Tale of Igor's Campaign - an early Russian epic poem
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Tale of Igor's Campaign

Nobody knows who wrote the Tale of Igor's Campaign. The poem tells the story of how Prince Igor of Novgorod attacked his neighbors, the Polovtsians, about 1185 AD, and a poet probably wrote the poem soon after it happened.

In the story, Prince Igor looked up at the sun, and he saw all his warriors covered with darkness that poured out of the sun. But he wanted to have adventures, and see the Don river, and he wanted to fight and be famous, so he didn't pay any attention to this bad omen.

So Prince Igor got his brothers together and they rode off on their horses toward the river Don. Again the sun darkened their path; birds cried out in fear, but Prince Igor paid no attention.

When Prince Igor and his warriors got to the river Don, they met the Polovtsians there, and at dawn they fought a big battle. Prince Igor's men captured Polovtsian girls and gold and silk cloaks and dresses, and they threw down the silk into the mud and the swampy places. Then Prince Igor and his men slept, victorious, on the battlefield.

On the second day, they woke up early: black clouds blew in from the sea, and lightning flashed; there was fearful thunder and rain. The Polovtsy fighters counter-attacked, and the Russian men fell back before them. The Polovtsy fighters yelled, but then the Russians held up their red shields.

One hero stood out: Vsevolod, who stood and hit people with his sword. He killed many, but then Vsevolod died, forgetting his city and his father's golden throne, and his lovely sweetheart Glebovna.

Another hero stood out: Oleg, a valiant young prince. There was fighting everywhere. Peasants didn't plow with horses, but ravens croaked to one another over the dead.

On the third day, from moon-rise until the evening, from the evening to the dawn, they were shooting arrows and slicing helmets and fighting the Polovtsy fighters. But what noise is that? Prince Igor pulls back his men. About noon on the third day, Igor fell. There was blood everywhere. The grass bows down in pain; the tree bends down to earth with grief.

Bibliography and further reading:

More Central Asian stories
More about Russia
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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