I spent much of last year reading a lot of medieval poems over breakfast — with the exception of the last month or so when Russian writers have snuck in a place at the table. The Song of Igor’s Campaign neatly covers both. I’m a bit out of my depth on this one, so I don’t really know how to comment on it. The poem is a relatively short one for the genre (861 lines in Nabokov’s translation) and stylistically a cross between the Finnish epic Kalevala and other heroic songs. The central figures in Song of Roland and Song of the Cid, however, are errant in all the different meanings of that word, but are more or less celebrated and admired. Prince Igor, in contrast, seems very much an anti-hero. I’m interested in finding other representations of him in Russian literature. Nabokov, however, presents him as the leader of a disastrous and unnecessary campaign which ended in the defeat of his army and the subsequent invasion of parts of Russia (2), and ultimately sums him up: “History remembers Igor as an insignificant, shifty, and pugnacious prince (74n2).
26 February 2013 ~ Hamilton
The Song of Igor’s Campaign. Trans. Vladimir Nabokov. Ardis: Ann Arbor, 1988.