30 June 2023
Georgian manuscripts have a long history in the collections of the British Museum and the British Library. The first two manuscripts were acquired by the British Museum in 1837. Today, we hold seven medieval manuscripts, one eighteenth-century manuscript, one nineteenth-century manuscript, and one twentieth-century manuscript. We also hold six contemporary illuminated manuscripts created since 2018.
Our early manuscripts cover a period from the eighth to the seventeenth century. The most important among them is an 11th-century manuscript (Add MS 11281). It is a parchment written in the Georgian monastery of the Holy Cross near Jerusalem, which became an important centre of learning and was known to Western pilgrims as the Monasterium Georgianum.
Lives of the Holy Fathers, 11th-century, Add MS 11281.
Written in the Georgian language by a scribe, who refers to himself as Black John, the manuscript recounts the lives of 15 saints from Palestine, Egypt and Syria. Created during the golden age of Georgian church literature in the 11th century, it remains one of the principal sources of information about monastic life during the Byzantine period. This manuscript includes unique copies of works by Cyril of Scythopolis and Athanasius of Alexandria.
The earliest Georgian manuscript in the British Library collections is a palimpsest with Hebrew commentaries of the 11th or 12th century, written over the original Georgian text (Or 6581). These are three fragments of a parchment leaf with a highly irregular outline. The underwriting is Georgian in large capitals (asomtavruli script), while the overwriting is Hebrew. The Georgian text contains portions of the Book of Jeremiah.
Palimpsest fragments, Or 6581
This manuscript came from the Genizah in Cairo. In England there are also Genizah palimpsests (old Hebrew over Georgian) in both Cambridge and Oxford. They were published by Professor Robert P. Blake in the Harvard Theological Review. He dated this manuscript to the middle of the eighth century, but other scholars consider that it could have been written much earlier. It is also written in asomtavruli and therefore it is one of the rare examples of an Old Testament text in Georgian written in this script.
An 18th-century manuscript (Add MS 47237) consists of three letters from the Georgian Queen Anna Orbeliani of Imereti, a province in western Georgia, addressed to the Emperor Paul, to the Empress Maria Feodorovna, and to an unnamed Russian official. The Queen sought Russian protection and help in recovering her throne.
From the 19th century we hold the handwritten monthly journal of the Georgian Socialist Revolutionary Party, Musha (1889-1891; Or.5315), which was donated to the British Museum by Prince Varlam Cherkezishvili.
We also have a collection of of four letters and one postcard from the 20th century (Or 16935), written by the prominent Georgian writer Grigol Robakidze (1880-1962), to his friend David Kurulishvili. Robakidze could not tolerate the Soviet regime and left Georgia in 1930. He lived in Germany and then moved to Geneva.
Manuscripts created in the present century have recently been added to the British Library’s collections. In addition to four illuminated manuscripts donated to the Library in 2019 by the Art Palace of Georgia, we have recently received another two.
These two illuminated manuscripts were created in 2022 as a part of the project funded by the grant programme of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, ‘Support for Diaspora Initiatives’. This was initiated by Tamar Latsabidze and Giorgi Kalandia.
The texts, ‘Life of the King of Kings – David’ and ‘Life of the King of Kings – Tamar’, were copied from the ‘Kartlis Tskhovreba’ (the Georgian Chronicles, literally ‘Life of Kartli’ or ‘Life of Georgia’) by the Georgian artists and calligraphers, Giorgi Sisauri and Otar Megrelidze. The ‘Kartlis Tskhovreba’ is the principal written source for the history of Georgia, a collection of biographies, chronicles and other historical works.
The calligraphers have thus produced two manuscripts that did not exist before in an illustrated form. They were created exclusively for the British Library, and they observe the centuries-old traditions of the Georgian calligraphy school. The calligraphers carefully examined the tradition of writing and illuminating manuscripts. Paper, ink and paint were prepared as they were in early medieval Georgia. In order to maintain historical traditions and in keeping with their cultural roots, both artists employed 12th-century painting principles and used as models the ‘Georgian astrological treatise’, a manuscript dated 1188, and a 12th-centuey Byzantine manuscript known as the ‘Madrid Skylitzes’.
‘Life of the King of Kings – Tamar’ recounts the life of Queen Tamar the Great (1160-1213). It is believed that the author of the work was Basili Ezosmodzghvari, a contemporary historian of the Queen. Created by Giorgi Sisauri, this manuscript consists of 86 pages. Five of its miniatures with gold ink. Among them are portraits of Queen Tamar and her historian. At the end of the manuscript, according to the Georgian tradition, the miniaturist depicted himself.
Portrait of Queen Tamar (‘Life of the King of Kings – Tamar’) [awaiting shelfmark]
Battle scene (‘Life of the King of Kings – Tamar’) [awaiting shelfmark]
‘Life of the King of Kings – David’ tells the life of the Georgian king, David IV Aghmashenebeli (1089-1125). It was written by an unknown historian in the twelfth century. The manuscript presented to the British Library consists of 116 pages. The beginning of each chapter is decorated with floral ornaments and figures of birds of paradise (peacocks, pheasants, doves). The image of King David is depicted on page 91 of the manuscript.
Portrait of King David IV (‘Life of the King of Kings – David’) [awaiting shelfmark]
‘Life of the King of Kings – David’, p. 42-43 [awaiting shelfmark]
These illuminated manuscripts are a significant addition to the Library’s Georgian collections. We held no illuminated Georgian manuscripts prior to this donation. They will thus enhance the significance and usefulness of our collection of Georgian manuscripts. They can be presented alongside our Georgian medieval manuscripts, and they will assist in the promotion of the country’s cultural heritage and contribute to Georgia’s academic and research development.
We are very grateful to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, to Tamar Latsabidze, to Giorgi Kalandia, to the Art Palace of Georgia, and to all who have contributed to this remarkable project.
Anna Chelidze, Curator, Georgian Collections
References and further reading
Robert P. Blake, ‘Catalogue of the Georgian Manuscripts in the Cambridge University Library’, The Harvard Theological Review, vol. 25, no. 3 (July 1932), 207-24. Ac.2692/13.
Robert P. Blake, ‘Khanmeti Palimpsest Fragments of the Old Georgian Version of Jeremiah’, The Harvard Theological Review, vol. 25, no. 3 (July 1932), 225-72.
J. Oliver Wardrop, ‘Catalogue of Georgian Manuscripts’, in Frederick Cornwallis Conybeare, A Catalogue of the Armenian Manuscripts in the British Museum… to which is appended a Catalogue of Georgian Manuscripts in the British Museum. (London, 1913) pp. 397-410. 11925.h.3.
