Translations from Greek into Georgian

1. Introduction.[1]
2. The translations from Greek.
3. Conclusion.
4. Bibliography.

1. Introduction

1.1 Georgia and the Georgian language.

Georgia is located at the southern foot of the Caucasus and represents the country which the Greeks called Colchis in the west and Iberia in the east. The Georgian language belongs to a group of southern Caucasian languages which are not Indo-European, nor Semitic, nor Uralo-Altaic.

1.2 Alphabet and litterature.

The Georgian language is the only one in its group to have a literature which has been written for fifteen centuries. The Georgian alphabet, which must have been created to facilitate the transmission of the Christian faith, consists of thirty-eight characters. In the absence of a Georgian historiographical tradition concerning the creation of the alphabet, we are reduced to an internal and comparative analysis: the latest study is that of Gamkrelidze (1989). This alphabet has been unsuited for other languages before the modern era. It has permitted the transmission of a rich literature, both original works and translations. The oral translation had already a very long history, since Strabo (1975, 54) seems to imply interpreters for seventy or even three hundred languages at Dioscurias, the terminus port for the Greek merchants. Furthermore, the southern and Indo-European Caucasus had important contacts, as has been shown by T. Gamkrelidze and V. V. Ivanov. In early Georgian, the majority of literary works were translations, and the majority of the translations were translations from Greek. On the language and literature, one may consult Deeters (1963, 1-79, 129-137).

2. Translations from Greek.

2.1 Direct or indirect translations.

It seems that the first translations of biblical books into Georgian were carried out using an Armenian model, which itself was derived from Syriac, a translation from the Greek; another hypothesis is that it was a translation from the Greek with recourse to the Armenian in difficult passages. Briefly a revision against Greek models was carried out, the first step in a long process of revision which was completed definitively at Athos in the 11th century, resulting in a “vulgate” version of the Bible. A series of problems remain to be studied, as was signalled by J. N. Birdsall (1983, 317). From the 5th to the 8th century, regular work permitted Georgians to enrich their own literature with the treasures of the religious literature in the Greek language, whose immediate models were either Greek or else Armenian translations of Greek texts. It seems to be accepted that very few texts passed directly from Syriac into Georgian. From the 8-9th centuries, the Georgian monks of Palestine also translated from Arabic. This permits us knowledge of Greek texts today lost, or to improve the editions of known texts (Van Esbroeck 1975, 240-285).

2.1.1 Content of translations.

The texts translated covered all the requirements of the new Georgian Christianity: the bible, biblical commentaries, liturgical texts, hagiographical texts (Kekelidze 1957, 115-211), poetry, canonical texts, apocrypha, patristic texts (Kekelidze 1957, 3-114). It does not seem that in the early period there was a particular interest in the great historical syntheses; texts considered as secular do not appear in the written literature until the 12th century. For the Christian faith an entire vocabulary had to be created (Chelidze, 1996, Melikišvili, 1999). This was accomplished in two ways; direct borrowings: ek’lesia from ekklh/sia, “church”; and calques: xucesi = presbuteroj, “elder”, semantically extended to mean “priest”. We should note that the new Christian literature contributed to making of the second rank the rich pre-Christian traditions, which persisted essentially in the mountainous regions far rom the centre (the myth of Prometheus: Charachidze 1986, 322-342). Nevertheless oddities remained, which led the Georgians to be accused of heresy by the Greeks.

2.1.2 The translators.

The lack of Georgian historical texts relating to the invention of the Georgian alphabet is also a feature of the whole early period of translations from Greek; all that remains to us, from this period, is a few names of translators: Set, who worked at Jerusalem; but the text which he translated — of which only two lines remain — is no longer identifiable. We know only that it was of a hagiographical nature (Garitte 1956, 38-39, 45); Datchi, who translated from Armenian — no doubt in Tao-Klardjeti — around the 9th century a part of the Commentary on the Psalms by Theodoret (under the name of Epiphanius); in Tao again Gregor of Ochki translated from Greek one (or maybe two) treatises of Gregory Nazianzen; in the 10th century Stepane of Tjqondid translated some hagiographical texts, as did Chavcheti, and David of Tbeti, who also translated some discourses of Gregory Nazianzen.

