Anonymous: The Song of Igor's Raid Pt 1. (From Old Kievan)

Okay this one is a bit weird I know. See my note after the translation for more.

The opening of the Yngvarrskvíða, the Hingwareslēoþ,
The Raid of Hinguar Swenaldson. 
(A.K.A Yngvarr Sveinnaldsson. A.K.A Igor Svyatoslavich) 

The Song of Igor's Raid (Opening) 
By Anonymous
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Might it be time  to tell O brothers
the stern story  in speech of yore, 
of the hard campaign   of Prince Hinguar,
of soulhardy Hinguar  Swenald's son? 

And from the first  as we fashion song 

let our thought hold to things that happened, 
not the skald conceits  that Boyan spun. 
Seersinger Boyan  when he sensed the time 
to speak men's lauds let his thought fly 
as warblers treeward, as groundtearing greywolves,
as zaffre eagles  under clouds.

They say he'd recall all   ancient deathfeuds

then send ten falcons  at a flock of swans
and the first overtaken gave forth a song,
a song for old Yerslaf  for strongheart Swen
who knifed king Reded  as the Kasogs watched,
a song for Román fair son of Swenald.  

But that, my Brothers,  was Boyan alone

who sent no Falcons at flock-ready swans.
He set his own seer-tuned fingers
to thrum live strings till they themselves
twanged in praise-song to princes' glory.

It is time, Brothers, to begin the tale

from ancient Waldamar to our own day's Hinguar
who reinforced his fortress mind,
who stropped his heart with hard manliness
who steeped his soul in warchief spirit
to take brave men  and march to battle
against our kin-killers in Kuman land
for the name and lands  and lives of the Rus. 

Comments/Justifications:


A terminological note (one of many on this post) is in order. Old Kievan seems to me the most appropriate term for what English-speaking linguists refer to as Old East Slavic (and in some other languages too, e.g. German Altostslawisch.) This has its value, since its speakers probably did refer to it, for a time, as simply the словѣньскъй ѩзꙑкъ or the словѣньская рѣчь. In Russian it is still common to call it "Old Russian" which is not inaccurate since it is the ancestor — more or less — of Russian as we know it, and it is not out of whack to think of it as the Роусьскꙑи ꙗꙁꙑкъ. But it will not due to identify that too closely with the Русский Язык. For it is no less legitimate to call it "Old Ukrainian" or "Old Belorusian" (Ukrainians and Belorusians themselves usually do just that.) In more ways than one, national equivalences should not be assumed here. Even the term "Old East Slavic" — apart from being a bit of a mouthful — is somewhat misleading to non-specialists in implying that this was what all East Slavs spoke. It was not. For one, it was very different from the vernacular of the Old Novgorod birch letters which are so divergent from the rest of Slavic that they have required the history of East Slavic to be completely be rethought. 


This was the language of Kievan Rus, and is to be identified — if anything — with that entity. In addition to давньоукраїнська мова "Old Ukrainian" some Ukrainian linguists also use the term давньокиївська мова "Old Kievan" to refer to the language. This seems to me to be the best option, and I have adopted it into my English. Though I realize that even this is open to objection, since it invites identification with a city rather than a loose collection of princepalities. "Kievan Rus" is a modern historical term, and the centrality the city of Kiev to it should not be overblown.


It's been a long time since I looked at Old Kievan, and I forgot how powerful the Слово о Пълку Игоревѣ "Song of Igor's Campaign" (pronounced at the time as /slówo o pǝłkú íɣorʲɛwi̯e:/ and better translated as "Saga of Igor's Raid") truly is.


I decided to translate the opening of it, and the result is unorthodox. You see, it occurred to me to use an adaptation of Germanic alliterative meter, and somewhere along the line this triggered the impulse to give the heroes' names in their de-slavicized Germanic forms.


And, really, why not? Yngvarr was part of the Hrøriksson dynasty after all. Or rather Igor was part of the Ryurikovich dynasty. Yeah, I know it's not polite to do things that remind Russian nationalists that they owe their ethnogenesis, and indeed their ethnonym, to a period of being ruled by Norse-speakers who called themselves Ros. But, then, why would I ever debase myself by being polite to Russian nationalists? (Note the Swedish toponym Roslagen and Ruotsi, the Finnish name for Sweden.)


To get an idea of the ethnic composition of the ruling class of early medieval Rus(ia), take a look at the following list of the names of the Rus(sian) delegation to Byzantium in 944.

