Russia: Rurik and the Grey Wolf (The World of Make-believe Stories Book 18)

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The twelfth century was the Golden Age in the history of Russian culture.

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Architecture reached a high level of development in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Suffice it to recall that the s saw the completion of the Church of the Intercession on the Nerl and the Bogoliubovo Palace and the late s - the Cathedral of St Demetrius in Vladimir; the Cathedral of St George in the Yuriev Monastery in Novgorod was erected at the beginning and the Church of Our Saviour in Nereditsa at the end of the twelfth century.

These monuments of early Russian architecture impress one with their majesty, perfection and beauty. No less striking are the frescoes adorning the walls of these and other old Russian churches. Some of the finest specimens of icon-painting also belong to this period.

The articles fashioned by jewellers and other craftsmen at this time are remarkably refined. Early Russian literature also enjoyed a great efflorescence: works created in the eleventh and twelfth centuries served as models for the various literary genres over many centuries. The numerous translations of Byzantine literary works also testify to the high level of literary development at this time. But it is not only the high artistic level of Russian literature in the eleventh to early thirteenth century that gives us grounds for correlating these works with the Tale.

A comparative analysis of the vocabulary and phraseology of the Tale of the Host of Igor and monuments of Russian literature of the eleventh to thirteenth centuries made by Varvara Adrianova-Peretts led her to conclude "that the whole of the lexical material from which the Tale is constructed, for all its artistic originality, is fully in keeping with the means of expression recorded in the various types of scholarly and popular written language of the pre-Mongol period, in the various literary and official genres. The exceptional nature of the Tale is explained by the poetic talent of its author.

The Tale of the Host of Igor is a literary work. At the same time, in no other monument of Old Russian literature does one see such a close connection with oral folklore as in the Tale.

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The exceptional, unique quality of the Tale of the Host of Igor lies, to a considerable extent, in this organic combination of the poetics of oral poetry with high achievements of written works. In turning to the devices of oral folk poetry, the author of the Tale does not simply copy them, but creatively re-fashions what are basically folk-epic images.

The author of the Tale presents internecine strife in scenes of agricultural work: he writes that during the internecine wars of Oleg Gorislavich "rarely the plowmen called, but often the ravens cawed", and compares the battles themselves with creative labour and sowing, "for this Oleg with his sword forged dissension and scattered his arrows over the land", "then in the time of Oleg Gorislavich intestine warfare was sown and grew rife, and the substance of Dazhbog's scion was destroyed. In the Tale, however, this image is, as it were, made more complex: the earth is churned up by horses' hooves, sown with bones and watered with blood, and this sowing comes up as grief and sorrow for the land of Russia.

Stressing the courage and might of the princes, the author of the Tale uses hyperbole in his descriptions, and this makes the princes resemble the epic heroes of the byliny, oral heroic poems. Yaroslav of Chernigov, "wealthy" and "rich in warriors", with his men who have no shields and are armed only with hunting-knives, conquers the enemy with his "cries" alone. Vsevolod of Vladimir-Suzdal with his bodyguard can "scatter the Volga" with his oars and "drain the Don" with his helmets. The warriors of Rurik and David "bellow like bulls". The Galician Yaroslav Osmomysl with his "hosts of iron" "has stayed the Hungarian mountains" and from his father's golden throne shoots "at the Sultans many lands away.

The hyperbole in the Tale both resembles that in the Russian epos and differs from it. In the Tale, as in the epos, it is not the external signs of strength and power that are hyperbolized but the manifestation of this strength in action, in the struggle against the foe; however, unlike the epos, which gives a generalized picture of the struggle of heroes with the enemy, behind the metaphorical exaggeration of the Tale stands historical fact.

The main difference between the Tale and the epos in the portrayal of the heroes is that the author of the Tale, in keeping with the publicistic tenor of his work, not only stresses their military prowess with hyperbole, but also condemns them. He makes Svyatoslav of Kiev reproach the "mighty", "wealthy" Yaroslav of Chernigov, "rich in warriors", saying that he no longer sees his "power".

As for Vsevolod, he accuses this strong prince of not wanting "to guard your father's golden throne. The figure of Prince Vsevolod, the cousin of Prince Igor, hero of the Tale, is closest in terms of portrayal to the figures of byliny heroes. This similarity is articularly evident in the account of how Vsevolod fights the Polovtsians. But in spite of the similarity in the description of Vsevolod fighting to the portrayal of a byliny hero on the field of battle, there is also an important difference between them.

