Saturday, October 22, 2011

Grigol Orbeliani

Grigol Orbeliani  was a Georgian Romanticist poet and soldier in the Imperial Russian service. One of the most colorful figures in the 19th-century Georgian culture, Orbeliani is noted for his patriotic poetry, lamenting Georgia's lost past and independent monarchy.
Grigol Orbeliani was born into a prominent aristocratic family in the Georgian capital of Tiflis (Tbilisi), three years after the Russian government deposed the Bagrationi dynasty of Georgia and annexed their kingdom. His father Dimitri (Zurab), a prince of the House of Orbeliani, served at the court of the last Georgian kings, while mother Khoreshan née Andronikashvili was a granddaughter, on her mother’s side, of Erekle II, the penultimate and popular king of Georgia, whose cult would later be introduced into Georgian literature by Grigol Orbeliani himself


Orbeliani had close family and friendly ties with the contemporary Georgian aristocratic and literary élite: Nikoloz Baratashvili, the most important poet of Georgian Romanticism, was his sisterly nephew; Orbeliani was in love with Griboyedov’s widow and Alexander Chavchavadze’s daughter, Nino, who inspired the poet with desperate, but courtly passion for nearly thirty years, although he had been betrothed in the cradle to Princess Sopio Orbeliani.
Orbeliani received his early education at local nobility gymnasium and artillery school. In the 1820s, he entered the Russian military service, and took part in a series of expeditions against the Dagestani tribes, and the wars with the Ottoman and Persian empires. In March 1833, he was arrested by the Russian police in Nizhny Novgorod for his involvement with the 1832 conspiracy of Georgian nobles who plotted to murder Russian officials and reestablish Georgia’s independence from the empire.

By virtue both of his aristocratic status and his abilities, Orbeliani was able to resume his military career and would rise to high positions in the Russian administration of the Caucasus. He, like many other Georgian nobles who years earlier had plotted to overthrow the Russian hegemony, would make peace with the imperial autocracy, a change aided by liberal policies of the Russian viceroy Mikhail Semyonovich Vorontsov. Orbeliani spent most of his military career in the Caucasus War against the rebellious mountaineers, with a brief spell in the Neva Infantry Regiment in Wilno (Vilnius, Lithuania) as a punishment for his participation in the 1832 conspiracy. On returning to the Caucasus in 1838, he mostly fought in Dagestan and was made colonel in 1846. Being in command of the Apsheron Infantry Regiment, Orbeliani played a decisive role in storming the Dagestani stronghold Gergebil in 1847/8 and was promoted to major general in 1848. In the following years, he governed the restive districts of Avaristan, and Tchar-Belakan, and oversaw the Lezgin line.
Although Orbeliani’s earliest writings are in prose dating to 1824, his prose pieces have fallen into oblivion. Most of his poetry is noted for patriotic motifs and extravagant praise of wine and women. Like his contemporary Georgian romanticists, Orbeliani’s lyrics are pervaded with laments over the lost past and the fall of the Georgian monarchy. A nostalgic memory of military glory, the poem begins by honoring all those who have fallen in defense of their homeland, then the poet travels through history, celebrating all Georgia’s tribes, kings, heroes, and martyrs. Finally, an elegiac mood replaces the exaltation, as the poet returns from his fantasy and memoirs to see just himself and one other link to that past still living.


Orbeliani’s mutual relations with the new generation of Georgian intellectuals were ambiguous. This new movement, dubbed as "the sons", spearheaded by Ilia Chavchavadze and Akaki Tsereteli, was critical of "fathers", old Georgian nobility who had pledged their allegiance to the Tsar. Orbeliani was praised by Chavchavadze as presiding over "the strength and wealth of our verse," but his 1871 jubilee was met by the younger generation in cold silence. In the 1860s, Orbeliani tried to stand aside from the quarrels between "the sons and the fathers", but he could not refrain from attacking the new generation in a caustic rhymed response published in 1874.


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