Gregory Peradze, ‘Georgian Manuscripts in England’, Georgica. A Journal of Georgian and Caucasian Studies, vol. 1, no. 1 (Oct. 1935), 80-88. Ac.8821.e.
31 August 2022
August is Women in Translation Month, a 2014 initiative aimed at celebrating and promoting women writers in translation, as well as their translators and publishers. As in previous years, we are highlighting a selection of books from across the European collections that we have recently enjoyed. We hope you enjoy them too.
Lize Spit, The Melting, translated by Kristen Gehrman (London: Pan Macmillan, 2021) ELD.DS.611746.
Chosen by Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections
‘It wasn't a good day, but at least there's a story in it.’ Lize Spit consoled herself as a child with writing when life was against her. After a long, hard struggle she entered the literary world in Flanders and the Netherlands with her debut novel Het Smelt, or The Melting. It is part coming-of-age novel, part thriller about a young woman who takes revenge on her childhood friends for things done to her 13 years before. Spit doesn’t pull any punches, doesn’t flinch from cruelty. Just how good it is can be seen from the number of languages Het Smelt was translated into: Arabic, Bulgarian, Catalan, Danish, German, French, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Croatian, Norwegian, Polish, Spanish, Czech, Swedish and English. The English translation is by Kristen Gehrman, who translates from Dutch into English, German and French.
Contemporary Georgian Fiction, translated and edited by Elizabeth Heighway (Champaign, Ill., 2012), Nov.2013/1985
Chosen by Anna Chelidze, Curator Georgian Collections
Published in 2012, this volume brings together stories by 20 prominent contemporary Georgian writers. It affords a view into a vibrant literary world that has been largely inaccessible to English-speaking readers. Written over the last 50 years, the selection of stories offers a very broad mix of writers with different literary styles. Some of the writers are well known, while others have only recently entered the literary world. Among them are five female authors, all from different generations and backgrounds, and each with a distinct authorial voice. They have achieved success in a number of literary competitions and have been awarded literary prizes, both Georgian and international. Some have previously been translated into other languages, for others this is their first published translation. Their names are: Mariam Bekauri, Teona Dolenjashvili, Ana Kordzaia-Samadasvili, Maka Mikeladze, and Nino Tepnadze. They succeed in creating powerful images of Georgia and its inhabitants, seen from different perspectives. The variety of contexts reflects changes in Georgian society in recent years, while the variety of narrative styles highlights the challenges presented to the translator, Elizabeth Heighway.
Madeleine Bourdouxhe, A Nail, a Rose, translated by Faith Evans (London, 2019) ELD.DS.439385 and Marie, translated and with an afterword by Faith Evans (London, 2016) H.2018/.7905
Chosen by Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections
After years of neglect, the fiction of Belgian author Madeleine Bourdouxhe is undergoing a revival with new editions of her work appearing in the UK, the US and Germany. In her stories, Bourdouxhe explores the themes of resistance, but also the life, routine, sexuality, and ennui of women in the 20th century. First rediscovered in France with the reissue of La femme de Gilles in 1985, she has since become something of a feminist icon. Faith Evans’s recent translations of two of Bourdouxhe’s books into English put her works into their historical, political and stylistic context. She also shares with us her translator’s impressions, feelings and reasoning; and perhaps even more surprisingly, as it is so rare, the author’s impressions at being translated.
Iryna Shuvalova, Pray to the Empty Wells, translated by Olena Jennings and the author (Sandpoint, Idaho: Lost Horse Press, 2019). Awaiting shelfmark
Chosen by Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections
Presented in dual-language format, Pray to the Empty Wells is Ukrainian poet Iryna Shuvalova’s first book-length collection of poems in English. Drawing heavily on Ukraine’s folk culture and themes ranging from memory, the natural environment and Russia’s war in Ukraine, Shuvalova’s poems are meditative, intimate, unflinchingly direct and often visceral. The collection is beautifully translated from Ukrainian by Olena Jennings and Shuvalova, and forms part of Lost Horse Press Contemporary Ukrainian Poetry series.
Shuvalova will be appearing in the Worldwide Reading of Ukrainian Literature event at the British Library on 7 September, along with a host of other award-winning Ukrainian writers and translators. The event is free to attend and will also be live streamed on the LKN website.
26 November 2021
Shota Rustaveli is the most admired poet in Georgia and an iconic figure in Georgian national literature. He is the author of the medieval epic poem Vepxistqaosani (The Knight in the Panther's Skin). The poem was composed during the reign of Queen Tamar and is dedicated to her. The poem exemplifies the medieval knightly ideals of chivalry, friendship, courtly love and courage, and yet has contemporary relevance as its humanistic values are timeless. It is recognised internationally as a masterpiece and has been translated into many languages in both verse and prose. It was first published in Tbilisi in 1712 at the printing press established by King Vakhtang VI of Kartli at his initiative. Several manuscripts exist, written both before and after that date.
The British Library holds a number of editions of The Knight in the Panther's Skin including translations into English and other languages. Unfortunately, we do not hold any manuscripts. Recently, however, our collections have been enriched by generous donations from the Art Palace of Georgia - Museum of Cultural History.
We have received two beautiful facsimiles of manuscripts of The Knight in the Panther's Skin. Both have been recently published in limited editions by Bakmi Publishing in Tbilisi. The originals are preserved in the Korneli Kekelidze National Centre of Manuscripts in Tbilisi.
Cover of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani (Tbilisi, 2018) HS.74/2506
The first of these manuscripts was created in 1680 at the behest of King George XI of Kartli by his secretary, Begtabeg Taniashvili. For this reason, the manuscript is generally known as ‘Begtabeg’s manuscript’ (Begtabegiseuli khelnatseri = ბეგთაბეგისეული ხელნაწერი). Each page of this manuscript is enriched with stylized, gold-plated decorations consisting of images of animals, birds and flowers. Every page is unique as none of the designs is repeated in the 523 pages. The facsimile of the manuscript is bound in navy blue leather and decorated with gold lettering.
Page 19 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani
Page 113 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani
Page 391 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani
The other manuscript was created between the 17th and 18th centuries and is known as ‘Tsereteli’s manuscript’ (Tseretliseuli khelnatseri = წერეთლისეული ხელნაწერი). It bears the name of its owner, the Tsereteli family. Among the many manuscripts of the poem, it is the most richly illustrated. It contains 87 miniatures. Some of them appear to have been influenced by Persian miniature painting, while others reflect national Georgian traditions. The different styles present in the manuscript suggest that they were executed by several artists, all of whom are unknown.
