I recently got The Cambridge History of Russian Literature, edited by Charles Moser, and it looks like exactly the kind of detailed scholarly history I’ve long wanted; I’m reading the first chapter, “The literature of old Russia, 988–1730” by Jostein Børtnes, and I found the following passage so intriguing I thought I’d pass it along (he’s discussing the Primary Chronicle — see this LH post):
A very different style prevails in the episodes dealing with the coming of the Varangians and the history of the Varangian rulers in pre-Christian Rus. Told in the form of short, pointed independent anecdotes, often culminating in dramatic dialogues, these episodes reflect an oral epic tradition, and have been associated with the Varangian element in the retinue of the Kievan princes. Some of them are clearly based on motifs also found in old Norse literature.[…] In this part of the chronicle Prince Vladimir is no longer the Christian ruler but a Varangian warrior who ravishes Rogned (Scand. Ragnheidr), the daughter of the Varangian Prince Rogvolod (Scand. Ragnvaldr) of Polotsk. The story of her unsuccessful revenge occurs in another variant in the story of Gudrun, Ironbeard’s daughter, in the Olaf Tryggvasson Saga. [N.b.: I don’t know which of the sagas is meant here. -LH]
Correspondences such as these have given rise to the theory that the Varangians brought their own oral epic tradition with them from Scandinavia to Rus. More plausible, however, is the explanation put forward by Adolf Stender-Petersen, who suggests that both the old Russian and the old Norse material reflect a Greek-Byzantine tradition passed on to Varangian merchants and mercenaries in Byzantium and carried back to Kiev and Scandinavia. From this perspective, the tales about Gudrun, Rogned and Sigrid appear as echoes of ancient Greek heroic tales.
One of the most enigmatic heroes of the Primary Chronicle is Prince Vseslav of Polotsk, whose birth is recorded under 1044. Conceived by magic, he was born with a caul which his mother was told by magicians to bind upon the child that he might bear it for the rest of his life. This he did, and so was “merciless in bloodshed,” according to the chronicler. The figure of Vseslav is surrounded by ominous signs: a large star appeared “as if it were made of blood,” the sun was “like the moon,” and these signs “portended bloodshed.” By combining the account of Vseslav given in the Primary Chronicle with the description of him in the Igor Tale and with the figure of Volkh (i.e. wolf) Vseslavevich of the byliny, it is possible to reconstruct an old Russian Vseslav epic about the prince-werewolf, based on an ancient werewolf myth also reflected in Serbo-Croatian epic poetry and deeply rooted in the Indo-European tradition common to both Slavs and Scandinavians (Roman Jakobson and Marc Szeftel).
Vseslav of Polotsk is the hero of an extensive digression in the Igor Tale (Slovo o polku Igoreve), in which the description alternates between his diurnal life as prince and warrior, and his nocturnal adventures as a werewolf:
Vseslav the prince sat in judgment over men,
as prince he ruled over cities;
but at night he coursed as a wolf;
running from Kiev to the ramparts of Tmutorokan,
as a wolf he crossed the path of Great Hors.
For him the bells rang early for matins in Polotsk at St.
Sophia, but he heard the ringing in Kiev.
The folkloric character of this passage is reinforced by the reference to the Great Hors, an Iranian borrowing designating the radiant sun, another name for Dazhbog (“giver of wealth”), the sun god of the pagan Slavs. In the Igor Tale the old pagan deities have lost their cultic value. Like the werewolf myth, they seem to belong to an oral epic tradition exploited by the author of the Tale for purely poetic purposes.
I have no idea how much of this is generally accepted and how much is controversial; I look forward to seeing what my readers say.