The Lay of Igor’s Campaign and the Works It Has Inspired

Published: December 12, 2005

In A.D. 1185, as the Kievan Rus Empire was starting to deteriorate, a little known prince on the eastern Russian borders led his outnumbered men into battle against Mongolian invaders, the Polovtsians (Kumans). This battle and its aftermath would become the topic of the Russian literary epic, “The Lay of Igor’s Campaign.” Its conclusion was not what one would expect; the hero was not a fearless Beowulf, a mighty Roland, nor even a betrayed Siegfried. Igor Sviatoshlavich’s only claim to fame resulted from a bad military decision stemming perhaps from cockiness, pride or stupidity. Yet, its outcome remained true to the great epic form; the ending was not an overwhelmingly happy victory or love affair. Rather, it was subdued with a ray of hope that things would be better in the future.

As a frontier prince, it was Igor Sviatoshlavich’s job to protect his domains (Novgorod-Seversk) and consequently the rest of Russia from invasion. Igor’s defeat and capture in 1185 (he eventually escaped) was not a major military set-back, but for the literary world it would constitute a small but persistent thematic thread in musical presentation after Musin Puskin rediscovered the lost lay in 1792.[1]

The three works inspired by the lay were all named Prince Igor: Borodin’s opera, Serge de Diaghilev’s ballet, and the Soviet musical movie that combined and elaborated upon both the opera and ballet, creating one huge cinematic feat. This paper will examine the changes “The Lay of Igor’s Campaign” has undergone both in the narrative of events and the development of the persona over the last 200 years. Part I, the larger part of this paper, will provide a historical background (on the authors and the works) as well as synopses of all four versions to show the evolution of Igor’s narrative. Part II will provide a brief discussion of seven characters that reflect the traditional “Russian soul:” endurance, composure, pride and determination.

Part 1: The Works

There are two translations of Igor’s tale: “The Lay of Igor’s Campaign,” which will be used for this paper, and “The Lay of the Host of Igor,” which is more poetical and prone to flourishes while limiting the substance. Although the copy of the lay that Pushkin found was lost when Napoleon burned Moscow, his attempted translation had been published and so survived the War of 1812.[2] Pushkin’s translation contained some confusing passages.[3] In the 1940’s, S.D. Likhachev attempted to retranslate “The Lay of Igor’s Campaign,” from Pushkin’s translation, in an attempt to clarify it.[4] One portion that did not need to be clarified was the very beginning where an eclipse is mentioned as being a bad omen. This solar eclipse occurred on May 01, 1185, and was recorded in the Novgorod Chronicle for that year, although, ironically, Igor’s campaign is not mentioned at all.[5] The battle that Igor commanded was part of a larger war headed by his cousin, the Grand Prince of Kiev, Sviatoslav Vsevolodich, who had defeated and captured a large part of the Polovtsians in 1184.[6] Khun Konchak, leader of the Polvtsians, who will center importantly in all the works dealing with Igor, had united the Polovtsians in 1171, and was called “The Wild Polovtsy.”[7] He disrupted Russian life and pillaged towns on the frontier during the 1170’s and 1180’s.[8] The actual date of the lay’s composition is unknown, but there are two likely possibilities: in 1187, the year Igor returned from captivity, or between 1194 and 1196. The latter period is more likely because Igor, his brother, Vsevolod (d.1196), and Igor’s son, Oleg/Vladimir, are wished long glorious lives, but the Grand Prince of Kiev, Sviatoslav, who died in 1194, is not mentioned.[9]

“The Lay of Igor’s Campaign” is broken down into fifteen parts with each focusing on a different segment of the battle’s story. There are also frequent jumps within the narrative. We are told that Igor is a brave and courageous man preparing his men for battle. But before leaving Putivl there is an eclipse that the people interpret as a bad omen. Igor is apparently not superstitious and he tells his men that it is better to die in battle than to be captured. He then hastens to add that they will defeat the Kumans (Polovtsians) on their own land near the Don River. He is carried away with ambition and invents a ballad in his own honor. Then Igor’s brother, Vsevolod, arrives and tells Igor that his men are ready, and inquires about the readiness of Igor’s men. Igor climbs up onto his golden saddle and leads his men into battle. During the march, other bad omens are seen but again Igor is not concerned. The Russians are led to the Don River by Igor and Vsevolod, while, simultaneously, the Kumans are moving towards them. The Russians easily crush the enemy and take lots of booty. On the second day of battle, there are two Kuman Khuns; Gzu (Gzak) and Konchak, and they attack the four Russian princes (Igor, his son Oleg/Vladimir, Igor’s brother, Vsevolod, and Igor’s nephew, Sviatoslav). The Kumans surround all the Russians. The bravery of Vsevolod is highlighted, and even though his death is implied it is not clearly stated. The narrative then shockingly switches to a history of a feud among the Russian princes led by Igor’s grandfather, Oleg Sviatoslavovich. Again, there is a leap in the narrative back to the battle with the Russians holding out for several days before Igor is forced to surrender and apparently mourn the death of his brother.

