Artistic Depiction of the Historical Processes of the 18th-19th Centuries in Vazha-Pshavela’s Prose ("Erem-Serem-Suremiani" / "My journey to Erem-Serem-Suremianeti")

DOI: 10.55804/jtsuSPEKALI-16-7


The evaluation and the artistic reflection of the socio-cultural situation in Georgia after the entry into the Tsarist Russia is not consistent in the first half of the 19th century. In his poetry ("Whoever  wants to know about my stories", "Listen, listeners, ...", "From the captured man to his peers", etc.), Aleksandre Chavchavadze expresses the most acute social and personal suffering caused by the new political situation; Nikoloz Baratashvili raises an unresolved issue in the poem "Fate of Georgia": whether  the king had  the right to entrust the country's freedom to someone else;  in the poem "Tomb of King Irakli", the poet draws attention to the benefits  of Georgia's joining Russia: "Your sons, who went into exile due to bad conditions, are bringing  education and  pleasant voice ; ... Where the Georgian used  sword and force, now the peaceful citizen rules!" ; [ Georgian… 1992 : 588]. Even the literary process of the second half of the 19th century, when the Georgian literary and social group of the 1960s so called Samotsianelebi  started the national liberation movement, continues to judge and artistically portray this problem. Vazha Pshavela also follows their ideological path. He showed the national-social aspects of the historical-political changes that took place in the 18th-19th centuries. From this standpoint,  the allegorical works  "Erem-Serem-Suremiani" and "My journey to Erem-Serem-Suremianeti" should be reviewed.

"Erem-Serem-Suremiani" was published in 1893. This is a story about three brothers, one of whom is the narrator himself. The story  begins with the brothers' discussing Eremi's wedding arrangements. They think that they are ready for the wedding - all that is left is to invite their relatives, but the old mother’s questions brings  the brothers to their senses. It turns out that everything was  in fact a dream - they have neither future sister-in-law nor  the wine and the food for the wedding. This fact did not discourage  brothers, and they began to discuss a new matter - to build a bridge over the overflowing  river, where   people and the cattle get drowned. This time, the old father wakes them up and it turns out that there was no river either.While the three brothers are taken away with their dreams, someone else harvests grapes in their vineyard and uses the brothers'  wine cellar to press grapes. The father reprimands his sons  for the same reason as their mother does saying that they cannot distinguish between a dream and reality. While the brothers struggle with imaginary threats, their house is set on fire. When the parents come crying, “For the love of God, what has got into you? The devil took all our belongings!..." [Vazha-Pshavela, 1964 B: 236],  they finally realize what is happening. However, it is already too late. Only two poles were left, which their parents saved from the fire. The parents brought  water with silk veil and hat to extinguish  the fire, which is symbolic and allegorical and emphasizes the dignity of ancestors - the Georgian woman and the man.

Neither this ordeal  discouraged  brothers and they decided to go on a trip. On their way, they soon get into trouble and totally unprepared for any danger, they scatter in fear. Having returned home in despair, they spend the whole night in agony. However, in the morning, Eremi and Seremi wake up in good spirits - they had wonderful dreams at night. It is noteworthy that the brothers cannot analyze their dreams correctly and, despite their bad ending, they still consider that their dreams are about to bring them happiness. In the third brother's dream, they are in the desert, Africa. Here they meet a huge lame ogre  - "Aren't you Erem-Serem-Suremi, the descendants of the famous heroes? Your forefathers  did a lot of damage to my forefathers and it is good that  you are here. ... What a pity! How have the descendants  of  Badri and Usupi turned out to be so bad and spoiled! Shame on you!..." [Vazha-Pshavela, 1964 B: 241]. The brothers found  themselves in a big swamp with frogs on their bodies. Suremi wakes up in this torment. "- You, Erem, were sitting over there on a stone, pus was coming out of your body, and the dogs were licking up this pus. Your state  reminded me of long-suffering Job" [Vazha-Pshavela, 1964 B: 242] - Suremi said to his older brother.

