The Tale of Igor's Campaign
Illustration by Ivan Bilibin.
Old East Slavic: Слово
Игоревѣ, Slovo o pălku Igorevě;
Modern Russian: Слово
Игореве, Slovo o polku Igoreve
The illustration and the text are from Wikipedia. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tale_of_Igor's_Campaign
The Tale of Igor's Campaign is an anonymous masterpiece of East Slavic literature written in the Old East Slavic language and tentatively dated to the end of 12th century. It is also occasionally translated as The Song of Igor's Campaign and The Lay of Igor's Campaign. The Ukrainian sources transliterate the name as Ihor.
The originality of the book was disputed, though today prevailing opinion is that the book is authentic.
The plot of this classic work is based on a failed raid of Kniaz Igor Svyatoslavich of Novhorod-Siverskyy (of the Chernihiv principality of ancient Rus') against the Polovtsians or Cumans living in the southern part of the Don region in 1185. Other East Slavic historical figures are mentioned, including Vseslav of Polotsk, Yaroslav Osmomysl of Halych, and Vsevolod the Big Nest of Suzdal. The author appeals to the warring Russian princes, pleading for unity in the face of the constant threat from the Turkic East.
An interesting aspect of the text is its mix of ancient Slavic religion and Christianity. Igor's wife Yaroslavna famously invokes pagan gods from the walls of Putyvl, although some Christian motifs are also present. Another aspect, which sets the book apart from contemporary Western epics, are its numerous and vivid descriptions of nature, and the role which nature plays in human lives.
Discovery and publication
The only manuscript of the Tale, dated to 1400s, was discovered in 1795, in
the library of a
Vladimir Nabokov produced a translation into English in 1960. Other notable editions include the standard Soviet edition, prepared with an extended commentary, by the academician Dmitry Likhachev.
Reaction of 19th century scholars
The release of this historical work into scholarly circulation created quite
a stir in Russian literary circles, because the tale represented the earliest
Slavonic writing without any mixture of Church Slavonic. Ukrainian scholars in
the Austrian Empire declared, upon linguistic analysis, that the document
contained transitional language between a) earlier fragments of the language of
Rus' propria (the region of
Chernihiv, eastward through Kyiv, and into Halych) and, b) later fragments from the Halych-Volynian era of this same region in the centuries
immediately following the writing of the document. The current dialectology
When the first modern edition of the Tale was published, questions about its authenticity have risen, mostly centered on its language. Suspicion was also fueled by contemporary fabrications (for example, the "Songs of Ossian" which were actually written by James Macpherson). Today, majority opinion accepts the authenticity of the text, based on similarity of its language with that of other texts discovered after the Tale.
Proposed as forgers were Aleksei Musin-Pushkin himself, or the Russian manuscript forgers Anton Bardin and Alexander Sulakadzev (Bardin was publicly exposed as the forger of four other copies of 'Slovo'). One of the notable early proponents of the falsification theory was the notorious journalist and orientalist Josef Sienkowski.
It should be noted that the authenticity of the monument hasn't been questioned by any professional linguist. According to the majority view, such a perfect imitation of 12th-century language could not be practicable before the discovery of birch bark documents in 1951, let alone two centuries earlier. Historians and journalists, however, continued to question the tale's authenticity well into the 20th century.
The problem was politicized in the Soviet Union: any attempts to question
the authenticity of 'Slovo' (for example, those by
French Slavist André Mazon
or by Russian historian Alexander Zimin) as well as
the non-standard interpretations, based on Turkic lexis, such as proposed by Oljas Suleimenov (who considered
Igor's Tale to be an authentic text), were officially condemned. However, being
a persecuted point of view does not imply its correctness. Mazon
and Zimin's views were opposed, e.g., by Roman Jakobson, the most reputable Slavist
of the 20th century, whose works were also banned from publishing in the
One of the crucial points of the controversy is the relationship between Slovo and Zadonschina, an unquestionably authentic poem, preserved in six medieval copies and created in the 15th century to glorify Dmitri Donskoi's victory over Mamai in the Battle of Kulikovo. It is evident that there are almost identical passages in both texts where only the personal names are different. The traditional point of view considers Zadonschina to be a late imitation, with Slovo being its pattern. The forgery version claims vice versa that the Igor's Tale is written using Zadonschina as a source. Recently, Jakobson's and Zaliznyak's analyses show that the passages of Zadonschina with counterparts in Slovo differ from the rest of the text by a number of linguistic parameters, whereas this is not so for Igor's Tale. This fact is evidence of Slovo being original with respect to Zadonschina.
Although many scholars uphold the authenticity of the work, some challenge it. For instance, in his article "Was Iaroslav of Halych really shooting sultans in 1185?" and in his book "Josef Dobrovsky and the origins of the Igor's Tale" (2003) the Harvard Professor of History Edward Keenan states that Igor's Tale is a fake, written by Czech scholar Josef Dobrovsky.
A recent book by a Russian linguist Andrey Zaliznyak (2004) analyzes the arguments of both sides and
concludes that the forgery version is virtually impossible. He also revokes
some of Jakobson's linguistic arguments for the
authenticity of the text. Only in the late 20th century, when hundreds of bark
documents were unearthed in
As Vladimir Nabokov put it, there is not a single
work in world literature that could approach the Lay by sheer range and
complexity of its prose rhythms. 18th-century
A passage from the Tale on Vseslav the Werewolf:
In the seventh age of Troyan, Vseslav
cast lots for the damsel he wooed. By subterfuge, propping himself upon mounted
troops, he vaulted toward the city of
Then at morn, he drove in his battle axes, opened the gates of
Vseslav the prince judged men; as prince, he ruled
towns; but at night he prowled in the guise of a wolf. From
Although, indeed, he had a vatic soul in a doughty body, he often suffered calamities. Of him vatic Boyan once said, with sense, in the tag: "Neither the guileful nor the skillful, neither bird nor bard, can escape God's judgment.