The Igor Tale

The Igor Tale (its full title is The Discourse about the Regiment of Igor) is the most famous work of old Russian literature. It is supposed to have been written sometime about the year 1185, not long after the events which it recounts took place. (The subject is an historical one and is recorded in the Chronicle.) The Tale tells of the rash but valorous expedition of Prince Igor of Novgorod-Seversk and his cousin Vsevolod against the Kumans, nomadic marauders of the steppes.

The Tale was discovered at the end of 18th century by A. I. Musin- Pushkin, a librarian and archivist. Apparently only one single copy of the work was preserved. This suggests that there had been a concerted effort made against its preservation, probably because it does not adhere rigorously to the stylistic and thematic characteristics expected of such works as this in old Russian literature. The copy that was found was copied, but the original manuscript was lost to fire in 1812, long before sophisticated tests of its age and authenticity could be applied. For this reason there has long been doubt that the Igor Tale is, in fact, an authentic remnant of old Russian literature. The preponderance of modern scholarly opinion, however, favors the Tale's authenticity.

Presuming the Tale to be authentic, it is remarkable for the fact that it cannot be said to be an exact model of any work or type of work known to the Russian writers of that time. Instead, it represents a combination of features from various types of writing: military tales and homiletic writing, for example. It also contains echoes of the folkish, pagan culture of the time, elements quite unknown in other literary works of the period.

For further discussion of the Igor Tale consult Terras' History of Russian Literature.