The narrative again strays from Igor to a battle from 1183 or 1184 in which Igor’s cousin, the Prince of Kiev, Sviatoslav III, captures Khun Kobiak. Suddenly, we are inside Sviatoslav III’s head where he dreams of his funeral. Another jump in the narrative shows Sviatoslav mourning the defeat and Igor’s capture. Sviatoslav is upset that they were so greedy for honor and did not wait for him to send re-enforcements. Now, for some unknown reason, Sviatoslav is unable to send help and none of the other Russian princes will help Igor. As the lay is coming to an end, the reader learns that Igor is married and his wife is still a pagan. Yaroslavna (she is introduced as Euphrosinia) invokes the three forces of nature (wind, river, and sun) to save her husband. Returning to Igor, we learn that God has helped Igor escape through the assistance of Igor’s servant, Ovlur, who helps him get away from the Kumans. When he and Ovlur reach the Donets River, it speaks to Igor and assures him he will have joy yet, while Igor tells the river how nice and pleasant it is to be near it. Meanwhile, the Khuns, Gzu and Konchak, search for Igor, whose son, Oleg/Vladimir, is still their prisoner. Gzu (Gzak) wishes to kill Igor’s son Oleg/Vladimir, but Konchak thinks it would be better to entice him into marrying one of their maidens. Igor returns home and goes to the church that holds an icon of the Holy Virgin of Pirogoshch. The bard Boyan is quoted as saying that just as much as a body needs its head so does a country need its prince and so all of Russia rejoices when Igor returns home.[10] The lay ends on a very happy note when Igor returns to lead his countrymen again, even though his son remains a captive. After “The Lay of Igor’s Campaign” was translated by Pushkin, it became popular in nationalistic circles and offered vast potential for composers of musical mediums.

In 1890 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, the opera Prince Igor, by the then late Alexander Borodin, was staged for the first time.[11] Alexander Borodin was not a composer by profession, but by choice and for leisure. After Borodin’s first musical composition
was published in 1862, the critic Vladimir Stasov convinced Borodin to write a nationalistic opera about Prince Igor, with Stasov’s assistance writing the operatic outline.[12] It was Stasov who coined the moniker “The Great Five,” of whom Borodin was one.[13] When Borodin died in 1887, he had not completed Prince Igor and so his close friend and fellow composer, Rimsky-Korsakoff, and his two assistants, Liadov and Glazunov, finished it.[14] Because Vladimir Stasov was the man who provided Borodin with a story-line for the opera, it was very likely he, and not Borodin, who drastically changed the opera from the lay. Very little of the lay was included in the opera, except for the eclipse, Igor’s capture, and his escape. The lay’s marginal characters: Igor’s son, wife, and his servant Ovlar, were given greater importance, while the girl that Khun Konchak wanted Igor’s son to marry becomes the Khun’s own daughter. Stasov and Borodin added several characters: Galitsky, the brother of Igor’s wife, who apparently replaces Igor’s brother and nephew; boyars (noblemen); and two deserters from Igor’s army, who provide comic relief. Igor’s cousin, the Grand Prince of Kiev, has been eliminated completely, despite his importance in the lay. The lay gave Igor’s son two names, Oleg and Vladimir, and Igor’s second wife is also known by two names, Euphrosinia and Yaroslavna. In the opera, ballet, and Soviet movie they are known as Vladimir and Yaroslavna. Despite the opera changing almost every aspect of the lay, the feeling remains pro-Igor and sympathetic to the Russians.

