GEORGIAN PROVERBS OF DIALOGUE AND
DIALOGUE OF PROVERBS IN ISRAEL*
Dialogue in proverbs is for me the
natural theme to discuss in an article dedicated to the
honor of Alan Dundes. Alan Dundes's unique career in
American and international folklore studies has always been
characterized by dialogue. His approach to students has
encouraged thousands of them through the years to march into
the wonderfully chaotic treasury at the end of the corridor
at Kroeber Hall at the Berkeley campus; he has warmly hosted
numerous fellow folklorists from various continents and
cultures at the Folklore Program of the Anthropology
department; he has lead lively discussions in hundreds of
conferences all over the map; he has visited many countries
to stimulate folkloristic research in their
The proverbs which will be discussed
in the following short paper all stem from a corpus of
proverbs in regard with which dialogue is not a mere
stylistic device, but rather the be all and the end all of
the whole collection. The proverbs were all collected in
field work from immigrants of (formerly Soviet) Georgia in
Israel. The project itself was in an unusual manner for research of
this kind, but typically of the cultural resourcefulness of
Georgian immigrants in Israel, initiated by the Georgian
community itself. It can therefore rightly, I think, be
considered a dialogic gesture from the Georgians towards the
Israeli society, a gesture saying in so many words "Listen
to us". The choice of folklore as a means to communicate
with Israeli society is typical of the high status of folk
culture in Georgian tradition, a phenomenon which seems to
be common to cultures with a canonized or semi-canonized
epic tradition (cf. Finnish folklore and folkloristics),
also reflected in a strong academic tradition of folklore
The field work and the analysis was
carried out in an intricate process of cultural translation,
informed by a conscious reflexive notion of dialogue. Due to
my initial lack of knowledge of the Georgian language, when
I in any case (unwisely, maybe) decided to undertake the
project, I had to resort to an indirect research process
(and finally also study Georgian). Inspired by strong
theoretical voices in the field of
ethnography, however this situation, which was basically one of
disadvantage, became a methodological and eventually also a
theoretical resource. It heightened the aspect which is
always true in folkloristic field work, namely the
fragmentary mode of the empirical work, and the need for a
theoretical frame work within which the fragments are
structurally interpreted. The key concept for the research
became dialogue, in which the process of field work
translated by the field worker, Dr. Yitzhak Atanelov, to me
became a second, reflexive stage of field work The process
of relatively new immigrants talking to a more veteran
immigrant, Atanelov, and him talking to me, reflected as a
blueprint the general processes of communication between
immigrant community and host society. The consciousness of
the power related to knowledge as being processed in the
academic establishment and transformed into a product which
can be publically consumed, was an active factor of the
research. The results have created an analysis dealing with
the political, cultural and humanistic hermeneutics of
folklore in Israel, which however cannot be discussed at
length within the scope of this paper.
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De Proverbio – Latin for ‘About the Proverb’ – is a website devoted to proverbs in several languages. It was founded in January 1995 at the University of Tasmania, Australia. De Proverbio was the world’s first refereed electronic journal of international proverb studies. It’s inspiration was Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship edited by Prof. Wolfgang Mieder at the University of Vermont. The Yearbook continued the tradition of Proverbium: Bulletin d’Information sur les Recherches Parémiologiques, published occasionally from 1965 to 1975 by the Society for Finnish Literature, Helsinki.
Recently, the website has added audio proverbs in six languages, read by native speakers. Also available for the lovers of languages and their proverbial richess is a page of multilingual proverb crosswords.
Proverbs and Their Definition
From time immemorial proverbs have fascinated people of all ages and from all walks of life. As it happened throughout centuries, common people today still avail themselves of the proverb’s rich oral tradition to convey their culture and values, while scholars collect and study them from a wide range of angles: linguistic, social, psychological, political, historical and so on.
The problem of proverb definition is still open. However, it is broadly accepted that proverbs were born from man’s experience. And that they generally express, in a very succinct way, common-sense truths. They give sound advice and reflect the human condition. But, as we know, human nature is both good and bad and the latter is often mirrored by discriminatory proverbs, be they against women, different nationalities or particular social groups. For a thorough discussion of proverb definition, see Popular Views of the Proverb by Prof. Wolfgang Mieder. Another article which sheds some light on the proverb definition is The Wisdom of Many and the Wit of One by Archer Taylor.
Proverbs and Their Origin
As to the origin of proverbs we tend to assume that they were born in times when human society began to self-impose rules and embrace principles necessary for communal living. Research can trace them back only to the time when language was recorded by means of some type of writing. The Sumerian civilisation of more than five thousand years ago is the oldest known civilisation to have made use of proverbs, some of which have been passed on through its cuneiform inscriptions.
