A Man Was Going Down the Road begins with the Greek legend of Jason and the Golden Fleece and the consequences for the obscure kingdom of Colchis after the Greek Jason comes and abducts Medea. But it is also an allegory of the treachery and destruction that ensued when Russia, and then the Soviets, annexed Georgia, as well as Chiladze's interpretation of life as a version of the ancient Anatolian story of Gilgamesh, and a study of Georgian life, domestic and political, in which women and children pay the price for the hero's quests, obsessions and doubts.
The novel is written in three parts, spanning generations. The first part, Aeëtes, tells the story of Phrixus and his upbringing by King AEetes, the king of Colchis. In his new land, Phrixos would always be an outsider “like a cuckoo’s egg” and forever in debt to the people who saved him and reared him. This is also the tale of Jason, the Argonauts, and the Golden Fleece. Jason arrives from Greece to steal the golden wool, but kidnaps Medea, the daughter of King AEetes, as she drugs her father in order to also steal the golden fleece of the winged ram. Young and handsome, Jason is regarded as a hero, although a “wrongdoer.”
Part II, Ukheiro, is of a warrior, who breaks his leg in battle. His wife Marekhi dies in childbirth and Ukheiro’s 10-year-old daughter Popina looks after her father and the new-born boy, Parnaoz. While waiting for death – for he can no longer fight as a warrior – Ukheiro takes up embroidery. His son Parnaoz falls madly in love with Ino, the seventh daughter of black-eyed Malalo. But theirs is a troubled relationship, and he has a competitor. Parnaoz’s sister Popina has a son, Popeye, whose father flees at news of the pregnancy. As Popeye grows, he too falls in the love with Ino. The rivalry between Parnaoz and his nephew Popeye is intense, and Parnaoz eventually leaves Colchis for Crete.
Part III, Parnaoz, is the story of Parnaoz’s return to Colchis after about 10 years in Crete. But Ino has not yet married, and the rivalry between Parnaoz and Popeye continues. Parnaoz marries childhood friend, Tina, but he “didn’t care whom he married” for he was “looking for a refuge.. somewhere to hide from Ino.” Tina and Parnaoz soon have a son, little Ukheiro, but Parnaoz now wants to leave his wife. “Parnaoz knew only one thing: whether he got together with Ino or not, he could never accept not being with her, or any substitute life offered, or anything from life.” Interwoven in this section is also the tale of Icarus and Daedalus. In Greek mythology, father and son attempt to flee Crete with waxed and feathered wings. Icarus does not heed his father’s warning, and flies too close to the sun. The heat melts the waxed wings, and he falls into the sea and drowns. What follows Parnaoz’s disillusionment with his wife, and his constant pining for Ino, is the tragedy that comes from not heeding any warning, and from idealistic and obsessive love.
Aeëtes - he was a King of Colchis in Greek mythology, son of the sun-god Helios and the Oceanid Perseis (a daughter of Oceanus), brother of Circe and Pasiphaë, and father of Medea, Chalciope and Absyrtus. The name means "eagle" (aietos). His consorts were Idyia and either Asterodia the Oceanid, Neaera the Nereid. According to others, he was brother of Perses, a king of Tauris, husband of his niece Hecate, and father of Medea, Chalciope and Absyrtus. Yet other versions make Aeëtes a native of Corinth and son of Ephyra, or else of a certain Antiope.
Medea - is a sorceress who was the daughter of King Aeëtes of Colchis, niece of Circe, granddaughter of the sun god Helios, and later wife to the hero Jason, with whom she had two children, Mermeros and Pheres. In Euripides's play Medea, Jason leaves Medea when Creon, king of Corinth, offers him his daughter, Glauce. The play tells of Medea avenging her husband's betrayal by killing their children.
Absyrtus - was in Greek mythology the son of Aeëtes and a brother of Medea and Chalciope. His mother is variously given: Hyginus calls her Ipsia, Hesiod and the Bibliotheca call her Idyia, Apollonius calls her Asterodeia, and others Neaera or Eurylyte. When Medea fled with Jason, she took her brother Absyrtus with her, and when she was nearly overtaken by her father, she murdered her brother, cut his body into pieces and strewed them on the road, so that her father might thus be delayed by gathering the limbs of his child. Tomi, the place where this occurred, was believed to have derived its name from temno (τέμνω, "cut").