The opera starts with a prologue in the town of Putivl and shows Igor and his men preparing to leave. There is an eclipse which alarms Igor’s wife, Yaroslavna, and the people, who beg him to stay. Two men desert. In Act One Igor’s debauched brother-in-law, Galitsky, is seen singing with his followers and the two deserters while bragging how he, Galitsky, abducted a young girl from her house. The girl’s friends enter asking Galisky to let her free. The maidens are mocked and shooed out. Galitsky’s followers claim that they will make him prince and get rid of Igor. Meanwhile, in her room, Yaraslavna is dreaming of evil tidings when the maidens rush in to beg the release of their friend. They leave in a hurry when Galitsky enters. He begrudgingly agrees to his sister’s demand that he return the girl to her home. On Galitsky’s heels comes bad news from Igor’s boyars that they have returned from the battlefield to tell Yaroslavna that Igor and his son, Vladimir, have been defeated and taken prisoner. As they finish delivering this news, an alarm is sounded that Polovtsians are attacking the city.

In Act Two, Borodin lets the viewer know immediately that Khun Konchak’s daughter, Konchakovna, is in love with Vladimir and that she and her maidens care for the nutritional needs of the Russian prisoners. One of the Russian prisoners’ guards, Ovlar, has been secretly baptized and he watches for an opportunity when he can speak to Igor. Vladimir appears and hides in Konchakovna’s tent where she joins him after returning from attending to the other Russian prisoners. They run off when Igor appears and as Ovlar approaches Igor about escaping.  However, escaping is dishonorable and Igor will not listen. Then Konchak is seen coming and Ovlar leaves. Konchak inquires about Igor’s health; he openly admires his prisoner and this admiration increases when Igor refuses to accept freedom if it means becoming his ally. Konchak’s fellow Khun, Gzak (Gzu), returns with his men after having raided Igor’s principality. They return with a lot of booty, which naturally upsets the Russian prisoners very much. Konchak decides to cheer his “guest” and provides the Polovtsians drink before they begin a dance to celebrate their good fortune. After the Polovtsians become drunk, the Russians urge Igor to escape with Ovlar, and Igor agrees, but only if he can take his son. However, Konchakovna does not want Vladimir to leave, and after an argument she rushes to awaken her people. Igor manages to escape, but Vladimir is recaptured. Konchak spares Vladimir’s life if he will marry Konchakovna. Meanwhile, Yaroslavna is pining for her husband, and on the day of his return she is on the city walls and recognizes him as he nears. When Igor is greeting his wife the two deserters appear and rush into the town to announce Igor’s return. The opera ends with a massive outpouring of joy, possibly for the same reason in the lay, a body needs its head and a country, its leader.[15] Within twenty years of Borodin’s opera’s first production, a second musical composition was performed, this time by dancers.

Serge de Diaghilev’s ballet Prince Igor was first performed in 1909 and was created to embellish the Polovtsian dances from Act Two of Borodin’s opera.[16] The ballet expands the Polovtsians party celebrating Khun Gzak’s profitable pillaging trip in Igor’s province, and Khun Konchak turns this celebration into a huge entertainment for Igor. Prince Igor was one of the original works included in Diaghilev’s larger ballet series, the Ballet Russes.[17] This little-known ballet is still performed as part of a gala night showcasing Diaghilev’s short ballets.[18] In complete contrast with both the lay and the opera, the ballet does not focus on Igor – the focus is now on the Polovtsians. Diaghilev’s ballet has a pro-Polovtsian feel instead of a pro-Russian feel. This unexpected change may be, in part, because Borodin’s Act Two offered the best subject for a ballet, or perhaps Diaghilev wanted to honor the origins of Russian dance.

