[Note: In this section of the SISRE243 course materials, I reproduce in its entirety Prof. Haney's Introduction to his translation and annotation of the "Igor Tale." I have omitted the introduction by his collaborator Eric Dahl, regarding issues of rendering the Tale in poetic form. The text of their translation is in the second section of the materials.  When I get to the task, I shall connect each section of the commentary so it can be accessed at the point in the main text to which it pertains.   In the Haney/Dahl edition, the Old Russian text of the Tale is reproduced on facing pages to the translation that accompanies it. This means that some of the commentary cites words that were printed originally in Cyrillic.  I have transliterated them here; of course for those who do not have the Cyrillic text, to a degree that material will not be helpful.  This material is reproduced here with the permission of Prof. Haney and is intended only for the use of those who are authorized to enter the course materials section of the web site.]



A Translation of the Slovo o polku Igoreve

by J.AV. Haney and Eric Dahl

Copyright 1992



On the Campaign of Igor, known as the Slovo o polku Igoreve in Russian, is commonly referred to as the Slovo. It tells of a campaign led by Igor Sviatoslavich, who was a junior prince of a minor South Russian principality in the late twelfth century. The structure of the poem makes it clear that the story of this hapless prince is a device for the poet's true subject, which is the moral and political decline of the Kievan federation. We may think of the poem in three parts, as forming a triptych, with the events directly involving Igor presented in the outside panels. His glorious departure with his army at the beginning of the poem should be compared to his escape from captivity and return at the end, accompanied only by a pagan traitor who has helped him flee. The poet's point of view is both sympathetic to the cause of the Rus and critical of this particular prince. Igor breaks his oath to the titular "Grand Prince of Kiev" and makes an unauthorized attack on the traditional steppe enemies, the Turkic Polovtsy or Cumans. His greatest military achievement is a successful surprise attack on a Polovtsian camp. In a second engagement his force is annihilated and Igor is captured, after earlier telling his men that death is better than captivity. Presumably the irony is intentional. His bold plan to win glory for himself results in unchecked pagan attacks upon Rus.

The poet's ambivalent treatment of Igor's campaign extends also to the figure portrayed in the central panel of the triptych, Grand Prince Sviatoslav of Kiev. He is introduced in a manner befitting his eponymous ancestor, Sviatoslav Igorevich, whose tenth century exploits were known in Constantinople and throughout the Balkans. But soon we see him as a man troubled by ominous dreams and quite incapable of any concerted action to repair the damage done by his cousin and godson, Igor Sviatoslavich. Sviatoslav's dream, like that of Arthur in the French La Mort le Roi Artu (ca. 1230-35), should be understood as relating to the throne itself and not just to the man who occupies it. It is precisely the notion that the prince is both physically and philosophically identified with the kingship, and the kingship with the "state," that the boiars seek to point out in their collective interpretation of Sviatoslav's premonition of his own death. Apparently satisfied with the boiars' explication, Grand Prince Sviatoslav pronounces his long "Golden Word." In it he summons his fellow princes to the aid of Igor, calling on them to unite and preserve the integrity of Rus. He reminds them of their duties to each other, flattering the powerful with hyperbolic captation. But the poet's design is never obscured. Sviatoslav's speech is punctuated by frequent digressions in the old style that serve to contrast the pettiness of present princes with their illustrious, heroic predecessors.

The poem offers no indication that Sviatoslav's "Golden Word"--really an abject plea in the face of his own helplessness--has any effect on the course of events. Igor's humiliation is complete when not a single prince responds to Sviatoslav's call. Even Igor's wife, whose incantation to the old gods of sun, wind, and water is one of the best known lyrical achievements of the poem, cannot alone bring about his release from ignominious captivity. We are told that "God shows Igor the way," aided most unheroically by a Polovtsian traitor. Igor returned to Rus, rewarded the traitor with lands, and again took up his rule of the small patrimony of Novgorod-Seversk, the only recorded Kievan prince taken captive by the steppe nomads. There is nothing heroic about his escape and return. In the poem he returns without fanfare, humbling himself first to the icon of the Mother of God, and then, presumably, to Sviatoslav. His wife is not mentioned again. Though the poem ends in a flourish of heroic pretense, it is little more than that. The Mongol invasions were half a century away, and the princes of Rus could not unite to oppose them.