The slip-case of the facsimile is handmade and has been decorated using cloisonné enamel. Very expensive materials, including silver, gold-plated brass and enamel, were employed. It was designed and created by the traditional Georgian jewellery company, Zarapxana.
Slip-case of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani (Tbilisi, 2019) RF.2021.a.20
Page 22-23 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani
Page 83 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani
Page 381 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani
The donation of this book has been made possible by a contribution from Tamar Latsabidze, Zarapxana, Giorgi Kalandia and the Art Palace of Georgia.
The British Library is enormously grateful to Giorgi Kalandia and the Art Palace for the substantial donations to the British Library collections made during recent years. This has resulted in an improved supply of contemporary publications and has also filled some significant gaps in our collection.
We are also very grateful to Tamar Latsabidze and to Zarapxana, the Georgian jeweller, for their support. It has been important for us to establish and develop closer contacts with our partners in Georgia.
The generosity of all who have contributed is very much appreciated. They have evidently taken heed of the well-known quotation from Rustaveli: “That which we give makes us richer, that which is hoarded is lost”.
Anna Chelidze, Curator Georgian Collections
Shota Rustaveli, The Man in the Panther’s skin: a romantic epic … a close rendering from the Georgian attempted by Marjory Scott Wardrop. (London,1912) 14003.bb.16.
Kʿartʿuli xelnaceri cigni V-XIX saukuneebi = Georgian manuscript book 5th-19th centuries (Tbilisi, 2012) YF.2014.b.2472
Šalva Amiranašvili, Vepʿxistqaosnis dasuratʿeba: miniaturebi šesrulebuli XVI-XVII saukuneebši (Tbilisi, 1966) YF.2015.b.2110
S. Qubaneišvili, Vepʿxistqaosnis bečdvis istoriidan (Tbilisi, 1975) YF.2017.a.2371
26 October 2021
The modernist Ukrainian writer Lesia Ukrainka (pen name of Larysa Kosach-Kvitka) pioneered a new feminist literature at the forefront of European trends of the time. Her dramas, poetry and prose address concerns from gender and race to feminism and environmentalism. In the year of the 150th anniversary of her birth, the British Library and the Ukrainian Institute London will shine a light on this remarkable figure at an event on 16 November 2021. To whet your appetite, this two-part blog post explores aspects of Ukrainka’s life, work and legacy through items held in the British Library. It is co-authored by Dr Sasha Dovzhyk, a Ukrainian writer and scholar based in London, who will take part in the event.
Cover of Pershyi vinok: zhinochyi al’manakh (New York, 1984). X.958/33534
The First Wreath
Born in 1871 into a family of intellectuals, Ukrainka’s upbringing profoundly shaped her socio-political outlook and literary career. Her mother, Olha Kosach (better known by her pseudonym, Olena Pchilka), was a writer, ethnographer, activist and central figure in Ukrainian literary life. Unusually for the time, she educated her children exclusively in Ukrainian, laying the foundations for Ukrainka’s love and command of the language. It was Pchilka who encouraged her daughter to write, inventing Ukrainka’s pen name, ‘Lesia (a diminutive of Larysa) of Ukraine’, when she sent her first poems for publication as a young teenager.
Pchilka was also active in the Ukrainian women’s movement, which emerged in the late 19th century. Together with Nataliia Kobrynska, she edited and published the first Ukrainian feminist almanac, Pershyi vinok (‘The First Wreath’) in 1887. The teenage Ukrainka was among its contributors with her poem ‘Rusalka’ and other verses. Published by the Ukrainian Women’s League of America in 1984, almost a century later, this second, expanded edition includes an introduction and biographical notes by Larissa M. L. Z. Onyshevych.
Cover of Lesia Ukrainka, Starodavnia istoriia skhidnykh narodiv (Luts’k, 2008). YF.2013.a.13005
The Ancient History of Eastern Peoples
The Ancient History of Eastern Peoples is a textbook Ukrainka wrote in 1890–91 at the age of 19 to help with the education of her younger sister, Olha Kosach-Kryvyniuk. In popular introductions to the author’s life and work, this prodigious textbook is routinely mentioned among the top ten quirky facts. Olha Kosach-Kryvyniuk published it in 1918, and a facsimile edition was produced 90 years later. What is most surprising about this volume is the sheer distances Ukrainka travelled in her research, both time- and geography-wise. The 252 pages of her History delve into the beliefs and literatures of ancient India, Media, Persia, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Phoenicia, and Israel. The book also includes Ukrainka’s poetic translations of sacred hymns from Rig Veda, one of the earliest and most important texts in the Hindu tradition.
Working on her study in a remote Ukrainian village, Ukrainka relied on the correspondence with her uncle, a revered Ukrainian historian and political thinker in exile Mykhailo Drahomanov, as well as works by French orientalist scholars Louis Ménard (Histoire des Anciens Peuples de l'Orient, 1883 (9055.bbb.5.)) and Gaston Maspero (Histoire ancienne des peuples de l’Orient, 1875 (9055.a.34.)). Ukrainka remained fascinated with ancient spiritual beliefs and practices throughout her life.
Petro Odarchenko, ‘Die Weber’ H. Haine v perekladi Lesi Ukrainky, Slavistica, no. 77. 2nd ed. (Washington, 1976/77). Ac.9890.a
Translation of Heinrich Heine’s ‘Die Weber’
An accomplished polyglot (by all accounts she knew nine languages in addition to her native Ukrainian), Ukrainka translated a number of works from English, German, French and Greek. This booklet includes a copy of her translation of Heinrich Heine’s political poem ‘Die schlesischen Weber’ (‘The Silesian Weavers’ or ‘Weaver-song’), which he wrote in response to the attempted uprising in 1844 by Silesian weavers against exploitation and falling wages.
Ukrainka’s unpublished translation was identified by the writer and critic Petro Odarchenko in the literary museum of the Drahomanov family. It first appeared in print alongside Odarchenko’s commentary in 1927 and was published in a second edition as part of the Slavistica booklet series.
Lesia Ukrainka, Poezii: vybrani tvory (Regensburg, 1946). 11588.a.59.
Lesia Ukrainka, Ternovyi vinets: zbirka poezii ([Germany], 1946). Awaiting shelfmark
Displaced Persons Camp poetry editions
Petro Odarchenko also wrote the introduction to a small volume of Ukrainka’s works published in the Regensburg Displaced Persons (DP) Camp in 1946, the 75th anniversary of her birth. Like thousands of Ukrainians who were displaced at the end of the Second World War, Odarchenko lived in the Augsburg DP camp before moving to the USA with his family in 1950. Ukrainka’s younger sister, Olha Kosach-Kryvyniuk, also spent time in the same camp, where she died in November 1945.