We know that Igor and his son were captured, and that Vladimir loves the Khun’s daughter. The ballet consists of the Polovtsian Khun showing off his tribes’ native dances to Igor and Vladimir. It starts with the women dancing prior to the men going off to battle, and then the battle is acted out, at the end of which the Khun shouts, “Victory,” several times.[19] The dance moves back to the camp and the women dance and the men join in, until the music calms and only eight young people dance. Suddenly, the warriors rush forward to demonstrate how they won the battle and they shout, “Victory,” several more times. After the dance ends, the Khun continues his good treatment of his captives, even offering Igor an honorable position in the Khun’s army. Igor indicates to his host that he is a Rus and that he will escape at the earliest opportunity and return to his people, raise a new army and defeat the Khun and the Kumars. The Khun is an admirer of brave men, and he lets Igor know that he admires him. Returning to the operatic narrative, the treacherous Polovtsian, (Ovlar), helps Igor escape. The Polovtsians are angered, but the Khun will not let them pursue Igor because he is a brave man, and besides, if the situation had been switched, the Khun would have tried to escape just as Igor did. In the end Vladimir marries the Khun’s daughter, and surprisingly a treaty is made between the Rus and the Polovtsians.[20] Unlike the opera, instead of returning for inspiration to the lay, Diaghilev’s ballet delves deeply into one scene (Polovtsian celebration) that Stastov/Borodin invented to embellish the storyline. The third and last composition did more than embellish the story; it narrated and provided visual finesse.

The Soviet movie Prince Igor was directed by Roman Tikhomirov in 1970.[21] This movie was loosely based on the opera and the ballet. Most of the scenes Tikhomirov added were battle scenes, which are not found in the opera or the ballet, however there are battle scenes in the lay. Just as Diagheliv did in the ballet, Tikhomirov used Borodin’s music as the score to his movie. The production was not limited to the theater, but filmed in the open air, which changed some of the dynamics present in the opera and the ballet. Because the movie was filmed in the Russian countryside, the battle scenes were more realistic, the eclipse looks real, the cast is not limited to several rooms, and Ovlar, the Polovtisan traitor, approaches Igor from within a boat on a river so that his identity is not readily apparent to the viewer. The ballet has also been changed slightly and shortened, and Tikhomirov follows the lay’s “cut and slice” narrative, back and forth between different people in different places. The feeling is pro-Russian, but sympathetic to the Khun, who is portrayed as a congenial person.

To distance his production from the opera and the ballet, Tikhomirov opened the movie with Polovtsian horsemen either leaving a battle or ravishing the countryside. Then, Tikhomirov returns to the operatic storyline to show Igor gathering his men for the coming battle. Just before the Russians leave there is an eclipse and everyone begs Igor not to leave yet. He does not heed anyone; he leaves his wife in her brother’s care as his men march off to battle. The two deserters from the opera slip away unnoticed after the eclipse. The brother-in-law, Galitsky, was left to look after the town and its people, but instead he ravishes a maiden and gets drunk with his followers. The girl’s friends enter and beg for their friend to be returned, but they are mocked and the men toy with them. After the maidens have fled, Galitsky’s followers decide that he will be the new prince and the two deserters are portrayed loudly proclaiming these sentiments. Suddenly, we see Igor and his men fighting the battle and being defeated. Igor is wounded in the battle and he and his son are surrounded by Polovtsians and taken prisoner. After the battle, Tikhomirov includes a scene in which the viewers are introduced to the Khun’s daughter, Konchakovna, showing her as an independent spirit who does as she pleases – so she rides out from camp to meet her father. The scene changes and the viewer sees an unhappy Yaroslavna longing for her husband as she enters her house to get out of the rain. The maidens rush into the courtyard to tell her what Galitsky has been doing, but they flee when he appears. He laughs at his sister and mocks her while she persistently asks about the girl. Galitsky dreams of being the prince, but she threatens to tell Igor when he returns. When this does not make an impression on her brother, she says she will throw him out of the house and have him led to their father in chains and under guard. He relents and leaves when Igor’s boyars are announced. Unlike the opera, they do not tell Yaroslavna what has occurred, they stand around looking grim until she guesses the truth. As she deduces the truth there is shouting, alerting the town to a Polovtsian attack. Yaroslavna dresses in armor and rallies her men throughout the fight.

