The Symbolic-Allegorical Interpretation of Vazha-Pshavela's Fairy Tale - 'The Mill'

A rather significant part of Vazha-Pshavela's prose has not been thoroughly studied yet[1]. One of his compositions is "The Mill". It was published in the newspaper "Iveria" in 1889. The author defined the genre of the text in its subtitle as a “fairy tale”.

By the mythologization of the time, the told story is not tied to any specific period - the idea is generalized and becomes the possession of all times [R. Siradze, 1982]. In "The Mill" Vazha-Pshavela uses the technique of mythologization of the time, which facilitates its allegorical interpretation. In addition, neither the time, not the place is concrete. The story seems to focus on the village, but the writer often mentions the state. The village and the state become synonymous throughout the story.

The storyline of the work, which is etiological by its nature and narrates about the creation of a mill, comprises three parts. In the first part the author tells us that there were times when the world experienced a lot of sufferings, as there existed no gristmills and people used a mortar and pestle instead. Afterwards, godly man Tede invented the mill. He knew from the very beginning that he would not be able to make it work without using water, so he built it close to the river. "There came enough water and turned the wheel of the mill. It started with the rattle. The wheel and the millstones created such terrible clatter that everything whatever was in the neighbourhood got perturbed and shaken: the earth below, the walls around, the flat roof above the ceiling and the willows above the roof" [Vazha-Pshavela B, 1964: 107].

Initially, the village mistrusted Tede’s work. He was ridiculed, squabbled and told to abandon the Devil's work. However, the master did not listen to anyone and carried on his work. That is why he was able to achieve his goal, put the mill into operation and the whole village gathered to see it. The people got amazed by Tede’s creation. However, it was the master, who amazed them the most, "everyone was watching his demeanour. They were checking his hands, thinking he would have bigger fingers than any other man" [Vazha-Pshavela B, 1964: 108]. The village blessed Tede and prayed to grant him a joyous life in this world and the next.

The constant rivalry and struggle of the good and the evil represents a storyline pattern of a significant part of Vazha-Pshavela's prose ("The New Year Dream", "The Apparition" (1893), "The Snake", "In the Crevice", "The Devil", etc.). The same issue enters the tentatively identified second part of "The Mill". The writer tells us that "one of the evil men got envious of Tede’s fame and accomplishments. That is why the man craved to destroy not just Tede, but even the entire country. Once he furtively brought to the site a sack filled with pebbles and unloaded it into the hopper of the mill" [Vazha-Pshavela B, 1964: 109]. This episode of the story offers the possibility for an interesting interpretation. We can draw a parallel with the parable of the wheat and the tares in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. Tede is similar to the man, who sowed unspoiled seeds in the field. The master's work yielded fine fruit, mitigated the labour and toil of the people and therefore, “earned the gratitude of the humankind" [Vazha-Pshavela B, 1964: 107]. Tede, similarly to the sower, has the enemy, who takes advantage of the moment to carry out his evil deed like the wicked man of the parable. The latter sows the weeds in the wheat field when the people are asleep. The Tede’s foe takes advantage of the miller being asleep, deposits pebbles instead of wheat into the  hopper of the mill and dumps earth instead of flour. This act possesses its own subtext, because wheat is not only a necessary matter for a material survival of the people, but also Eucharist symbol, the means of communion with Christ. The wicked man replaced it by pebbles and stones  -  this is how the evil seeks to take away from the people not only the very staple of their existence, but even their spiritual food by replacing it with the earth  –  the vanity. "19. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return" [Gen. 3:19] –  with these words Adam gets driven out of Paradise by God. The earth, as the symbol of the worldly vanity, enters the Georgian literature. Let us recall Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani's "The Wisdom of Lies", when Jumber visited the king,"he dismounted the elephant, unfastened his girdle, dropped it on the elephant’s back, then took by one hand some dust and stones by the other, offering these to his father" [Orbeliani, 1970: 95]. Jumber himself explains the symbolic meaning of the gift given to the king: " - The dust means that: whatever great and powerful king you are, recognise this: you are the dust and you will turn into the dust of the earth. You must prefer God's Goodness to the Goodness of Men" [Orbeliani, 1970: 97]. The allegory of the earth and what Jumbler was trying to convey can be expressed by the words from Ecclesiastes: "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless." [Eccl. 1: 2]; "All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return."[Eccl. 3:20]; "... Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man" [Eccl. 12:13]. To sum up, the writer shows in an allegorical way how the evil deprives people of their material and spiritual food.

