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Soviet Argonauts: Sailing to the Coasts of Colchis in the Soviet Culture

Hanna Paulouskaya (University of Warsaw, Poland)

Soviet Argonauts: Sailing to the Coasts of Colchis in the Soviet Culture

Hanna Paulouskaya (University of Warsaw, Poland)

hannapa@al.uw.edu.pl

 

Soviet popular culture and cinema had scarce references to the Greek and Roman mythology. It was understood first of all as classical texts every educated person should be acquainted with, similar to those of Shakespeare or Cervantes. The myth of the Argonauts was one of the exceptions, because it allowed to make a straight connection with the Greek past. There were few screen versions of the myth, first of all made in Georgia itself.

The first one was a short animation Argonavtebi (Argonavty, “The Argonauts”) or Kolkhida (“Colchis”) made by Vladimir Mudzhiri with pictures by Lado Guganishvili in 1936. It was the first Georgian animated movie. The movie tells actually about the drainage of the marshes of Colchis and a war with mosquitos. It has only distant allusions to the Greek myth. A full length feature movie on the same theme was made in 1941 by David Rondeli called Ogni Kolkhidy (“The Fires of Colchis”). The first movies seem to use an “own” Georgian myth to explain contemporary reality.

A series of animations about Greek mythology was made by Aleksandra Snezhko-Blotskaya in the late 1960s and 1970s. The five movies have been produced by Soyuzmultfilm, the largest cartoon studio in the USSR, and aimed at a wide audience. The Argonauts was made in this series in 1971. It aspired to present a “classical” version of the myth adapted for children’s audience. Medea and Aeëtes have Caucasian appearance, however a viewer would probably identify him- or herself with ancient Greek heroes or two Greek boys, who listen to story of Jason. Greek in this context seems to mean cosmopolitan or multicultural resembling the Soviet nation.

Tim Severin’s reconstruction of Jason’s voyage in 1984 was the reason for the next film. It was a TV revue Argonavtebi (“The Argonauts”) or Vesyolaya khronika opasnogo puteshestviya (“The Merry Chronicle of a Dangerous Voyage”) made by Eugene Ginsburg in 1986. The movie declares that it seeks after to explore “why the Argonauts sailed to the edge of the world, as it seemed then.” Made at Moscow Ekran studio with plenty of Georgian actors it interprets the myth from the point of view of contemporary youth culture and multinational culture of the Soviet Union. Colchis is depicted as a hospitable cheer nation. There is lack of the army grew out of the teeth of the dragon or the dragon itself, what is implied to be just a vision caused by grape fruits. The Golden Fleece is shown as a parchment with text of Georgian wisdom, which is willingly given by Aeëtes to the Greeks. All the mission is portrayed as a venture of young men exploring the world and themselves. Actually the cartoon of Snezhko-Blotskaya also underlines adventure as the main reason for the Jason journey.

Georgian comprehension of the myth and its inclusion into national identity is presented in The Swimmer of Irakli Kvirikadze (1981/1987). The film tells story of three members of a Georgian family living in 1913, 1947 and in film’s present. Looking back to ancient history helps its heroes to define their own personality in the Soviet times.

In my presentation I would like to analyse these movies in cultural, political and educational context of the USSR. To my mind cinema and TV had great influence on creating opinions and transferring common knowledge, what makes them especially worthy of study. I am especially interested in how this myth was accepted in the centre of the Soviet Union, in Georgia and in peripheries of the country (including lands of different nations of the country) and whether this myth had influence on identification of spectators. Another problem of analysis is acceptance of the movies by different age groups, paying special attention to the children’s and young adult’s audience of the USSR.

Filmography:

Argonavtebi (Argonavty, “The Argonauts”) or Kolkhida (“Colchis”), dir. Vladimir Mudzhiri, anim. Lado Guganishvili, 1936, Goskinoprom Gruzii studio.

Argonavty (The Argonauts”), dir. Aleksandra Snezhko-Blotskaya, 1971, Soyuzmultfilm studio.

Argonavtebi (“The Argonauts”) or Vesyolaya khronika opasnogo puteshestviya (“The Merry Chronicle of a Dangerous Voyage”), dir. Eugene Ginsburg, 1986, Ekran studio.

Motsurave (Plovets, “The Swimmer”), dir. Irakli Kvirikadze, 1981/1987, Georgian Film Studio.

Ogni Kolkhidy (“The Fires of Colchis”), dir. David Rondeli, 1941, Tbilisi film studio.

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