This name has been one of the insoluble problems in this poem; Boyán the divine seer whose name apparently is elsewhere unrecorded.
In the text he is mentioned four times; first, (ll. 8-28) as a bard, endowed, either metaphorically or in popular credence, with the power of transformation so common in Slavonic legend [c.f. the bylíny of Volgá Svyátoslavič]; in this passage the heroes he rhapsodized are specified: secondly, ll. 59-66, where he is definitely associated with "the track of Troyán"--whatever that may mean--; thirdly, (ll. 605-611) in specific historic relations with Vséslav Bryâčislavič of Polotsk; and lastly, in the epilogue (ll. 745-753), the most obscure and corrupt passage of all. The poet of the Slóvo considers whether he shall write in the same lofty style as Boyán, quotes some of his refrains, and,--to judge from the manner--imitates him in the highly poetical descriptions, e.g. (ll. 531-536).
To a casual reader, not going beyond the text, it might be evident that a bard so passionately and vividly addressed was flesh and blood, some predecessor acquainted with the campaigns of Yaroslâv I and perhaps Vladímir I, a man of extraordinary knowledge some of which would have been accounted witchcraft.
The suggestions have been as many as the commentators.
To pass a few over in review.
I. Paucker stated that Boyán is a common Bulgarian name and cites tales of one Tsarévic Boyán Siménovič.
II. Again, the name of Boyán has been found in some of the late lists of Pagan gods of Slavdom; probably unauthoritatively.
III. Dubenski contains most suggestive matter in his notes. From the references he gathers, it seems that Boyán is the name of a stream †, that a street in ancient Nóvgorod was named after him; that the word Bayan is Turkish and Tatar; and also that in 1821 a Hymn of Boyán was discovered. [Сынъ Отечества LXX 1821]:
"We have a copy of a so-called hymn of Boyán dedicated to some prince Letíslav [? Mstíslav Vladímirovič the Brave and cf. l. 19 of the text] written on parchment, with red ink, and in Runic characters unknown in Russia. The original belonged to Selakadzeev [v. Весѣды Любителей Русскаго Слово 1812]. In the hymn Boyán of Bus [v. note on Бусъ] the educator of the young Wizard [воспитатель юнаго волхва] gives his name as a descendant and grandson of the Slovenes, as the son of Zlogor, the long-lived minstrel [дольный пѣвецъ] of ancient tales; that he, Boyán was bred and began his minstrelsy amongst the Zimegoli [presumably some tribe], that he served in the wars, and more than once was drowned in water [тонулъ въ водѣ]. Dubenski adds;--"The hymn has never been published for criticism and is unreliable as evidence."
Does the phrase тонулъ въ водѣ mean we are on the track of a river-god? Such beings abound in Russian mythology; cf. the references to the Don and the Donéts and the Stugna in this poem; the ballads of Súkhan Odikhmântevič, Volgá, Svyatoslávič etc. Possibly we may compare the stream Boyán; whilst, if Boyán be the correct form of his name, and not Yan (v. infra) the Turanian origin is accentuated and confirmed by his association with Bus, and with the "wizard." But as regards the words волхвъ (wizard) Nestor [v. the year 6406 etc.] makes it certain that the original meaning was some specific nomad race; and possibly this may be the better interpretation of the passages from the Chronicles cited infra in support of Weltmann's theory of Yan.
Melioranski and Korš both prefer a Turanian derivation, the former referring to the Mongol bai rich [Турецкіе Элементы], the latter specifying the Turkish baĭan.
IV. Vyázemski opines the word Boyán only means poet [from баять to speak, баснь a fable], and that it should be spelt Баянъ. There is no manuscript authority for this, but Vyázemski and Petrúševic enlarge on this view, aver great Euripidean and Homeric influence on the form of the Slóvo,--a view partially supported by Rambaud in his La Russie Epique--and arrive at the conclusion that Boyán is Homer, il sovran poeta, thus to be apotheosized even in the steppes. All of this follows on the theory that Contumely [Обида] is a development of the Evil Helen of Troy, and that Troyán means Trojan; personally, I see no foundation for this explanation.
V. I follow Weltmann's commentary in nearly all of his conclusions. Weltmann is a destructive critic, with little respect for the traditional text, but rightly associating with history, rather than philological theory. He states that Boyán is identical with the Yan Vyšátič who died in 1106 at the advanced age of ninety, a fact to be signalized in the short generations of this time of turbulence. Nestor says;--
"In this year there passed away Yan, a kindly old man of ninety years of age and vigorous; who lived in accord with the divine law, no less than the just men of olden time. From him I have heard many recitals [многы словесы] and I have inscribed in this Chronicle what I have been told by him. He was a happy, genial man, peaceable, and kept himself aloof from all wealth [огребаяся всякой вещи].
His grave is in the Pečerski monastery [at Kíev] at the porch. There his body lies interned on the 24th June."
By itself this would be enough; but, from other references as well, Yan is made flesh and blood, a living man and politician. In 1106 Svyatopólk (1093-1114) despatched the brothers Yan and Putyáta Vyšátič to fight the Pólovtsy at Zarĕčsk,--possibly sons of Vyšáta who in 1042 accompanied Yarosláv I on his expedition against Constantinople; the name may imply relationship. This Yan is mentioned again in 1106, and a granddaughter Yasĕna is mentioned in 1167.
Yan, fairly often appears in the Chronicles trying to settle the civil wars, e.g. 1071; and in 1093 (where he is specifically called the son of Vyšáta) a very curious tale is told at length, of how two wizards [волхвы] came from the Vólga and destroyed the women by magic. Svyatosláv despatched Yan with twelve attendants [отроки]; he met them somewhere near the Bĕlo Ozëro, unarmed and catechized and exorcized them. That same time there was a diabolic visitation of the city of Polotsk at night. Also, this was the year in which Vséslav recovered his city of Polotsk from Svyatopólk of Kíev.
Thus Yan was born in the reign of Vladímir I, was attached to the house of Polotsk, was a writer, and took an active part in all the frays and events of the day. He might well be qualified to range down the generations of Russia [рища тропу трояню].
Weltmann states the name Boyán arose from a fusion in some Chronicle used by the poet of the Slóvo of a phrase like рекъ бо Янъ, 'thus spake Yan'; but it is quite possible that the Chroniclers, as we have them, have the wrong form, or even that there may have been contemporary inexactitudes.
As an associate of Vséslav of Polotsk, Boyán would be credited with supernatural powers; if there were a river-god of like name, popular etymology might have contaminated the two beings; as Боянъ sounds exactly the same as Баянъ, a further false derivation may have entered into the concept.
The hymn of Boyán cited by Duhenski, curiously confirms this interpretation, and independently. In 1106 one Ivánko Zakhárič Kozárin (i.e. of Khozar descent) is associated with Yan; and the phrase Бусово время, referring to the Pólovtsy, may he a quotation from some poem of Yan's.
xlvii:† Cf. the Boyana in Montenegro.