Permitted by authority of the US Military Government in the American Allied Occupation Zone, the British Library copy also contains the stamp of the London-based Central Ukrainian Relief Bureau, which is believed to have donated the book to the Library in 1948. It is one of two rare DP camp editions of Ukrainka’s poetry published in her anniversary year and held by the British Library. The other, a collection of 25 poems entitled Ternovyi vinets (‘Crown of Thorns’), was reproduced from typescript and illustrated by Edvard Kozak.
Postcard from Lesia Ukrainka to her sister, Olha. In Lesia Ukrainka, Lysty (1876-1897), compiled by Valentyna Prokip (Savchuk), (Kyiv, 2016), p. 22. YF.2017.a.2022
The three volumes of Ukrainka’s letters comprise a palimpsest in which the layers of Ukrainian and European cultural history coexist with the personal trials of the emergent heroine of her time, the New Woman. Whether it is the nation-building work of the secret societies of the Ukrainian intelligentsia in the Russian Empire, the latest breakthroughs in Scandinavian theatre, or the challenges encountered by an emancipated woman traveller at the turn of the century, Ukrainka’s analysis is sharp, lucid, erudite, and often interlaced with humour. Her correspondence offers a unique perspective on some of the topical issues of the period, from the redefinitions of the traditional family to the anti-colonial ethical code. Ukrainka dismantled patriarchal hierarchies in her literary work and in her personal life. Thus her letters shed light on such matters as the writer’s opposition to her family’s wishes concerning the choice of her life partner, a confrontation viewed by Ukrainka as a stepping-stone in the general struggle for women’s liberation. Her correspondence with another pioneering feminist writer of the Ukrainian fin de siècle, Olha Kobylianska, reveals a search for a new radical model of female intimacy which the literary scholar Solomiya Pavlychko called a ‘lesbian phantasy’. Like Kobylianska, Ukrainka was a feminist committed to the Ukrainian national project, which was at the time dominated by patriarchal and populist approaches.
Photograph from Spohady pro Lesiu Ukrainku, edited by Tamara Skrypka (New York; Kyiv, 2017-). ZF.9.a.11700
Remembering Lesia Ukrainka
Bringing together memoiristic prose by Ukrainka’s family members and photographs from museum collections and private archives, Remembering Lesia Ukrainka is a precious collage that brings us closer to the culture of the long fin de siècle in Ukraine. The Kosach-Drahomanov family included illustrious scholars and translators, political activists and pioneering feminists, whose memoirs offer a truly gratifying read. During the Soviet period, their aristocratic background led to political repressions as well as the inescapable censoring of their recollections. Some of the pieces in Remembering Lesia Ukrainka are published for the first time in unexpurgated form.
The photographs of the Kosach-Drahomanov estate and of Ukrainka and her siblings in traditional Ukrainian clothes, and musical notations compiled by her husband, famous folklorist and musicologist Klyment Kvitka, open a window onto a vanished society, the relics of which had been hidden from public view for a major part of the 20th century. One of the most haunting images reproduced in the book is a photo of Ukrainka’s funeral procession where her coffin is carried by six women: a testimony of the writer’s feminist legacy.
Linocut from Oleg Babyshkin, Lesia Ukrainka v Gruzii (Tbilisi, 1953). 10796.b.58.
Lesia Ukrainka in Georgia
Ukrainka spent much of the last ten years of her life living and working in Georgia, where she died on 1 August 1913. Since the age of 12 or 13, she had been afflicted by tuberculosis and travelled constantly in search of treatment and warmer climes, from Yalta to Egypt. While it is important not to define Ukrainka by her illness, it undoubtedly had a significant impact on her life and work; she spent long periods away from home and family, often confined to her bed. As Clarence A. Manning observed, ‘It compelled her to live with her books, to think in terms of books, and to frame her intellectual and spiritual life on what she read, rather than on what she saw and experienced’ (Spirt of Flame, p. 13).
Published in Tbilisi in 1953, this book by the Ukrainian literary critic Oleh Babyshkin about Ukrainka’s time in Georgia focuses on three key cities and a town in which she lived: Tbilisi, Telavi, Khoni, and Kutaisi. The final chapter explores her legacy in Soviet Georgia. The text is accompanied by linocuts of significant places and buildings, including the Lesia Ukrainka Museum in the resort town Surami, her place of death.
Sasha Dovzhyk, writer and scholar, and Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections
The event The Unknown Feminist of Fin-de-siècle Europe: Lesia Ukrainka will take place at the British Library on 16 November 2021.
Additional reading and resources:
Sasha Dovzhyk, ‘Subverting the Canon of Patriarchy: Lesya Ukrainka’s Revisionist Mythmaking’, The Los Angeles Review of Books, 25 February 2021
Olga Kerziouk, ‘Lady on Banknotes’, European Studies Blog, 1 August 2013
Lesia Ukrainka: Fin-de-siècle Ukrainian Feminism (short film), Ukrainian Institute London, 2020
19 February 2021
Georgia has long been represented in the collections of the British Library and its predecessors. We hold Georgian manuscripts, printed books, maps, sound recordings and visual materials as well as a wide range of publications in Western languages relating to Georgia and the Caucasus. We also hold official publications, periodicals and newspapers.
These materials describe Georgian culture at different times and from different perspectives. They also tell a story about British curiosity and the desire to learn and read about lesser-known countries and cultures.
Georgia had strong links with the Classical and Byzantine worlds. This period of Georgian history is well illustrated in the Library’s collections by seven Georgian medieval manuscripts and early Western cartographic material.
The Georgian flag, among others, appears on this map created in Venice in the 1320s. It is a white rectangle, with a large red cross in its central portion touching all four sides of the flag. In the four corners there are four crosses of the same colour as the large cross.
After the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, the links between Georgia and Europe were lost. Consequently, in the 16th and 17th centuries, Georgia became trapped between Turkey and Persia in their rivalry for domination over Transcaucasia. The King of Georgia, Teimuraz I, sent his envoy, Niceforo Irbach, to Europe to ask for assistance and to seek allies. His ambassadorial mission had little political success, but it did bring about a significant cultural event: the printing of the earliest Georgian books.
These books, printed in Rome by the Propaganda Fide press in the 17th century, are well represented in the Georgian collections. Indeed, we have several copies of them. They are the earliest printed publications in Georgian and they are also the earliest dictionaries and grammar books printed in Georgian.
