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Ukrainian landscape

Igor’s campaign: a Ukrainian landscape

Who wrote this story?

Nobody knows who wrote the Tale of Igor’s Campaign.

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What’s it about?

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.

Medieval Russia

A bad omen

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. Ooh, that doesn’t sound good! Maybe some kind of warning sign? 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.

Another bad omen

A big battle

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 women 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.

More bad omens: a storm

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.

And sure enough…

grasslands with cattle herd

Grasslands of Central Asia – the steppe

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.

A tragic ending to Igor’s campaign

Tragic endings like this are also characteristic of many Greek stories. Think of Leander drowning, or Achilles being killed. Is this because the Greeks came originally from Central Asia? Or is it the other way around, and medieval people in Central Asia were retelling old Greek stories?

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