The miller woke up and the break down of the mill was prevented. The people dragged the evil man to Tede. They wanted to punish him, but the master persuaded them to free him, because beating will not correct an evil man: "he will be punished by the heaven itself. The heaven knows well how to punish the immoral and the unconscionable" [Vazha-Pshavela B, 1964: 109]. It means that Tede entrusted God to judge the guilty. Let us make comparison with the parable from the Gospel: when the tares sprout, the slaves tell the owner of the field that they will go and weed these out, but the latter answers: "Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn” [Mt. 13:30]. According to Jesus’ explanation, harvesting means the end of the world or the time when the good and the evil are judged and when everyone receives its worth. In fact, this is the same as the answer given by the miller, implying that the Heaven will punish an evil man i.e. God will be a supreme judge of all and everything.

The comparative analysis of this episode and the Holy Scripture shows that the allegorical storyline of the text is rooted in the parable of the wheat and the tares presented in the Gospel. As we know, Vazha-Pshavela was raised in the family of the Orthodox priest and the love for the Bible and the Gospel arose in him from the early childhood. He even dreamed of becoming a monk [Sharabidze, 2008]. Consequently, it is not surprising that Christianity is not only the foundation of the writer's worldview, but that his artistic work draws to a great extent on biblical stories, symbols and allegories.

Following the above-reviewed episode, the author tells us that while Tede was sleeping, majlajuna bore down on him so that he spent all night in anguish. Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani defines majlajuna in the following way: "This is a sickness experienced during sleep caused by the blood stopping to flow and the feeling is as if someone is lying down on the person or batters him and causes much fear" [Orbeliani, 1966: 451]. When Tede woke up, he reckoned that he had a sin and decided to become a monk to exonerate himself. He settled in a cave, where he constantly prayed and fasted. Tede spent three years there without ever seeing a human being and during this time, the village knew nothing about him.

The author points out that Tede felt happy, while living as a recluse. I think that this phrase is reminiscent of the episode from Ilia Chavchavadze's poem "The Hermit", where the most important knot of the storyline is tied, when the hermit unwillingly admits to the shepherdess and to himself that he is unhappy.

"Salvation's road lies open unto all;

This is life's way for me – away of woe!"

"A way of woe!" These words he scarce had said

When chilling horror seized the hermit's heart.


"A way of woe!" 'Twas cry of suff'ring soul

Sunk 'neath the load of sadness and distress —

[Chavchavadze, 2012: 224 (transl. Marjory Wardrop, 1895)]

  This one word became fatal for the hermit. It is quite natural that Ilia Chavchavadze's given poem, which was published in 1883 and immediately became the object of serious debates and criticism, influenced the literary writing. It could become the impulse for a particular episode of Vazha-Pshavela’s creative work.

The author shows that Tede is an unusual man, who achieved a certain spiritual perfection during three years: "Whatever was there around the cave, whether a stone or a tree, or even a dried grass, Tede loved them all and made a fuss over them as if they were his children. In spring blooming of each flower or shooting up of the grass would fill him with joy. Tede knew by sight not only all the herbs and grasses, but also got to know every single insect and wild beast living in the area. He would get to know each bee and would greet them as a mother would greet her kids, when they were flying nearby, settling down on flowers to collect honey" [Vazha-Pshavela B, 1964: 110].

Let us recall Vazha-Pshavela's poem "The Snake-Eater". That is how Mindia hails spring:

“Twas early spring. The world awoke

From hoary winter's sleep profound,


And Mindia with throbbing heart

Roamed mount and vale 'neath heavens blue.

He loved to be with trees and flowers,

With twitt'ring birds and butterflies;

And nature, lovely as a bride,

Saluted him with joyous cries.

The flowers blushed like virgin maids

As each its heart to him unveiled,

The trees and grass with rustling swayed,

And Mindia with gladness hailed."

[Vazha-Pshavela A, 1964: 11 (transl. Venera Urushadze)].

Mindia's abilities are, of course, of a greater scale. In comparison with him, Tede demonstrates more earthly skills in case of inventing the mill and in his attitude towards the nature. Vazha-Pshavela does not tell us that his hero knows the language of plants and animals. He just seems to be full of love for everything. Supposedly, the writer's words indicate to a closer relationship  -  Tede knows herbs, insects, beasts and every bee flying around flowers is greeted by him like a mother.