Title page and opening of Sefano Paolini, Dittionario giorgiano e italiano (Rome, 1629); 622.e.34.(2.).
The reports of English and European travellers to Georgia stimulated interest in the country in the 17th century. The desire for knowledge of little-known countries and cultures encouraged the publication of their travel accounts and of maps.
The Library has a number of these early accounts, including the works of Sir John Chardin and Sir Robert Ker Porter. These remained the most important sources of information in Europe about life in Georgia until the early 19th century.
‘A Georgian lady’; Add MS 14758/2, fol. 187r.
In the 19th century interest in Georgian culture became more academic. This was linked to a more general interest in Asia. The Royal Asiatic Society was founded in London in 1823. The British and Foreign Bible Society was also encouraging its members to study early Eastern Christian manuscripts including those in Georgian. In 1837 the British Museum purchased two Georgian manuscripts: Add MS 11281 and Add MS 11282.
11th-century Georgian manuscript, ‘Lives of Holy Fathers’. Add MS 11281.
The Library’s collections hold the works of the first British Kartvelologists, researchers on Georgian studies, who initiated the promotion of Georgian language and culture in the second half of the 19th century. They were responsible for the first attempts to introduce Georgian culture to intellectual and research circles in Britain and Continental Europe.
Sir Oliver Wardrop and William Edward David Allen founded the Georgian Historical Society (1930), which published its own journal, Georgica, (1935- ; Ac.8821.e.) dedicated to Kartvelian studies. Several Georgian literary classics were translated by Marjory and Oliver Wardrop and other scholars.
Photograph of Marjory Wardrop in Georgian national dress, 1896. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Various aspects of 20th-century Georgian culture and history are reflected in the Library’s collections:
The first sound recordings made in Georgia and the Caucasus, recorded in Tbilisi, 1901-1914, by the Gramophone Company of London;
A rare copy of H2SO4, the Georgian avant-garde journal, published in 1924 (RB.23.b.6973);
First editions of writings by the avant-garde artist David Kakabadze, published in Paris in 1924;
Avant-garde books designed and written by Ilia and Kiril Zdanevich;
Georgian émigré newspapers published in Europe and the USA after the Russian Revolution.
We also hold two later manuscript collections. The first, Musha (‘The Worker’: a journal of the socialist-revolutionary party in Georgia), was presented to the British Museum in 1898 by Prince Varlaam Cherkezishvili, a remarkable person who obtained a seat in the Constituent Assembly of the Democratic Republic of Georgia.
The second, written in the 1950s, consists of a collection of letters and postcards by Grigol Robakidze, a writer, publicist and public figure (Or 16935).
The Library’s Georgian holdings continue to grow in the 21st century. Contemporary Georgian material is acquired in the mainstream humanities disciplines. The emphasis is on reference books, history, art and culture, as well as literature, language, contemporary politics, ecology, etc.. We collect contemporary fiction in Georgian and also acquire translations via Legal Deposit and by purchase.
In addition to ongoing acquisitions of new material, the collection is supported by donations from the public and partners. Most recently, the collections were significantly strengthened by generous gifts from the Art Palace of Georgia - Museum of Cultural History.
Besides extremely valuable publications from the Art Palace, we have also received a collection of Georgian film posters 1934-1985 and four Georgian contemporary illuminated manuscripts. These manuscripts have been created by contemporary Georgian artists and calligraphers. They are original works but executed in gold ink in traditional Georgian style. The Art Palace commissioned these works specially for the British Library to enrich our Georgian collections.
Manuscript donated by Art Palace; (Awaiting shelfmark).
On Friday 25th and Sunday 27 February the British Library in association with Maya Jaggi and Writers’ House of Georgia will present two days of online events as part of the four-day festival Georgia’s Fantastic Tavern: Where Europe Meets Asia. Some of Georgia’s most celebrated novelists, playwrights and screenwriters will be reflecting on Georgia’s artistic legacy on the centenary of the first Georgian Republic and the 30th anniversary of independence from Soviet rule. Further details and booking information can be found here.
Anna Chelidze, Curator Georgian Collections
Anzor Erkʿomaišvili = Anzor Erkosmaisvili. Kʿartʿuli pʿonočʿanacerebi ucʿxoetši = Georgian pohonogram recordings abroad. (HUS 016.7809475)
06 August 2019
The Georgian alphabet is very old and is used only by the Georgian language. Its origins lie hidden in the depths of the past and are the subject of several theories.
According to the Georgian chronicles, King Parnavaz I was recognised as the creator of the Georgian alphabet. Among scholars, some suggest that the Georgian alphabet derived from Phoenician, while others propose Semitic and Aramaic origins. However, the majority of researchers consider that the Greek alphabet served as the basis for the Georgian one. In strictly structural terms, Georgian alphabetical order largely corresponds to the Greek alphabet with the exception of letters representing uniquely Georgian sounds, which are grouped at the end.
The oldest Georgian inscriptions date back to the fifth century AD. However, it is unlikely that the Georgian alphabet first appeared then as the written culture was by then long established and highly developed. According to the Georgian historian Ivane Javakhishvili, the Georgian writing system had been in use since the 7th century BC.
Inscription from Bolnisi Sioni Cathedral, dated to 494 AD, Simon Janashia Museum of Georgia (Image from Wikimedia Commons)
The evolution of Georgia’s written language has produced three scripts: Asomtavruli (5th-9th centuries), Nuskhuri (9th-11th centuries) and Mkhedruli (11th century onwards). The appearance of the letters at each stage is very different. Despite their obvious visual differences, all three scripts are closely interrelated and show a gradual evolution. Their letters share the same names and alphabetical order and are written horizontally from left to right. Originally consisting of 38 letters, Georgian today is written using a 33-letter alphabet, as five letters were dropped as a result of reforms proposed by Ilia Chavchavadze in the 1860s. All three Georgian writing systems are phonemic; every sound is represented by its corresponding letter and almost every written letter is pronounced in speech.
The three Georgian scripts: Asomtavruli, Nuskhuri, and Mkhedruli (Image from Wikimedia Commons)
Asomtavruli (‘capital letters’) is a monumental script, and represents the oldest form of the Georgian alphabet. It is also known as Mrgvlovani (‘rounded’). The geometry of the Asomtavruli script is simple and plain. The first examples date back to the 5th century. From the 9th century, Asomtavruli was mainly employed for capital letters in religious manuscripts. Despite its name, this script is unicameral, i.e. it does not distinguish between upper and lower case, like the two later scripts, Nuskhuri and Mkhedruli.
