflect content and spirit of an original. The latter requires from a translator the overcoming of a number of difficulties. A letter of Wilhelm Humboldt written to August Schlegel can serve as an example: „Any translation is an attempt to solve a problem. The translator necessarily clashes to one of two underwater rocks, he/she is either very weakly driven by the taste and language of his/her people, or, on the contrary, he/she is guided by the peculiarities of his people based on the original. Finding any intermediate facility is not only hard to find but also impossible“. Cervantes is also skeptical in regards to the translation and states:  „Translation... this is the same as Flemish carpet seen from the back side. Although the figures can be seen, but there is no cleanliness and colors that we like so much from the right side“ [Merabishvili A, 2005:13].  

    Despite such skeptical opinions, translation remains a necessary condition for cultural relations and translators constantly strive for the creation of a perfect interpretation. It is known that a creative translation used to be an important factor in all epochs and countries for a cultural approximation of people and development of relationships. 

     For this reason I. Merabishvili states: “A creative translation is a dialogue of cultures, meaning not only cultural relations and exchange, but as Goethe stated creative contest between languages as well.  This time a translator serves not only to his/her own nation but also the nation whose work he/she translates” [Merabishvili B, 2005:7].

    Therefore, translation of Georgian literature works into foreign languages is extremely important for its popularization and familiarization to a foreign reader. The contribution of Georgian as well as foreign translators and scientists is remarkable and invaluable in this respect. The paper deals with the English translation of “Wisdom and Lies” by Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani  - the great Georgian figure, writer, prosaic, fabler, lexicographer and state figure of Renaissance Era. The translation is made by Professor of London University, Kartvelologist Katharine Vivian. 

    „A book of wisdom and lies” is an interesting collection of fables. Fables presented in a fabulous narration, originally thought and characterized with deep ideas, are connected to one another through a certain idea. The composition is full of aphorisms, sententials, puzzles, etc.

     The author used birds and animals as the main characters of the composition. Such allegorical narration underlines an emphatic and a cognitive-educative nature of the book. The vicious features, such as stinginess, hypocrisy, self-interest and others, characteristic of the political and social life of that period are revealed and condemned in „A book of wisdom and lies” [Menabde, 1953:100].

    While creating this book, Sulkhan-Saba took into consideration the experience of great eastern fable writers and composed it on the basis of the law of a “framework composition”. The examples of such works are: “Decameron” and “One thousand and one nights” [Lang,1957:144]. The frame in „A book of wisdom and lies” is presented by the debates of King Phinez, Vizir Sedrak, Enouch Ruka and Prince’s tutor Leon. By means of the debates, the characters of different opinions should express their viewpoints and support the ideas arising from the tales.

    Sulkhan-Saba created a composition of tales for years. He used traditional Georgian and eastern fables, tales and his own fables as well. A principal part of the composition includes sharing of ideas between characters, which reveals different opinions regarding the life. All of these is illustrated through a moral-ethical advice. 

     „A book of wisdom and lies” is a teaching-educative composition. The ideal of the author becomes the recovery of an existed structure and curing of a morally sick society [Menabde, 1953:85]. If we observe the course of opinions, it will become clear that upbringing and a moral formation of Jumber is highly important for the author since Jumber shall become a king, govern the state and take care for the welfare of his citizens. In „A book of wisdom and lies” the author illustrated a portrait of the upbringing of ideal, kind, virtuous, philanthropic, fair and human king [Lortkipanidze, 1960:17].

    A didactic epos was widely spread during the period of activity of Sulkhan-Saba. Compositions of this genre were not only written, but translated from other languages as well. Different moral provisions were illustrated through fables in these compositions. For proving the didactic-moral concepts of „A book of wisdom and lies”, Sulkhan-Saba uses the so-called dialectics, in other words, the art of debates. Each character of the book uses fables, tales, sententials and aphorisms for supporting their opinions and for making them more convincing.  The worldview of the author is naturally revealed during those conversations and debates.