The hero of the byliny fights alone against vast numbers of the enemy. The author of the Tale also speaks only of Vsevolod, but from the context the reader understands that Vsevolod is fighting not alone, but at the head of his men of Kursk, who have already been described at the beginning of the Tale as particularly skilled and experienced warriors.

In oral folk songs and legends we often find the image of the falcon: the hero is compared with a falcon and his actions to the flight of the falcon and its behaviour in hunting. The author of the Tale also makes use of this poetic image, but here the image forms part of complex literary passages; in all cases the author of the Tale has in mind the hunting falcon and either gives a detailed picture of falcon hunting or refers to some specific behaviour of the hunting falcon. The comparison of a battle with a feast, usually a wedding feast, is common in the oral epos, and those who have been killed in battle are likened to young men who became drunk at a feast.

In the Tale it is closer to the oral epos than in other works of the early period. In the oral folk tradition an important part was played by conventional epithets, recurring metaphors, set symbols and other poetic devices typical of the epos. Many metaphors, epithets, symbols and poetic devices in the Tale are close to the oral folk tradition. The Tale contains a lot of epithets that are conventional in the oral epos: "grey wolf", "tawny eagle", "swift horse", "black clouds", "open plain", "black earth", "blue sea", "bright sun", "green grass", "beautiful maiden", "young moon", "golden stirrup", "golden helmet", "red-hot arrows", "bloody wounds", "sharp swords".

What impression do these epithets make in the context of the Tale of the Host of Igor? Describing the poetic manner of his predecessor Boyan, the author of the Tale says of him: "Boyan Commentators often draw a parallel between this and a fragment of a bylina about Volga which describes Volga's magical ability to turn into a fish, bird or beast.

What we have in the Tale, however, is a poetic comparison, and this comparison is bookish, even rhetorical rather than folkloric in nature. Boyan "in thought", that is, in his poetic imagination, would rush along the tree of poetry, hover in the clouds like an eagle and speed over the ground like a grey wolf. The image of the swift flight of poetic thought hovering like an eagle in the heavens finds analogues in early Russian literary works. Throughout the whole of this description, which is bookish in the nature of its metaphors, the author has made use of the tripartite formula reminiscent of the epos and has used conventional epithets widespread in oral folklore.

In this way the complex poetic comparison has become alive, graphically vivid, familiar and easily understood. In the Tale we often find the epithet "golden": stirrups and helmets are golden; Yaroslav Osmomysl sits on a "throne forged of gold"; Igor's saddle is "of gold"; the necklet that adorns the princely attire is also called "golden"; the chamber of Prince Yaroslav of Kiev is "topped with gold".

In many cases these epithets reflect real features of the age. But it is easy to see that the main thing in the Tale is not real objects, but the poetic associations that the epithet "golden" has: it is always used with princely objects and always appears in passages of a solemn, exalted nature.

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In this connection it is characteristic that Svyatoslav of Kiev's address to the Russian princes urging them to avenge Igor's defeat and rise to the defence of the land of Russia is called "his golden word", because it is the word of the senior prince. Academician Dmitry Likhachev notes the "ritual correspondence of these two concepts - 'princely' and 'golden' - as something specifically inherent in princely life.

Likhachev, op. And if the choice of this epithet reflects the oral poetic tradition, here, as in all other cases, the author uses it in keeping with the emotional significance with which he himself endows it.

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The symbolic interpretation of natural phenomenon was common in oral folklore. We find love of one's native countryside and a lyrical attitude towards it in the Sermons of Cyril of Turov The beauty and majesty of nature in the "radiantly fair and beautifully adorned" land of Russia are brilliantly described in the Tale of the Ruin of the Russian Land, a poetic work of the thirteenth century. For all that the Tale of the Host of Igor stands out among all the works of early Russian literature because of special skill of the author in the portrayal of nature.

It is perhaps here that the literary talent of the author is seen most clearly.


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He was well acquainted with popular symbolism of nature and refashioned it in his own way; nature provides him with a source of inspiration and material for the creation of poetic images; in his descriptions of landscapes, birds and beasts he shows remarkable powers of observation. In the oral folk tradition we often find the image of an approaching black cloud, symbolizing enemy forces advancing on Russia.

This is how the author of the Tale describes the morning of the day on which the fatal battle begins: "On the following day, very early, a blood-red glow announces the dawn. Yet, at the same time, it is full of epic and bookish symbolism. The black clouds are an epic symbol of the enemy forces, the blood-red dawn is a bookish, rhetorical symbol of misfortune. The formula of the cruel, bloody battle was widesperead in early Russian literature: "The rain like arrows will come.

