God Opposes the Proud: Crime and Punishment in Works about Prince Igor Svyatoslavich’s Campaign

  • Aleksander Uzhankov
Keywords: Russian chronicles; sin of pride; The Tale of Igor’s Campaign; crimes of princes


Only three literary works about Igor Svyatoslavich’s campaign against the Polovtsians in 1185 are known to us: the story from the Laurentian Codex, the story from the Kiev Chronicle of the Hypatian Codex, and The Tale of Igor’s Campaign. This article investigates the theme of sin and punishment, i. e. the vainglorious campaign of Igor Svyatoslavich and his captivity. In the Pereyaslavskaya story of the Laurentian Codex, all the blame for the ruin of the Russian land and the Pereyaslavl principality is put on Prince Igor Svyatoslavich, who undertakes a campaign of conquest and is defeated, opening the gates of Russia to the Polovtsians. The hero of this story is Vladimir Glebovich Pereyaslavsky, who fearlessly defends his principality from the Polovtsians and is seriously wounded. The Kiev chronicler defends Igor Svyatoslavich, depicts his courage, and tries to show that he had God’s providence. Having suffered defeat, Igor Svyatoslavich interprets it as an Orthodox prince would, realising that he has received a punishment for his previous sin, i. e. the ruin of the city of Glebov in Pereyaslavskaya land and the death of Christians that he provoked. During his captivity in the hands of the Polovtsians, Igor demonstrates repentance, for which he invites a priest from the Russian land; as a result, his spiritual transformation takes place and the Lord leads him out of captivity. The Tale is close to the Kiev Chronicle in its interpretation of events. The difference is that The Tale describes Igor’s campaign more poetically, reveals the theme of vain glory and dishonour, and depicts the spiritual path of Prince Igor Svyatoslavich via artistic means. For this, the author of The Tale creates an artistic image of an “eclipse”: in nature, this is represented by the sun while in Prince Igor, it is his soul. When crossing the border river Donets, Prince Igor steps from light into darkness: his entire campaign takes place in darkness and he returns to the Russian land thanks to the prayers of his wife Yaroslavna, thus transiting from darkness to light.

Author Biography

Aleksander Uzhankov

Dr. Hab. (Philology), Head of the Department of Literature, Moscow State University of Culture; Director of the Centre of Fundamental Research of Russian Medieval Culture, D. S. Likhachev Russian Scientific Research Institute of Cultural Heritage.

7, Bibliotechnaya Str., 141406, Khimki, Moscow Region, Russia.

2, Kosmonavtov Str., 129366, Moscow, Russia.



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How to Cite
Uzhankov, A. (2019). God Opposes the Proud: Crime and Punishment in Works about Prince Igor Svyatoslavich’s Campaign. Quaestio Rossica, 7(4), 1067–1085. https://doi.org/10.15826/qr.2019.4.425
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