According to the Bible, Job is suddenly beset with horrendous disasters that take away all he holds dear. His last trial is as follows: "Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes." [Job 2:7-8]. Zurab Kiknadze notes that trial is a key concept in  “The book of Job”. This concept is developed throughout the text and its plot.  Job becomes  the victim of an unbearable suffering, but he emerges victorious from this ordeal  (Kiknadze, 2017). The comparison of Eremi with Job is not only a tool to  convey  the suffering of the hero - it has a deeper subtext: it is the writer's hope that, like this biblical figure, Georgia will emerge victorious from hard times - "After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation." [Job 42:16].  Such an understanding of Job's artistic face is observed in Akaki Tsereteli's short story "Country of Kudabziketi" published in 1899: "- How can I renounce the country allotted to you?... I will only test  it  with Job's trials in order  to  heal and let it thrive after!" [Tsereteli, 1985: 513], - says Jesus to Virgin Mary.

The desert is usually a symbol of infertility, desolation and destitution. However, in Christianity, it also has another meaning. It is a place where a man can understand  God and hear His voice. The desert is a place of theophany. Jesus was tested by the devil in the desert (Abzianidze..., 2011). According to the context, the desert in Suremi's dream can be interpreted in the following manner: "For the descendants of Badri and Usupi", this completely new and foreign place indicates their confusion, lack of a future plan, strategy: "We lost our way and wandered around for hours" [ Vazha-Pshavela, 1964 B: 241] - says the hero. The desert symbolizes  the historical time when Georgians were faced with the greatest trial, when the country had lost the way to a specific goal and fought desperately for survival: "- Just don't kill us, and do as you please, torture  and torment us" [Vazha-Pshavela, 1964 B: 241]- the brothers are begging the ogre.

In the Christian understanding, the countless number of frogs, like the midge, is perceived as the "torturing  of Egypt".  In the revelation, the frog is considered an impure creature and symbolizes tormenting" [Abzianidze..., 2011: 38]. Understanding the desert as a symbol of desperation and trials, and frogs as suffering and torturing is rather relevant to Vazha-Pshavela's artistic thinking. These two characters  are presented together in the verse  "The dream of a despaired man": "I saw a dream: I was taken / by the  bursting river; /Taken away  by the waves / I was welcomed by the sleeping land./  My heart suffers in the desert / first - by   the cool wind, / second – by  incessant / croaking of the army of frogs, /  third – by  the cry of the dead... / wandering  at  midnight" [Vazha-Pshavela, 1964 A: 76]. The torment of Erem-Serem-Suremi with frogs and insects, their physical suffering is an allegory of the spiritual crisis of Georgians, and the desert is a trial that, like Job, should awaken and strengthen the nation, which is emphasized by the concluding phrase of the verse: "Maybe we'll find each other again and then we won't be able to lose and destroy each other easily" [Vazha-Pshavela, 1964 B: 244].

Suremi narrates the following: at that time, our country was occupied  by Tatars, then a lame ogre  came out of nowhere and threw them out, but we appeared to be in its hands. When it saw us scattered and realized that we had no clear aim, it summoned us, assuring that it would make us wiser. It appointed me to work for a ruthless  merchant while keeping my wages to himself. I am also receiving heartbreaking letters  from my brothers: "The lame ogre is building a huge tower just like the Tower  of Babylo  to climb up to the sky, and it  is making  us   haul    stones from the rocky bank . The ogre makes us slave away – we sometimes even consider of ending our lives and thus escaping the torture, but  we can't even do that; it  is watching us closely. I wish, brother Suremo, we had acted wisely and backed each other up; if we had acted differently, this misfortune would not have happened to us" [Vazha-Pshavela, 1964 B: 244]. The allegory is evident. The lame ogre  symbolizes  the Russian Empire and the writer shows how it saved Georgia from Persia and  Ottomans and then annexed Georgia.

Vazha-Pshavela connected the future of Russia with the Tower of Babylon, a symbol of human arrogance and blasphemy. Albert Camus in his book "L'Homme révolté (The Rebel)" calls Fyodor Dostoyevsky the prophet of the new religion, who connected the future political-religious life of Russia with socialism and atheism; he also raised the issue of the Tower of Babylon: "Socialism does not concern  only the workers, it is more a question of atheism, the question of the Tower of Babylon, which was building  without God not to reach heaven from the earth, but to  bring down  the heaven to the earth" [Camus, 2019: 85]. This artistic image  of Vazha-Pshavela is also prophetic and foresees XX political-ideological processes of the century.