      „A book of wisdom and lies” was translated into many languages of the world.  In 1894 it was translated into English by Oliver Wardrop. Afterwards, publishing houses “Tsodna” (1959) and “Ganatleba” (1973) published the collections of the best fables entitled “The book of wisdom and fiction” (Selections). It was translated and prepared by J. Mchedlishvili and I. Petrova and was envisaged for the 9th-10th year pupils of secondary schools. The second complete translation belongs to Katharine Vivian. The book was published in 1982 in London by the publishing house “Octagon Press”. The cover painting of the book belongs to Georgian painter Mamia Malazonia. 

     The translation is performed on the highest level, with a great responsibility. This proves how deeply and thoroughly the translator studied the Georgian language and all its nuances. The book is preceded by a preface, where the translator introduces to English readers the life and work of Sulkhan-Saba as well as a social-political situation of Georgia. The translator also provides a biography of the author. In the preface, Katharine Vivian reviews the collection of fables. The review shows that the translator studied the composition deeply and thoroughly and she is aware of an invaluable style and wisdom of Saba.  The translator indicates that some of the fables of “A book of wisdom and lies“ might originate from Indian “Panchatantra” or “Tales of Bidpai” and Georgian “Kilila and Damana". There are also fables from “One thousand and one nights”,  “Mullah Nasredin” and Georgian folklore remade by the author. The translator points that despite the similarity of Sulkhan-Saba’s tales to other literary works, the influence of these monuments on Saba’s tales cannot be observed.  His tales come from the folklore, which originated from  the folk art. Saba’s style is convincing, laconic and unvarnished. He applies rare poetic methods is the expressions used for the introduction of any character.  Katharine Vivian  believes that most of Sulkhan-Saba’s tales are based on Georgian traditions and customs. She brings the tale “A rich merchant and the innkeeper“ as an example. The translator states that Sulkhan-Saba described the overflowing generosity and hospitality of Georgian people as well as their sharp-wittedness and humor. There are several references of sworn brotherhood – a custom, which persists in many parts of Georgia to this day [Vivian, 1982: XII].

    Katharine Vivian also draws attention to the main essence and purpose of the composition -moral and didactic upbringing of the prince. She admits that the method of teaching and upbringing proposed by Sulkhan-Saba, in particular, teaching by means of fables is quite foreign to the western world. However, this method was widespread in the eastern world and can be found in the European literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. According to the opinion of the translator, Sulkhan-Saba was quite well aware of Aristotle’s commandment: „Reflect quite simply, but think like a wise man in order to write well“ [Vivian,1982: XI].

      The translation of the composition is done in an exact and a consistent manner. Katharine Vivian interpreted all (152) fables of „A book of wisdom and lies“. A creative approach of  a translator and an attempt to reflect an exact essence of the composition can be observed in the translation of each fable. She has taken into consideration an artistic-composite feature of the composition and different characters of the main heroes [Turnava, 1983].

    There are several opinions regarding the comprehension of the title of the work. Ilia Chavchavadze believed that: „Saba Orbeliani’s lie is a fairy-tale, fable, tale“, but „A fairy-tale, fable, tale is a wisdom and a lie simultaneously. Lie is a story itself and the wisdom is the essence existing in it.  In other words, it is the wisdom in regard of soul and a lie in regard of a body. Here, the lie is the depiction, the reflection of the wisdom. According to Ilia’s viewpoint, Saba wanted to say: I am telling a fairy-tale, but present the wisdom“ [Baramidze, 1957:143].

     English Kartvelologist David Marshal Lang’s article “For the title of a book of wisdom and lies” is very interesting in this respect. The author tries to solve Saba’s secret idea conveyed through a strange title.  There are two versions of its understanding: „A book of wisdom and lies“ and “Wisdom and lies“ without a word “book” that directly means “The wisdom of lies”.  The researcher tries to prove that: „Wisdom and  truth are neither originated nor based on truth for Sulkhan-Saba. Wisdom is more likely the medicine against the lie; the wisdom shines more brightly in contrary with the lie“ [Lang,1957:142].