The poet's method is one of contrasting two ages, the heroic age of the first princes Oleg, Igor, Sviatoslav and Vladimir (the latter died in 1015) with that of the successor princes also named Oleg, Sviatoslav, Igor and Vladimir. The heroic age deserves heroic poetry and that is why the Igor poet introduces the figure of the master poet Boian, who, we are told in the Zadonshchina. "would sing the glory of the princes of Rus, of Igor Riurikovich, the first grand prince of Kiev, of Grand Prince Vladimir Sviatoslavich and of Grand Prince Iaroslav Vladimirovich." The Igor poet begins and concludes his poem with references to this Boian, while his very first lines are intended to raise in the listener's mind the question of the aptness of the heroic style to such an unheroic tale as the one he must relate. The issue raised at the beginning is not just theoretical or rhetorical:

It was never fitting, brothers, for us to begin the story

of Igor's campaign, Igor Sviatoslavich,

Using the ancient words of vexing tales.

This song should begin in accordance with events of our own time

and not as a fantasy of Boian.

The reader will note that the odd~numbered strophes are on the whole compcsed in the highly metaphorical, ornate style of Boian, those numbered evenly in the more measured mode of the Igor poet himself. The pattern persists throughout the poem, creating its peculiar amoebean quality of alternating voices.

The poem was composed after Igor's return to Rus from Polovtsian captivity in 1187, and most modern Russian scholars in fact date it 1187 or 1188. A second view, which I share, is that it was composed towards the end of the twelfth century when Sviatoslav of Kiev had died (1194) but before the death of Vsevolod Sviatoslavich (1196), otherwise it is difficult to understand why that prince is praised in the last strophe while Sviatoslav, Grand Prince of Kiev and central figure of the poem, is omitted entirely. A third group of scholars would label the Slovo a late medieval master forgery and date it after the Zadonshchina, placing it in the fifteenth century, on the basis of some shared textual features. Finally, a small number of scholars in the Soviet Union, western Europe and the United States are convinced that the Slovo is an eighteenth~century forgery in the spirit of Macpherson's Ossianic forgeries. The problem is complicated, perhaps made insoluble, by the fact that the only known Slovo manuscript was destroyed in the Fire of Moscow in 1812. That manuscript was itself a copy, perhaps dating from the fifteenth century, but not necessarily a copy of the holograph. It had been preserved in the library of a monastery not far from Moscow until 1792, when it was obtained by the "ober-procuror" of the Holy Synod, Count A. I. Musin-Pushkin, on the orders of the Empress Catherine II. With the cooperation of a number of the leading archeographers of the day, Musin-Pushkin prepared the Slovo for publication. For obscure reasons he also made a copy for the empress that was discovered among her papers only in 1864. This copy differs in minor respects from the edition of 1800, but it is generally agreed that the editio princeps represents the more definitive version. It is largely on the surviving copies of this first edition that scholars have had to rely in their efforts to interpret the Slovo.

The charges of forgery were fully answered, in my view, by Soviet scholars and by many living in the West, where the issues raised are not so emotionally charged as they were in the USSR. That the Slovo is derived from both the Zadonshchina and the chronicle version of the story has never been established textually. The similarities observed in all three texts are no closer than the linguistic similarities noted frequently among medieval Russian texts dealing with military exploits, and they may belong to a common corpus of such traditional phrases, most of which would ultimately be derived from oral poetry. The relationship between the Slovo and Zadonshchina is quite another matter, but, again, the overwhelming bulk of recent scholarship argues for the primacy of the Slovo.

