Georgian folk-tales don’t seem to be as easily available as tales from other European countries, like France or Germany or Italy, which is a shame as I think they possess a fresh and almost innocent quality.
Bounded to the north by the Caucasian Mountains, and the mountains of Armenia to the south, Georgia’s history was influenced not only by the Byzantine Empire, but by Persia and Turkey also. Because of this, the richness of its culture and literature is owed both to Christendom and to Islam. Georgia reached its zenith in the 12th century, after which its people were subjected to many years of oppression. Even though the elemental ideas of Georgian stories are similar to other folk-tales, the development has been different, owing to the aforementioned influences.
The Serpent and the Peasant
There was once a happy king, and everyone in his kingdom was joyful. One night, the king had a vision. In his dream he saw, hanging from the ceiling, a fox suspended by the tail. On waking, he struggled to make sense of the dream. He called his viziers, but they could not divine the dream. The king said, “Assemble all the people in my kingdom. Perhaps one of them may be able to interpret it."
Among those making their way to the palace was a poor peasant. His journey took him along a footpath, with rocky mountains rising up on either side. As he made his way, he saw a serpent lying on the path.
As the peasant drew near, the serpent called out, “Good day. Where are you going, peasant?”
The peasant explained the king’s summons.
The serpent said, “Do not fear the king. Give me your word that what the king gives, you will share with me, and I will teach you.”
The peasant happily gave his word. “I will bring you all that the king presents to me if you will aid me in this matter.”
The serpent replied, “I shall divide whatever is given and half will be yours. When you see the king, tell him, ‘Dreaming of the fox means that in the kingdom there is cunning, hypocrisy and treachery'.”
Thanking the serpent, the peasant went on his way. At the palace, he approached the king and told him what the serpent had taught him. The king was most pleased, and gave the peasant great gifts. When he left the palace, the peasant, having decided that he did not want to share his gifts, took another way home.
Some time passed, and the king had another vision. In his dream, a naked sword hung suspended from the ceiling. This time, the king immediately sent one of his men to bring the peasant to him.
When he received the summons, the peasant became uneasy. If he went straight to the king, what would he tell him, for he did not know what the sword signified. But he dared not defy the king. Believing that he had no choice, the peasant went along the same footpath as before. When he came to the place where he had seen the serpent before, he found the serpent was not there. Anxious, he cried out, “O serpent, come here one moment, I have need of you.” He continued to call until the serpent came.
“What do you want?” asked the serpent. “What distresses you?”
The peasant told him, saying, “I should like your aid once again.”
The serpent said, “Go then, tell the king that a naked sword means war. He has enemies within his kingdom and without. He must prepare for battle and attack.”
The peasant thanked the serpent and went to the king, telling him what the serpent had said.
Pleased, the king began to prepare for war, and gave the peasant more gifts.
This time, the peasant returned along the path where the serpent was waiting.
The serpent said, “Now give me half of what you promised.”
“Certainly not,” said the peasant. Drawing his sword, which had been one of the king’s gifts, he pursued the serpent, which retreated into a hole. The peasant followed, and cut off its tail.
Some time passed, and the king had yet another vision. This time he dreamt that a slain sheep was hanging from the ceiling. Again, the king summoned the peasant.
This time the peasant was very much afraid. “How can I approach the king? Dare I seek out the serpent that I had wounded with my sword in exchange for its goodness?” Deciding again that he had no choice, he went along the same footpath. When he came to the place where the serpent had been, he cried out, “O serpent, come here one moment, I want to ask you something.”
The serpent came, and the man explained his trouble. The serpent said, “If you give me half of what the king gives you, I shall help you.”
The man promised and swore to do just that.
The serpent said, “This is a sign that peace has come. The people are now all as quiet, gentle sheep.”
The peasant thanked the serpent and went on his way. When he got to the palace, he told the king what the serpent had told him. The king was exceedingly pleased, and gave the peasant even more gifts.
The peasant returned the way he had come, and the serpent was waiting. This time, he divided everything he had received from the king, and said to the serpent, “You have been most patient with me, and now I will give you all that the king has given me, from the first time to this time.”
The serpent said, “Do not be grieved or troubled, it was not your fault. The first time, when all the people were deceitful, and there was treachery and hypocrisy in the land, you too were a deceiver, for, in spite of your promise, you went home by another way. The second time, when there was war and quarrels and assassination, you too quarrelled with me, and cut off my tail. But now, when peace and love has fallen on all, you bring the gifts, and share all with me. Go, brother, may the peace of God rest with you. I do not want nor have need for your wealth.” And the serpent went away and retired into its hole.
I am especially fond of this story as its one of very few that shows the serpent as one of the good guys, and being partial to snakes, I think there should be more stories like this.