Sunday 24 September 2017

Medea and the Gender Realignment of Georgia

Cutting Medea-themed Cake with Prof Darchia
I’ve been Tbilisi to lecture on the most famous female Georgian of all time, Medea—sorceress, murderess, and agent of the Justice of Zeus Oath-God when her morally invertebrate husband Jason breaks his marriage vows. An international conference run by the extraordinarily enterprising classicist Professor Irine Darchia explored the complex ways in which Medea has fired cultural imaginations across time and the planet.

On a steep learning curve, I discovered that Georgians get cross when people say their only famous native son has been Stalin, aka Ioseb Jughashvili. On the contrary, women authority figures are a Georgian tradition, far more so than Medea-obsessed classicists have realised.

Nino, Georgeia's She-Enlightener
So you thought that the most important saint in Georgia was obviously dragon-slaying George, also chosen as England’s national patron by Edward III in 1327? Forget it—the individual who brought Christianity to the Georgians was not George at all, but his cousin Saint Nina (aka Nino), ‘Equal to the Apostles, Enlightener of Georgia’.

Tomb of Nana, Converted by Nino
Nino was trained in her faith by a wise woman called Nianfora, went to the Caucasus, was aided by a gardener’s wife called Anastasia, and converted the people there, starting with Sidonia, six other prominent Jewish women and Royal Consort Nana (previously a Venus-worshipper). Georgia should really be called Ninopolis. George never even visited.

Georgia's Best She-King, Tamara
And the most effective monarch of Georgia in history was King Tamara (there was no word for Queen) in the 12th-13th centuries. She was such a capable child that her father George III made her his joint ruler at the age of 12. She led the successful defence of her people from serial invasions, expanded their territory, banished her first husband for immorality, married a better one, had two fine children, and oversaw the ‘Golden Age’ of Georgian culture.

Unsmiling Medea waves the fleece at western exploiters in Batumi
As a result, the country’s national epic, The Knight in the Panther's Skin, was composed in her lifetime. An allegorical embodiment of her, the exquisite Nestan-Darejan, is the inspiration of its courtly action. 

Move over, George and Joseph: it is Nino, Nana, Sidonia and Tamara as well as the defiant Medea who are the real representatives of your country. 

1 comment:

  1. I think that Medea differs from her Georgian sisters in that she alone of them is a poignant example of the Superfluous Woman. She started life as a superfluous daughter. Her siblings were already grown at the time of her birth. Her older sister substituted for the ageing mother and breastfed her. As an extra in the family, Medea had less trouble than normal in betraying her father and brother for the sake of a man who, at the time, desperately needed her. Then, in Corinth, she became superfluous once again--with tragic results. As Vera Brittain put it:
    "And city streets
    Grown dark and hot with eager multitudes
    Hurrying homeward whither respite waits.

    But who will seek me at nightfall?"
    Saludos desde México.