Letter მ (M) in Asomtavruli script, 12th century New Testament MS (Gelati Gospel) (Image from Wikimedia Commons)
Book of prayers, 17th century (Sloane MS 1338). The manuscript is written in Nuskhuri, with Asomtavruli letter ‘M’ as a capital
The second Georgian writing system, which derived from Asomtavruli, was Nuskhuri (‘minuscule’). Nuskhuri was soon combined with Asomtavruli illuminated capitals in religious manuscripts. The combination was called Khutsuri (‘clerical’) and was largely used in religious writings.
Lives of Holy Fathers, 11th century (Add. MS 11281). The manuscript is written in Khutsuri
From the 10th century, Nuskhuri was employed in many texts. Nuskhuri developed as a written style because of the need to write faster and the increased demand for books. Nuskhuri letters have an angular shape, vary in height and slant to the right. They could be written without lifting the writing tool from the page. The oldest known inscription in Nuskhuri is the collection of sermons known as Sinuri mravaltvavi (‘Sinai Homiliary’) dated 864 AD.
These two scripts were followed by Mkhedruli, the modern Georgian script. It first appeared in the 10th century. The name Mkhedruli comes from the word mkhedari which means ‘knightly’. Mkhedruli can be seen as the product of the complex development of previous writing systems. It maintained the rounded design of Asomtavruli and, like Nuskhuri, facilitated faster writing. Letters, as in Nuskhuri script, can also be joined up. Due to its style and flexibility, it is also used for headlines and titles.
Mkhedruli has changed very little since its arrival in the 10th century and has become the standard script of modern Georgian and related Kartvelian languages. Mkhedruli first appeared in print in two books published in Rome in 1629.
Title page and opening of Sefano Paolini’s Dittionario giorgiano e italiano (Rome, 1629) 622.e.34.(2.)
The three writing systems co-existed for several centuries and all remain in use today. They were originally used for both religious and secular literature. Gradually, however, Mkhedruli came to be used only for state and secular purposes while Nuskhuri and Asomtavruli were limited to ecclesiastical use.
Georgian scripts were granted the national status of intangible cultural heritage in Georgia in 2015 and inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2016. The decision recognised the value of the three writing systems that live together in harmony and mark out the Georgian language.
Anna Chelidze, Curator, Georgian Collections
Tʿamaz Gamqreliże, Alphabetic writing and the Old Georgian script: a typology and provenience of alphabetic writing systems (Delmar, N.Y., 1994). ORW.1995.a.283
Michael Kurdiani, Georgian language and script (Tbilisi, 2008). YD.2011.a.5239
Elene Mačavariani, The Old Georgian Script (Tbilisi, 2015). YD.2016.a.2180
Georgian scripts & typography (Tbilisi, 2016). YF.2019.b.1408
The British Library Exhibition Writing: Making Your Mark continues until 27 August 2019.
20 March 2019
Interest in the Caucasus increased considerably in Europe and especially in Great Britain in the 19th century. A number of scholars, travellers and adventurers were attracted to this mountainous region by the Black Sea. As a result, several works were published about the Caucasus and about Georgia. Of these, Robert Ker Porter’s Travels in Georgia, Persia, Armenia, Ancient Babylonia during the years 1817,1818, 1819 and 1820 remains one of the most impressive.
Sir Robert Ker Porter was a man of the most varied talents. He was justly described as distinguished alike in the arts, in diplomacy, and in literature. He published the record of his long journey, which extended from Georgia to modern-day Iran, in 1821. It is a substantial work in two volumes, full of interest and illustrated by the author himself with drawings of the landscape, people, buildings and antiquities.
Engraving of a portrait of Sir Robert Ker Porter by George Henry Harlowe, from Porter’s collection of manuscript sketches, ‘From Travels in the Caucasus, Georgia, Persia, Armenia, ancient Babylonia, etc., with notes, maps, plans, surveys, views, and other drawings of interesting objects’. Add. MS. 14758
The British Library is fortunate to hold not only two copies of Porter’s Travels, but also a large number of his original sketches, some of which were not reproduced in the published book. The British Museum acquired them after his death when they were offered for purchase by his sister Jane (who also pasted the above portrait into the album). Several sketches in this manuscript depict people in Georgian national costume. One of the portraits is unfinished, two show ethnic minorities living in Georgia and another depicts the dress of a Georgian living in Persia. These sketches combine ethnological accuracy with a talented artist’s eye for detail, character and even emotion. They portray people from different social classes, different regions, males and females and show the variety of Georgian national dress.
One portrait, the ‘Immeretian Prince’ (Imereti is a province in western Georgia), depicts traditional Georgian male dress, the chokha, the most typical garment worn in the Caucasus. Together with the sketches, Porter’s description provides us with a complete image of Georgian men’s attire in the 19th century:
The vest, which is cloth also, of a different colour from the shirt, has sleeves to it, sitting easy to the arm; and over this is the tunic or upper garment, coming down as low as the knees, but opening before; and bound round the waist with a cloth sash, universally white; to which is attached the wearer’s sword. The skirt of the tunic meets the termination of the full short trowser or breeches, which descend no lower than the knees; the leg being covered with a sort of stocking, and a close-laced half-boot, usually black or scarlet, with a very pointed toe. All these various garments are of cloth, of as various hues; and, frequently, very handsomely ornamented with gold lace or embroidery’ (Travels…, vol. 1, p. 134).
Porter also provides an important record of the attire of Georgian women:
The dresses of the Georgian ladies bear a full proportion, in point of cumbersomeness and ornament… A bandeau, round the forehead, richly set with brilliants and other costly stones, confines a couple of black tresses, which hang down on each side of a face, beautiful by nature, as its features testify, but so cased in enamel, that not a trace of its original texture can be seen; and, what is worse, the surface is rendered so stiff, by its painted exterior, that not a line shows a particle of animation, excepting the eyes; which are large, dark, liquid, and full of a mild lustre, rendered in the highest degree lovely, by the shade of long black lashes, and the regularity of the arched eye-brow. A silken shawl-like veil depends from the bandeau, flowing, off the shoulders, down the back; while a thin gauze handkerchief, is fastened beneath the chin’ (Travels, vol. 1, p. 135).
Frescoes, sculpture, tombstones and the illustrations of other travellers to the region also preserve a record of Georgian costume. However, the images created by Porter constitute the first scholarly attempt to document traditional dress in full detail and with scientific accuracy. Porter's legacy, both in text and image, remains of a great importance for the study of Georgian life in the early 19th century.