Meanwhile, an unhappy Igor is prisoner of the Polovtsians, but he is free to move about and the viewer sees him wandering away from camp onto the plains above a river. He is lamenting his defeat, his wound, and his capture, but mostly he feels guilt over having gone to battle when there were bad omens. He walks down to the river where out of the rushes emerges a boat, and the baptized Polovtsian, Ovlar, who rows up and tells Igor that he will help him escape. This is dishonorable and Igor refuses. Vladimir is not interested in escape or the dishonor of being a prisoner because he frolics with Konchakovna. Khun Konchak views Igor not as the enemy, but as a friend, and he tries to tempt Igor by offering him various possessions, but Igor is not moved. Finally Konchak tells Igor that he will give Igor his freedom on one condition, a treaty. Igor refuses, but joins Konchak to watch the tribal dances. It is here that Diaghilev’s ballet is inserted into the film. Konchakovna and Vladimir run off into a field to talk about their desire to be married. Igor finally consents to escape, and accompanied by Ovlar, Igor leaves to find Vladimir who, when he learns what his father is doing, does not want to leave. Konchakovna begs to be taken along, but Igor refuses. Infuriated, she gives the alarm while Igor, Ovlar, and the reticent Vladimir flee. Vladimir is quickly re-captured, but the other two escape. Konchak prevents his men from killing Vladimir and blesses the union between him and his daughter.

The narrative returns to Igor’s town, which is mostly burned down after the Polovtsian attack. While telling the people to prepare to desert the town, Yaraslavna wanders around outside and prays that her husband will return. She is the first person to see two horsemen quickly approaching, and recognizing one as Igor she rushes to greet him. Just as in the opera, the two deserters come out of the town and upon seeing Igor they first think of hiding, but then decide to alert the town about Igor’s miraculous return. True to his word, upon his return, Igor raises another army and on the day he prepares to leave for battle there are no bad omens. He leaves his wife in charge. Having learned of his brother-in-law’s debauchery and inability to defend the town, Igor leaves his brother-in-law standing in the gateway, and casts a look of “no-confidence” in Galisky’s direction as he leaves town. Tikhomirov borrowed liberally from the opera and ballet, but unlike Diaghilov, Tikhomirov’s movie indicates that he returned to the lay to include battle scenes while adapting everything to work on a larger scale and in front of a camera.

It is very interesting to note that the three works that have been the vehicle for Igor’s elevation from obscurity had something in common with the original lay that is not obvious in a narrative comparison: music. Music is the strongest thread these works have despite the seven hundred year gap between the lay and the three works. All four works were or are sung, even the ballet to some extent. Music has the power to express emotions not present in print because of nuances within the musical fabric. When there are words with the music, not only spoken language is used to convey moods and emotions, but the music strengthens what is said. The opera, ballet, and movie, go a step further in one other sense and that is the visual impact of these three arts. The combination of spoken word, music, and visible action are a strong mix that allows the viewer to understand what exactly the author or composer is trying to convey. This connection is strongest in the movie, because unlike the opera or ballet, which would be static in a concert hall, the movie conveys a much stronger feeling of reality. Music not only links these works closely together, it also expresses the action in a clearer manner than mere prose.

Part 2: Character Growth Depicted Through the Works

Igor’s character growth through the four works is fairly limited, although one or two surprises emerge. In the lay, the author apologetically portrays, “Poor Igor,” as a man who was trying to be a good defender of his people but becomes overly cocky and wants honor and glory; other than this character defect, we are left to conclude that he is a beloved leader who made a mistake. It is not specifically stated whether he felt that escape was dishonorable, but after his escape he goes on a pilgrimage to an icon of the Virgin Mary. In the opera, Igor’s mistake is conveyed as his readiness for battle and not wishing to tarry along the way. He remains honorable and courageous even in defeat (which bring him the respect of Khun Konchak), even though he does resort to escape as a last option when he realizes how much his people need him. He seems to want to bolster his injured pride and so he tries to create a barrier between Konchak and himself. In the ballet he is not an important character, but he clearly indicates that he will not enslave and humiliate his people by signing a treaty with Konchak. At the end of that ballet he surprisingly does sign a treaty with Konchak. Finally, his portrayal in the movie is very similar to the opera. He remains cold and aloof towards Konchak and spends a lot of time thinking over his problems and those of his people. Having ignored the bad omens, the viewer is led to believe that Igor does not wish to look weak and superstitious in front of his wife or people. Besides, he is determined to fight the enemy and he will not delay his plan. When he is offered a chance to escape his pride stands in the way, but when he does decide to escape, he decides quickly, and upon his return to his people, he does not seem upset by his son’s captivity. He, however, does raise another army. Igor remains proud and cold throughout the works; he only rarely considers others. In all of the works he remains a good Catholic leader, never wavering in what he feels is his Christian duty to God and man.