One more issue should be discussed here: why is the  ogre lame? In his open letter "Who is Right?" (1905), Vazha-Pshavela openly criticizes those people who believe in the supreme power of Russia and like its policy; the writer directly tells the reader what principles its rulers are guided by: "The above-mentioned educated people  believe, first of all, that Russia is a very, very strong state - its domestic affairs are arranged in such a way that there is no need for amendments... We should acquire as much territory as possible, conquer and subjugate more countries, and let’s leave  the maintenance and arrangement of these countries to God. The Russian bayonet, Russian soldier  can do it all  - no matter whether he is starving,  he is greedy,  educated,   illiterate, etc." [Vazha-Pshavela, 1964 D: 245].

According to the writer, such mindset was common not only in Russia, but in our country as well. In the introduction of the letter, he clearly emphasizes this "moral and mental ugliness" [Vazha-Pshavela, 1964 D: 245]: "In our country  and in Russia, there are still educated people who consider  that black is white" [Vazha-Pshavela , 1964 D: 245]. Ogre’s  lameness in "Erem-Serem-Suremiani"  and character - Povoski  in  Ilia Chavchavadze’s  "Notes of a journey from Vladikavkaz to Tiflis" have a similar subtext - both writers point to the disorganization and non-progressiveness of the Russian state.

At the end of the story, Suremi begins to analyze the mistakes of his brothers. Great suffering and trials gave him the ability to perceive reality, which is not accidental. In the story "Images of the village", Vazha-Pshavela characterizes the village in the following way: "When is this sea rough?  - When  the life of the village, its existence is in danger. Only then the village  pays close attention to it,  starts dithering, thinking; then it cries out for the first time: "Why, for what, my brother?!  So, the village must perish? ... This "why" ,  “for what” foretells  searching  for the reason, and whoever  recalls  this word often to comprehend their own life whether it  is a man or a village, he/it will not die" [Vazha-Pshavela, 1964B: 270]. In the open letter "Thoughts" written in 1902, the writer emphasizes the importance of judgment and analysis: "One of the praiseworthy features of human’s thinking is the search for the cause of events. When a person's thought asks: "Why? for what? From where and how?" This is a sign of human intelligence" [Vazha-Pshavela, 1964 D: 208]. Only difficult trials made Erem-Serem-Suremi  start  purposeful judgement and search for the reason for losing freedom. For the writer, this common sense for the nation is the way to restore itself.

"My journey  to Erem-Serem-Suremianeti" is an undated work that was not published during the writer's lifetime. The publisher of Vazha-Pshavela's works, A. Abasheli published the story as a version of "Erem-Serem-Suremiani", and in the ten-volume collection of Vazha-Pshavela's works published in 1964, the story was printed as an independent work, which seems quite reasonable considering its thematic content. These two works have completely different narratives; however, "My journey to Erem-Serem-Suremianeti"  is a sequel to "Erem-Serem-Suremiani"; the narration changes - Eremi, Seremi and Suremi are already a history, and now the writer intends to introduce us to the life of their descendants. These two texts have independent plots, ideas, but common contextual-conceptual line.

The literary work tells us about a fictional country, its villages and people. In a national-historical sense, this is an anti-utopian text contradicting the idea that  Georgian nation should live peacefully under the protection or domination of Orthodox Russia. The story  begins with the problem that the country, about which the traveler wants to tell us about, no longer has a real name: "You cannot  find the name of this country on the map, because even its name, the real name, was taken away by the witches, pretending that it does not even exist. ...What other way could one find  to drive  a man, a human being to despair: to make  a human-being suffer by stating: "You don’t exist anymore, you  are dead?!" [Vazha-Pshavela, 1964 C: 201]. An angel appears to the narrator and assigns him to describe the country- Erem-Serem-Suremianeti, rich with mountains and fields, vineyards, arable lands, clean water and wonderful climate until it is completely destroyed. The traveler gathers several people in one village and inquires about their life. As it turns  out, there are some people with tails, sorcerers in Erem-Serem-Suremianeti who take away locals’ livelihood;  estates with houses and arable lands are also appropriated by them. One of such witches is a merchant who trades some make-up to a woman in exchange for the bread stolen from her own family.

