Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili - a Georgian Translator in the First Half of the 19th century

DOI: 10.55804/jtsuSPEKALI-17-19


Despite the scarce number of publications, Georgian creative writing of the first half of the 19th century is distinguished by its diversity. Amongst marvelous representatives of that era, there are certain influential figures who have left a material footprint in the Georgian translation practice. Such person was Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili (1814-1863), a military officer by profession. Sardion Aleksi-Meskhisvhili graduated from Tbilisi Theological Seminary and passed entrance exams (1832) to continue his study at the Medical Surgical Academy in Moscow. He can be considered as one of the first Georgian doctor-surgeons, who became the military doctor after having received a PhD degree in 1848; later on, he went on to receive the 7th rank (“Nadvorni Sovetkni”).  He was engaged in medical practice in Telavi, Signagi and later, in 1848 moved to Tbilisi to continue his medical work. Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili turned out to have supervised the study of Akhtala mud treatment (Akhtala mud bathes located in Kakheti, Georgia). Alongside Sardion’s medical achievements, his house in Anchiskhati district (Tbilisi) used to be a meeting spot for the Georgian intelligentsia. Aleksi-Meskhishvili himself was closely related to the Georgian literature and translation activities, which was not surprising at all stemming from his  family’s background - he happened to have inherited the manuscripts and publications of his ancestors, the Meskhishvilis. In the inherited collection, there was the first edition of the Bible - “The Birth of Jesus,” which, according to the custom of that period, Sardion Meskhishvili marked with the significant dates of his children’s birth and baptism. According to Georgian philologist, Dali Machaidze, “Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili laid the foundation for the formation of another such branch, which accounted for many influential figures for Georgia. Thus, the inscriptions of the book belonging to such a recognized and respected person are of great importance. Moreover, they contain the information about the members of Sardion’s family, the dates of birth and baptism of his children and names of their godparents. And along this, we get to know the circle of dignitaries whom the family of Meskhishvili was close to” [(translated from Georgian) Dali Machaidze, 2013:154].

He was one of the first interpreters to have conducetd translations from French and Latin languages (He translated the works of Roger de Beauvais, Marmontel, Eugene Sue). Many of his translations remained unpublished. In this regard, the Biographies of Learned Men is worth noting as it carries the following inscription: “Translated from Latin to Georgian by Sardion Alekseev, son of Dimitri” (Kasradze, 1984:34). He was one of the first translators of the eminent English romantic poet - George Gordon Byron’s (1784-1824) poem, Oscar of Alva that survived only in the form of a manuscript [Korneli Kekelidze Georgian National Centre of Manuscripts, H.359]. He was one of the first to have written a reply letter, “Ustari Anticritical” to Ilia Chavchavadze regarding certain literary issues [Tsiskari, 1861: N6].

At the same time, Sardion Aleksi-Meshkhishvili was one of the founders of the Georgian literary journal, Tsiskari. The Battle between fathers and sons got in the way of giving due credit to all his skills and virtues – his accomplishments were not properly presented in the Soviet literary studies. However, there are certain reviews from journals and newspapers offering insights about the Meskhishvili family and Sardion himself.

In the 1960s, a great misfortune befell the family of Meskhishvili - Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili passed away at the age of 49 in 1863. He was buried with honor in the New Shuamta Monastery, at the base of the north wall. A marble slab at his grave is engraved with Latin letters stating the following: “Here is buried Doctor Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili.” The same slab also has the following Georgian inscription: “Remember, O Lord, the soul of Thy departed servant, “Nadvorni Sovetnik”, Sardion Aleksiev-Meskhiev, son of Dimitri, who was buried in this holy church at the age of 49, 1863” [Kasradze, 1984: 38,39]. The inscription on Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili’s gravestone was made by French sculptor Eugene Grasse.

