The Lay of Igor's Campaign Characters

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Prince Igor Svyatoslavich

Prince Igor Svyatoslavich (ee-GOHR svya-toh-SLAH-vihch), the ruler of the city of Novgorod-Seversk. He leads his troops against the Polovetsians in 1185. He is the grandson of Oleg, prince of Chernigov, and the son of Svyatoslav of Chernigov. Although he is the title character, Igor’s stature as a hero is sometimes questioned, but his courage is never in doubt. He foolishly ignores the bad omen of the solar eclipse in assaulting the Polovetsians, but the initial encounter is successful. Igor refers to his troops as “friends” and “brothers,” and he is likened to a “mother bird.” When Igor’s troops are defeated by the heathens, Russia is left open to their raids, and the poet suggests that Igor’s “willfulness” cost them the battle. When Igor escapes with the aid of a Polovetsian named Ovlur, he is compared to an ermine, a white duck, a gray wolf, and a falcon, and his return is celebrated. The poet says that as it is hard for the body to exist without a head, so it is difficult for Russia without Igor.

Prince Vsevolod Svyatoslavich

Prince Vsevolod Svyatoslavich (VSEH-voh-lod), Igor’s brother, known as the Wild Ox. He is perhaps even hungrier for glory than is Igor. He stands “at the head of all,/ Flinging arrows at the enemy” and striking them down with his sword. His golden...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Gudzii, N. K. History of Early Russian Literature. 2d ed. Translated by Susan Wilbur Jones. New York: Macmillan, 1949. Reviews the textual history of the work and comments on the issue of its authenticity. Examines the tale in its historical context with respect to the Old Russian chronicles. Reflects on references to nature, pagan gods, and folk elements.

Howes, Robert C. Introduction to The Tale of the Campaign of Igor. New York: W. W. Norton, 1973. Probably the most thorough and readily accessible treatment of the work in English, providing solid historical background, examination of the poem, and commentary on nature, religion, and the role of the hero. The translation includes very useful footnotes.

Muchnic, Helen. An Introduction to Russian Literature. New York: Doubleday, 1947. The dozen pages on The Lay of Igor’s Campaign reflect especially on the presumed character of the anonymous poet as well as the nature of the poetry itself.

Pronin, Alexander. History of Old Russian Literature. Frankfurt, Germany: Posev, 1968. Three discussions include brief historical context and a genealogical chart of the major characters. Provides a simple section-by-section analysis.

Tschizewskij, Dmitrij. History of Russian Literature from the Eleventh Century to the End of the Baroque. The Hague: Mouton, 1960. The section on The Lay of Igor’s Campaign, about a dozen pages, focuses on the poetic elements (metaphors, imagery, sounds). Notes the predominance of auditory and color images.