In the conversation with the traveler, the villagers show too much naivety, gentleness, which reflects on their weakness and inaction. The writer shows that  current way of life, the fear of punishment and exile made ordinary people so vulnerable  that they have no strength left to fight for any principle or idea; what’s worse,  they even renounced the will to protect themselves, their right to life. After that, a new issue is raised in the story - a Georgian man no longer fights to protect his dignity, life and land, not only because the conqueror's punitive policy broke his inner strength, but also because Russia partly managed to make him forget who he is, whose descendant he is and, therefore, what he should  fight for. The work presents the issue of education as a tool for the system to undermine the native language and history. From this viewpoint , Vazha-Pshavela follows the idea of so called  Samotsianelebi, a Georgian literary-social group of the 1960s. Let's recall Ilia Chavchavadze's letter  - "Ottoman's Georgia": "In our opinion, neither the unity of language, nor the unity of religion  and nationality  can  unite people as much as the unity of history" [Chavchavadze, 1987: 7]. In Vazha-Pshavela's literary work, the ignorance of historical remains  and their significance symbolizes the ignorance of Georgia’s past, its history. With the abandoned historical remains, the writer creates a symbol of forgotten historical and cultural values. In this episode, the villagers naively recall a proverb when referring to a local ruined temple - "The devil  takes  possession of the church abandoned by angels"- this proverb gains a deeper meaning and perfectly reflects on the existing situation of the whole country.

This problem was also reflected in the contemporary  literary process. In his book "Once upon a time", which is documentary prose, Dato Turashvili compares the independence gained in 1918 with the freedom regained  for the second time in 1990. The writer considers the  fact that the social democrats who had come into power at the beginning of the 20th century did not know the history of Georgia. Therefore, it is not surprising that they did not aspire to free the nation from Russia. As an example of this, the writer recalls an episode from Revaz Gabashvili's book of memories, which the author himself witnessed: “Pavle Ingorokva was showing Kakheti to one of the ministers pointing with a stick on the map hanging on the wall, while also narrating the history of Georgia; expressing his surprise and contentment, the minister exclaimed: "What a great country this Kakheti turns out to be" [Turashvili, 2016: 144]. In modern historical-literary discourse, this episode and its reflection once again demonstrates the incredible farsightedness of so called  Samotsianelebi, a Georgian literary-social group of the 1960s and Vazha-Pshavela regarding the consequences of the nation's ignorance and indifference.

The traveler visited about  hundred villages.  Finally, he found himself in an unknown settlement and asked locals whether there were some educated people around. The locals happily answered that there would not any other place with so many educated people - "there is one official per two inhabitants "  [Vazha-Pshavela, 1964 C: 212]. This place is a reminiscence of one episode of Ilia Chavchavadze's "Notes of a journey from Vladikavkaz to Tiflis ", when a Russian officer evaluates the country's social and cultural development by the number of generals: "- ... How is your civilization process going?" ... How many generals do you have, Georgians ?" [Chavchavadze, 1985: 14]. At the end of the story, there appears  an educated man who is looking at the sky through binoculars and thus tries to see the future of the country. This is the face of the Georgian intelligentsia that, in the  writer’s opinion, practically never managed to do anything  useful  for the country: "Yes, the intelligentsia at that time could not take care of the nation as need be (or when did we take care of it?), could not arrange  things in a way that was useful for us" [Vazha-Pshavela, 1964 D: 283] [1]. The traveler left the place and headed to the main city of  Erem-Serem-Suremianeti. He is again accompanied by the angel with his head bowed in sorrow and sadness. This undated story ends as follows:  "...There was a spring in the middle of the village; only this spring flowed properly" [Vazha-Pshavela, 1964 C: 209] - in this episode, the spring symbolizes faith in the future; however, unlike "Erem-Serem-Suremiani", it does not say what gives the writer such a hope.


In "Erem-Serem-Suremiani" Vazha-Pshavela allegorically pictures the period before the annexation of Georgia - what drove Georgians to the state that made it so easy for Tsarist Russia to include Georgia in its empire. This was the period when Georgia’s enemies were advancing in number and were getting stronger and there were also number of  internal conflicts in the country, which ultimately made it impossible to maintain independence; in the literary work  "My Journey to Erem-Serem-Suremianeti", the writer shows how the Georgian people live under the rule of the conqueror. Vazha-Pshavela, as a follower  of the principles of realism and so called Samotsianelebi (Georgian literary-social group of the 1960s.), exposes not only the enemy, but, first and foremost, he wishes Georgians to look in the mirror and do some self-reflection, just like Ilia Chavchavadze tried to wake up the nation. It is noteworthy that in both works Vazha-Pshavela resorts to satire as a means of criticism.

