Anyone interested in Old Russian literature owes a debt to John Bruno Hare, proprietor of the Internet Sacred Text Archive, who has put online the 1915 Leonard A. Magnus translation of the Слово о полку Игореве [Slovo o polku Igoreve], which can be and has been translated in various ways: the Lay of the Host of Igor, the Tale of Igor’s Army, or (as Nabokov has it) the Song of Igor’s Campaign. Don’t ask me why Magnus chose the word armament; yes, it once meant (in the OED’s words) “a force military or (more usually) naval, equipped for war,” but it hasn’t meant that for quite some time now, and it’s not “appropriate to the period” because it didn’t exist before the 17th century, so it seems pointlessly perverse. But never mind that, and never mind that Nabokov called this version “a bizarre blend of incredible blunders, fantastic emendations, erratic erudition and shrewd guesses.” Nabokov was hard on everyone, and besides, the Nabokov translation is both under copyright and out of print (hard as that is to believe), whereas the Magnus is free for the taking and now available to anyone with an internet connection. And it’s not just a translation: the bulk of the book consists of introductory material about the history of the MS, the history of Russia, the construction of the poem, the language and grammar, and so on (not to mention ten genealogical tables, which Nabokov admitted were extremely handy), and the text itself is presented in parallel columns with the original on the left, and not in modernized spelling either:

Не лѣпо ли ны бяшетъ, братие,
начяти старыми словесы
трудныхъ повѣстий о пълку
Игоревѣ, Игоря Сватъславлича?

Of course there are better texts available, but having the parallel translation there is extremely convenient. (Thanks for the link go to Plep.)


  1. Ian Myles Slater says

    The 1992 J.A.V. Haney and Eric Dahl translation is available at, as “On Igor’s Campaign.” (By permission; although without the Old Russian text that originally faced it.)
    Also provided is the matching commentary by J.A.V. Haney, to which it is linked stanza by stanza (also usable as a separate page at
    Unhappily a very few obvious (to me) typographical errors, notably in a non-English name — e.g., “Mortigan” for “Morrigan” in a comparison to Celtic material — suggest that other problems may be lurking in the transliterations; although these may have been proofread more carefully.

  2. Great — thanks for the addition!

  3. famous letters from Kurbski to tzar Ivan 4 Gronzni
    16th century
    original and translation

  4. It certainly is лепо.

  5. Sredni Vashtar writes:
    It certainly is лепо.
    I would not be so certain. The original form is most certainly лѣпо – so in OCS, and the original yat'(ѣ) is readily ascertained by reflexes in other Slavic languages (Ukr lipshy, Serb. lijep, Low Sorb. lĕpy), as well as by the corresponding diphtong in Baltic (Lat. laipns).
    Yat’, rather than e, appears in the original 1800 edition (see here). Could the MS have had e? Certainly; mixes of yat’ and e were quite common in East Slav/Russian after the monophtongization of diphtongs (but not in East Slav/Ukrainian, where yat’ mixes with i rather than e). In any case this is a moot point, since we no longer possess the original MS.
    Hope this clarifies something to somebody. 🙂

  6. I thought Sredni Vashtar was making a comment on the site (or the poem?) rather than correcting the spelling, but I could be wrong. I have been, once or twice.

  7. Huh, you’re probably right. Shows how perverted my thinking became.

  8. LH was right, I’m just much too lazy to look for a way to insert the appropriate character here.

  9. Copy-and-paste; that’s what I do.

Speak Your Mind