One such proverb, in its Latin version, is Canis festinans caecos parit catulos. It spread to other languages. The English translation is The hasty bitch brings forth blind whelps. In French, it became La chienne dans sa hâte a mis bas des chiots aveugles. In the Italian La gatta frettolosa fece i gattini ciechi, the bitch has been replaced by the cat. The Portuguese version is Cadelas apressadas parem cães tortos, and the Romanian, Căţeaua de pripă îşi naşte căţeii fără ochi.
Proverbs and Their Use
Apart from use on a wide scale in day-to-day speech, there is ample evidence that proverbs were essential tools in teaching and learning. The pedagogical use of proverbs was encountered first in Sumerian society and subsequently this use became widespread throughout Medieval Europe.
Proverbs and proverbial expressions are found in religious manuscripts of the first half of the eighth century. The aim of introducing proverbs into religious texts was to help novices to learn Latin, and this practice became widespread by the tenth century.
The use of proverbs in teaching and learning was not circumscribed to England. Relatively new research attests to the use of proverbs in teaching in the eleventh century in Liège, France. In Italy the famous medical School of Salerno of the eleventh century formulated medical precepts which later became proverbs adopted by different cultures. Post prandium stabis, post coenam ambulabis was translated After dinner sit awhile, after supper walk a mile in English. In French became Après dîner repose un peu, après souper promène une mille, while in Italian Dopo pranzo riposar un poco, dopo cena passeggiar un miglio. The Spanish version is Después de yantar reposad un poco, después de cenar pasead una milla and the Portuguese Depois de jantar, dormir; depois de cear, passos mil.
Proverbs and Their Abuse
But from use comes abuse, as a Spanish proverb says. There is no doubt that the capacity of the proverb to convey universal truths concisely led to their abuse and manipulation.
Hitler and his Nazi regime employed proverbs as emotional slogans for propaganda purposes and encouraged the publication of anti-semitic proverb collections. For a thorough analysis of this phenomenon, please read the fascinating article “ … as if I were the master of situation.” Proverbial Manipulation in Adolf Hitler by Prof. Wolfgang Mieder.
At the opposite end of the political spectrum, communist regimes of the past have not only manipulated proverbs, but also purged popular collections of features which did not reflect their political ends. The former Soviet regime is at the forefront of such actions. One type of manipulation described by Jean Breuillard in Proverbes et pouvoir politique: Le cas de l’U.R.S.S. (published in “Richesse du proverbe”, Eds. François Suard and Claude Buridant. Lille: Université de Lille, 1984. II, 155-166). It consisted in modifying ancient proverbs like La vérité parcourt le monde (Truth spreads all over the world) into La vérité de Lénine parcourt le monde (Lenin’s truth spreads all over the world). As a result the new creation is unequivocably charged with a specific ideological message.
Manipulation did not stop at individual proverbs, it extended to entire collections. Vladimir Dal’s mid-nineteen century collection of Russian proverbs is such an example. Its first Soviet edition (1957) reduces the proverbs containing the word God from 283 to 7 only. Instead, those which express compassion for human weaknesses, such as alcoholism, disappear altogether. In more recent years, in Ceauşescu’s Romania, Proverbele românilor (published in 1877 by I. C. Hinţescu) suffered the same treatment. More than 150 proverbs were eliminated or changed in order to respond rigidly to the communist ideology.
Proverbs Across Time and Space
The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs states that foreign proverbs’ contribution to the English proverbial stock has enriched our language. Many proverbs of foreign origin were quickly absorbed into English life and have a rightful place in an English dictionary. Indeed, a close scrutiny of that dictionary reveals that more than two hundred and fifty proverbs are listed as first existing in Italian.
This is also true for other modern languages, particularly French and Spanish. The translation is not always literal. At times it is adapted to the new language and the resulting proverb is often enriched in its expression. For instance the Latin Homo sine pecunia est imago mortis (A man without money is the image of death) is rather closely translated in Italian as Uomo senza quattrini è un morto che cammina (A man without money is a dead man walking).