In "Erem-Serem-Suremianeti", it is shown that the nation's unpreparedness, lack of farsightedness and internal rivalry weakened Georgia to such an extent that it could no longer confront the enemies it had been fighting for centuries. Accordingly, the author portrays the protection and then annexation by Russian Empire as a historical inevitability. It should also be taken into account that Vazha-Pshavela  pictured  King Erekle, who made this significant decision in question, as a true patron of Georgia ("The icon seen by Shalva"), like  in the works of so called  Samotsianelebi - in the stories of Jacob Gogebashvili , Akaki Tsereteli, we see the heroic and self-sacrificing face of King Erekle. Striving for a better future of the nation and realizing the severe consequences due to the loss of independence and being the subject of a foreign country do not prevent Ilia Chavchavadze from explaining and judging the historical events of the transitional period of the 18th-19th centuries and its consequences with his usual subtleness  and rational reasoning. In his work "Letters on Georgian Literature" (1892), he clearly expresses his position on the above: "The misery  of the 18th century and the turmoil of the first years of the 19th century made our nation weary, fatigued; it lost hope and could no longer believe in itself. When there was a chance, it allowed itself to have some break. ... After long worries, resting is pleasant, both for an individual and for the whole nation" [Chavchavadze, 1986: 182]. Akaki Tsereteli expresses the same opinion in the short story  "The adventure of Georgian money" published in 1897: "Georgia has been tired of restlessness and heroism for many centuries. Lately, it has been sleeping to rest. This is  a common practice in the world!" [Tsereteli, 1985:459]. The opinion that the nation no longer had the power to exist and develop independently was also expressed by the figures of the 20th century. In his essay on new Georgian literature, Titsian Tabidze notes that


[1] In his works "The bear", "The mill", Vazha-Pshavela artistically showed  how the intelligentsia should  benefit  nation. See article: "Symbolic-allegorical interpretation of Vazha-Pshavela’s tale “The mill”:

"the end of feudal Georgia was caused  by objective circumstances. Georgia could not internally change the feudal order; lords and the great feudal lords were enemies to each other. Civil war destroyed the kingdom" [Tabidze, 2008: 19]. Vazha-Pshavela agrees with the said writers by sharing his thoughts expressed so artistically in “Erem-Serem-Suremiani."

In the artistic prose of Vazha-Pshavela, there are allegorical faces of tyranny (ogre,  bear), in which the reader can easily recognize the Russian Empire. In his open letters, the writer often criticizes and exposes the conqueror of Georgia and the Georgians who support it. Vazha-Pshavela described the severe social consequences of Georgia's union with Russia: moral weakness, illiteracy. The writer also portrays leaders with personal strength, who give education  and experience to the nation, teach how to overcome difficulties and try to bring people out of darkness into light ("The bear", "The mill"). In the reviewed works, Vazha-Pshavela follows the traditional opinion of the Samotsianelebi. From the artistic standpoint, their influence on the writer is  evident;  however,  most important and valuable  fact is that even in such texts the artistic paradigm of Georgian literature changes - it becomes free from explicit moralizing. The national-social allegory becomes highly artistic, and the establishment of myth, which is  characteristic to Vazha-Pshavela, takes over.



აბზიანიძე ზ.
სიმბოლოთა ილუსტრირებული ენციკლოპედია, ტ. I
ბიბლია, თბილისი.
თხზულებათა სრული კრებული ათ ტომად, ტ. I. თბილისი.
თხზულებათა სრული კრებული ათ ტომად, ტ. V. თბილისი.
თხზულებათა სრული კრებული ათ ტომად, ტ. VII. თბილისი.
თხზულებათა სრული კრებული ათ ტომად, ტ. IX. თბილისი.
კამიუ ალ.
ამბოხებული ადამიანი, თბილისი.
კიკნაძე ზ.
„შორის კეთილისა და ბოროტისა“, ჟ. „გული გონიერი“, N 17, თბილისი.
ტაბიძე ტ.
ახალი ქართული ლიტერატურა, თბილისი.
ტურაშვილი დ.
იყო და არა იყო რა, თბილისი.
ქართული მწერლობა. თბილისი.
წერეთელი აკ.
ქართული პროზა, ტ IX, თბილისი.
ჭავჭავაძე ილ.
ხუთტომეული, ტ. II, მოთხრობები, თბილისი.
ჭავჭავაძე ილ.
ხუთტომეული, ტ. III, წერილები, თბილისი.
ხუთტომეული, ტ. III, წერილები, თბილისი.
ხუთტომეული, ტ. IV, წერილები, თბილისი.