Anonymous Author of The Lay of Ihor’s Host

XII pageKyivan RusPrincely times Повний текст

Author of The Lay of Ihor’s Host, the Old Rus heroic poem of the late 12 th c. – an anonymous genius master of literature of the princely times.

His name is one of the greatest unsolved cultural mysteries of the Eastern Slavs. A huge time span separates us from the period when Kyivan Rus had been waging devastating wars with southern nomads, the Polovtsians, for 150 years. A Slavic man of genius created an immortal poem against this dramatic historical background, in it he appeals to the princes, pleading for unity and valour in the name of love to the native land.

Its creation was incited by the failed campaign of Ihor Sviatoslavych, Prince of Novhorod-Siversky, against the Polovtsians in the spring of 1185. Then, in order to unite princes to repulse a foreign enemy, the Great Prince of Kyiv Sviatoslav convoked the rulers of Rus lands and during the solemn assembly held on August 15, 1185, The Lay of Ihor’s Host was made public for the first time, the second part of the poem was created later on, in 1187.

Lifting the veil of time, let us peer at the poet’s face. He is a middle-aged man of powerful build, a mighty warrior, who knows minute particulars of the campaign. He undoubtedly belongs to the highest political and spiritual elite and turns to his listeners-princes as ‘the brothers. ’ He is an eminent political figure and diplomat – Kyivan Rus in his work is shown as an open country, which maintains relations with many states. Certainly, he is one of the most educated persons of the time: his work mentions events moved away from the 12 th c. for 800 years. The author remembers his predecessor – the singer Boyan who glorified princes in the 11 th c., he associates Boyan, Veles’s grandson, with the old pre-Christian world of deities and promises to sing in his style and unite the old and contemporary glory. After the description of preparations for the campaign, the three-day battle and Ihor’s defeat, the author of The Lay establishes reasons, which brought Rus lands to subjection. The poem ends, after the description of Ihor’s escape from the captivity, in the glorification first of “old princes” – Ihor and Vsevolod, and then “the younger,” represented by Volodymyr Ihorovych. A high status of a Slavic woman is indisputable for the Author: the most lyrical part of the work is devoted to Princess Yaroslavna.

Creating a Christian song typical of European cultures of the time of crusades, the author, however, remembers pagan deities – Stryboh, Dazhboh, Veles, maiden Obyda, while mysterious Karna and Zhlia became for him a vehicle of self-expression.

Since the time of finding of The Lay scholars have been trying to reveal the nameof its author. Dozens of hypotheses were offered. At present two versions remain actual: boyar and princely. The Academician B. Rybakov suggested a conventional name for a Kyivan boyar – Petro Boryslavych. In the princely version, the most reasonable is L. Makhnovets’s hypothesis, who claims that The Lay was written by Prince Volodymyr, the unloved son of Halych Prince Yaroslav Osmomysl, brother of Yaroslavna. The scholar found the confirmation to it in the text of the work.

The language of The Lay is the literary language of the Rusyns of that time, similar to the language of annalists but with a more distinct influence of people’s tongue. The majority of scholars assume that the Author of The Lay was either a Kyivite or from Chernihiv, others (O. Orlov, O. Yuhov) argue that he was from Halych lands. There are assumptions that the 16 th-century copy of the poem discovered by A. Musin-Pushkin had been made more bookish by copyists, who brought the transcript of the poem up to the Bulgarian orthography dominating at that time. Moreover, it could be done not from the olden copy but from other copies, which had resulted in obscure passages in the text. The vocabulary of the poem is not large – slightly more than 900 words. Besides words typical of only Ukrainian language The Lay contains archaisms, which have been preserved in Ukrainian dialects, and traces of influence by other languages.

When comparing the language of The Lay with the contemporary Ukrainian language it turns out that there is much common (the Ukrainian language evidently has changed only slightly from the times of Kyivan Rus). The translation made for Catherine II noted that the original had a great number of “South-Russian” and Polish words strange to a Russian reader. The words of The Lay have flexions typical of the Ukrainian language.

Though we do not know the name of the Author, his personality and emotions had focused in the monumental work, which reproduces the heroic spirit of princely times, breathes of fragrant and broad Slavic expanses, moves with the intense feelings of our ancestry and the might of our millennial history.