Friday, May 4, 2012

The Legend of Princess Olga.

For the longest time I've had the intention of seeing the movies I have that deal with the early Rus'. I've read some of the texts from the Primary Chronicle, but it's difficult to keep track of who is who, and movies or works of literature usually do help with this problem. Finally, I watched one of these movies (and I intend to watch more of them before my exam).

This movie deals with the life of Olga, who ruled in Kiev after her husband Igor (son of Rjurik, the first of the Rjurik Dynasty) had been killed by the Drevlyans. Her son Svjatoslav was only a couple of years old at the time, so she was "queen" for some time. The main character of the movie is the son of Svjatoslav, Volodimir, who is the person who christened Rus' in 988. Olga, who died in 969, had already adopted Christianity. The tale of the choice of religion is another legend altogether (and a quite amusing one, where the famous quote that Russians cannot live without drinking is uttered by Volodmir, explaining why he did not choose Islam). At the end of that text, there is an interesting quote: Всякъ бо члвкъ ащє оукусит сладка послѣди горєсти не приимаєть, тако и мы не имамъ сде быти. Отвѣщавшє жє болярє рєкшє "аще бы лихъ законъ грєчьскии, то нє бы баба твоя прияла Ольга, яжє бѣ мдрѣиши всѣх члвкъ", For every man who tastes sweetness will not take bitterness afterwards, and as such we can not be here. The Bulgarians replied, saying "If the Greek law had been evil, then your grandmother Olga, who was the wisest of all men, would not have taken it".

In the movie, Volodimir is dyeing, and as he is raving in fever on his deathbed, he goes back into his memories, relives his childhood and in his childhood he is taken even further back through the stories of his mother and of a Greek monk, who both tell the tale of Olga, his grandmother.

The Legend of Olga, or the tale of Olga in the manuscript, deals with what happened after the death of Igor (her husband). Igor went to collect tribute from the Drevlyans, a Slavic tribe living in forest areas. After having received his tribute, he got too greedy, and went back to collect even more - and was killed for it. The Drevlyans send emissaries to Olga, asking her to marry their king, Mal. She pretends to agree (оужє мнѣ мужа своєго нє крѣсити, I will not be able to bring back my husband to life) in order to avenge herself on them, something she does in four steps. First she buries the emissaries alive in their boat (Viking style), and sends a message to the Drevlyans asking them to send a more glorious expedition than the previous in her honour. When they arrive, she burns them alive in the banja (sauna). Then she goes to the Derevljans herself, with the supposed goal of having the trizna (funeral feast) in honour of Igor on the place where he was killed. When they are all drunk, she has her druzhina cut them down (5000 of them, supposedly). Finally, she goes back to Kiev and sends an army (or something of the kind) to their descendants. There's also talk of her burning their city, something that is brought up in the movie.

I'm somewhat disappointed with my problems understanding all of what was said in Легенда о княгине Ольге. It was especially difficult when the "dreamy" voice of the mother of Volodimir was retelling the past. I do hope she was deliberately using old-fashioned speech and that that is why it was difficult. If I hadn't read the tale of Olga in the original Old Slavic, I probably wouldn't have understood the part recited by the Greek monk in the first part of the movie either, which is the actual text in the Primary Chronicle. In the movie, there is some controversy about where Olga was born (she is believed to be from the Pskov area, but who knows), what she really did, and to add some spice to the story there's a tale about a lover she had previous to Igor and how she volunteers (eh, I think she volunteers) to be sacrificed to the Pagan Gods when she believes him to be dead... This is not present in the monk's tale of Olga, he only tells of her revenge. Svjatopolk does not believe what the monk has written about his mother's bloodthirsty nature, because that is not what he remembers. He asks the monk if the text will always be like this, or if it will change, and since it will not change he burns the book. It seems like Volodimir actually had the monk hanged, but I'm not sure I understood why exactly. Frustrating. He didn't understand it either when he sees the ghost of the monk prior to dyeing, if that helps. I got that much.

Doesn't the actress playing Olga look very much like Eva Green?

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