Yaroslavna is a more dynamic figure than her husband. In the lay, Yaroslavna appears as a loving wife who clings to the old religion and when in despair she turns to the old gods. She never appeared in the ballet because she was not important to the flow of the narrative. In the opera, she is a loving and submissive wife, but she is not reticent to deal with a situation, e.g. her brother’s obsession with women. Mirroring the opera, the movie highlights something that was not even implied in the lay, and that is her hidden strength. She leans on her husband as much as she can, emphasizing her submissiveness to him, but when a situation crops up and her husband is not there, she takes over and becomes an effective administrator, e.g., the Polovtsian attack, which is clearly seen with her donning armor and leading her men in their defense of the town. Unlike Igor, who remains a steadfast Christian in all the works, in the lay Yaroslavna is a pagan, but in the opera and the movie, she has become a good Christian who prays to God and Blessed Mother. However, her love for Igor never waivers.

Yaroslavna’s brother, Galitsky, in the opera and the movie, is merely a vehicle to allow Yaroslavna’s strength to shine. If he were not a spineless, immoral character, lacking any ability to lead men, Yaroslavna’s ability and strength would not appear extraordinary and commendable. Galitsky is well-developed for the part he plays, although the only growth in his character is found at the end of the movie when he realizes that he could have done a better job of living up to the trust Igor had placed in him at the beginning of the movie.

Igor’s character remains largely static between the four works while his son Vladimir has no character growth at all. In the opera and the movie, where he appears for a substantial amount of time, he is simply portrayed as a young man in love. In the opera, he wants Konchakovna’s love, but he also wants to do his duty to his father and country. However, he is not overly excited about returning to his country and he is easily recaptured. In the movie he is portrayed as a weak and pathetic character, although his recapture surprises him and is a result of his lack of horsemanship. After he has been recaptured, he retains an air of pride and indifference to his situation. Vladimir is simply a vehicle for a love narrative in the story because he is not a dutiful son nor is he as upset about captivity as his father.

As with Igor, Khun Konchak’s character growth remains constant throughout the four works, but with a few surprises. In the lay Khun Konchak is the voice of reason among his tribe, while his fellow Khun Gzu (Gzak) is a voice of violence and revenge. Konchak’s importance remains strongly present in the other three works. In the opera and the movie he becomes a magnanimous host, although he clearly remains the leader of his people and Igor’s captor. In the ballet, Konchak is not so much a magnanimous host, but as the victor gently flaunting his victory in the face of his defeated enemy. In the opera, ballet, and movie the Khun is portrayed as someone who wants to make Igor his best friend and ally, and the only way to do that is to have Igor in his power, while not making him feel like a prisoner; this same feel is not as strongly present in the lay although the Khun seems to be sympathetic to Igor.

Konchak’s daughter, Konchakovna, is also a minor character introduced by Borodin for the love story. She is never mentioned in the lay. The character she replaces is a woman Khun Konchak suggests Vladimir marry. As with Vladimir, her two places of prominence are in the opera and the Soviet movie. In the opera she follows her father’s lead and appears to be a magnanimous hostess. On the other side she is self-centered like Igor, but for a different reason; Igor wants honor and glory, Konchakovna wants Vladimir. In the movie, Konchakovna is a forceful character with boundless independence. She is portrayed as a person who would be quick in love or hate. When she and Vladimir are married there is no doubt that she would be the stronger spouse and completely dominate Vladimir. Konchakonva is the fiercest person of any importance in the works about Igor.

Unlike any of the other featured characters in Igor’s tale, Ovlar is the only person whose portrayal is completely flipped even though he remains a minor character in all of the works. In the lay, Ovlar is described as Igor’s faithful servant who helps Igor escape. In the opera, ballet, and Soviet movie, Ovlar becomes a Polovtsian traitor. Despite his minor role, Ovlar is pivotal in both the lay and the variations because without Ovlar, Igor would never escape.

The best developed characters in Igor’s tale and its three variations are Igor and his wife, Yaroslavna. They represent the perfect couple, with the wife respectfully letting her husband be the head of the house and the ruler. Only when he is absent does she take over and get herself, her family, and her people out of a difficult situation. The relationship between Vladimir and Konchakovna is exactly the opposite. Konchakovna is the dominant figure and not submissive. It is doubtful if she would let Vladimir do anything, except what she wants. The Khun remains a solid and predictable rock while Ovlar is completely changed and Galitsky is a minor character of little importance. Except in the ballet where the Khun becomes the central character, Igor remains clearly in the fore of all the action.