2.1.3 Places of translation.

From the 5th century, some translations from Greek were made at Jerusalem, among them that of the Lectionary, a monument which has vanished in the Greek language. Later, at Mar Saba, translations were made from Arabic into Georgian, one part of the Arabic texts being themselves translations from Greek, for example some very rare texts like the Shepherd of Hermas (Outtier 1990-1991, 211-215). Mount Olympus in Bithynia, Mount Sinai, the Black Mountain, Constantinople and into what is now Bulgaria (Petrisoni / Bačkovo) as well as Georgia proper were all centres of the activity of translation.

2.1.4 Techniques of translation.

Starting from the 10th century, the situation changed. Euthymius the Athonite (955?-1028) was the first of a glorious phalanx of monks who were translators from Greek. But we can also credit him with the translation into Greek of the edifying novel Barlaam and Josaphat (the Georgian text being a translation from Arabic),. We obtain a good appreciation of Euthymius’ technique of translation from van Esbroek (1988, 73-107). George the Athonite begins the reflections on the techniques of translation. “The Life of George” suggests that the retranslations of Greek texts already translated from an Armenian version was for theological reasons (1967, 123), Another copyshop, the Black Mountain near Antioch, shows us that the Georgian translators did not hesitate to use multiple different Greek manuscripts in order to establish a base text of the best possible quality (Outtier 1974, 119). It is also in the circle of Ephrem Mcire (11th c.) that the attempt is made to model Georgian on Greek, to the point of introducing a grammatical feminine, an attempt which was unfruitful. The remains of the translations of Ephrem make known to us his principles in the matter of translation. The glosses have to be placed in the margin, without ever being recopied into the text itself; the punctuation also has to be carefully respected (van Esbroeck 1988, 83-95). But there has come down to us a treatise on the Greek article, which has no exact equivalent in Georgian, and so could cause confusion in the translation: Shanidze (1990). Ioane Petritsi (11-12th c.), disciple of John Italos, represented the most extreme of this hellenophilia in his translations of the philosophers in particular. Another remarkable aspect is the translation of hymn collection texts, respecting the number of syllables in the lines, in order to preserve the melody of the original text; a system of neumatic notation accompanies the translations. This stimulated the creation of original Georgian compositions, in particular of hymns, but also of hagiography and sermons. The decypherment of the neumatic notation remains to be done.

2.1.5 Limitations of the translations.

We have already seen (2.1.4) that the tendency towards a more and more literal technique did not cease to gain ground until the 12th century. In fact the genius of the Georgian language possessed a number of its own twists and turns, on the one hand. On the other hand it is impossible to be too literal without becoming artificial, for example the Greek participle in apposition to a verb in the personal mode (on these questions see Brière 1977, 199-214).

2.1.6 Georgian translations of texts now lost in Greek.

The phenomenon of the impregnation of a culture by Greek culture is of great significance. In the case of Georgian literature it is redoubled by another interest. In Georgian some texts come down to us where the Greek original has disappeared. Great attention must also be paid to the existence of Georgian translations of Greek texts of which we no longer have any except much later recensions; the Georgian allows us to approach the original Greek much more nearly. But there is still much to do to catalogue all these texts, to publish them — it is also necessary to have corresponding critical editions of the Greek, which is rarely the case — to study the method of translation and finally, to give a translation into a western language. The researcher who does not know Georgian must generally make do with the adaptation of Kekelidze (1923-1924) by Karst (1934) or Kekelidze (1941) by Tarchnišvili / Aßfalg (1955). Here are some indications of texts lost in Greek, but preserved in a Georgian version: Barsabas of Jerusalem, “On Christ and the Churches”; according to the editor (Van Esbroeck, 1982, 203), this text may go back to the 2nd century; Hippolytus, “On the blessings of Isaac, of Jacob and Moses”, “On David and Goliath”, “On the Song of Songs” (Garitte 1965; Briere 1954); Letters of St. Anthony (Garitte 1955); two letters of Macarius (Ninua 1982, 109-156); two early forms of the “Transitus Mariae” (Van Esbroeck 1973 and 1974); nine homilies of Meletius of Antioch; two texts of John Damascene, as a first selection. The list could be greatly enlarged (Outtier 1993, 276-285).