Professor George Kalandia, Director of the Art Palace of Georgia
Anna Chelidze, Curator, BL Georgian Collections
G. Poulett Cameron, Personal Adventures and Excursions in Georgia, Circassia, and Russia. (London, 1845) 1425.e.7
Laurence Oliphant, The Trans-Caucasian Campaign of Turkish Army Under Omer Pasha. A Personal Narrative (Edinburgh & London, 1856) 9077.d.30
Robert Ker Porter, Travels in Georgia, Persia, Armenia, ancient Babylonia… during the years 1817, 1818, 1819 and 1820 (London , 1821-22) 1786.d.11
John Buchan Telfer, The Crimea and Transcaucasia… being the narrative of a Journey in the Kouban, in Gouria, Georgia, Armenia... and in the Tauric Range. (London, 1876). 2356.g.10
Christopher Wright, ‘Painting Persepolis’, consulted 04/03/2019.
10 July 2015
Basque, the only non-Indo European language in Western Europe, is an isolate, a language unrelated to any other living or dead. Nonetheless attempts have been made to demonstrate a relationship with a variety of languages including ancient Iberian, Pictish, Etruscan, and Berber. The most consistently proposed kinship has been with the Kartvelian family of Caucasian languages, in particular with Georgian.
The origin of Basque has been bound up with theories about the origin of the Basque people themselves. Greek and Roman historians referred to the region corresponding to modern Georgia as eastern Iberia, as distinct from western Iberia, i.e. Spain and Portugal. The Greek geographer Strabo referred both to the Iberians of the Caucasus and to the ‘western Iberians’ (Geographica, bk. XI, ch. II, 19). Appian of Alexandria later wrote ‘some people think that the Iberians of Asia were the ancestors of the Iberians of Europe; others think that the former emigrated from the latter’ (Historia Romana, bk. XII, ch. XV, 101). However, he continued ‘still others think that they merely have the same name, as their customs and languages are not similar’. The Georgian language was also known, confusingly, as Iberian.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Basque historians adopted the prevalent Spanish legend according to which after the Flood, Tubal, a son of Japheth, was the first settler in the Peninsula, but they added that he settled first in Cantabria, i.e. the Basque region. Esteban de Garibay (born 1525) found evidence for this claim in similarities between place names in northern Spain and in Armenia, e.g. Mount Ararat (in modern Turkey) = Aralar, the mountain range in Gipuzkoa and Navarra. He also links the Basque Mount Gorbeia to an Armenian peak ‘Gordeya’. He considered Basque the first language of the whole Peninsula and, presumably, the language of Tubal. Other writers followed Garibay, notably Andrés de Poza and Baltasar de Echave. Garibay’s identification of similarities between toponyms, however fantastical, can be seen as a forerunner of the Basque-Caucasian hypothesis.
Esteban de Garibay, Los XL libros del Compendio historial… de todos los reynos de España (Antwerp, 1571) British Library C.75.e.4.
In the early 20th century philologists developed more scientific arguments for a link between Basque and Caucasian languages. Typological similarities certainly exist between Basque and Georgian. For example both are ergative languages. Put at its simplest, this means that the subject of a transitive verb appears in the ergative case (or ‘agentive’), while the object is in the absolutive case and is unmarked. Thus, in Basque we have ‘gure aitak etxe berria erosi du’ (‘our father has bought a new house’) contrasted with ‘gure aita Donostian bizi da’ (‘our father lives in Donostia’). In Georgian, ‘father’ in the first sentence would be rendered by ‘mamam’ and by ‘mama’ in the second. However, the ergative construction would not be employed in subject-direct object-verb constructions in all tenses and aspects. In Basque the ergative is more regularly employed.
Another notable similarlity is that the verb morphology of both languages is pluripersonal, i.e. the form of the verb may encode not just the subject of the sentence, but any direct or indirect objects present. In Basque this is illustrated in the examples:
Nere semeak kotxe berri bat erosi du = My son has bought a new car
Nere semeak bi kotxe erosi ditu = My son has bought two cars.
The infix it in the auxiliary verb in the second example agrees with the plural object bi kotxe. However, the verb morphology of Georgian is extremely complex and functions very differently from Basque.
Typological parallels are all very well, but ergativity and pluripersonal agglutinative verbal morphology are not exclusive to Basque and Georgian, and doubt concerning possible kinship between them arises when lexical coincidences are cited. According to Basque philologists today, the majority of those seeking similarities have cast their nets very wide, claiming cognate fish when most should have been thrown back. Cognates with Basque have been sought among several Caucasian languages, although a genetic relationship between the Northern and Kartvelian groups remains unproven. Furthermore, in many cases proto-Basque forms have not been matched with proto-Georgian forms; many coincidences are thus anachronistic. The philologist R.L. Trask also stressed that the Basque, in its hypothetical early form, had a vastly impoverished consonantal system in contrast to the wealth of consonants of the Northern Caucasian groups in particular. Today, Georgian has 28 consonants, Basque 21.
The case for a relationship between Basque and other languages intensified in the early 20th century with the philologists Hugo Schuchardt, C.C. Uhlenbeck and Alfredo Trombetti. Much of the debate was conducted in scientific periodicals, particularly the Revue Internationale des Etudes Basques (P.P.4331.aeb.). We might add here the Georgian linguist Nikolai Marr who developed the so-called Japhetic theory linking Kartvelian with Semitic languages and subsequently the theory that all languages had a common origin. He also found parallels between Kartvelian languages and Basque.
Marr (third from right) with a group of Basques, reproduced in Nikolai Marr, Basksko-kavkazskie leksicheskie paralleli (Tbilisi , 1987) YA.1991.a.23022
The case for possible Basque-Caucasian cognates continued to be advanced in the second half of the last century by linguists such as René Lafon and Antonio Tovar. However, later scholars, notably Luis (Koldo) Michelena and Trask, firmly rejected the Caucasian link. This has not stemmed the tide of speculation, which in fact has widened to include Basque in a macro-language family (Dené-Caucasian) and even beyond in the hypothetical single language of the so-called proto-world. This notion seems to bring us back to Nikolai Marr. These last speculations find approval also among those still hoping to prove a common ethnic origin for the Basques and the Iberians of the Caucasus. Given that the Basque language remains alone in a class of one, it is wisest to conclude that the case for a link remains unproven.
Geoff West, Former Curator Hispanic studies and Anna Chelidze, SEE Cataloguer Russian/Georgian
Itzia Laka, A Brief Grammar of Euskara ([Vitoria-Gasteiz], 1996); available at http://www.ehu.eus/es/web/eins/basque-grammar
Juan Madariaga Orbea, Anthology of Apologists and Detractors of the Basque Language (Reno, 2006). YC.2007.a.857.
