The Kartvelologist

The Kartvelologist” is a bilingual (Georgian and English) peer-reviewed, academic journal, covering all spheres of Kartvelological scholarship. Along with introducing scholarly novelties in Georgian Studies, it aims at popularization of essays of Georgian researchers on the international level and diffusion of foreign Kartvelological scholarship in Georgian scholarly circles.

“The Kartvelologist” issues both in printed and electronic form. In 1993-2009 it came out only in printed form (#1-15). The publisher is the “Centre for Kartvelian Studies” (TSU), financially supported by the “Fund of the Kartvelological School”. In 2011-2013 the journal is financed by Shota Rustaveli National Science Foundation.


Violeta Avetisian


The Concept of Road in the Narrative Space of Grigol Robakidze’s “The Snake’s Skin”

“Everything goes, everything comes back;
eternally rolls the wheel of being.
Everything dies, everything blossoms again;
eternally runs the year of being.”
— Nietzsche Friedrich

The concept of road takes an important place in Grigol Robakidze’s biography and in his literary works. Robakidze is a Georgian writer who spent many years in exile. His “seeking nature” brought him to émigré life [3, p. 20]. Robakidze “could not stop at one place. He was always looking for new impressions” [ibid.]. His ‘seeking nature’ manifested itself in his youth.

Grigol Robakidze was born on 28 October 1880, in the village of Sviri, in western Georgia (at that time – Kutaisi Guberniya of the Russian Empire). At the age of six Robakidze entered Kutaisi Theological Seminary. After finishing at the Seminary, he travelled to Russia. He entered Yuryiev State University (The University of Tartu, Estonia), where he studied law. At the end of 1901, Robakidze went to Germany where he studied philosophy at Leipzig University. Without taking final exams, in 1907, Robakidze travelled to Paris. In 1908, he returned to Georgia and gradually became a leading person among young Georgian symbolists. In 1910, Robakidze again took courses at Yuryiev University. Four years later, he decided to continue his study at Kazan University. But, at that time, World War I broke out, and Robakidze returned home [3, p. 19-23].

During World War I Robakidze lived in Georgia. He became one of the founders of “The Blue Horns” – a new group of Georgian symbolist poets and prose writers. During that period, Robakidze worked as a journalist. His letters and articles were published in two newspapers: in a Georgian newspaper “Georgia” (Georgian: [Saqartvelo]) and in a Russian newspaper “The Caucasus” (Russian: [Kavkaz]). For the Georgian newspaper Robakidze wrote his works under a Georgian pen name “Givi Golendi”, and in the Russian newspaper he was known as “G. Robakidze-Caucasian” [3, p. 42]. Some years later, Robakidze wrote articles for European journals under the pen name “Avallon Cardwell”. In 1952, Robakidze sent letters to his friends Nino Salia, Arnim Seegrist, and Nikos Kazantzakis to inform them that he had the new pseudonym “Avallon Cardwell”: “The pen name has a special meaning for me: ‘Avalon’ is a mythical white island of North-Atlantic tradition... ‘Cardwell’ sounds like ‘Kartveli’, the word’s short form is ‘Kartvel’ ” [3, p. 15].

After the Soviet occupation of the Democratic Republic of Georgia, in 1921, Georgia lost its independence, and later it became one of the Soviet Republics. It was a very difficult time, but Robakidze stayed in Georgia, and was known for his anti-Soviet views. In 1931 he travelled to Germany. It was a turning point in his life. The trip was the beginning of Robakidze’s lifelong emigration and exile.

After World War II, it was very dangerous for Robakidze to stay in Germany, because he could have been punished and even assassinated for his escape from the Soviet Union and for his critique of the Stalinist regime. Therefore, in 1945, Robakidze, with his wife and his stepdaughter, left Germany and went to Switzerland. During the last seventeen years of his life (1945–1962) Robakidze lived in Geneva.

Grigol Robakidze’s works can be divided into two periods: his first prose and poetry Robakidze wrote in the Georgian and Russian language: after emigration to Germany, Robakidze wrote his works in German. It should be mentioned that in one of his letters to Czech Kartvelologist Jaromir Jedlichka, Robakidze wrote: “Actually, I write my works in Georgian, and then I translate them into another language. I consider the translated versions of my works my original texts, because I translate them myself” [3, p. 234].

Grigol Robakidze’s novel The Snake’s Skin was published in Georgian in 1926. Two years later, Robakidze translated the novel into German, and it was published in Germany with an introductory article written by an Austrian writer Stefan Zweig. The Snake’s Skin is an autobiographical work; therefore, the author is the prototype of the protagonist. In the novel the author’s philosophical reflections on life, fate, history, culture, and the religion of different nations are presented. The central theme of the novel is an émigré man’s destiny.