    Therefore, the translation of the title of the book is very important. It is interpreted by Katharine Vivian in the following way „A book of wisdom and lies“ (like the translation made by Oliver Wardrop).  The opinion of Robert Stevenson regarding the title of the book is also important. He thinks that “the meaning of a word „lies“ is mostly related to the wisdom coming from the stories or fables. According to his opinion the natural English translation of the title would have been Fables“ or “A book of fables” [ Sulkhan-Saba... 2009:175].

     As we have already mentioned „A book of wisdom and lies” is an allegorical composition. The author intentionally brings birds and animals as the main characters since the nature and character of humans can be easily observed in them.  The language of the author is soft, light, easily understandable, flexible and delicate. Opinions are expressed smartly and clearly. „A book of wisdom and lies“ is rich with aphoristic expressions since the author tries to show moral and didactic principles and  his opinion regarding moral, unity and obligations of the kings. As the composition mainly refers to the upbringing of the prince, Sulkhan-Saba ruthlessly reprimands wretched kings and declares on behalf of Leon:

     მრავალნი მწყემსნი უმჯობეს არიან უგვანთა მეფეთა (სოფლის მაშენებელნი) [Orbeliani, 1970: 55].

     Translation of this concept is given in full accuracy compared with the original. 

    „There is many a shepherd more worthy than a bad king” (“Building a village”) [Vivian, 1982:28].

     The following aphoristic expression is also successfully overcome in the translation:

     მაძღარი კაცი მომყმარს პურს წვრილად უფშვნეტდა და ზედ დაჰყვედრიდა: რად ღორულად სჭამო (“სოფლის მაშენებელნი”) [Orbeliani, 1970:56)

    „There is a saying that a man with full stomach gave a few crusts of bread to a starving man, and then upbraided him for gobbling like a pig“  (“Building a village”) [Vivian,1982:28].

     The translator tries to follow the peculiarity of Sulkhan-Saba’s style of narration characterized with laconicism of the expressed idea. The following aphoristic expressions are presented with an appropriate style and laconism:

   რასაც მოძღვარს აღსარება სამოწმოდ გაუხდია, უარესიმც დაემართებაო (მოძღვარი მელი) [Orbeliani, 1970:48)

   „When a priest asks for witnesses to a confession, he merits even worse than this!“ („The Fox in Holy Orders“) [Vivian,1982:24].

   ავს კაცს ყოველი კაცი თავისი მსგავსი ჰგონია (დიდვაჭარი და მეფუნდუკე) [Orbeliani, 1970:249]

   „An evil man thinks that all men are like himself“ (The Rich Merchant and the Innkeeper) [Vivian,1982:136].

   ქორი ქორსა სჩეკს და ძერა ძერუკასაო (მკალავი და ვირი) [Orbeliani, 1970:145]

   „A hawk is hatched from a hawk’s egg, a kite chick from a kite’s“ (The Tinker and the Donkey) [Vivian,1982:79];

   ცუდად ჯდომას ცუდად შრომა უმჯობეაო“ (ბუღდანელი დიდებული) [Orbeliani,, 1970:78];

   „Work ill-done is better than none“ (The Bughdan Nobleman) [Vivian,1982:42].

   ბედი მომეც და ნეხვთა დამფალო (მეფე და ავსიტყვა კაცი) [Orbeliani, 1970:62]

   „Give me a happy fate, then bury me in a dung heap if you will!“ (News of a Dog, [Vivian, 1982:32].

    The translator paid a special attention to such Georgian words as: Araki (according to the definition of Georgian dictionary - “teaching story”), Tokhariki (“pacer or ambler” - “fast-moving horse”). Their definitions are given in marginal notes for English readers.

    The translator gives explanations of Georgian proverbs and expressions, for example, the translation of the words of Kadi  in the  fable “The Moon of Ramadan”:

     „რადგან მთვარე უნახავნ, ნაღარას კარითო“ [Orbeliani, 1970:49].