However, in other languages the metaphor changes, but not the meaning. In English the proverb becomes A man without money is a bow without an arrow, while in French Un homme sans argent / Est un loup sans dents (A man without money is a wolf without teeth) and an element of rhyme is introduced. The Romanian adaptation is a real poetic gem Omul fără bani e ca pasărea fără aripi; Când dă să zboare / Cade jos şi moare (A man without money is like a bird without wings; When he tries to fly / He falls down and dies). The concept is essentially the same: the man without money lacks something important…
While proverbs are still used today in a traditional way, that is in speech, literature and teaching, they have found a new ever expanding use in the advertising industry and in the mass media. One example is Here today, gone tomorrow, which became Hair today, gone tomorrow in the hair-removal industry. In the mass media it has a variety of paraphrases such as Hear today, gone tomorrow or Heir today, gone tomorrow. Before the Barcelona Olympic Games the old proverb All roads lead to Rome became All roads lead to… Barcelona in many English language newspapers and magazines. A new phenomenon encountered in many languages nowadays and is undoubtedly a sign of the proverb’s resilience and vitality.
Important writers of the past, among them Goethe and Voltaire, have questioned the traditional wisdom of proverbs. That led to some proverb transformations. Prof. Wolfgang Mieder coined the term anti-proverb for all forms of creative proverb changes. They can be deliberate innovations, alterations, variations, parodies. Anti-proverbs are widely spread today, some living a short time, some even making their way into recent proverb collections. A new broom sweeps clean, but the old one knows the corners and Absence makes the heart grow fonder – for somebody else are considered anti-proverbs.
Proverbs and Their Collection
Apart from studies on individual and multilingual proverbs and proverbial expressions, you will find a few e-books on our website. I will mention a Brazilian collection and a dictionary of equivalent English and Romanian proverbs. Prof. Wolfgang Mieder’s yearly bibliographies are an invaluable tool for students and researchers. Given their widespread use over the millennia, it is no wonder that scholars of the past started assembling proverbs in collections. Aristotle is believed to be among the first paremiographers (collectors of proverbs), but, unfortunately, his collection was lost. In more recent times a great impetus to the collection of proverbs was given by Erasmus. His fame spread from Venice throughout Europe after the publication in 1508 of his Adagiorum Chiliades. This collection contained 3,260 proverbs drawn from classical authors.
The success of the book led to several augmented editions culminating with that of 1536, which contains 4,151 proverbs. Erasmus’ work was translated into several European languages. While it became the model for future proverb collections in those languages, they were widely copied and translated.
One good example of such a practice is the 1591 Italian collection Giardino di Ricreatione, nel quale crescono fronde, fiori e frutti, vaghe, leggiadri e soavi, sotto nome di sei miglia proverbii, e piacevoli riboboli Italiani, colti e scelti da Giovanni Florio. And two decades later appeared in French as Le Jardin de Récréation, au quel croissent rameaux, fleurs et fruits très-beaux, gentils et souefs, soubz le nom de Six mille proverbes et plaisantes rencontres françoises, recueillis et triéez par GOMÈS DE TRIER, non seulement utiles mais délectables pour tous espritz désireux de la très-noble et copieuse langue françoise, nouvellement mis en lumière, à Amsterdam, par PAUL DE RAVESTEYN.
Proverbs and Fun
On the less academic side, you can test your knowledge of languages by solving our bilingual or multilingual crosswords. Or, you can listen to our featured proverbs in 6 languages – English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian and Spanish. Also, enjoy sharing them with your friends. Some were posted on Twitter as comments to political events of the day.
Painters in Renaissance time, from Hieronymus Bosch to Pieter Bruegel, with his famous Netherlandish Proverbs, were attracted by the subject.
Modern artists like James Chapman illustrated recently proverbs from other world languages with hilarious cartoons. See some of his images on this page.
The mother said "I will die", the
wife said "I will marry", and in the meantime the house
is full of dirt. (189, Giga Kukiashvili)
dedam tkva: movkvdebio kalma -
gavtxobdebio, saxli ki nagvit aivso
Seven out of the twelwe dialogue
proverbs consist of miniature animal fables, where the
animals are the speakers of the dialogic element. All of the
animals in these proverbs are familiar heroes of the
European and Middle Eastern fable universe. The couple
dog-wolf appears twice (5,9). In one proverb the speaker is
the fox, who mentions a chicken as food (8). A rooster (10),
a cat (1) and a cow (11) represent domesticated species, and
the ant (7), an insect, is also a known figure from the
The human figures of the proverbs are
on one hand age and gender roles, child (4), mother (12) and
wife (12) and therefore more or less universally applicable
to create the generalizing synecdoche effect typical of
proverbs. The Tatars (6) are characteristic ethnic "others" of which
there are an abundance in the Georgian society; Paata (3) is
a male proper name, possibly chosen because of slight
alliteration with key words in the proverb. Nacarkekia (2)
is a Georgian folktale hero, figuring in several tale types
well known in European folklore, such as the contest between
the giant and the boy. Nacarkekia is a bragger and his appearance is accompanied by
a somewhat comical tone.