The similarity of attitudes of these characters towards the nature will be revealed as more significant if we consider how other qualities that they possess are akin. Mindia and Tede are rather remarkable personalities. They become outstanding by virtue of their kindness and goodness and by these qualities the writer introduces these protagonists to the reader. Vazha-Pshavela mentions several times Tede's godliness, wit and morality, which distinguished him from others. The virtuousness of the master is revealed even in the plot – when everyone was ready to revenge the villain, who wanted to wreck the mill, Tede saved him.  As the author says: "He was a kind-hearted, virtuous man” [Vazha-Pshavela B, 1964:110].

In order to display an internal purity of Mindia, Vazha-Pshavela tells us that after acquiring all knowledge of evil spirits:

"No wickedness or evil thought

Entered his noble heart or brain”

[Vazha-Pshavela A, 1964:10].

For the better comprehension of  Mindia's extraordinary virtuousness, we can recall how he sheds tears for the bird, which was told about the death of its offspring. In this episode, the Snake-Eater’s understanding of every living being’s language is not the major fact  - rather important is his compassion and sympathy to their lives.

The distinctiveness of Tede and Mindia is defined by the fact that the main purpose of both heroes is serving people. The former achieved this by inventing the mill. That is why the village admits that he "earned the gratitude of the world" [Vazha-Pshavela B, 1964: 107]. After retreating from everyone and becoming a hermit, he still continues worrying about the people: "Tede heard nothing about the mill and the village and he worried" [Vazha-Pshavela B, 1964: 111]. The Snake-Eater uses his unique gift for the benefit of the people, while after its loss his tragedy begins. As he says:

"What good can I bring to the country,

Now that I’ve lost all my knowledge"

[Vazha-Pshavela A, 1964: 22]

  In the discussed works, only these two protagonists are not similar to each other. The people's attitude towards distinguished individuals is also similar. Let us recall what the writer says about the community to which Mindia belongs:

"Soon Mindia became renowned

In Pshav-Khevsuri and his fame

With time increased and far and wide

Was spread the glory of his name"

[Vazha-Pshavela A, 1964: 10].

 Despite this, people still tend to occasionally distrust Mindia. Chalkhia addresses the meeting:

"If trees and rocks possessed a tongue,

Why don’t we hear them speak to us?

What Mindia tells us is all but wrong,

He invented lies to fool us thus"

[Vazha-Pshavela A, 1964: 14].

The people suddenly forgot Mindia’s good deed and expressed doubt in his truthfulness:

- What Chalkhia says is nothing but truth,

For sure, it’s Mindia who tells us untruth,

He built a fence of thousand lies

Just here in front of our very eyes"

[Vazha-Pshavela A, 1964: 15].

   The same is the attitude of the village towards Tede. People were suspicious of the master not only before the construction of the mill, but even later, when everybody seemed to be full of gratitude towards him. The mistrust easily emerge in their hearts and they are ready to blame the master for the destruction of the mill: "Perhaps Tede sinned before God when he furtively sneaked away, hid somewhere and God wrecked the mill because of it" [Vazha-Pshavela B, 1964: 112]. "The Snake-Eater" was created much later than "The Mill". Notwithstanding the similarities outlined above, the ideological conceptions of these works is quite different. However, if the attitudes of the main protagonists towards the nature are taken into account, Tede could be considered as Mindia's archetype.

Ideological differences between these works determine the development of their storylines. Mindia's tragedy begins when his sense of duty to care for the family leads him to transgress his lifestyle. In his turn, Tede does not even need to be concerned over his livelihood  -  "Tede did not need to worry because of the bread. Every morning he would find a loaf of bread on a moss-covered rock at the entrance of the cave, with the inscription: Honest, God-fearing, loyal to the community Tede will never lack in God’s charity" [Vazha-Pshavela B, 1964:111]. In addition, the writer even somehow simplifies the development of events: he does not create any conflict, because the master (who became a monk) has a family, his wife and children do not come into the storyline at all and in a single episode people mention them.

The wedding was being held in the village. Someone brought the message that the mill ceased to work. "People were stunned at the story, rose to their feet. The bride and the bridegroom snatched off their wedding diadems, threw them away and started to beat in agony their heads and faces" [Vazha-Pshavela B, 1964: 112]. The whole village gathered around the mill.  Everything was named as the cause of its stoppage: the main pillar of the mill, the devil, the old magician, even Tede himself. However, the real reason was not found. "The water flow had dropped, but no one could see this and no one could sense this. The miller bent his head towards the ground, sitting by the fire and smoking his pipe with all the vigour at his command" [Vazha-Pshavela B, 1964: 112].