R.L. Trask, The History of Basque (London, 1997). YC.1997.b.547
José Ramón Zubiaur Bilbao, Las ideas lingüísticas vascas en el s. XVI. Zaldibia, Garibay, Poza (Donostia, 1989). YA. 1993.a.5626.
La Prensa Iberica interview with Davit Turashvili: http://www.laprensaiberica.org/?p=414
29 October 2014
On 14 November the British Library will be hosting a study day ‘Language and the Making of Nations’, organised by the Library's European Studies Department and examining the relationship between majority and minority languages in the countries of Europe and the creation of national literary languages
The creation of a unified language has been significant in the formation of the nations of Europe. Part of the process has been the compilation of standard grammars and dictionaries, an initiative often followed by linguistic minorities, determined to reinforce their own identity. This seminar will look at the relationship between majority and minority languages in the countries of Europe, the role of language in national histories, and the creation of national literary languages. Specialists in the history of the languages of Europe will explore these issues in relation to Czech, Georgian, Italian, Serbian and Ukrainian, as well as Catalan, Dutch, Frisian, Silesian and the Norman French of Jersey.
10:30 Registration; coffee
11:00-12:00 Donald Rayfield (Emeritus Professor of Russian and Georgian, Queen Mary, University of London), ‘The tongue in which God will examine all other tongues — how Georgians have viewed their language.’
Marta Jenkala (Senior Teaching Fellow in Ukrainian, UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies), ‘Ukrainian language and nation: a cultural perspective’.
12:10-13:10 Mari Jones (Reader in French Linguistics, Cambridge University), ‘Identity planning and Jersey Norman French.’
Peter Bush (Literary translator), ‘Josep Pla and the making of contemporary literary Catalan.’
14:10-15:40 Giulio Lepschy (Hon. Professor, UCL, London, School of European Languages, Culture and Society), ‘The invention of standard Italian.’
Prvoslav Radić (Professor, Faculty of Philology, University of Belgrade), ‘The language reform of Vuk St. Karadžić and the national question among the Serbs.’
Rajendra Chitnis (Senior Lecturer, School of Modern Languages, Bristol University), 'We are what we speak. Characterizations of the Czech language during the Czech National Revival.’
16:00-17:30 Roland Willemyns (Emeritus Professor of Dutch, Free University, Brussels), ‘The Dutch Congress of 1849 and the Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal.’
Tomasz Kamusella (School of History, University of St Andrews), ‘Silesian: a language or a dialect?’
Alastair Walker (Emeritus Research Associate, Department of Frisian Studies, University of Kiel), ‘North and West Frisian: Two beautiful sisters, so much alike, but yet so different.’
Attendance is £25.00 Full Price; £15.00 for under 18s. To book please email [email protected] or call +44 (0)1937 546546
There is an additional free event, following the study day, from 18:15-20:00. Maclehose Press and the Institut Ramon Llull will be launching Joan Sales’ novel of the Spanish Civil War, Uncertain Glory, translated from the Catalan by Peter Bush. Professor Paul Preston (Historian, Director of the Catalan Observatory at the LSE) will be in conversation with Peter Bush. A wine reception will follow courtesy of Freixenet.
As places are limited, please RSVP to [email protected] if you would like to attend the evening event.
11 November 2013
After the fall of Byzantium, Georgia was broken into several kingdoms and was encircled by hostile Muslim powers and weakened by constant invasions and internal conflicts. Consequently, in the 16th-17th centuries Georgia was no longer a cultural meeting ground for east and west, but became a country squeezed between the difficult conditions of rivalry between Turkey and Persia for domination over Transcaucasia. The King of East Georgia, Teimuraz I, sent Niceforo Irbach to Italy and Spain as the Georgian envoy to seek allies and to ask for assistance in holding off the Turks and Persians. The ambassadorial mission did not have much political success, but it did bring about a significant cultural event – the printing of the first Georgian book.
During his stay at the Vatican, Niceforo Irbach collaborated with Catholic scholars and missionaries to produce a Georgian-Italian vocabulary, as well as a brief collection of prayers in colloquial Georgian.
The first Georgian books were published by the Propaganda Fide Press of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith which was established in Rome in 1622 for the purpose of spreading Catholicism in non-Catholic countries.
Georgia adopted Christianity in the very early centuries and the resulting Georgian Orthodox Church, founded in the fourth century AD, has been in communion with the Eastern Christian Churches but has never been subject to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.
A general idea of the political situation in Italy at that time and the status and purpose of the Vatican agencies happened to be of direct relevance to the activities of the Georgian king’s envoy during his stay in Rome. The newly-established Catholic missions required manuals of the foreign language and devotional texts for their operations.
In 1629 the Congregation managed to cast Georgian type in moulds and to issue a ‘Georgian alphabet with prayers’ that was followed by the publication of the ‘Georgian-Italian Dictionary’. Achille Venerio, a member of the ‘Propaganda Fide’, sent the printed dictionary with its Georgian alphabet to Pope Urban VIII along with a ‘Dedication’ in which he described Georgian letters as ‘very refined and beautiful.’
The missionaries were taught Georgian by Niceforo Irbach, who was responsible for the Georgian version of these present works. They accordingly provided a relatively easy first attempt at translation between the two languages.
Alphabetum ibericum, sive georgianum: cum Oratione [Iberian or Georgian alphabet with prayers] is one of the first of two books printed in Georgian using moveable type. The book includes a table with the Georgian alphabet and the sounds signified by its letters and their Latin equivalents. The text begins with the thirty-six letters of the Iberian or Georgian alphabet, presented in four columns - formation, name (in both alphabets) and force. Some letters have additional italic comments at the side, referring to and giving the same phoneme in other languages including Arabic, Hebrew and Greek, entailing the use of type in 5 completely different alphabets on a single page. The second subsection explains the numerous ligatures when Georgian letters are combined. The third section exemplifies the use of Georgian by setting out the text of The Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds, Corporal Works of Mercy, the Seven Sacraments, and the Ten Commandments, concluding with the Canticle of the Virgin Mary. The text is given in Georgian and titles are in both languages, Latin and Georgian.
Dittionario giorgiano e italiano, compiled by Niceforo Irbach and the printer Stepano Paolini, contains 3,084 entries written in Georgian letters. The text is printed in three columns: Georgian words in the left column, Italian transliterations (including stress) in the middle column, and an explanation of the meaning of each word in Italian in the right column. The Georgian alphabet and the Latin equivalents of each of its letters appear on pages 1–2.
Anna Chelidze, Curator Georgian Studies
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- Documenting Georgian Costume in the 19th Century
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- How the Georgian language first appeared in print