After having dealt with the thematic
variation of these twelwe dialogue proverbs, let us look at
their formal variation. In three of the proverbs (3,4,9) the
dialogue is complete, i.e. the proverb consists of a
question and an answer by two different figures, in the
second case the exchange is double. In one proverb the same
figure utters two lines (11) and in another (12) two persons
utter each a line but not necessary to each
These formal characteristics are a
different aspect of the level of analysis which Peter Seitel
has termed (in the most influential single article on
proverbs ever written, if I am not mistaken)
''correlation''. In Seitel's usage the term designates the first, second or
third person reference to which the proverb is directed in
each case. In general, the correlation may only be inferred
from a study of the text in its context, which has been done
in the Hebrew book version in each of the 232 proverbs of
the total corpus from which these dialogue proverbs are
extracted. However in a dialogue proverb the correlation is
also in a way interjected into the text itself.
The para-proverbial discourse was
elicited through two direct questions addressed by the field
researcher to the informants: first, what are relevant
contexts of use, and the second, what is the interpretation
given by the members of the ethnic group. The difference
between the answers to the two questions was not very big,
but on the whole the first question was answered by more
specific and less normatively formulated discourse. Another
textual environment was created by checking parallels in
collections of Georgian
The last proverb of the twelwe
discussed here, about the ant (nr. 7 in the list in this
article), introduces a mythical
theme. When I started to analyze the Georgian proverbs it seemed to
me that this perspective, the mythical, is somehow in
contrast to the pragmatic everyday wisdom which dominates
the tone and function of the proverb genre. On the other
hand there were a number of proverbs with such themes in the
Proverbs being mainly verbal
strategies directed towards social situations and reflecting
on the discursive context itself, it is not so usual in
contemporary research to deal with their more metaphysical
aspects. Working on the Georgian corpus collected in Israel
drew to my attention the quiet but insistent presence of
metaphysical themes in the proverbs. Here the metaphysical
is embodied in me mode which is its main articulation in
folklore in general, the mythical.
The proverb image deals with a
pseudo-aetiological motif of the physiognomy of the ant. The
para-proverbial discourse points at the following context
"Said about a person who asks for things s/he doesn't need
at all" and the interpretation "a person who lacks something
important, asks for something less important". In the
proverb image the presupposition is the knowledge that ants
have no eyes, which is conceived of as a state of lack. This
lack correlates with the specific, mythical ant's request
for eye-lashes and makes that request an absurd one. A
similar, but more implicit, absurd request exists in a
parallel proverb in the Babylonian Talmud (fifth century
CE): "The camel asked for horns and lost its ears". Here the
aetiological aspect is even more prominent, to provide an
explanation for the small size of the ears of the camel. The
Georgian proverb about the ant is less aetiological and more
grotesque; the eye-lashes of the ant may hint at the feelers
which the ant actually uses instead of eyes for observing
its environment. The request of the ant directed to the creator of the world
points out the regrettable fact that creation may not always
seem perfect; thus this specific request stands for a great
number of wishes for improvements in the world. The mistake
of the ant maybe a tragic one too, is not to ask for the
right thing, namely eyes, but rather for something which
reflects a preference of external, aesthetical values and on
the social level therefore is judged as vanity. The
superfluousness of the requested thing is that which the
para-proverbial discourse foregrounds from the contents of
the text. But the ant may also be excused for wanting the
eye-lashes to hide the lack of the principal thing, the
The proverb hints possibly to the
proverbial ant of biblical Proverbs (Prov. 6, 6-8) which is,
as mentioned before, taken up by the European fable
tradition (La Fontaine). The hint is in this case somewhat
antithetical since the biblical ant, as well as the one in
the fable, is praised for making the correct choice. The
mythical character of this specific proverb is also
strengthened by the association to the canonical
The dialogue proverbs of the Georgians
in Israel reflect on one hand the general character of the
proverb corpus in that they open up the gnomic genre to a
greater narrativity. They also specifically loosen the
possibly monophonic impression of proverbs and formalize a
polyphonic mode, which I have tried to contextualize within
the interpretation of the proverb texts in their functional
and rhetoric embeddedness in the para-proverbial discourse.
The material here has also been presented as an example for
a paremiological venture which represents the research of
proverbs in their cultural and mental processes of
*Previously published in Proverbium, 11 (1994), pp. 103-116
Galit Hasan-Rokem, Adam Le-adam
Gesher - The Proverbs of Georgian Jews in Israel, Field research: Yitzhak Atanelov, Jerusalem 1993
E. Virsaladze, K Sixarulidze &
M. Tshikovani, Gruzinskoe narodnoe poetitskoe
tvortshestvo, Tbilisi 1972; Kartuli polkloris
leksikoni, Tbilisi 1975; M.J Tshikovani Kartuli
xalxuri sitgvierebis istoria, Tbilisi 1975; G.