By describing all arguments and disputes regarding the mill, the author allegorically reveals the people's attitude towards various events of life, their ignorance, lack of education and their worldview based on the superstition. By outlining a passive posture of the miller, the writer creates an allegoric representation of inactivity. Rings of smoke emerging from the pipe symbolise the phenomenon of the ‘ash-stirring idler’ (‘natsarkekia’) and an extremely passive attitude towards life. This image emerges also in another story by Vazha-Pshavela ("The Prosecuted Pipe") and outlines a certain ideological concept.

Tede learnt about the trouble with the mill through the prophetic dream. He saw the marauded mill and realized that this was a sign of something bad. Therefore, he immediately went to check the mill and arrived at the time when the whole village was gathered there.

This episode should be inspired by Akaki Tsereteli’s "Thornike Eristavi", whose main character, after paying dues to his country, becomes a monk and starts caring for his soul. However, he returns to the secular life when his service is required by the homeland. Likewise, Tede rejects the care for a daily material life and becomes a monk, but upon the necessity, he returns to his nation.

"People immediately recognized Tede. The night came to an end and the sun rose for the poor people" [Vazha-Pshavela B, 1964: 112]. The master checked everything and found the reason of the breakdown of the mill. He let the water rise in the flume, widened it and the mill started rolling again. Tede made people to stand along the flume of the mill: "Did you guess the reason of the breakdown of the mill? ... / - Yes, we did, our dear man, of course we guessed!" - The people replied, - "There was not enough water!” [Vazha-Pshavela B, 1964:113] Such end of the story demonstrates that the symbolism of water should be strongly connected to the idea of ​​the text.

In accordance with the ancient cosmogonic views, water (out of four primal elements) is most closely connected to the notion of life. Although the symbolism of this substance, like the forms of its existence, is multifarious in different cultures and sometimes even ambivalent. Most of the ethnicities, starting from the earliest epochs, considered water to be the first among the natural phenomena. It embodied purity, abundance, a female origin, life and a divine grace. The nature of water led to its “loading” with negative symbols: the wrath of God (The Great Flood of the Bible), an unpreventable calamity, forgetfulness and death. Water also represents the principle of an eternal motion (such interpretation is close to one found in Ilia Chavchavadze's "The Traveller’s Letters"). In Christian symbolism, various manifestations of water have independent meanings, the main of these being the symbol of purification, the transmittal of the divine grace (Baptism of the Lord) [Z. Abzianidze, K. Elashvili, 2011].

At the very beginning of the story, the author tells us that Tede decided to build the mill by the river bank because "he knew that without water the mill would not operate" [Vazha-Pshavela B, 1964:107]. Therefore, according to the story, the need for water is present apriori. It is also important  that Vazha-Pshavela does not say anything about the building of the mill itself or how Tede built it. The author describes only the following scene out of all the activities needed for the construction of the mill: "The flume was brought from quite afar so that the nearby springs [‘Pshani’] would add more water and thus sufficient water came and turned the wheel of the mill " [Vazha-Pshavela B, 1964:107]. Therefore, in this case, the writer emphasizes the function of water as the driving force of the mill.

"’Pshani’ – the spring that derive water from the river" [Orbeliani, 1993:207]. In Christian tradition ‘Psha’, the same as spring, is the symbol of life, catharsis and hope as well as a spiritual union between a human being and supernatural powers [Z. Abzianidze, K. Elashvili, 2011]. We may recall here the allegory of spring from the psalm: "As the deer pants for water, so I long for you, O God!" [Ps. 41:2]. We encounter the interpretation of  spring as the Christian symbol also in Vazha-Pshavela’s other works. In the story “The Snake”, the author draws the following parallel: "The Psha, always transparent and clear, whether in winter or in summer, cuts across the meadow, dividing it in two... From early spring to late fall, the river is always muddy, while the Psha is ever clear and sky-blue in colour. Where the meadow ends, that’s where the Psha enters the river and do you know what the transparent water of the Psha would remind us? - Holy Communion. The river is like a sinner who is cured through the Communion and cleansed from his sins" [Vazha-Pshavela B, 1964: 301].

