The Tale of Igor's Campaign

The Tale of Igor's Campaign

"The Tale of Igor's Campaign" (Old East Slavic: Слово о плъку Игоревѣ, "Slovo o plŭku Igorevě"; _uk. Слово о полку Ігоревім, "Slovo o polku Ihorevim"; Modern Russian: Слово о полку Игореве, "Slovo o polku Igoreve") is an anonymous epic poem 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", "The Lay of Igor's Campaign", and "The Lay of the Host of Igor". The Ukrainian sources transliterate the name as "Ihor". The authenticity of the book is disputed, though today prevailing opinion is that the book is authentic.

The "Tale of Igor's Campaign" was adapted by Alexander Borodin into one of the great classics of Russian opera. Entitled "Prince Igor", it was first performed in 1890.

Plot introduction

The plot of this classic work is based on a failed raid of Kniaz Igor Svyatoslavich, Prince of Novgorod-Seversk (of the Chernigov principality of ancient Rus') against the Polovtsians or Cumans living in the southern part of the Don region in 1185.

Other Rus' historical figures are mentioned, including the bard Boyan, the princes Vseslav of Polotsk, Yaroslav Osmomysl of Galich, and Vsevolod the Big Nest of Suzdal. The author appeals to the warring Rus' 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 Christianity and ancient Slavic religion. Igor's wife Yaroslavna famously invokes natural forces from the walls of Putyvl. Christian motifs present along with depersonalised pagan gods in the form of artistic images. 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, claimed to be dated to the 1400s, was discovered in 1795, in the library of a Yaroslavl monastery, where the first library and school in Russia had been established back in the 12th century. The monks sold it to a local landowner, Aleksei Musin-Pushkin, as a part of a collection of ten texts. He realised the value of the book, and made a transcription for the empress Catherine the Great in 1795 or 96, and published it in 1800 with the help of leading Russian paleographers of the time, Alexei Malinovsky and Nikolai Bantysh-Kamensky. The original manuscript was claimed to have burned in the great Moscow fire of 1812 (during the Napoleonic occupation), together with Aleksei's entire library.

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

A passage 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 Kiev and touched with the staff of his lance the Kievan golden throne. Like a fierce beast he leapt away from them at midnight, out of the white town, having enveloped himself in a blue mist.

"Then at morn, he drove in his battle axes, opened the gates of Novgorod, shattered the glory of Yaroslav, and loped like a wolf to the Nemiga from Dudutki. On the Nemiga the spread sheaves are heads, the flails that thresh are of steel, lives are laid out on the threshing floor, souls are winnowed from bodies. Nemiga's gory banks are not sowed goodly - sown with the bones of Russia's sons.

"Vseslav the prince judged men; as prince, he ruled towns; but at night he prowled in the guise of a wolf. From Kiev, prowling, he reached, before the cocks crew, Tmutorokan. The path of Great Hors, as a wolf, prowling, he crossed. For him in Polotsk they rang for matins early at St. Sophia the bells; but he heard the ringing in Kiev.

"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.

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 Kiev, 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 upholds Pskov and Polotsk as the two cities where the Tale was most likely written. Numerous persons have been proposed as its authors, including Prince Igor and his brothers.


Early reactions

When the first modern edition of the Tale was published, questions about its authenticity were raised, mostly on account of 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 document has never been questioned by any professional linguist. According to the majority view, such a perfect imitation of 12th-century language would not have been practicable before the discovery of birch bark documents in 1951, let alone two centuries earlier.

Modern developments

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. 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 publication in the USSR.

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 taken as evidence of Slovo being original with respect to Zadonschina.

Recent views

Historians and philologists, however, still continue to question the tale's authenticity, due to an uncharacteristic modern nationalistic sentiment (cf.Panslavism) contained therein (Omeljan Pritsak inter alia). The Tale is sometimes considered to have an agenda similar to that of Kraledvorsky Manuscript. 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 Tal"e (2003) the Harvard Professor of History Edward L. Keenan states that Igor's Tale is a fake, written by Czech scholar Josef Dobrovsky. It has also been suggested that The Tale is a recompilation and manipulation of several authentic sources put together similarly to Lönnrot's Kalevala. []

A 2004 book by Russian linguist Andrey Zaliznyak analyzes the arguments of both sides and concludes that the forgery theory is virtually impossible. He also refutes 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 Novgorod, was it demonstrated that the puzzling passages and words from the tale actually existed in everyday speech of the 12th century, although they didn't find their way to chronicles and other written documents. Zaliznyak concludes that no 18th century scholar could possibly imitate the subtle grammatical and syntactical features that are present in the known text. Nor could Dobrovsky, Keenan's candidate, fulfill such a task, as his views on Slavic grammar were strikingly different from the system found in Igor's Tale.

Vladimir Nabokov once said that there is not a single work in world literature that could approach the tale by sheer range and complexity of its prose rhythms. 18th-century Russia had neither the scholars to understand Old East Slavic so perfectly, nor the great poets capable of creating such a masterpiece.

Juri Lotman's opinion supports the view of authenticity of the Tale, based on the absence of a number of semiotic elements in the Russian Classicist literary tradition before the publication of the Tale, notably "Russian Land ("русская земля")" that becomes popular only in the 1800s, so a presumed forger of the 1780s-1790s could not use such elements while composing the text. [ [ Ю. М. Лотман «СЛОВО О ПОЛКУ ИГОРЕВЕ» И ЛИТЕРАТУРНАЯ ТРАДИЦИЯ XVIII — НАЧАЛА XIX в.] ]

In 1975 a noted Russian-language Kazakh poet Olzhas Suleimenov challenged the mainstream view of Tale in his book "Az i Ya". O. Suleymenov's research is claimed to reveal that Tale cannot be completely authentic since it appears to have been rewritten in the XVI century. Another unusual aspect, according to him, was the presence of unusually large number of Turkic words in Tale that would be unfamiliar to XVI and XVIII centuries' Russians. Suleymenov claimed that a traditional "obscure passage" in Svyatoslav's dream contained a part that is written completely in Cuman (Kipçak) language: «Блеснь скана болони беша дебрь кисан ю инес ошлюкъ син» or "Bilesıñ skana boloni bäşa debir kisan yu ines öşlük sın (reconstructed by O.Suleymenov). [ [] [] ] This phrase is considered by some Turkologists as the earliest example of Cuman language.Fact|date=August 2008Az i Ya was followed by criticism from mainstream Slavists, including Dmitri Likhachev, [Дмитриев Л. А., Творогов О. В. «Слово о полку Игореве» в интерпретации О.Сулейменова // Русская литература. 1976. № 1. С.257] and Turkologists [Н.А. Баскаков. "Слово о полку Игореве". Памятники литературы и искусства XI-XVII веков. М., 1978. С. 59-68] as well, qualifying Suleymenov's etymological and paleography conjectures as amateur.


See also

* Prince Igor
* Old East Slavic language

External links

* [ The original edition of 1800]
* [ The parallel corpus of “The Tale of Igor’s Campaign” translations]
* [ Roman Jacobson's edition]
* [ Several Russian translations]
* [ Text and Ukrainian interpretations]
* [ Leonard Magnus English translation of 1915, parallel English/Russian]
* [ The Lay of Igor’s Campaign and the Works It Has Inspired] Analysis of artistic works based on the original tale.

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