Part 3: Conclusion

The topic of Igor is an interesting one for an epic poem because the defeat of the Russians rests wholly on the hero. Although most epics end with the death of the hero, the fact that Igor does not die could indicate that unlike other heroic epic figures who die because of heroic deeds and through no fault of their own, Igor is given a second chance to die a more honorable death, and to atone for his error and for the death of all his men. Igor becomes a good vehicle for stories other than an epic lay because he represents every man’s human nature, faults, and desires for glory, which are strongly represented in the music by Borodin. It remains unknown why a minor, historic event and personage should be elevated to epic status by an anonymous author who apparently wanted posterity to know that, despite his faults, Igor was a beloved leader of his people.


Katherine Owens graduated Cum Laude in History from University of South Florida and is now seeking a Masters in Library and Information Science from that university. She plans to become a special collections librarian.



artnet. “Nicholas Roerich.” Macmillan Publishers Limited. 2000. 28 Nov 2004. <>.

Bündler, David. Alexander Borodin. 31 Jan 2001. 28 Nov 2004. < >.

Haney, J. AV. & Eric Dahl. “On the Campaign of Igor.” 1994. 28 Nov 2004. < >.

Martin, Janet. Medieval Russia 980-1584. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. 1995.

Mitchell, Robert, trans. The Chronicle of Novgorod 1016-1471. vol. XXV. New York: AMS Press. 1970.

“Prince Igor.” IMDB. 1990-2004. 28 Nov 2004. < >.

Roca, Octavia. “Time Travels Ballets Russes Thrills.” San Francisco Chronicle. 16 Feb 2003. 28 Nov 2004. <>.

Sadie, Standley, ed. The New Grove Book of Operas. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 1997.

Untermeyer, Louis, adapted. Tales From The Ballet. Illustrated. A. & M. Provensen. New York: Golden Press. 1968.

Wikipedia. “The Tale of Igor’s Campaign.” Wikipedia Project. 25 Nov 2004. 28 Nov 2004,

Zenkovsky, Serge A., ed. Medieval Russia’s Epics, Chronicles, and Tales. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co. Inc. 1963.


[1] “The Tale of Igor’s Campaign,” Wikipedia, Wikipedia Project, 25 Nov 2004, 28 Nov 2004,

[2] Serge A. Zenkovsky, ed, Medieval Russia’s Epics, Chronicles, and Tales, (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co, Inc, 1963), 137-138.

[3] Zenkovsky, 138.

[4] ibid

[5] Robert Michell, trans, The Chronicle of Novgorod 1016-1471, vol. XXV,  (New York: AMS Press, 1970), 32.

[6] Janet Martin, Medieval Russia 980-1584, Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 131.

[7] ibid

[8] ibid

[9]  “On the Campaign of Igor,” J.AV. Haney, Eric Dahl, 1994, 28 Nov 2004,

[10] Zenkovsky,  139-160.

[11] Standley Sadie, ed, The New Grove Book of Operas, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997), 506.

[12] “Alexander Borodin,” David Bündler, 31 Jan 2001, 28 Nov 2004, . Standley, 507.

[13] Bundler.

[14] Standley, 508.

[15] Standley, 508-510.

[16]  “Nicholas Roerich,” artnet, Macmillan Publishers Limited, 2000, 28 Nov 2004, .

[17]  “Time Travels Ballets Russes Thrills,” San Francisco Chronicle, Octavia Roca, 16 Feb 2003, 28 Nov 2004, .

[18]  I have not been able to find any information on why this topic for a ballet was chosen, or even any information on it at all. I did find however, on several websites, from different ballet companies or critics giving information on ballet performances, that this ballet is still performed and apparently quite a show.

[19] Adapted by Louis Untermeyer, Tales From The Ballet, Illustrated. A. and M. Provensen. (New York: Golden Press, 1968), 51-53.

[20] Untermeyer, 51-53.

[21] “Prince Igor,” IMDB, 1990-2004, 28 Nov 2004, .

About the author

Katherine Owens

Katherine Owens graduated Cum Laude in History from University of South Florida and is now seeking a Masters in Library and Information Science from that university. She plans to become a special collections librarian

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