This work aims  to outline Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili’s contribution to introducing  Byron in Georgian language in order to learn the sources Aleksi-Meskhishvili used to translate Oscar of Alva by Byron –  there is no relevant information provided in Georgian scholar, Makvala Kuchukhidze’s studies. Sardion Aleksi-Meshkhishvili was interested in introducing the works of foreign writers to Georgian readers; to this end, he translated Desertion by the French dramatist, Marmontel, which was printed in the literary journal - Tsiskari.

Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili mainly translated the pieces of literature published in French language in order to thoroughly comprehend ongoing European literary processes in that language. When undertaking the systematic analysis of the Tsiskari publications of 1857-1859, the Georgian critic, Nikoloz Berdznishvili emphasized the principles of translation of foreign literature and stated that it was not proper to conduct a poor translation of the foreign literature: The practice that was outdated and did not respond to the trends of contemporary creative writing could no longer be regarded as the development of Georgian literature. It was believed back then that they should have translated only those pieces of literature  that complied with the interests of creative writing (“Marmontel has nothing in common with our literature, even in the opinion of his compatriots, he has lost his charm and has long been classified as an obsolete writer.”). Hence, Nikoloz Berdznishvili criticized the active employee of the journal, Tsiskari - Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili’s translating practice since the critic was well aware that Desertion by Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili had the influence of sentimentalism, which was no longer that relevant. In response to the above-mentioned, S. Aleksi-Meskhishvili printed a response letter, “Anti-criticism” [in the newspaper, Kavkaz, No11, 1857] where he tried to defend himself from Berdznishvili’s remarks and noted that the publication of Georgian translation of Marmontel was a timely step forward to get closer to European civilization. Sardion Aleksi- Meskhishvili compared the works of Alexandre Dumas, Eugene Sue, Racine and Moliere with the works such as Visramian, Amiranian, Karamanian  and discussed about their potential to change the European creative writing. (It should be noted that S. Aleksi-Meskhishvili made a reference to the above-mentioned foreign writers as exemplary authors for the first time in the history of Georgian criticism.) [Chumburidze, 1966: 137].

Later on, based on her monograph, Byron and the 19th -century Georgian writing (1992), Georgian scholar, Makvala Kuchukhidze suggested that Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili might have been the literary worker who promoted the practice of translating Byron’s works and instruction on interpreting and understanding this amazing poet [Kuchukhidze, 1992: 37]. However, Meskhishvili never confirmed his contribution in this respect.  In her work, Makvala Kuchukhidze also named the translators from French into Russian language (A. Voeikov,  P. Kudriashchev) - Meskhishvili might have used their translation for his own translation practice.

Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili was very much interested in introducing the works of George Gordon Byron to Georgian readers. However, he was one of the first who translated Byron not from Russian language, but rather from the French translation, which was rather popular in Europe at that time, as evidenced by his translation of Oscar of Alva (

According to Makvala Kuchukhidze, the poem, Oscar of Alva must have been among the first poems that introduced Georgian literary society with Byron. At present, Meskhishvili’s manuscript is filed in Korneli Kekelidze Georgian National Centre of Manuscripts (H.359). Byron’s above-mentioned poem is a draft version of the manuscript; it is not known whether the final version was produced later.  The manuscript - the Georgian translation of the poem has a note explaining that Oscar of Alva was one of the earliest works of G. G. Byron that he included in the collection, Hours of Idleness (1807) – the poem met a lot of criticism in Edinburgh Review. It is rather interesting what sources Meskhishvili used back then to translate the poem into Georgian.  The Russian translation of Oscar of Alva by Byron is included in N. Gerbil’s 3-volume book, followed by a reference stating that the plot of the poem had been based on the play, Macbeth (from the first act) by William Shakespeare, which Schiller later used in his first book, Der Geisterseher – there is an assumption that the two great tragic legends of Jeronimo and Lorenzo had a certain influence on Byron. Prominent and rebellious translator, A. Polezhaev translated the said poem, which was included in Gerbil’s book [Gerbil,1874:14]. Presumably, in the era of Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili, in Russian literature, it was accepted to have literary works translated from French language. In that period, ten-volume collection of Byron’s works were published in 1819-1821 in French language by Amadee Pichot (1795-1877) in collaboration with Ezebe de Salle. According to V. V. Nabokov, France and Russia was acquainted with Byron and his works through the above stated translations, which were rather monumental and poor attempt of translation at the same time  [,_%D0%90%D0%BC%D0%B5%D0%B4%D0%B5%D0%B9].