3.1 Conclusion

Georgian literature welcomed the best of Greek Christian literature. From the 11th century, the effort of translation was constant and very organised. Often the Georgians have preserved for us texts today lost in Greek, in particular the Greek literature composed in Palestine. It gives to us one part of the treasures with which it enriched itself, along with its own treasures and those which it borrowed from others in the neighbouring oriental worlds: Persia, and the Armenian, Syriac and Arabic worlds. There remains much to do to publish the texts — and their models — and to bring into the light the evolution of the processes of translation, the schools, the contending influences of monastic milieus and princely courts.

4. Bibliography

Birdsall, J. Neville(1983). “Georgian studies and the New Testament.” New Testament Studies 29: 306-320.

Brière. M. (1954). Hippolyte de Rome. Sur les bénédictions d’Isaac, de Jacob et de Moïse. Eds. Brière Maurice. Maries Louis.. Mercier Basile-Charles. Paris.

Brière, M. (1977). “Limitations of Georgian representing Greek.” The early versions of the New Testament. Bruce M. Metzger. Oxford. 199-214.

Charachidzé, G. (1986). Prométhée ou le Caucase. aris.

Chelidze, E. (1996). Ancient Georgian Theological Terminology. (in Georgian). Tbilisi.

Deeters, G. (1963). Armenische und kaukasische Sprachen. Leiden/Köln.

Gamkrelidze. T. (1989). Alphabetical writing and the old georgian script, (in Georgian, with an abstract in Russian). Tbilisi.

Gamkrelidze, T./Ivanov. V.V. (1984). Indoevropejskij jazyk i indoevropejcy. Tbilisi; English transl.: Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans. Berlin. New York, 1995.

Garitte. G. (1955). Lettres de saint Antoine. Louvain.

Garitte, G. (1956). Catalogue des manuscrits géorgiens littéraires du Mont Sinai. Louvain.

Garitte. G. (1965). Traités d’Hippolyte sur David et Goliath, sur le Cantique des Cantiques et sur l’Anté-christ. Louvain.

Karst. J. (1934). Littérature géorgienne chrétienne. Paris.

Kekelidze. K. ( 1923-1924). Histoire de la littérature géorgienne. I-II. Tbilisi. (in Georgian).

Kekelidze, K. (1941 ). Histoire de la littérature géorgienne. I-II. Tbilisi. (in Georgian).

Kekelidze, K. (1957). Études d’histoire de la littérature géorgienne ancienne (in Georgian). Tbilisi.

Melikisvil, D. ( 1999). De l’histoire de la terminologie philosophico théologique en géorgien ancien, (in Georgian). Tbilisi.

Ninua. G. (1982). La version géorgienne des œuvres du Pseudo-Macaire (in Georgian). Tbilisi.

Outtier. B. (1974). «Les recueils géorgiens d’œuvres attribuées à S. Ephrem le Syrien.» Bedi Kartlisa XXXII: 118-125.

Outtier. B. (1990-1991). «La version géorgienne du Pasteur d’Hermas.» Revue des études géorgiennes et caucasiennes 6 -7: 211-216.

Outtier. B. (1993). «Langue et littérature géorgiennes.» Christianism orientaux. Introduction à l’étude des langues et des littératures. M. Albert et al. Paris. 261-296.