  I believe that the storyline of the narrative is entirely allegorical. It draws the picture of the man, who deeply cares about the society and the country. The narrative presents the man’s accomplishments as well as his good deeds. The mill is a symbolic-allegorical expression of the above mentioned. It moves and is moved by water, which allows for two interpretations. It can be considered as a symbol of life, a constant motion and action or as the means of the spiritual cleansing (from the Christian perspective). In this respect, the personality of Tede  -  a leader of the community - becomes noteworthy: he cares about the worldly material life and the spiritual realm. Therefore, according to the author’s conceptual framework that can be elucidated from the narrative, individuals with a personal power and a spiritual purity should guide and lead the people, so that their lives and works, their good deeds (allegorically expressed through the mill) could produce a good fruit (wheat, bread).

The story contains another notable symbolic-allegorical Christian nuance. The writer compares the noise caused by the mill with the wedding. The news about the stoppage of the mill reaches the village, when the wedding is held there and the people stop celebrating. Everyone hurries to the mill. The wedding possesses the most significant allegoric meaning in the Gospel. It denotes the blessing of the righteous and the communion with God. The bridegroom represents the Saviour and the bride stands for the church [Z. Gamsakhurdia, 1991]. I believe that the above mentioned validates discovering a religious subtext in the story as well as its interpretation by means of  Christian symbolism. A reader may consider the mill as a good deed –  an individual through his/her worldly accomplishments may enter communion with the divine grace. However, this connection with God will be broken as soon as the good actions start losing their driving force – a spiritual purity.

  While analysing “The Mill” in the context of Georgia of the 19th  century, we should mention that it copes mostly with such traditional problem of the literature of that period as sobering up the people, working for them, awakening their sense of a social responsibility, searching for distinguished individuals dedicated to the people in the historical past and in present, the criticism of ignorance and superstition.

  Vazha-Pshavela's fairy tale "The Mill" is an interesting as well as an important composition full of symbols, allegories, reminiscences from other literary works and bearing parallels with Holy Scripture. "The Mill" was an innovative achievement in the Georgian literature due to introducing the issue of an intuitive connection of a man with the nature. The analysis of the story allows a researcher to see how this idea was developing in the writer's work before "The Snake-Eater".



[1] In the analyses of the writer's stories (by Grigol Kiknadze, Yuza Evgenidze, Vakhtang Goguadze and Apollon Makharadze), beyond the general discussion of his oeuvre, only the following works are considered separately: "The Dried Beech", "The Story of the Roe Fawn", "Little Shepherd’s Thoughts", "High Mountains", “Bards of Nature", "The Violet", "Kuchi" and "The Wolf ". While reviewing the phenomenon of dreams presented in Vazha-Pshavela's works, Mikheil Zandukeli considered separately: "The Orphan’s Dream", "The New Year Dreams" and "Erem-Sere-Sumerian" as well as some other stories describing the life of rural communities. Nestan Kutivadze analyzed Vazha-Pshavela's literary fairy tale.


@font-face { font-family: Sylfaen; }@font-face { font-family: "Cambria Math"; }@font-face { font-family: Calibri; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt; line-height: 115%; font-size: 11pt; font-family: "Calibri", sans-serif; }p.MsoFootnoteText, li.MsoFootnoteText, div.MsoFootnoteText { margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: 10pt; font-family: "Calibri", sans-serif; }span.MsoFootnoteReference { vertical-align: super; }span.FootnoteTextChar { font-family: "Times New Roman", serif; }.MsoChpDefault { font-size: 11pt; font-family: "Calibri", sans-serif; }.MsoPapDefault { margin-bottom: 8pt; line-height: 107%; }div.WordSection1 { }


Orbeliani S. S.
Georgian Dictionary. Book I. Tbilisi.
The Bible
The Bible. Tbilisi.
Orbeliani S. S.
The Book of Wisdom and Lies. Tbilisi.
Orbeliani S. S.
Georgian Dictionary. Vol. II. Tbilisi.
Siradze R.
Tropology. Tbilisi.
Sharabidze T.
Christian Motives in the 19th Century Georgian Classicists’ Lyrics. Tbilisi.
Works in Ten Volumes. Vol. IV. Tbilisi.
Abzianidze Z., Elashvili K.
Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Symbols. Vol. I. Tbilisi.
Chavchavadze I.
Six Volumes. Vol. I. Verses/Poems/Translations. Tbilisi.
Gamsakhurdia Z.
The Tropology of The Knight in the Panther’s Skin. Tbilisi.