Charachidze, Le Systeme Religieux de la Georgie
Paienne: Analyse Structurale d'une Civilisation, Paris 1968.
Especially J. Clifford & G.
Marcus, Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of
Ethnographic Writing, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London
1986; also the more empirically oriented folkloristic
study C.L. Briggs, Competence in Performance:
Creativity of Tradition in Mexican Verbal Art, Philadelphia 1988.
Th. Sakhokia, "Les Proverbes
Georgiens", Revue des Traditions Populaires, XVII
(1902), 547-565; XVIII (1903), 119-133. Repr. Les
Proverbes Georgiens. Paris 1903; R. Bleichsteiner, Kaukasische Forschungen, 1er teil: Georgische und
Mingrelische Texten, Osten und Orient, Wien 19l9; J.
Bergel, Poslovitsy Narodov (year and locus of
printing not indicated); Lia Lezhava et al., Xalxuri
sibrzne: andazebi maxvilitgvaoba gamocanebi, Tbilisi
1965; K. Sixarulidze, "Poslovitsy", Gruzinskoe
narodnoe poeticeskoe tvortchestvo, ed. E. Virsaladze
et al. see note 2 above), Tbilisi 1972, 109-201; D.
Toronjadze, English-Georgian Proverbs and Sayings, Tbilisi 1973; Winfried Boeder, "La Structure du Proverbe
Georgien", Revue des etudes georgiennes et
caucasiennes, 1 (1985), 97-115; ibid. "Struktur und
Interpretation georgischer Sprichworter Chewzuretien". Redensarren und Sprichworter im interculturellen
Vergleich, eds. A. Sabban & J. Wirres, Wiesbaden
Iris Järvio-Nieminen, Suomalaiset Sanomukset (Finnish Wellerisms),
Helsinki 1959; A.Cirese, "Wellerismes et Microrecits"', Proverbium 14 (old series) (1964), 384-390.
Old Testament, Proverbs 6,6;
30,25; Jean de la Fontaine, "La cigale et la fourmi", the
first fable in the French fabuliers work is about the
grasshopper and the ant, French-English edition trans.
Elizur Wright, London 1975, p. 11.
N.R. Norrick, How Proverbs
Mean: Semantic Studies in English, Berlin-New
A. Aarne and S.Thompson, The
Types of the Folktale (Folklore Fellows Communications
184), Helsinki 1973.
Peter Seitel "Proverbs: A Social
Use of Metaphor", Genre 2, 1969.
See note 4 above.
Numerous oral sources from both
communities have been consulted regarding this
G. Tsitsuashvili, "Early
Information about Jews in Georgian Chronicles", Proceedings of the Sixth World Congress of Jewish
Studies, Jerusalem 1973, p. 117.
e.g. "Nacarkekia and the demon",
(nacarkekia da mdewi), Bleichersteiner, see note 4 above,
pp. 233-236, Aarne & Thompson type nr. 1060.
M. Bakhtin, Rabelais and his
World, Bloomington Ind. 1984, e.g. pp.
T. Dragadze, Rural Families in
Soviet Georgia: A Case Study in Ratcha Province, London 1988; Yitzhak Eilam, The Georgians in Israel:
Anthropological Aspects (Hebrew), Jerusalem
Sakhokia, see note 4, p.
G. Ben-Oren & W. Moskowitch,
"Characteristics of the Spoken Language of the Jews of
Georgia", Peamim 31, 1987, pp. 95-119.
See note 4; Bleichsteiner nr. 41
and Sakhokia p. 562.
Dragadze, see note nr. 18, p. 137
mentions the use of a special sing song melody when the
proverbs are recited for children.
Here the lack of differentiation
between "context" and "interpretation" is especially
Oral tradition among Palestinians.
My direct source is Amer Dahamasha, graduate student at
the Hebrew University, from the village Kafr Kaana (cf.
the story of water turned to wine in the New Testament)
Dragadze, see note 18 above, pp.
67, 69, 159-160.
For parallels see Bergel (note 4
above) nr. 682; with change of protagonist in Sakhokia,
p. 565: "The raven had no eye-lids and prayed to God to
give it eye-lashes". See also more general parallels in
our Georgian collection (see above note l); nr. 41: "A
man who had no horse yearned for a saddle"; nr. 150:
"Wanted to buy a needle and for the price of a
I thank Ariel Rokem for the
Department of Hebrew Literature and Jewish Folklore
The Hebrew University