Shanidze. M. (1990). Discourse on articles. An old georgian grammatical treatise. (in Georgian). Tbilisi.

Strabon (1975). Géographie. t.VIII. éd. François Lasserre. Paris.

Tarchnišvili. M. /Aßfalg. J. (1955). Geschichte der kirchlichen georgischen Literatur. Città del Vaticano.

Van Esbroeck. M. (1973). «Apocryphes géorgiens de la Dormition.» Analecta Bollandiana 91: 55-75.

Van Esbroeck, M. (1974). «L’Assomption de la Vierge dans un Transitus pseudo-basilien.» Analecta Bollandiana 92: 125-163.

Van Esbroeck, M. (1975). Les plus anciens homéliaires géorgiens. Etude descriptive et historique. Louvain-la-neuve.

Van Esbroeck, M. (1982). Barsabée de Jérusalem. Sur le Christ et les Eglises. Patrologia orientalis XLI : [1]—[112]. Turnhout.

Van Esbroeck, M. (1988). «Euthyme l’Hagiorite: le traducteur et ses traductions.» Revue des études géorgiennes et caucasienne 4: 73-197.

Vie de Georges, Abuladze et al. (1967). Monuments de la littérature géorgienne ancienne, II (in Georgian). Tbilisi; traduction latine: Peeters, P. (1917-1919). «Histoires monastiques géorgiennes.» Analecta Bollandiana XXXVI-XXXVII. 74-159.

Bernard Outtier, Lavau (France)

  1. [1] The following article by Bernard Outtier I found online here, quite by accident, and I have ventured to translate it into English since none of us can possibly afford the price of the book.  Few of us, I imagine, know any of what the article tells us.  I had never heard of Bernard Outtier, but the bibliography makes plain that he is doing excellent work.  The reference is: Bernard Outtier, Traductions du Grec en Georgien,  in: Kittel, Harald; Frank, Armin Paul; Greiner, Norbert; Hermans, Theo; Koller, Werner; Lambert, José; Paul, Fritz: Übersetzung – Translation – Traduction. 2. Teilband, De Gruyter 2007, p.1186-1189.

8 Responses to “Translations from Greek into Georgian”


  1. stephan huller

    I was looking at a German translation of Hippolytus’s “On David and Goliath” because it is one of the few references to 1 Samuel 18:1 – 5 in the Church Fathers. I could get you the reference if you are interested. There were other German translations of rare material from Hippolytus too

  2. stephan huller
  3. Roger Pearse

    Thank you very much for the link to the Louri article. And yes, I’d be glad to the reference to the German translation.

  4. Alex Poulos

    Thanks for translating this! It’s immensely useful.

  5. Roger Pearse

    I appreciate the feedback! Yes, I just stumbled across it, and realised just how many people would find it useful in English. If I had to translate it mentally to read it, why not type it up as I went?

    I gather that Bernard Outtier is the go-to-guy for Georgian. Sebastian Brock says that some introduction to the subject by him (I have a note of which, but not here) would be useful to have in English. His French was very clear and easy to understand.

    The cost of the volume, tho, was sick. Who on earth could afford it? Thank heavens there was a preview.

  6. Yancy Smith

    Thank you very much for this! I had seen it and read it in German. Very good info. My dissertation at Brite Divinity School included a translation of the Georgian, Greek epitome, Syriac and Latin quotes and the German translation of the Proto-Slavic florilegia of Hippolytus’ On the Song of Songs. It will be published by Gorgias Press as The Mystery of Anointing: Hippolytus’ Commentary On the Song of Songs in Social and Critical Contexts.

  7. Yancy Smith

    One little quibble, perhaps “genie of the Georgian language” might better be translated “genius of the Georgian language.” Though, for anyone who has learned Georgian grammar, the playful pixie would do just as well!

  8. Roger Pearse

    Thank you for these comments! So it exists in German too? I saw it in French.

    I have to admit that genie rather fitted the sense, but probably genius is intended!