     “If you have seen the moon go end beat the drum!“ (The Moon of Ramadan) [Vivian,1982:25].

       The marginal note explains that the mentioned activity is used to declare the end of fasting. 

       The title of the fable “The Grand Duke’s son“  has an explanation that it is an Italian title. The title of a fable “The story of a beardless man“ has an explanation that Kosa (beardless man) is a quite familiar character to Georgian stories. 

      The translator also provides the explanations of Georgian geographical names, for example, in order to explain “the province of Klarjeti” mentioned in the fable “The thieving corpse”, Katharine Vivian indicates that it was former Georgian province under Turkish ruling since the 16th century.  She also provides the explanation of “Samaia” (a type of the Georgian dance).

     It is noteworthy that Vivian uses different styles for the translation of the titles of the fables.   In certain cases, the titles are given in a different form. Some of them are changed on the basis of the content of the fables, while some of them are expanded.

    For example, in the original we have “Otkhi Kru” (Four deaf men), which is translated as  „The Moon of Ramadan“. “Keisris Spaspeti” (commander-in-chief of the Cesar) is translated as „Defeated General“. “Vlakhetis Mepis Dze” (The son of the King of Vlakheti) is translated as „The Ill-Fated King’s Son“. “Dzuntsi da Okro” (A stingy man and gold) is presented as a „Buried Treasure“. “Mefe da Avsitkva Katsi” (The king and an evil-tongued man) is translated as  „News of a Dog“. As it can be observed, the translator changed and selected the titles of the fables on the basis of analyzing the content and essence of each story.  It should be noted that sometimes the translator expands the titles, for instance, “Kvis Mtleli” (A stone-cutter) becomes “The Grasping Stone-Cutter” via adding the word “grasping”.

     It is undoubful that fables included in „A book of wisdom and lies” make the content of the composition more flexible and dynamic. All ideas of the composition are reinforced by means of debates of the characters. Sulkhan served at the royal court and therefore, “the basis for his composition was the upbringing of an ideal prince with a multilateral education, who would be brought up by a new type of a teacher by means of a new upbringing method“ [Lortkipanidze, 1960:29]. Since „A book of wisdom and lies” mainly refers to the wisdom necessary for kings,  the author gives the description of an ideal king: „მეფეთაგან სამნი უყვარან ღმერთსა: სიმშვიდე, სიმდაბლე და სულგრძელობა. მეფეთაგან სამს დაიმადლებს უფალი: სამართალსა უქრთამოსა, მოწყალებასა და დიდსა სიყვარულსა ყოველთასა.......ესე არს წესი მეფეთა, ესე არს საბოძვარი თემთა, ესე არს გოდოლი სპათა, ესე არს ზღუდე ქალაქთა! [Orbeliani,1970:80]. Delivering these opinions precisely to the English readers is rather important since they reflect Sulkhan-Saba’s viewpoint regarding the necessary features of an ideal king:

   „God loves three things in kings: an even temper, self-restraint and magnanimity. Three things in a sovereign are pleasing to the Lord: impartial justice, clemency and a great love for mankind…….That is the law of kings, that is their gift to their subjects, the citadel of warriors, the ramparts of cities!“ (The Bughdan Nobleman) [Vivian, 1982:43].

    The translator has perfectly analyzed and understood the pathos and thoughts of Sulkhan-Saba that can be confirmed by using relevant word-combinations in the English language. The translator has found adequate and superb phrase for  “Samartalsa ukrtamosa” (An unbiased justice) „an impartial justice“. The usage of  “sovereign” instead of  „king“  (monarch, governor) is also welcomed, because it grants more dynamism to the text.