Pichot himself was a medical worker like Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili. According to Davit Kasradze, he was a diplomat who was equipped with relevant knowledge, closely followed every new event in Russia that originated from Europe and was committed to conveying all that newness to Georgia. Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili translated the works of Marmontel, A. Dumas, Eugene Seu, Racine and others. He knew Russian and French languages and it is believed that he translated Byron’s Oscar of Alva from French (“Ouvres complétes de Lord Byron” translated by Amadee Pichot) in the1930s while studying in Russia.

This paper compared the text of the possible source and Georgian translation of Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili. Below there is given the first stanza of the original source, French version and Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili’s translations:

How sweetly shines through azure skies,

The lamp of heaven on Lora’s shore;

Where Alva’s hoary turrets rise,

And hear the din of arms no more!


—  Le  flambeau  des  nuits  brille  au  milieu  des  cieux

d'azur,  et  répand  une  douce  lumière  sur  le  rivage  de

Lora.  Les  vieilles  tours  d'Alva  élèvent  jusqu'aux  nues

leurs  créneaux  grisâtres.  Le  bruit  des  armes  ne  retentit

plus  dans  le  château  solitaire.


„კანდელი ღამეთა ბწყინუალებს საშუალ ლაჟვარდოვანთა ცათა,

გარდამი განაჰფენს ნაზსა ნათელსა კიდესა ზა ლორასა. ძველნი კოშკნი

ალვასნი აღიმაღლებენ ღრუბელთადმდე უამრალთა კბილთა თვისთა.

ხმაი საჭურველთა უმეტეს არღარა განეცემის სასახლესა შა განშორებულსა.“

[ Aleksi-Meskhishvili,  H. N.359]

Below there is given the last stanza (78) of the original source, French version and Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili’s translations:

No lyre of fame, no hallow’d verse,

Shall sound his glories high in air:

A dying father’s bitter curse,

A brother’s death-groan echoes there.



“— Aucune lyre, aucun  chant  de  gloire,  ne

feront  résonner  les  airs  de  son  nom.  L'écho  répète  à

côté de sa  tombe  la  malédiction  d'un  père  expirant  et

les accents de mort de son frère.


რომელიმე ქნარი რომელიმე გალობა დიდებისა,

არა დაუკვრენ ხმათა სახელისა მისისათვის. ეხო მისისა განამეორებს.

გვერდით საფლავსა მისისა წყევასა სულთმთქმელის მამისა სათქმელთა და

ხმათა სიკუდილისათა ძმისა მისისათა.

[Aleksi-Meskhishvili,  H. N.359]

Although Byron did not necessarily relish the French translations of his poem, it is obvious that Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili utilized that very French edition. The translation was completed, which is confirmed by the inscription that the author made himself at the bottom of the manuscript – “The end - Oscar of Alva.” Admittedly, Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili’s style of translation is quite complicated and as M. Kuchukhidze mentioned, it was written in prose and the translator did not achieve a unity of form and content in accordance with the source. According to this study, Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili was not only the first translator among Georgian Byronists, but he was the first one who translated almost equivalently through the intermediate French language.

Despite M. Kuchukhidze’s great attempt, she couldn’t explore the French translation’s edition from which S. Aleksi-Meskhishvili conducted his translation. The study led us to the conclusion that in the beginning of the 19th century, the Georgian translator, Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili firstly fulfilled Byron’s work translation directly from the French edition “Ouvres complétes de Lord Byron”.