The language of the original, to the extent that it can be known, reflects the standards of Kievan Russian, not of a later period. That anyone in the eighteenth century could have known this language sufficiently to write the Slovo is quite impossible to believe. Certainly none of the persons associated with the discovery of the Slovo possessed the requisite linguistic skills. To be sure, there are many Turkic language features in the Slovo, but it has not been established that these came from languages other than those known to have been familiar at various times in Kievan Rus, especially Khazar, Pecheneg and Polovtsian. There is no evidence of any linguistic influence from the era of the Mongol invasions, which began in the mid-thirteenth century. Finally, the complicated but nonetheless systematic stress pattern that the work exhibits was foreign to eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth century scholars until the recent publication of work by Dybo and Kolesov in the USSR. It was apparently already regarded in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as archaic, a result of changes that had taken place precisely in the twelfth century in the phonetic structure of the language. It is most unlikely that anyone in the period following the Mongol invasions could have known of this Kievan poetic feature or employed it systematically in a work that would have dealt with subject matter as arcane as that of the Slovo. In the words of the late B. 0. Unbegaun, Professor of Slavonic Philology in Oxford University, "Oui, c'est un Faux, mais un Faux du douxième siècle."

Two versions of the campaign of 1185 survive in the old Russian chronicles. The fuller account is preserved in the Hypatian Chronicle; a more tendentious version, perhaps derived from a Kievan chronicle no longer extant, is found in the Laurentian Chronicle. Both these versions confirm independently the story told in poetic form in the Slovo.

This book presents for the first time a division of the old East Slavic original into stress-count segments. For the last thirty years it has been almost universally accepted that the Slovo was written in "rhythmic prose," an idea set forth by Academician D. S. Likhachev, undoubtedly one of the greatest Slovo scholars. My own ideas about the meter stem from a lecture I heard in Leningrad in 1975. At a celebration of the 175th anniversary of the first edition of the Slovo V. V. Kolesov described his efforts to establish the original accentuation. He postulated three types of stress for a given syllable: a weak stress (called unstressed by traditional students of Russian), a neutral stress that corresponds to the anticipated, morphologically induced stress characteristic of the contemporary language, though often not on the same syllable, and finally, a very strong stress whose function seems to have been literary and not linguistic. Though Kolesov's edition presupposed that the Slovo had been composed in prose, I discovered what appears to be a consistent prosodic pattern and am now convinced that the Slovo is a highly organised poem and not prose. Stated briefly: in a line, or perhaps as the poem was intended for oral recitation, in a strophic utterance, there could be any number of weakly or neutrally stressed syllables, but the number of strongly stressed syllables seems to have been six, the variations being three, nine, or in the passages that serve as "internal commentaries" on the course of the poem as a whole, even twelve. Almost eighty percent of the lines are so regular, while the majority of the rest are very clearly "linking" lines intended to introduce a character, e.g., "And Igor said": or they reflect the several loci obscuri of the poem, that are either the result of scribal errors or editorial misinterpretations of more recent times. The origins of this accentual system are as yet unclear but they may reflect essentially pre-Christian East Slavic practices, which would account for the obvious "formulaic" quality of many of the poem's best passages. In this book the heavy stresses are marked by the grave accent and the neutral stresses by the accute accent. As is customary, the weakly stressed syllables are unmarked.

My analysis of the stress system in the poem as constituting a predictable pattern of poetic lines has been published in English and Russian (Haney, 1982 and 1988). The present edition of the Slovo o polku Igoreve is, then, a direct extension of a new theory about the prosody and form of the work. The present book is not intended to provide the ultimate scholarly edition of the original work, and it is not expected to achieve consensus about textual issues that are notoriously complex and in some cases considered unresolvable. It instead presents the textual consequences of a literary hypothesis, with a collection of related philological and interpretive speculations.

The Old Slavonic text is very similar to the standard editions of the work available for the past three decades, except that I have provided divisions according to the pattern described above. Stress marks are also included because they are the key to enjoying the Slovo as poetry. Though the interpretation of the text that underlies the English translation is largely mine, several of the resolutions of difficult passsages were accomplished jointly. In any case, the translation's standing as poetry is the work of Eric Dahl. I hope we have produced a fitting introduction to the earliest extant masterpiece of Russian literature, still so little known in the English-speaking world.

J.A.V. Haney

Seattle 1992