Saturday, April 18, 2015

P is for the Panther Skin Knight (Epics from A to Z)

Origins
The Knight in the Panther's Skin, written by poet Shota Rustaveli, is the national epic of Georgia. The epic poem was composed in the 12th century, under the reign of Queen Tamar, with whom sources suggest the poet was distantly and madly in love. I read the epic in its English prose translation.
The Knight in the Panther's Skin is a tale of love and adventure. It doesn't actually take place in Georgia - rather, it happens in a half-imaginary landscape between Arabia, India, and the Kingdom of the Seas. And while it aims to tell a double love story, it ends up being something more than that: A tale of friendship and loyalty.

The Heroes
The two main male heroes of the epic are Avtandil, commander-in-chief of the Arabian armies, and Tariel, a young king from India (the latter being the knight in the title). Both of them are great champions - honorable, brave, loyal, and blindingly handsome. They are also both madly in love with two young queens, Queen Tinatin of Arabia, and Nestan-Darejan of India, respectively. The story centers on Tariel's exile from India and his meeting with Avtandil. The two love-struck heroes soon become best friends, and Avtandil takes it on himself to reunite Tariel with Nestan, which he manages to do, after many adventures.
Next to the star-crossed power couples, there are also some notable female supporting characters in the epic, such as Tariel's loyal sister Asmat who follows him into exile, and Phatman, a rich woman from the City of Flowers, who saves Nestan-Darejan in her exile and makes sure the lovers end up united.

The Highlights
After reading so many epics centered on fighting, I enjoyed this tale of love, intrigue and adventure. It is essentially a friendship for the ages, between Avtandil and Tariel, as well as between the two queens, and their supporting cast. Some things that I especially liked:
1. The fair treatment of women. They not only become sovereigns in their own right (spoilers, even Asmat gets a kingdom), but they are also described with the respect and admiration due to sovereigns, and their legitimacy is never questioned.
2. The importance of friendship. "He who does not seek a friend is his own enemy," says Avtandil at some point. One of the great messages of the epic is that no one can be a hero alone. One of the most powerful scenes is when Avtandil talks Tariel out of suicide, with compassion and ingenuity.
3. Phatman's character. Not only is she crucial to saving Nestan who had been thrown out of her kingdom, but she also acts as a mother figure and some kind of early feminist icon to her. She clearly takes pleasure in sleeping with younger men and she admits it - and she never gets punished for it. She is a rich, clever, independent lady married to a not-too-bright husband, and she puts her means to good use, helping young love find its way.
4. The cathartic final fight. Avtandil, Tariel and their third king-friend, Nuradin-Phridon, launch an attack against an impregnable citadel to rescue Nestan. It is a fairly well done fight scene (with some serious planning), but the crowning moment of it all is the end: Once the fortress is secured Avtandil and Phridon go in search of Tariel (they got separated in the fight). They find a trail of dead guards and scattered weapons, and finally find Tariel himself inside the citadel, helmet cast away, sword dropped, kissing Nestan for dear life. Boom. Hollywood ending. I totally ship them.
5. Love is suffering. I like how much guys suffer from love in this story. They definitely don't hide their emotions or try to look tough. They sigh, they cry, they faint. One of my favorite moments early on is when Tariel tries to write a love letter to Nestan and fails; finally his sister Asmat dictates to him what to write. Because that's what big sisters are for, after all.

24 comments:

  1. This is another great founding story. And hey, that title alone woudl have bought me ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is another great founding story. And hey, that title alone woudl have bought me ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  3. That is refreshing to have women treated like legit leaders with respect!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I like the idea of characters letting their emotions flow...that crying, and fainting must make them look so real!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I love the fact friendship is so important. The whole lone hero thing seems so deliberately masochistic in comparison :)
    Tasha
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Guys not trying to be all tough and macho, actually in touch with their feelings - yay! And yay for the girls too :D! And friendship. Sounds like this story is an epic a lot more people should be reading.
    Sophie
    Sophie's Thoughts & Fumbles
    FB3X
    Wittegen Press

    ReplyDelete
  7. Ooo, I might like this one a lot, since I'm a fan of Story of the Stone and The Tale of Genji. Yay!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Love the Hollywood ending! Would read it to get to that moment. :)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Leaders are and should be to the right person, not just to the right gender!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Guys sighing and crying and fainting? Did the grog run out?

    ReplyDelete
  11. You know about so many epics! These are awesome.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Just that the epic casts women in a favorable light and ensures their fair treatment makes me like it!
    Michele at Angels Bark

    ReplyDelete
  13. I think I need a lot more time to read these blogs. What a fascinating topic you have picked to blog about.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Sounds like another great story. I have no idea how on earth you discovered all of these!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Some of them I have heard of before and I always wanted to read them... Others came from the Encyclopedia of Traditional Epics, and a lot of Google :D

      Delete
  15. Now this does sound interesting and intriguing! I think it would make a good movie.
    Visit me at: Life & Faith in Caneyhead
    I am Ensign B of Tremps' Troops
    with the A to Z Challenge

    ReplyDelete
  16. It sounds like you are doing a wonderful service to the children! Interesting stories indeed!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Phatman - good for her. ;) And I love the sound of this story. So much love, they can't contain it! :D

    ReplyDelete
  18. As a Kartvelophile, I'd love to read this one. I'm also interested in the Amiran-Darejaniani, since Amiran is one of Georgia's great romantic heroes.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Oh... so this one was written for women? By women?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nah, it was written by a guy. For a queen, apparently :)

      Delete
  20. The Knight in the Panther's Skin is such a cool title. It's nice that this story is a bit different and offers more love and adventure. Sounds like my kind of story.

    ReplyDelete