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.