The translator’s passion for Byron’s works is obvious from his printed letter, “Ustari Anticritical,” which was published in Tsiskari (1861, N6); the given letter was addressed to the critic, N. Berdznishvili and in response to Ilia Chavchavadze’s letter “A couple of words...” As mentioned earlier, N. Berdznishvili evaluated Aleksi Meskhishvili’s translation of Desertion by Marmontel rather negatively.

In his response, Aleksi-Meskhishvili tried to justify his decision to translate Desertion and appealed to Ilia Chavchavadze as follows: “Prince Chavchavadze, you did not look into my translation of Desertion thoroughly and you referred to the honorable figures such as Marmontel and Karamzin with obscene words…In the reign of Louis the Fourteenth, each branch rose; art, education and French literature flourished. The recent era immortalized numerous writers, whose eloquence is still preeminent throughout the world. Amongst those writers, there was  Marmontel, whose writing style was simple and his tales - sincere and gratifying [Aleksi-Meskhiev, 1861: 260, 262].

In his reply, Sardion Aleksi-Meshkhishvili also paid tribute to sentimentalism in general - he explained that the word “sentimental,” in his opinion, was defined as tender, sensitive and he noted that the word cited by Ilia Chavchavadze “Tsirpliani” (too emotional) could not be equivalent to “tender”.  Aleksi-Meskhishvili explained Ilia’s attitude due to his young age and stated that with years, he would not be judged harshly for his earlier comments and they would reconcile [Aleksi-Meskhiev, 1861: 267,268]. That is why Georgian literary experts (N. Grigalashvili, Z. Djijeishvili) pinpointed that Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili, as a representative of the older generation, took a lenient father-son attitude towards the young author and in return, Ilia Chavchavadze shared the same positive attitude in his further reply and directed his criticism to another representative of the older generation, Barbara Jorjadze.

It should be mentioned that in the first letter, “Anticriticism” and in the second one, “Ustari Anticritical,” Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili used the word “critics” with much confidence – the term was later defined in Ilia Chavchavadze’s “Answer”.

Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili was one of the first who paid due respect to Byron in Georgian literary circles and outlined that others were tiny poets compared to him. However, at the same time, he pointed out that when it came to criticism, he should have also indicated Byron’s weaknesses.

The acknowledgement of Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili’s contribution, led this study to the following conclusions:

1.Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili was the first Georgian translator of George Gordon Byron’s works.

2.Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili translated Byron’s poem - Oscar of Alva directly from the French edition  “Ouvres complétes de Lord Byron”;

3.Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili was well acquainted with Byron’s works (supposedly French language translations) and all the relevant reviews;

4.Sardion Aleksi-Meskhishvili’s “Ustari Anticritical,” which was written in response to young Ilia Chavchavadze’s letter, “A Couple of Words”… is rather comprehensive from the perspective of translatology.


ალექსი-მესხიშვილი ს.,
მეუდაბნოენი. ჟურნალი ცისკარი, #11.
ალექსი-მესხიევი ს.,
უსტარი ანტიკრიტიკული, ჟურნალი ცისკარი, #6.
ალექსი -მესხიშვილი ს.,
საქართველოს სსრ მეცნიერებათა აკადემიის კ. კეკელიძის სახელობის ხელნაწერთა ეროვნული ცენტრი. H. N.359.
ჭავჭავაძე ი.,
პასუხი, ჟურნალი ცისკარი, #6/
კასრაძე ო.,
კვალი ნათელი კაცისა, თბილისი.
კუჭუხიძე მ.,
ბაირონი და XIX საუკუნის ქართული მწერლობა, თბილისი.
მაჩაიძე დ.,
მწიგნობარი, საქართველოს ბიბლიოთეკა, თბილისი.
ჭუმბურიძე ჯ.,
ქართული კრიტიკის ისტორია, თბილისი.
Алекси-Месхишвили С.
„Антикритика“, газеты Кавказъ, 7 Февраля. N11.
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Сочинения Лорда Байронав, в переводах русских поэтов, Том I. Санкт – Петербург.
ინტერნეტრესურსი 1
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