At the beginning of the account of the battle, the author of the Tale develops the formula "the rain like arrows will come" and makes use of expressions concerning turbidly flowing rivers and clouds of dust common in the epos: "Behold the winds, scions of Stribog, waft from the ocean arrows on the valiant hosts of Igor. In the oral tradition turbidly flowing rivers and clouds of dust usually symbolize the approach of the enemy and are a portent of misfortune. In the Tale, however, the moaning of the earth, turbidly flowing rivers and dust covering the plains only have symbolic undertones; in the overall picture of the battle depicted by the author they are real objects: the huge enemy host moving over the steppe really did muddy the rivers when it crossed them and raise clouds of dust.

In the epos there are conventional images for expressing the sympathy of nature: trees bow to the ground with grief and sorrow and grass droops, while leaves fall from the trees as a token of misfortune and woe.

These images of popular symbolism are also reflected in the Tale of the Host of Igor where they are re-fashioned and more complex. After Igor's defeat "droops the grass for pity and the tree is bowed to earth with sorrow. While bearing in mind the symbolical, metaphorical significance of a number of images of nature, the author of the Tale of the Host of Igor always stays close to real nature, to life-like pictures of all the phenomena that accompany the events he describes.

This skilful combination of the symbolical and metaphorical with the real in the description of nature is a distinctive feature of the Tale of the Host of Igor. Describing the advance of the Russian host into the steppe to meet the enemy and its own destruction, the author of the Tale creates vivid pictures of the surrounding countryside.

All his sketches are realistic and accurate, giving a true picture of the South Russian steppe. At the same time, however, both the description of the sunrises and sunsets, the reference to the stilling of the nightingales' song and to the fact that the land of Russia is now beyond the hill, and a number of other small details create the disquieting feeling that Igor's warriors advancing into the Polovtsian steppe are doomed. The pictures of nature and description of the behaviour of beasts and birds in the account of Igor's flight with Ovlur from Polovtsian captivity are vivid and realistically accurate.

But although the reader feels anxiety at the pursuit of the fugitives, everything is presented in bright, joyous tones: the Donets has "spread" green grass for Igor and clothed him with warm mists, "the nightingales with their merry songs proclaim the light" and so on. The lyrical attitude of the author of the Tale towards nature creates strikingly expressive pictures in an extremely compressed and concise text. A characteristic feature of the portrayal of nature in the Tale of the Host of Igor is its personification - it lives the same life as the heroes of the work, it does not accompany the events, but takes a most active part in them.

The solar eclipse warns Igor of danger, the birds and beasts lie in wait for the misfortune about to befall the Russians.


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In her lament Yaroslavna reproaches the wind and sun for not helping Igor's host. She begs the Dnieper to "rock" her husband to her. The Donets helps Igor when he is fleeing from captivity. The river talks to the prince, praising him and rejoicing at his escape. Igor replies by praising it for helping him.

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The personification of nature and the frequent references to pagan gods in the Tale of the Host of Igor may be connected with vestiges of pagan, animistic beliefs, but all in all they are poetic devices. Dmitry Likhachev writes as follows in connection with this problem: "The author of the Tale is a Christian, and the old pre-Christian beliefs have acquired a new poetic meaning for him. He personifies nature poetically, not in a religious way.

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For the author of the Tale Christian ideas lie outside poetry. In a number of cases For him pagan ideas have an aesthetic value, whereas Christianity is not yet connected with poetry, although he himself is undoubtedly a Christian Igor is helped to flee from captivity by God, on his return he goes to the Church of the Icon of the Holy Virgin, and so on. The question of which genre the Tale belongs to is still disputed.

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Igor Yeriomin, a famous commentator of the Tale of the Host of Igor, who has devoted several special studies to this problem, concludes that the Tale belongs to the genre of political rhetoric oratory. He considers that proof of its oratorical nature is its political acuteness, the fact that it is an appeal addressed to the princes. Moreover, as he points out, the text is full of addresses to an audience, such as "brothers" and rhetorical questions.

The fact that in Russian the work is called slovo lay , povest tale and pesn song also suggests that it is a work of oratory. The only known exception is oratorical prose. It is only here that we find this terminology to denote one and the same work: or, to be more precise, only in literary oratorical prose, in works that belong to the so-called ceremonial oratory. Collected Studies and Articles Edited by V.