Tale of Igor's Campaign, The

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Tale of Igor’s Campaign, The


(Slovo o polku Igoreve), a monument of Old Russian literature dating from the late 12th century. It was written by an unknown author soon after the campaign undertaken by Igor’ Sviatoslavich, prince of Novgorod-Severskii, against the Polovtsy in 1185 and thus was composed under the recent impression of the events described. Taking part in the campaign were the cousins of the Kievan prince, Sviatoslav Vsevolodovich: Igor’ Sviatoslavich, with his son and nephew, and Vsevolod Sviatoslavich (the “fierce aurochs”), prince of Trubchevsk and Kursk. The crushing defeat of the campaign evoked the author’s bitter meditations on the fate of the Russian land and a passionate appeal to the princes to end their dissension and unite to drive back the nomads. K. Marx wrote of the Tale’s patriotic idea: “The essence of this narrative poem is an appeal to the Russian princes to unite immediately to confront the invasion of the Mongol hordes” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 29, p. 16).

The Tale is both a lyric and an epic work. Many of its images, for example, the battle scenes and Igor’s flight from captivity, derive from folkloric symbolism; Iaroslavna’s lament originates in folk lamentations. The elemental link between man and nature and the references to pagan gods bear witness to the poetic outlook of the people during that period. Together with Kirill Turovskii’s works, The Tale of the Destruction of the Russian Land, the Kiev-Pecherskii Patericon, and many pages of the Hypatian Chronicle, the Tale attests to the high literary culture of Rus’ during the 11th and 12th centuries. The work’s literary level corresponds to the level of Russian painting of the same epoch, for example, that of the icons and frescoes in the churches of Kiev, Novgorod, Pskov, and Vladimir-Suzdal’ Rus’. The Tale strongly influenced the early 15th-century Zadonshchina, and through it several other literary works of 15th to 17th centuries.

The Tale was preserved in a single manuscript copy. The copy was found in an Old Russian collection acquired in the early 1790’s by a collector of Russian antiquities, Count A. I. Musin-Pushkin, from Ioil’, former archimandrite of the then nonfunctioning Spaso-Iaroslavskii Monastery. In 1800 the first edition of the Tale was published by Musin-Pushkin in collaboration with the best archaeological specialists of the time, N. N. Bantysh-Kamenskii and A. F. Malinovskii. The manuscript copy of the Tale, which was kept in Musin-Pushkin’s house in Moscow, was destroyed during the fire of 1812 along with other very valuable Old Russian manuscripts. Efforts were undertaken in the 19th and 20th centuries to cast doubts on the authenticity of the Tale, but they have been refuted by Soviet and foreign scholars.

The Tale dates from a period when Old Russian literature had not yet become divided into Russian, Ukrainian, and Byelorussian literatures; it belongs in equal measure to all three fraternal peoples and has influenced all three literatures. Motifs and images from the Tale found reflection in works by A. N. Radishchev, V. A. Zhukovskii, A. S. Pushkin, N. V. Gogol, K. F. Ryleev, N. M. Iazykov, A. N. Ostrovskii, and A. A. Blok. The Tale also influenced the poetry of T. Shevchenko, I. Franko, P. Tychina, M. Ryl’skii, and la. Kolas, as well as paintings and musical compositions, for example, Borodin’s opera Prince Igor. Poetic adaptations of the Tale have been made by Zhukovskii, A. N. Maikov, K. D. Bal’mont, N. A. Zabolotskii, L. I. Timofeev, V. I. Stelletskii, and A. G. Stepanov. The Tale has been translated into many national languages of the USSR and into a number of foreign languages.


Slovo o polku Igoreve, 2nd ed. Edited by N. Tikhonravov. Moscow, 1868.

Slovo o polku Igoreve. Edited by V. P. Adrianova-Peretts. Moscow-Leningrad, 1950.

Slovo o polku Igoreve, 2nd ed. Texts compiled and prepared by L. A. Dmitriev and D. S. Likhachev. Leningrad, 1967.


Miller, Vs. Vzgliad na Slovo o polku Igoreve. Moscow, 1877.
Barsov, E. V. Slovo o polku Igoreve kak khudozhestvennyi pamiatnik Kievskoi druzhinnoi Rusi, parts 1–3. Moscow, 1887–89.
Potebnia, A. Slovo o polku Igoreve, 2nd ed. Kharkov, 1914.
Likhachev, D. S. Slovo o polku Igoreve, 2nd ed. Moscow-Leningrad, 1955.
Dmitriev, L. A. Istoriia pervogo izdaniia “Slovo o polku Igoreve.” Moscow-Leningrad, 1960.
“Slovo o polku Igoreve”—pamiatnik XII v.: Sb. statei. Moscow-Leningrad, 1962.
“Slovo o polku Igoreve” i pamiatniki Kulikovskogo tsikla; K voprosu o vremeni napisaniia “Slova”: Sb. statei. Moscow-Leningrad, 1966.
“Slovo o polku Igoreve”: Bibliografiia izdanii, perevodov i issledovanii. Compiled by V. P. Adrianov-Peretts. Moscow-Leningrad, 1940.
“Slovo o polku Igoreve”: Bibliografiia izdanii, perevodov i issledovanii, 1938–1954. Compiled by L. A. Dmitriev. Moscow-Leningrad, 1955.
Slovar’-spravochnik “Slovo o polku Igoreve,” fascs. 1–4. Moscow-Leningrad, 1965–73.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.