Ivor, Vuefast, Iskusev, Sludy, Uleb, Kanitsar, Sfandr, Shigobern, Prasten, Turdov, Libiar, Fastov, Grim, Sfrikov, Akun, Kary, Tudkov, Karshev, Egri, Vliskov, Voist Voiov, Istr, Aminodov, Bernov, Yavtyag, Gunarev, Aldan, Kol, Klekov, Sten, Etonov, Sfirka; Alvad, Gudov, Frudov, Tuadov, Mutur Ustin, Adun, Adulb, Iggvlad, Uleb, Frutan, Brun, Gomol, Kutsi, Emig, Turobid, Furosten, Bruny, Roald, Gunastr, Frasten, Igeld, Turbern, Mone, Ruald, Sven, Aldan, Tilen, Aspubran, Vuzlev... 
There are a handful of Slavic names, but most of these Rus(sian) diplomats have transparently Norse names recognizable as:
Ívarr, Vígfastr, Ulfr, Sígbjörn, Þórðr, Svanhildr, Fastr, Grímr, Sverkir, Hákon, Kárr, Eiríkr, ámundi, Björn, Haddingr, Gunnarr, Halfdan, Kolr, Klœingr, Steinn, Hallvarðr, Fróði, Gamall, Eysteinn, Auðun, Aðúlfr, Ingivaldr, Óleifr, Brúni, Hróaldr, Hemigr Gunnfastr, Ingjaldr, Þurstain, Þorbjörn, Sveinn, Stýrr, ásbranðr, Ísleifr..... 
By the time in which this poem is set, the Russ had mostly assimilated linguistically to the Slavs, and had been intermarrying with them for two centuries. Archaeology shows that the Norse complexion of the nucleus of Kievan Rus when it emerged was not as prominent as with other Rus. It will not do to leave the reader with the impression that the elites of 12th century Kievan Rus maintained a discreet Scandinavian identity. But there are curious implications for the past as viewed by the narrator when, for example, he places the poet Boyan the "nightingale of eldertime" (соловию стараго времени) in the court of Yaroslav (Jаrizleifr) the Wise who was a Norse Rosman in every sense. As scholars within Russia have long noted, that is far from being the only thing about the figure of Boyan in this poem that reminds one of Norse Skalds. 

Even if the Norse cultural element of the Rus elites after the 10th century proves to be more extensive than previously imagined, there would still be nothing to necessarily make the Slovo o Polku Igoreve unRussian  (anachronistic as the concept may be.) After all the Chanson de Roland celebrates the heroes of a Germanic-speaking ruling class, and French people don’t seem to mind that anymore than they mind taking the name of their country of France from the Latin translation (Francia) of a word for "Frankland." (Just like the descendants of East Slavs took their name of Rus from the Nordic Rosmen.) 

My choice to up the Germanicism in this Памятник Дервнерусской Литературы is to be understood as artistic, and not in any sense documentary. It is not a claim of historical fact. My distaste for Russian nationalists, and the slavophile Russian-American Putinheads I keep encountering, definitely had something to do with it, too. (I think I get the problem Heaney was feeling when he dumped all that Irish baggage into Old English epic. I guess I can’t flog him for it anymore.)

Now about the names of the poem as I translate it.


Hinguar is the Old English equivalent to the Scandinavian Yngvarr (-> Igor). I suppose I could have gone with Ivor in English too, but I didn't like it as much.

If and when I translate more of this poem, Olga, Oleg and Gleb will get regermanicized to Helga, Helge and Godlaf. Vladimer/Volodimer has become Waldemar. (In this case it is unclear whether the Slavic name was coined in imitation of Germanic, or the reverse. But it seems that the Rurikids named Vladimer did go by Waldemar in Norse. The modern form Vladimir ending in -mir instead of -mer is due to folk etymology.)
Swenald/Swenaldson is an anglicization of Norse Sveinnald/Sveinnaldssonn of which Svyatoslav (originally Swentoslawǝ) is actually a superficial Slavicization, even though it might seem at first glance to have a transparent Slavic etymology.
Svyatoslav along with a bunch of other seemingly Slavic names like Mstislav and Yaroslav appear to actually be slavicizations, or Slavic accomodations, of Scandinavian names. In Rus' until the beginning of the thirteenth century these names (and also Vladimir) are attested almost exclusively in the House of Hrørik/Riurik, and the people who bear them generally have similar-sounding Germanic names when referred to in Germanic sources. Svyatoslav is SveinnaldMstislav appears to be an equivalent to either Sveinn or Sveinnki, and Varangians named Yaroslav in Slavic usually go by the name Jerisleifr (lit. War-heir) in Norse (and thus Yerslaf in my English.) And of course Vladimer/Volodimer is a re-naturalization of Waldemar.

The vast majority of this poem's cast of heroic characters turn out to have Germanic names that are, at most, only barely concealed. In hindsight, my instinct to translate this as Germanic alliterative verse is oddly serendipitous.


My Romanization below is meant to give a rough idea of the sounds of a conservative southern dialect of 12th century Old Kievan. I represent ѣ as ē, because it originates from what was a long vowel at a certain point in the history of Common Slavic. I am agnostic about its East Slavic realizations, which cannot have been uniform. It seems to have been lower than <e> in the earliest stages of most Slavic dialects. But in East Slavic, alongside varieties that suggest a lower vowel (e.g. dialectal Russian бялый for original бѣлый), we have those that suggest the opposite (e.g. Ukrainian білий.) One way to account for this (and it is a torturous one, given that there were multiple stages in which vowels were lengthened and shortened in pre-historic Slavic) is that, at some point length (or some other form of "prominence") was its most distinctive feature, and that at that point <ѣ> was lower than <e>. Thus /ɛ:/ or even /æ:/ as in the earliest Church Slavonic. As length became defunct, the prominence associated with length was reinterpreted as tenseness in those varieties of Slavic that have a higher vowel. 