     While discussing the features of the king, the author uses comparison to distinguish and underline each feature and to make a reader feel and understand his honors. However, metaphor “Utskaloba javrisani” characterizing  King Phinez (in the passage მეფე ფინეზს “სიფიცხლე და უწყალოება ჯავრისანი გულისაგან ღვთის შიშისა ნიავით გაექარვებინა”) is lost in the translation (“The Fear of God, like a breeze, swept from his mind any impulse towards anger or harshness” [Vivian, 1982:1]), while the content is identical to the idea given in the original.

    In parallel to moral and didactic topics, the issues of humanity, kindness, generosity, state unity and friendship are also reviewed in „A book of wisdom and lies“. In the fable “The Indian bird” vizier Sedrak establishes general concepts regarding a friend and friendship:

   „კარგი ამხანაგი ადვილად არ იშოვების, გზაზედ ცუდად არ იპოვების, იაფად ვერავინ იყიდის; ამხანაგი ციხე წყლიანია, ზღუდე მაღალია, სიმაგრე დაურღვეველია; ამხანაგი ჭირში მომხმარია, სნეულებაში მკურნალია, სიკვდილში თავის წამგებია“ [Orbeliani, 1970:260].


   „A good friend is hard to find: he is not met by chance on the road, he cannot be cheaply bought; A good friend is a stronghold watered by a stream, a loft rampart, towering and impregnable; A friend is an ally in time of trouble, a healer in sickness, and will lay down his life for his friend“ (The Indian bird) [Vivian, 1982:141].

     A laconic and a smart narration of the author is maintained in this passage. However, “სიკვდილში თავის წამგებია/sikvdilshi tavis tsamgebia” (will sacrifice himself/herself) is translated into English as an expanded from „will lay down his life for his friend“. It slows down the rhythm of the narration. However, presents precisely its content. 

      Sulkhan-Saba smartly moves from one story to another. His narration is distinguished by the rhythm created by the repetition of words or ideas. The rhythm of the narration is sometimes fastened or slowed down. It fastens when the characters debate with each other or try to support their ideas via fables. The narration slows down, when Leon tells the stories about different countries and kings. The narration is diversified by riddles. The diversity of narration is also created by the fact that characters of “A book of wisdom and lies” tell stories and tales and a sense of expectation is constantly arisen within the readers.  Sulkhan-Saba is mainly interested in the expression of ideas.  Therefore, „In contrast to an artistic impression, the issues of ideas and themes is put forward in “A book of wisdom and lies”. However, a great artistic talent, a delicate taste and excellent descriptive-expressive abilities of the author are easily revealed in a small amount of epithets and metaphors used in the composition” [Menabde,1953:102]. Some metaphors and epithets are worth mentioning in this respect, for example, finding an exact analogue for the word  “Ambavtkbili” (speaking sweetly) used for describing Sedrak was quite difficult for the translator and she proposed the explanative translation  „whose words flowed smooth and sweet“. The metaphor “დღესა ერთსა კლიტე გაელმდა / Dgesa ertsa klite gaelmda” (the lock was damaged) is also lost in translation: „he happened to bend the key“.

     The irony, which is revealed in fables, grants certain peculiarity to “A book of wisdom and lies”. The strength and the importance of laughter is conceptually distinguished in “Laughter and tears” in which a laughing man complains of the shortness of life, foolishness of men, vain and worthless preaching, but makes a decision different from a crying person: აწ სიცილს ძალი მივეც, მეც რომ ზრუნვით თავი მოვიკლა, რას მარგია და ან მათი რა სარგებელიაო. The translation of the mentioned passage (And now I have taken to laughing; what good will it do to them or to myself, If I give way to despair on their account?“ (Laughter and Tears) [Vivian, 1982:157]) reflects the idea of the original exactly and is presented in an understandable manner to the English reader.

    In conclusion, we can be mentioned that the whole translation is done at a high level. Similarly to the language of the original, the language of translation is mostly laconic and flexible. It preserves Sulkhan-Saba’s style and manner of narration. However, there is a problem of finding the analogues of some metaphors. It should also be noted that the content of the work is given in details. This fact underlines a high understanding and a thorough study of all aspects, including archaisms, aphorisms and sententials used by the author.


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