The narrative space of The Snake’s Skin consists of two worlds: the protagonist’s physical world and the metaphysical world of his memories. The main part of the protagonist’s physical world consists of his journey/road. The protagonist is a young Georgian émigré Archibald Mekeshi who is travelling to his homeland, Georgia. He travels through the territories of Europe, Russia and Iran. The character’s main road runs through mountains of Iran. The road meanders through hills. The protagonist is travelling with his friends by car. Obviously, in The Snake’s Skin, the automobile is not described as a technique, but as if it were a living thing. The author has emphasized the complexity of the characters’ journey by putting some emotions into the cars’ behaviour. Therefore, it is possible for a reader to understand the protagonist’s state of mind by taking into account the cars’ condition and their behaviour.

Further, I will give some examples from The Snake’s Skin, which show the “emotional state” of the cars in the novel.

At first, the protagonist travels with his friends in a Ford car. The vehicle goes through the hills, therefore it occasionally “gathers strength to overcome... an uphill road”[5, p. 29]. Then the Ford car “wheezes like an injured beast” [ibid.]. When the characters approach a town, “the Ford car wheezes differently” [ibid], as if “the car has lost its rhythm”[5, p. 29]. When the car has finally approached the gates of Sultanbulagh, it “...wheezed terribly and stopped immediately”[5, p. 29]. Occasionally, “the Ford car wheezes or snuffles...” [5, p. 31] like a child. Sometimes, “the vehicle flies” [5, p. 42], as if it were trying to save Archibald Mekeshi from the memories of his father. It happens that “[t]he automobile becomes capricious. Then it gets hysterical”[5, p. 115].

There is also another car in the plot of the novel. The owner of the car is Olga Balashova. She despairs of finding her sweetheart Archibald. In turn, Olga’s “car is furious” [5, p. 52]; it seems that the vehicle feels its owner’s state of mind.

Later, a car of another brand enters the narrative space. A driver “gives the Opel car some water to drink”[5, p. 192]. Then, “[t]he automobile crosses the creek with a noise. The car feels more cheerful”[5, p. 193]. The narrator expresses the idea that a reason for the Opel's “good mood” is that it has been pleasant for the car “ freshen up its hot belly with the cool jets of water”[5, p. 193]. After a feast, Archibald Mekeshi and his friends are drunk. Their car “seems to be mad. As if it also were drunk“[5, p. 200]. In this episode of the novel, “[t]he automobile notices a human shadow”[5, p. 200]. Thus, in The Snake’s Skin, “Grigol Robakidze describes the car as if it were a living being, which travels with other characters, expresses - and sometimes even copies and repeats - the characters’ state of mind, sympathizes with them, experiencing difficulties during the journey”[1, p. 39–40].

It is obvious that in the novel, Robakidze has anthropomorphized the car; in other words, the writer has attributed human form/personality to a thing not human. This personification can be defined as the writer’s attempt to create harmony between the characters and their environment in the narrative world.

The protagonist’s road is the main road in The Snake’s Skin. The road “runs” through the whole plot. But, there is also another, parallel road in the narrative space. Robakidze describes the events which take place during the protagonist’s travel, and then the author suddenly introduces into his narrative Olga Balashova, who is also travelling. Olga and Archibald love each other, but they are not together. They have not seen each other for a long time. Therefore, when Olga, accidentally, sees Archibald, she gets in her car and follows him. In this part of the story there are two roads replacing each other: it may seem to the reader that Olga’s road is trying to catch Archibald’s road. Thus the action dynamics of The Snake’s Skin becomes faster. At such moments, the woman’s road seems to be a continuation of the protagonist’s road.

During her journey, Olga is immersed in her memories of the past; she remembers her last meeting with Archibald. In turn, Archibald is also in memories, but his memories are transferring him in visions. Olga remembers Archibald, thus replaying in her consciousness every single recollection of him. Archibald, in turn, is not only travelling in the real world (from one place to another), but, due to his imagination, he is travelling in his memories and visions. Thus, the protagonist is mentally moving “...from his physical world into a metaphysical one. [At such moments], for the protagonist, the borders between the real world and the world of his memories are erased” [2, p. 2]. Furthermore, “[t]he memories of the protagonist—the mental flashbacks—transfer the action to the distant past. Thus, the space and time borders of the story are considerably expanded” [Ibid., p. 3].