The forms of Old Kievan that gave rise to forms like бялый, like Old Novgorodian judging by loanwords into Finnic, would have had an un-tensed ѣ pronounced something like /æ/. 
Many if not most varieties of Old Kievan had a tensed ѣ which probably implies a value of /(j)e/ (like in the final syllable of French marier /maʁie/) as opposed to normal <e> which would have been somewhat lower than in Modern Russian, and sounded like the final syllable of French mariait /maʁiɛ/ or English yet. Another way of putting it is that ѣ sounds like the first vowel of Russian эти (only preceded by a /j/ glide) and the normal <e> sounded like the first vowel of Modern Russian эта. The distinction is not contrastive in Modern Russian, but it was in Old Kievan. 
The в I transcribe as W, as it was quite plainly not the /v/ of Modern Russian, or of most Modern Slavic languages. Note, for example how the reduction of Ioanǝ "John" would have first produced /Iwan/ with a labial glide, in order to yeild modern IvanThe sounds transcribed as š, ts and ž are not the same as those of modern Russian ш, ц, ж either. In Old Kievan, these consonants were palatalized. Ts is phonetically [tsʲ] and does not cause backing of a following high vowel. (Thus пътици "birds" is pǝtitsi and not pronounced ptitsy like the corresponding Russian word.) Š and Ž sounded like the English Sh of sheep and the French J of jupe respectively. In other words, they were postalveolar /ʃ ʒ/ and not retroflex like the /ʂ ʐ/ in Modern Russian.
The ъ and ь are traditionally transcribed as ŭ and ĭ by Slavicists but the evidence for rounding (as opposed to simple backing) of the former is thin. I represent the former with ǝ to indicate a low back vowel with low prominence. The ĭ is in the neighborhood of /ɪ/, like in English hit or the value of и in Ukrainian.
Postvocalic G is a fricative, probably velar /ɣ/ rather than the glottal /ɦ/ of some Southern Russian dialects. So Игорь would be /'iɣorɪ/.

The Original:

Не лѣпо ли ны бяшеть братiе
начати старыми словесы
трудьныхъ повѣстіи
о пълкоу Игоревѣ
Игоря Святъславлича

Начати же ся тъи пѣсни
по былинамъ сего времени
а не по замышленію Бояню
Боянъ бо вѣщіи
аще кому хотяше
пѣснѣ творити
то растѣкашеться мыслію по древу
сѣрымь вълкомь по земли
шизымь орьломь подъ облакы

Помьняшеть бо рѣчь
пьрвыхъ временъ усобицѣ
тогда пущашеть
десять соколовъ
на стадо лебедѣи
которыѣ дотечаше
та преди пѣснь пояше
старому Ярославу
храброму Мьстиславу
иже зарѣза Редедю
предъ пълкы Касожьскыми
красьному Романови Святъславличю

Боянъ же братие не десять соколовъ
на стадо лебедѣи пущаше
нъ своѣ вѣщиѣ пьрсты
на живыѣ струны въскладаше
они же сами къняземъ
славу рокотаху

Почьнемъ же братіе повѣсть сию
отъ стараго Володимѣра
до нынѣшьняго Игоря
иже истягну умъ крѣпостію своею
и поостри сьрдьца своего мужествомь
напълнивъся ратьнаго духа
наведе своѣ храбрыѣ пълкы
на землю половѣцькую
за землю руськую

Transcription:

Ne lēpo li ny bjašetĭ, bratie
Načati starymi slowesy
Trudĭnyxǝ powēstii
O pǝlku Igorewē
Igorja Swjatǝslawliča

Načati že sja tǝi pēsni
po bylinnamǝ sego wremeni
A ne po zamyšleniju Bojanju
Bojanǝ bo wēščii
ašče komu xotjaše
pēsnē tworiti
to rastēkašetĭsja mysliju po drevu
sērymĭ wǝlkomĭ po zemli
šizymĭ orĭlomĭ podǝ oblaky

Pomĭnjašetĭ bo rēčĭ
pĭrwyxǝ wremenǝ usobitsē
togda puščašetĭ
desjatĭ sokolowǝ
na stado lebedēi
kotoryē dotečaše
ta predi pēsnĭ pojaše
staromu Jaroslawu
xrabromu Mĭstislawu
iže zarēza Rededju
predǝ pǝlky kasožĭskymi
krasĭnomu Romanowi swjatǝslawličju

Bojanǝ že bratie ne desjatĭ sokolowǝ
na stado lebedēi puščaše
nǝ swojē wēščiē pĭrsty
na žiwyjē struny wǝskladaše
oni že sami kǝnjazemǝ
slawu rokotaxu

Počĭnemǝ že bratie powēstĭ siju
otǝ starago Wolodimēra
do nynēšĭnjago Igorja
iže istjagnu umǝ krēpostiju swojeju
i poostri sĭrdĭtsa swojego mužestwomĭ
napǝlniwǝsja ratĭnago duxa
nawede swoē xrabryē pǝlky
na zemlju Polowētsĭkuju
za zemlju Rusĭkuju



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