Jason - he was an ancient Greek mythological hero who was famous for his role as the leader of the Argonauts and their quest for the Golden Fleece. He was the son of Aeson, the rightful king of Iolcos. He was married to the sorceress Medea. Because he belongs to mythology, he may have existed before the Greek Dark Ages (1100–800 BC.) The people who wrote about Jason lived around 300 BC.
Jason appeared in various literary works in the classical world of Greece and Rome, including the epic poem Argonautica and the tragedy Medea. In the modern world, Jason has emerged as a character in various adaptations of his myths, such as the 1963 film Jason and the Argonauts and the 2000 miniseries of the same name. Jason is also the main character in the British television series Atlantis.
Minos - he was the first King of Crete, son of Zeus and Europa. Every nine years, he made King Aegeus pick seven young boys and seven young girls to be sent to Daedalus' creation, the labyrinth, to be eaten by the Minotaur. After his death, Minos became a judge of the dead in the underworld. The Minoan civilization of Crete has been named after him by the archaeologist Arthur Evans. By his wife, Pasiphaë (or some say Crete), he fathered Ariadne, Androgeus, Deucalion, Phaedra, Glaucus, Catreus, Acacallis and Xenodice. By a nymph, Pareia, he had four sons, Eurymedon, Nephalion, Chryses and Philolaus, who were killed by Heracles in revenge for the murder of the latter's two companions; and by Dexithea, one of the Telchines, he had a son called Euxanthius. By Androgeneia of Phaestus he had Asterion, who commanded the Cretan contingent in the war between Dionysus and the Indians. Also given as his children are Euryale, possibly the mother of Orion with Poseidon, and Pholegander, eponym of the island Pholegandros.
Icarus - In Greek mythology, Icarus (the Latin spelling, conventionally adopted in English; Ancient Greek: Ἴκαρος, Íkaros, Etruscan: Vikare) is the son of the master craftsman Daedalus, the creator of the Labyrinth. Often depicted in art, Icarus and his father attempt to escape from Crete by means of wings that his father constructed from feathers and wax. Icarus's father warns him first of complacency and then of hubris, asking that he fly neither too low nor too high, so the sea's dampness would not clog his wings or the sun's heat melt them. Icarus ignored his father's instructions not to fly too close to the sun, whereupon the wax in his wings melted and he fell into the sea. This tragic theme of failure at the hands of hubris contains similarities to that of Phaëthon.
Daedalus - he was a skillful craftsman and artist. He is the father of Icarus, the uncle of Perdix and possibly also the father of Iapyx although this is unclear.
Otar Chiladze is a consummate storyteller. Right from page one his evocative imagery entrances the reader. First with the imagery of the landscape, Dariachangi’s garden, and the city of Vani, where “the land was as moist and wrinkled as a new-born baby: it gradually grew and spread all along the shore like a black mourning ribbon.” And second, with his vast array of characters – where every person is vividly brought to life. From the black-eyed Malalo from Babylon, with seven daughters and a parrot, who “could know a man just by glancing at him” but where “every love of black-eyed Malalo, sooner or later, ended in failure” – to the broken-legged warrior Ukheiro who embroiders the history of his life on a massive canvas cloth. He does not die from his battle wounds; instead he embroiders while “persistently devoted to a self-sacrificing effort not to break down, not to accept his misfortune.” And to Tina, who was devoted to Parnaoz, whom she had loved since childhood, and yet “was doomed, but innocent.”
Each page is intense, absorbing, enriching, and stirring. Greek mythology and allegory are richly entwined in a version that takes conquest to subtle, but intellectual, depths. This is not an epic in which the reader loses track of the plot, for the plot is firmly embedded in the rich soil of Dariachangi’s garden where “when buds unfurled at one end … fruit was already ripening at the other end.”
Chiladze wrote A Man Was Going Down the Road in the early 1970s while Georgia was still a part of the Soviet Union. The book is allegorical. In the story of how Colchis was overrun by outsiders - and native Colchians like Popeye were turned into informants and torturers - Chiladze is telling Georgia's story.
Considering how everything was censored during Soviet times, Perhaps benefitting from the density of the early parts of the book, the allegory is always beneath the surface, and the book doesn't get political (in the 20th Century sense) until the last chapter, when an old man named Bochia brings to light events from before the Minoan invasion and the reign of the usurper, Okhajado.
This seems to call the reader back to a pre-Soviet, purely Georgian time and this at the dawn of the Brezhnev Era.