Moreover, there is a road which “...crosses the different time-space boundaries in the narrative world of The Snake’s Skin. Robakidze describes a camel caravan, which is passing through a desert, and it seems that the caravan is coming from the past and it is going into the future, crossing time and space borders”[1, p. 41]. Therefore, the protagonist sees the caravan as if it were a descendant of an ancient camel caravan which refers to the time when “...the ancient Jewish people travelled from the Red Sea to the Persian Gulf – between the Euphrates River and Palestine”[5, p. 120]. The protagonist compares the present caravan to the ancient camel caravan which“[…] was going through a desert and landscapes to ‘the old black man’ [i.e. to the Black Sea]”[5, p. 125]. Archibald Mekeshi thinks: “Maybe the caravan is a part of that ancient caravan” [5, p. 125].

As it was mentioned above, the protagonist travels through the territory of Iran. The wide space of the country influences him; the place puts the protagonist in a philosophical mood. It seems to him that on the territory of Iran: “The reality bifurcates. A perceiver of the reality also bifurcates. In such space people could see themselves; they could see their alter ego. At such moments, time stops. There is only the past. The present disappears. The future just flashes from time to time – as an idea or a thought – in one’s mind. There is only the past: the past which is just a recollection of a dream”[5, p. 119]. Therefore, “Archibald Mekeshi is diving into the sunlit space. Everything visible is just a shadow of the past: its burning trace. It seems [to him] that there is nothing. Everything is a memory of the past, and the past is the ancient story which is already over [5, p. 119].

At the end of the novel, Archibald Mekeshi’s long road brings him to Georgia: the place where a long time ago his ancestor Irubak Irubakidze was born. Consequently, Grigol Robakidze returns Archibald Mekeshi to his “roots”; the author returns the protagonist to his homeland. Like a snake sheds its skin, the protagonist gets rid of the memories, visions, and dreams which have been troubling him for many years. He starts a new life under his real name – Archil Irubakidze. Consequently, the road creates a kind of narrative circle in the structure of The Snake’s Skin.

It is not coincidental that the concept of the road has such a peculiar function in the narrative structure of Grigol Robakidze’s work. Actually, Friedrich Nietzsche’s doctrine of “eternal recurrence” had a great impact on Robakidze’s worldview. As a result, the theory has strongly influenced the writer’s works, especially The Snake’s Skin. It is known that while travelling in Iran – where Robakidze started writing The Snake’s Skin – it seemed to him that “[w]hat is happening now, has happened before”[6, p. 228].

It should be mentioned that there is also a “metaphysical... road in The Snake’s Skin. This road never ends; it goes through time and space”[1, p. 42]. Robakidze writes: “The faces which are actually masks of the distant past. The eyes are looking from the unattainable past. It is a true sign of an ancient race: when you are looking at a man and he seems to be far away”[5, p. 11-12]. Thus, according to the novel a “[p]erson starts the journey, he or she is coming from the past, the human race continues to exist, from generation to generation, and in the eyes of the person there is expressed this long road from the past to the present”[1, p. 42].

During his travels, Grigol Robakidze was thinking about the meaning of life. Once the writer said: “Constantly feeling worried or anxious, I could not stay in one place too long. I have been here and there, but all in vain. I took everything with a pinch of salt. I tried to steer clear of everything. So, being disquieted, I was looking for isolated places to soothe my soul. Nevertheless, I was still plagued by bad, negative thoughts. I was a lonely soul. I was lost among the thoughts, but, there was one question which bothered me all the time. I kept asking myself: What is human life?”[3, p. 20, emphasis belongs to Robakidze]

Obviously, there is the answer to the question in The Snake’s Skin. In this novel, Grigol Robakidze reveals a particular closeness between the present and the past: the existence of the past in the present, and the indubitable relationship between them. Thus, according to the novel, human life is a journey through time and space; human life is a road from the past, through the present, to the future.


1. Avetisian, V., “The Chronotope in Grigol Robakidze’s Novel The Snake’s Skin”: Intellectual 18, Georgian Social Academy of Young Scientists, Tbilisi 2012. (in Georgian).
2. Avetisian, V., “The Chronotope of “Remembrance” in Vladimir Nabokov’s Mashenka and in Grigol Robakidze’s The Snake’s Skin”, European Narratology Network, 2013 available at
3. Bakradze, A., Kardu or the Life and Merit of Grigol Robakidze, “Lomisi”, Tbilisi 1999 (in Georgian).
4. Nietzsche Friedrich, available at
5. Robakidze, G., The Snake’s Skin. Falestra, “Merani”, Tbilisi 1988. (in Georgian).
6. Robakidze, G., “My Life”: Works in 15 Volumes, Volume II, Tbilisi 1994. (in Georgian).
7. Wikipedia: