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The Kalevala

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The Kalevala is the great Finnish epic which, like the Iliad and Odyssey, grew out of a rich oral tradition with prehistoric roots. During the first millennium of our era, speakers of Uralic languages (outside the Indo-European group) who had settled in the Baltic region developed an oral poetry that was to last into the nineteenth century. This poetry provided the basis of the Kalevala, assembled by the Finnish scholar Elias Lonnrot and published in its final form in 1849. It played a central role in the process towards Finnish independence and inspired some of the greatest music of Sibelius.

679 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1835

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About the author

Elias Lönnrot

43 books57 followers
Elias Lönnrot was a Finnish philologist and collector of traditional Finnish oral poetry. He is best known for composing the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic compiled from national folklore.

Lönnrot was born in Sammatti, in the province of Uusimaa in Finland. He studied medicine at the Academy of Turku. To his misfortune the year he joined was the year of the Great Fire of Turku, burning down half the town – and the University. Lönnrot (and many of the rest of the University) moved to Helsinki, where he graduated in 1832.

He got a job as district doctor of Kajaani in Northern Finland during a time of famine in the district. The famine had prompted the previous doctor to resign, making it possible for a very young doctor to get such a position. Several consecutive years of crop failure resulted in enormous losses of population and livestock; Lönnrot wrote letters to the State departments, asking for food, not medicines. He was the sole doctor for the 4,000 or so people of his district, at a time where doctors were rare and very expensive, and where people did not buy medicines from equally rare and expensive pharmacies, but rather trusted to their village healers and locally available remedies.

His true passion lay in his native Finnish language. He began writing about the early Finnish language in 1827 and began collecting folk tales from the rural people about that time.

Lönnrot went on extended leaves of absence from his doctor's office; he toured the countryside of Finland, Sapmi (Lapland), and nearby portions of Russian Karelia to support his collecting efforts. This led to a series of books: Kantele, 1829–1831 (the kantele is a Finnish traditional instrument); Kalevala, 1835–1836 (possibly Land of Heroes; better known as the "old" Kalevala); Kanteletar, 1840 (the Kantele Maiden); Sananlaskuja, 1842 (Proverbs); an expanded second edition of Kalevala, 1849 (the "new" Kalevala); and Finsk-Svenskt lexikon, 1866–1880 (Finnish-Swedish Dictionary).

Lönnrot was recognised for his part in preserving Finland's oral traditions by appointment to the Chair of Finnish Literature at the University of Helsinki. He died on March 19, 1884 in Sammatti, in the province of Uusimaa.

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Profile Image for Warwick.
824 reviews14.5k followers
August 4, 2014

When Elias Lönnrot was born in 1802, Finland was a province of Sweden; by the time he came to compile the Kalevala in the 1830s and 1840s, it was part of the Russian Empire. ‘Finnishness’ was (and had been since the twelfth century) little more than a shared idea, and sometimes a dangerous one at that. So this epic is a part of that nineteenth-century fashion for literary and linguistic nationalism that also gave us curiosities like Pan Tadeusz in Poland or The Mountain Wreath in Serbia-Montenegro – albeit dealing less with history, here, than with mythic prehistory.

I said this was ‘compiled’, and indeed in that sense the Kalevala is a nineteenth-century book, despite the ancientness of much of its material; it is not like the Edda, or Beowulf. In most cases we have examples of the old Finnish myths and legends that Lönnrot used, but the finished product is its own animal; characters have been conflated, and legends have been expertly arranged into a framework that seeks to tell a composite story of Finland's magical past.

The Defence of the Sampo (1896)

It's a past absolutely different in its sensibilities from Anglo-Saxon or Nordic equivalents, let alone those from the Classical world. I suppose I was expecting tales of heroic warriors and epic battles, but there is very little of that. The heroes of the Kalevala are singers and shamans, not soldiers, and when they face off against each other, instead of reaching for their weapons they break into song:

The old Väinämöinen sang:
the lakes rippled, the earth shook
the copper mountains trembled
the sturdy boulders rumbled
      the cliffs flew in two
the rocks cracked upon the shores.

Väinämöinen, indeed, goes on a quest not unlike those of more familiar epics; but instead of seeking a magical weapon, he is simply seeking ‘words’ – spells and tales that have been lost. (He is repeatedly described in formulaic epithets as ‘the singer’ and ‘the everlasting wise man’ – just compare this with Homer's ‘man-killing’ Hector, ‘spear-famed’ Menelaus!) One on occasion when two heroes do set out on the war-path, they just end up getting lost in the woods somewhere in Lapland, and decide to turn around and go home for a restorative sauna.

The inhabitants of this poem are not fighters: they're farmers, hunters, fishermen, metalsmiths. The world is full of mystery but it revolves around cattle, populations of fish, the threat of wolves and bears outside the village, occasional ritualised celebrations like a birth or a wedding. Despite the supernature, it is refreshingly down-to-earth.

By the River of Tuonela (1903)

Some of my favourite parts in this are in fact the most domestic – narratives that Lönnrot wove in from the rich Finnish tradition of women's songs, which tend to be more concerned with practical matters. The advice given to a bride at her wedding is typical, and it brought home to me more forcefully than anything I can remember how nerve-racking it must have been for a girl to leave her parents' home and head off to run the household of her new husband, perhaps miles away:

      What a life was yours
on these farms of your father's!
You grew in the lanes a flower
a strawberry in the glades;
you rose from bed to butter
and from lying down to milk […].

You'll not be able to go
through the doors, stroll through the gates
like a daughter of the house;
you will not know how to blow
the fire, to heat the fireplace
as the man of the house likes.
Did you really, young maid
did you really know or think
you'd be going for a night
coming back the next day? Look—
you'll not be gone for a night
not for one night nor for two:
you'll have slipped off for longer
for always you'll have vanished
for ever from father's rooms
and for life from your mother's.

Aino Myth (1891)

This translation was published in 1989 by Keith Bosley, a poet and fluent Finnish-speaker who set about to improve what he sees as the defects of previous versions. To judge how successful he is, let's look at some of the original – it has a very particular rhythm. The metre is trochaic tetrameter, but with vowel length instead of stress – in other words, every line has four feet, each of which contains a long syllable followed by a short one. Here's the opening six lines:

Mieleni minun tekevi
aivoni ajattelevi
lähteäni laulamahan,
saa'ani sanelemahan,
sukuvirttä suoltamahan,
lajivirttä laulamahan.

The first English translator, John Martin Crawford in 1888, worked from a German version rather than from the original; he tried to simulate the rhythms of the Finnish by using stress-trochees. The effect is quite unusual, and you may recognise it:

MASTERED by desire impulsive,
By a mighty inward urging,
I am ready now for singing,
Ready to begin the chanting
Of our nation's ancient folk-song
Handed down from by-gone ages.

If it sounds familiar, it's because the German source also caught the fancy of Longfellow, who borrowed it for his Song of Hiawatha, still almost the only example of true trochaic poetry in English (‘Downward through the evening twilight, / In the days that are forgotten, / In the unremembered ages’ etc.). WF Kirby in 1907, working from the original Finnish, took the same approach:

I am driven by my longing,
And my understanding urges
That I should commence my singing;
And begin my recitation.
I will sing the people's legends,
And the ballads of the nation.

Which doesn't seem a big improvement. Bosley, for his part, dismisses trochaic metre in English as ‘monotonous’ and restrictive ‘to the point of triviality’ – this ‘matters little in a romance of Indians without cowboys,’ he breezes, ‘but it matters a great deal in an epic of world stature’. His solution is to construct his own version around lines of five, seven or nine syllables in length, disregarding stress altogether. The result is very different from previous incarnations:

      I have a good mind
      take into my head
      to start off singing
      begin reciting
reeling off a tale of kin
and singing a tale of kind.

The advantages of this solution grew on me, but I wouldn't say I view it with undiluted approbation. It allows for much greater fidelity to the original sense of the lines, but at the cost of sacrificing its power as oral poetry. The driving rhythms of the original (listen, for instance, to this) are simply not there. Nevertheless, and despite a few odd-sounding lines, it can work very well. Little laments such as this:

This is how the luckless feel
      how the calloos think—
like hard snow under a ridge
like water in a deep well.

…have an appealing straightforwardness that is not available to more restrictive metres (e.g. Kirby: Such may mournful thoughts resemble, / Thus the long-tailed duck may ponder,/ As 'neath frozen snow embedded, / Water deep in well imprisoned).

Lemminkäinen's Mother (1897)

Quite apart from the many pleasures to be found here, I am grateful for the fact that the Kalevala introduced me to artists in two other fields: the composer Sibelius, whose work I knew very little of, and the painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela, whom I'm not sure I'd even heard of. Many of Sibelius's works are set to lyrics from the Kalevala (one example I've been listening to a lot); and Gallen-Kallela illustrated several scenes from the epic in the sort of bold, almost cartoonish style that I have always found very appealing – some examples are scattered above. All contributing to the sense that the Kalevala is Finland's most essential cultural touchstone, a shared reference of wonderful richness….

Out of this a seed will spring
constant good luck will begin;
from this, ploughing and sowing
from this, every kind of growth
out of this the moon to gleam
the sun of good luck to shine
      on Finland's great farms
      on Finland's sweet lands!

Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,962 followers
February 9, 2017
Oh my goodness, this is a real treasure!

I was expecting this classic Finnish mythos, this fantasy epic, to be kinda dense and worldly and weighty, but I didn't expect it to be totally readable, droll, classy, and exciting. I also didn't expect to see it as the source material for so many classics I adore, including most of the stories behind Tolkien's The Silmarillion and a good portion of his LoTR.

It reads like a fantastically mythical adventure from start to Finnish and it's no wonder, even in the English translation and the narrator I got for this audiobook, a ton of love was put into it. I see now exactly how well-beloved it is and why it is so. :) :) :)

I'm blown away. By epic poetry. Hmmmm Maybe this means I need to do a poetry kick, next. :)

And no, I didn't do a line by line analysis of this text, but I did pick up some really awesome beauties in it, such as procession of the equinoxes, Rosy-Cross alchemical transformations, World-Tree as Sampo, and the most huge current of the mythical Singer and Smith.

Orpheus? Hell yeah. And the Master Forger? Another hell yeah. The later adventure actually just brought tears to my eyes. :) Totally had me dancing in my seat with joy. :)

My only complaint was the Guides For New Brides and Guides For New Husbands. lol, that stuff was a riot of wtf. Maybe it would have gone down better if I was a brawny anachronism. :) But no, I'm a modern man and none of that shit flew. :)

Everything else, though? I was really impressed that women still refused to lay down and take it, but still a lot of that still happened in the text. And no matter my personal opinions on a lot of what happened, I cannot help but see this epic as totally brilliant. I could see myself memorizing it and doing a cant and impressing all the drunks. :)
Profile Image for E.
119 reviews20 followers
August 11, 2011
This is a thought-provoking piece of majestic work. Thought-provoking because as I read it, an insane amount of questions kept coming to mind which I will try (completely incompletely) to compile here, although not with the mastery of Elias Lonnrot.

So, without further ado, three important lessons that I learned from The Kalevala:

Lesson 1: The Kalevala has fuck-all to do with Lord of the Rings.

Yes, yes, I know. Tolkien studied Finnish - an impressive feat because it holds the records for the most possible cases in a language. Which makes it, like Navajo, a perfect spy language to use in America where people already have issues distinguishing between "your" and "you're."

Ahem. This will not be the first pretentious aside.

But as far as anything resembling LOTR, I guess you could compare The Kalevala's main protagonist, Vainamoinen ("Vanny," because I am lazy), to Gandalf. Except you cannot, because the only thing they have in common is a long white beard and magical powers. However, Vanny's magical powers - like pretty much all of the magical characters - comes from "singing" his spells. In fact, all the magical battles sound a lot like American Idol with people in fur and armor and real smoke. Vanny also spent a lot of time (unsuccessfully) looking for a bride, while Gandalf had more important things to do, like saving Middle Earth. Finally, and this was really the winning blow, Vanny neither smoked a pipe or appeared to have a sense of humor. Which made caring about whether he lived or died sort of a tossup for me.

And then there are other differences, like, say, the Kalevala's lack of a cohesive plot. Which has led me to conclude that if someone says to you, "Oh! You should read The Kalevala, it's just like Lord of the Rings!" they have not actually read the Kalevala and should be shunned for their dishonesty. Getting through an unannotated 666 pages of Finnish epic is not a light task, and saying something like that is like telling someone you ran a marathon when you can barely survive a 5K.

But you'll be glad you did, because then you can learn a lot about life choices. For example:

Lesson 2: Never get romantically involved with a man from Finland.

He will fuck you up.

I know that technically my chances of falling in love with a Finnish guy are probably slim in New Orleans, and I know that wife-beating was probably considered completely legit until the '60s, but it's a little terrifying when it's apparently part of a national identity.

But, to be fair, it's not like this text was without its romantic moments. For example, Ilmarinen a blacksmith-god type goes to build the Sampo (more on this in a second) as part of a mission to woo and win the fair girl of North. Actually, he didn't do this on purpose - Vanny sent him because he couldn't do it himself. Still, he does all these wonderful tasks, forges the Sampo, and what does the fair girl of the North say then?

Well, apparently the whole duirnal cycle of Northland depends on her, so she says a lovely littl, "thanks, but no thanks." Ilmarinen takes it on the chin, goes home and obsesses for six years, then returns to compete for her hand with crafty ol' Vanny again. Except the fair maid of the North has in the meantime realized her biological clock is ticking, or maybe she's tired of her witch of a mother, but either way she helps him out in a bunch of other crazy tasks, and when her mother tells her to give a beer to the one she prefers, Ilmarinen gets that frothy mug.


That's when things start getting a little iffy.

Everyone's having a great time at the wedding, and then the bride gets ready to leave with her well-deserving groomsmen. And all of the sudden, she's like "Holy shit, I am leaving the home of my father's father's fathers." So, of course, to cheer her up, the wedding party tells her the following (in song, of course):

"Your in-laws are going to suck. They will scold you, starve you, beat you, spit on you, make you do all the household chores. No one will ever love you like the family you are now leaving behind. Especially not that dastardly bridegroom who's going to start chasing tail as soon as he can. And eventually, you're going to get tossed from the house and go to other people's weddings as an old crone in the corner and make brides depressed."

The circle of life.

But, there's hope. A kid on the ground tells the maid not to worry, because she picked a good man (more on THAT in a second). Because kids are obviously in a position to advise people on marital problems. And for good measure, an old man advises Ilmarinen not to beat his bride right away if she's bad, but if it does come to blows:

"Always warm up her shoulders
soften her buttocks -
don't chastise her eyes
and don't box her ears: a lump
would come up on the eyebrow
a blueberry on the eye.
Brother-in-law would ask about it
father-in-law would wonder
the village ploughmen would see
the village women would laugh[.]"

That's right. Beat her, but leave no evidence. What will the neighbors think? All set now? Good, just hop into my sleigh.

To his credit, maybe Ilmarinen is a good husband who rarely leaves visible bruises. But probably not. When we again meet the fair presumably-no-longer-a-maid of the North, she's turned into a real bitch. In fact she's so awful, she taunts the mentally handicapped serf, Kullervo, to such an extreme that he kills her with a wolf and a bear disguised as cows. Then he goes and has sex with his sister.

You can't make this shit up. Okay, apparently Fins can.

So, Ilmarinen does the logical thing. He grieves awhile (aw, again), makes a woman out of gold who is unsatisfactory (ie, it might hurt to beat or have relations with her), and then decides to kidnap his dead wife's younger sister. Who is really not thrilled and actually dares to say so. At which point he turns her into a seagull. Then decides to go back and steal the Sampo from his mother-in-law, because you need to kick an old woman when she's down.

I haven't even bothered to go into the other dude, "wanton Lemmenkainen." He's pretty much a Snoop Dogg song. Good luck with that, hos.

Lesson Three: You really don't need to know what a Sampo is to enjoy this thing.

And they're sure as hell not going to tell you. Use your imagination, or drink a lot of beer while reading (just skip over the twenty something pages of ingredients, because it will make you rethink the beer decision).

Three and a half (with half a star thrown in for my obvious cultural misunderstanding.)
Profile Image for A..
338 reviews48 followers
November 7, 2022
Historias regocijantemente plagadas de lujuria, secuestros, asesinatos, incestos y hechicerías. Héroes sin edulcorante y, lógicamente, ignorantes de lo que hoy es considerado "polite."
"El Kalevala ha inspirado a generaciones de finlandeses", dicen por todos lados.
Bueno 🤨

La primera versión (el antiguo Kalevala) apareció el 28 de febrero de 1835 ("Día del Kalevala" en Finlandia) y la actual, más extensa, en 1849.
Se basa en poemas épicos e historias que Elias Lönnrot, médico rural, lingüista y folclorista recolectó pacientemente en sus viajes por distintos territorios, especialmente Karelia.

Algunos de los personajes que se nos presentan tendrán sus "dobles" en otras mitologías e historias religiosas: Marjatta y la virgen María, Ukko deidad del Cielo y el trueno (como Zeus o Thor) y en una armónica versión nórdica del mito de Orfeo, el bardo Väinämöinen tallará el primer kantele (ese simpático y complejo instrumento tan identificado con Finlandia) a partir de los huesos de un lucio gigante.
Además el Kalevala es conocido por ser parte de la inspiración de J.J.R. Tolkien en la creación de los relatos que alguna vez formarían parte del Silmarillion y, por ende, todo su "Mundo Secundario". Incluso el personaje de Kullervo será parcialmente revitalizado por Tolkien en su Túrin Turambar.

Y luego de tanto, Väinämöinen, el bardo, el primero que puebla la Tierra, los abandona. Pero volverá sin dudarlo cuando su pueblo necesite un nuevo sampo, otro kantele, una nueva luna y un nuevo sol. Navegará en un barco de cobre entre el cielo y la tierra. Y dejará a los finlandeses su música, su orgullo y su historia. Es que el Kalevala es una bella recopilación y recreación poética, pero ante todo es un fuerte cimiento en la construcción de la identidad de todo un pueblo.
66 reviews6 followers
July 13, 2008
Here's my trochaic rendition of my synopsis of the Kalevala:

Wainomainen, ancient minstrel,
Ilmarinen, magic blacksmith,
Lemmenkainen, reckless hero.
They get dumped by Lappish women.
Will they still the magic Sampo
With its lid of many colors?
You bet they will, motherfuckers.
Profile Image for Marko Vasić.
442 reviews134 followers
January 20, 2021
Drugo čitanje (20. januar 2021.):

Nakon pet godina i mojeg detaljnijeg upoznavanja sa mitologijama kojima je finska slična, ponovno čitanje Kalevale izoštrilo je i istaklo sve ono što mi je, što zbog neznanja, što zbog nesmotrenosti, promaklo pri prvom čitanju. Jasno se demarkira kosmogonijski mit na samom početku epa u svojoj raskoši i, uz indeks na kraju knjige, sasvim se jasno i jednostavno prepoznaju i sva božanstva koja se u epu pominju, a koja su vešto zabašurena među stihovima, te ukoliko čitalac ne zna da neko od imena koje je upravo pročitao pripada nekom bogu ili boginji, preći će (kao što sam ja u prvom čitanju uradio) mirno preko toga, misleći da je to neko vlastito, narodno ime (baš kao što je slučaj i sa mitovima iz mitološkog ciklusa keltske mitologije). Od svih svetova, podzemni svet, Tuonela, je najjasnije demarkiran i najviše pominjan i opisivan u svojoj jezivosti i hladnoći sa svojim ledenim rekama koje kroz njega teku (slično kao u grčkoj mitologiji Aheront, Stiks, Kokit, Flegeton i Leta). Trojica nosećih likova - tri stuba epa - Vejnemejnen, Ilmarinen i Lemikajnen, polubožanstva, na fantastičan način kroz različite spletove okolnosti uspevaju da se izbore sa kontra-tegom, Luohi - gospom od Pohjole na putu da od nje otmu finski rog izobilja - mlin Sampo, perpetuum mobile. I jasnija mi je nego ikad Tolkinova fascinacija pojedinim fragmentima epa i njegova inspirisanost istim, što se vrlo jasno uočava i sa radošću prepoznaje (Tom Bombadil je slika i prilika Vejnemejnena, Louhi je pomalo od Ungolijant a mnogo više od Melkora, Ilmarinen podseća na Aulea, što je mnogo više istaknuto u prvim verzijama priča iz Silmariliona objavljenih u The Book of Lost Tales, Part One i delom na Manwea, a Kulervo je potpuni odblesak Turina Turambara nesrećnog). Kalevala je nezaobilazna preporuka svima koji vole mitološko-fantastična štiva i narodna predanja, jer predaje bogatu građu narodnog blaga i kulturne zaostavštine naroda o kome peva.

Prvo čitanje (15. avgust 2016.):

Epsko delo, po utisku; lirsko-epsko po strukturi. Budući da je stvarano nekoliko vekova, i da je obelodanjeno kao, uslovno rečeno, hrestomatija, zahvaljujući folkloristi prof. Elijasu Lenrotu, u ovom remek-delu finskog naroda objedinjeno je više elemenata koji se raspoznaju slojevito, kako su dodavani i menjani u toku nastajanja, a specifično boje ton i atmosferu čitavog epa. Tako sam prepoznavao tragove izvornih paganskih elemenata, tragove šamanizma, neke uopštene opise, i na kraju, vrlo usiljeno, čisto kao natuknica – tragove hrišćanstva koje nadolazi, ali još uvek nije shvaćeno kako valja. Zapravo, to poslednje pevanje deluje kao nasilno „prišiveno“ čitavom epu, obaveštavajući da je hrišćanstvo uveliko prisutno u narodu i da je vreme da heroje koji su ih verno služili i spasavali stave po strani, kao rezervu, ukoliko se dogode teška vremena, pa da mogu da ih spasu od bede (slično kao što je Kraljević Marko u našoj epskoj poeziji samo „zaspao“ i vratiće se pošto-poto kad ustreba). Vrlo mi je zanimljiv jezički izraz samog epa. Mislim da je tome umnogome doprineo izvanredni prevod dr Ivana Šajkovića, koji ni posle 60 godina, čini mi se, nije zastareo. Zahvaljujući njemu, mogu se doživeti i razumeti stihovi koji vrve od sinonima, paralelizama i specifičnih rima, koja je tu kao augmentativ, te kad se spozna taj, uslovno rečeno, šablon, delo postaje sve jasnije kako se odmiče u čitanju. Hipebole i sintagme dodatno doprinose atmosferi samog eposa. Što se opštih utisaka tiče – drugi deo Kalevale mi je zanimljiviji i dinamičniji – što zbog izrazite borbe između dobra i zla (veštičare Luohe i Vejnemejnena – nešto slično kao što su se Valari Tolkinovi borili protiv Ungolijant i Melkora kada su umrtvili Telpelion i Laurelin), što zbog epizode o nesrećnom Kulervu, koji je prof. Tolkinu poslužio kao inspiracija da oslika odnos Turina i Nienore u Silmarilionu. Izlišno je pominjati da je početak epa i pesma o stvaranju sveta među veličanstvenijim tekstovima koje pročitah do sada.
Profile Image for Robert.
816 reviews44 followers
September 10, 2015
Chances are that if you've heard of this work at all it's because it was the inspiration for Longfellow's Hiawatha, you've just heard about the publication of Tolkien's Story of Kullervo or you're some kind of expert in Epic Poetry. Which is to say it's fairly obscure outside it's native Finnland, where, by contrast everybody knows it because it's the National Epic, heavily influencing the development of a Finnish national consciousness.

(A brief aside on Tolkien: he used the Finnish language as inspiration for Quenya, the language of the High Elves, as can be seen, for example, in his use of "ilma" , "air" in the name Iluvatar, the creator the world, also seen in the Kalevala's magical smith, Ilmarinen who forged the sky.)

Now, I think this is a crying shame because one doesn't have to get very far (say 3 Cantos out of 50) into the Kalevala, which was constructed by Lonrott from Finnish folk songs he collected, before realising that Hiawatha is a trite, juvenile pastiche that is fairly patronising to both the Native American and Finnish cultures Longfellow stole from in order to create his most famous and hugely popular work. The parallels are obvious but reading the Kalevala will connect you to a mythic time past and a culture evolved but still alive now in a way that cutesy Hiawatha, Minnehaha and co. never can. The heroes of this epic, Vainamoinen, Ilmarinen and others have greater stature, more complex character and more visceral connection to their Scandinavian landscape and lifestyle than Longfellow's pale imitations can even imagine. They also have more interesting, exciting and just plain weird adventures - magical duels by song, I don't know how many visits to the land of the dead, the forging of magical and mysterious artifacts, quests, conflicts and more. It's great stuff.

It's also surprisingly easy to read, especially if you take it at just a Canto at a time, like I did. Being immersed in such a vivid, magical, strange world for a long time is a delight anyway. The verse (of this translation, at least) is not stuck in a nightmare of endless iambic meter that swiftly lulls one to sleep, either. Instead lines of variable length maintain a swift narrative (for the most part see below) and I found it pretty easy to read about 10-15 p (a typical Canto length) without losing focus.

The Finnish folk tradition divides up into men's and women's songs. Lonrott didn't discriminate and collected both. When he came to assemble his epic tale from all the song fragments, he incorporated elements from both traditions. The contrast is strong and remarkable; men's songs focus on adventure, magic, conflict, hunting and history. Women's songs focus on the domestic, weddings, marriage, farming, which are comparatively dull and slow. The revelation of an outrageously sexist society is unavoidable; it sucked to be a woman or girl back then.

Bards and song feature heavily in Epic but never so much, in my experience, as in the Kalevala. The most prominent hero is a bard, magic is primarily performed by song and no opportunity is missed to demonstrate how important music, song and story telling were in that mythic land of legend. And the myths presented here are great; fantastical, preposterous, adventurous and most of all tremendous fun: I shall miss hearing about the exploits of the oldest bard, Vainamoinen, forger of the mysterious Sampo, Ilmarinen, and their cohorts and enemies, such as Louhi, hag of the North who stole the sun and the moon.
Profile Image for Antonomasia.
973 reviews1,194 followers
May 24, 2013
OUP edition, translated by Keith Bosley

"...the kind of excitement that palaeontologists felt on discovering a live coelacanth". Exactly! I'm not one of the scholars of early European epic Bosley is talking about in that paragraph of his wonderful introduction, just someone who once did a dissertation type thing on "pagan survivals" in late medieval (English) religion and sadly had to conclude that there was very little evidence for anything beyond the odd motif. But in Finland, there was an ancient mythological poetic oral tradition alive well into the nineteenth century, whence it was written down and synthesised by Lönnrot. I only found out about it a couple of years after graduation, browsing the Classics section of a bookshop: this great thick Oxford World's Classics spine and I've never even heard of it? Once I knew what the book was, I wasn't leaving without it. It has the magic not only of being an oxymoronic living fossil, also the mist-shrouded obscurity of the curious Finno-Ugric languages near in geography and so far linguistically, and gods and heroes still European yet not of any tradition known to me: not the famed Viking pantheon, not the Slavic ones I used to read about in the Encyclopaedia Britannica as a kid, lately returned to a little fame by Neil Gaiman in American Gods .

When reading translated poetry recently, I was quite bothered about the idea of authenticity, of being able to get as close to the original as possible, in my frustration at not knowing French well enough to understand all of Baudelaire, Verlaine or Rimbaud in the originals. But with The Kalevala, you can't, with the oral tradition, you can't.
Authenticity, the obsession with authorship and the auteur - and along with it artistic copyright - is rather a modern idea. I found myself thinking back to a conversation in which I was told by a very talented musician (who had no personal need to defend "unoriginality") to ditch the phrase and concept of 'cover version' from my thinking. Quite, yes, I thought as a pathway opened up, I realised ... like music hall, like all those 50's and 60's girl groups and quiffed rock 'n' roll singers and Depression jazz or blues artists who recorded the same songs and it didn't matter who did it first. Victorians who had to play and sing their own versions because they had no recordings. Before Dylan and folk rock and the singer-songwriter obsession. Reading about The Kalevala I remembered just what a tiny few decades have been fixated on this idea, as the camera panned out. For most of human history songs and stories have been handed down patchworked, originating who knows where, originating with no one place or person. We know who we are hearing it from and they know one, possibly two earlier, but that's it.

Local storytellers and bards, re-telling and embellishing old poems, some renowned for many miles around, entering and some winning competitions ... in impoverished non-literate cultures this is what some of the most brilliant people were doing, people whose names we will never know although I'm sure they were just as interesting as many of those we do. Ever since I was 12 or 13 when a teacher made a quite erroneous remark that Beethoven had genetic diseases which meant some modern parents wouldn't have allowed him to survive following scans (it was a Catholic school) I've liked to wonder about geniuses and talented people "lost" to history not for that reason, but just because we don't know about them, because they did things we don't remember today, or they died young of some plague, or they didn't want to be renowned (like the medieval craftsmen who didn't sign their work), or they never had the opportunity to do what they would have excelled at, and most of all the ones who were stuck in some primitive or peasant community worked into the ground, but they did matter to those who knew them, because they told good stories or did medicine or generally worked out solutions. (And like the free-thinking Menocchio of
The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-century Millersome were a bit too clever for their own good.)
And The Kalevala is the cumulative work of people like these. But more accessible, and more exciting because of its exoticism, than reading a bunch of Old English.

It is also, though, a work of the nineteenth century Romantic nationalist era: Romantics valued these wild, woolly obscure things I love, but The Kalevala as it stands is a deliberately created Finnish epic to fuel the independence and self definition of a country which had been ruled by other nations - with elites speaking other languages - since the 12th century. Elias Lönnrot, in this cause, stitched some unrelated folk poems he had collected into the larger Kalevala that he refined and published. It has enough uneven-ness though to feel like folklore collected. (On a literary basis I wasn't sure about giving the poem 5 stars rather than 4 or 4.5, but the introduction swung it.)

And yes, what of the poem itself? (Hello if you're still reading! :) ) Readjusting to a world of fairytale proportions, of seven leagues high and humans born from bird-eggs, bees who can carry eight pots and a smith who can weld metallic wonders from wool, milk and grain. The translator makes very frequent use of a few words that are relatively uncommon in modern English - "lulled" "billow" and "fellow" especially, with the first given some odd meanings - this got on my nerves a little but, with other archaisms interpolated into readable language, they also gave an appropriate otherness. For something of over 600 pages, I found it a very fast read. It has fewer words per page, of course, being poetry, but even then, it flows. With the repetition characteristic of ancient epic. With a sense of place and time often made of nouns: landscape, old buildings and tools and most of all wildlife. (As an adult I haven't often used all the knowledge about identifying birds and animals I learnt from my mother and her books, but here it was nice to know the appearance and context for a capercaillie or a scaup.) You can feel how sparsely populated and how dominated by nature the world of The Kalevala is. (Very satisfying for my daydream of escaping to some northern Nordic wild for a few years and working outdoors away from computers.)

There are strata of cultures here. Names unmistakeably Finnish; figures who seem quite unrelated to those of other myths; a culture more land-bound than the Vikings, all forests and farms and ice, with voyages on lakes and rivers; an ancient bear-cult in which killing the object of worship was not antithetical as it may seem now. Heroes are Väinämöinen, a shaman and singer, Ilmarinen, a smith and Lemminkäinen, a seducer; all can and do fight but this isn't like other epics which star career-warriors: the society seems to have different concerns. (Though whether that's Lönnrot's choice, or a modification that happened later, who knows. But the subsistence lifestyle and sparse population likely meant there were different priorities: the Mediterranean cultures' wars and the Viking voyages were partly driven by growing populations greedy for more space.)

Wikipedia states about the tragedy of traumatised, aggressive Kullervo who survives repeated attempts to kill him in childhood: "The story of Kullervo is unique among ancient myths in its realistic depiction of the effects of child abuse." However, having noted in the introduction that the Kullervo cycle was an episode which had a particularly high degree of input and synthesis from Lonnrot, I think it is possible that the Wiki writer may be too quick to idealise, and that the conclusion to the Kullervo tale was at least in part based on Lonnrot's observations as a nineteenth century doctor or the wisdom of relatively recent bards - and not that the ancient Finnish culture was necessarily more wise to the effects of savagery than other more obviously brutal epic-making societies.

The Kalevala also has features recognisable from other traditions: an Orpheus strand; the heroes' trials like Hercules; the Sampo, a cornucopia or grail; and according to the introduction verse forms heavily influenced by those of the Baltic states. In some cantos Christian influences are evident - though it's surprising how few. The final canto is a reluctant handing-over from Pagan to Christian culture: the priggish, fragile Marian figure Marjatta (such a contrast with the earthy, capable women earlier in the poem) has a son by immaculate conception, and he banishes Väinämöinen.

Reading the introduction after the poem, I was surprised to learn how little of it was collected from female storytellers. There are many episodes lamenting the misery of marriage which sound as if they are the work of generations of worn out middle-aged women. I can't think of any other ancient stories or fairytale tradition in which women want to avoid marriage so much. In The Kalevala they set their suitors impossible trials, they get themselves out of bargains, one - or is it two - even kills herself to avoid marrying an ugly old man, and there are long verses about hard work, being bossed around by the in-laws, husbands who beat, and that it's better to stay with your own family. The only female character who does get married during the story turns into a harridan and meets an unpleasant fate. And the talk of subordination is only in the narrative: female characters when they speak sound as strong-willed as the men and are never criticised for it.

Apparently The Kalevala was a major influence on Tolkien. Can't say I found myself ever thinking about hobbits whilst reading it, but then I was never a major fan. It was, though, an amazing journey into another culture and mythology. One which also got me thinking about epics and tales from other less prominent countries such as these.
Profile Image for Theo Logos.
632 reviews100 followers
July 25, 2022
Listening to The Kalevala is a haunting experience. Its verse has a mesmerizing, sing-song quality that makes ample use of repetition. This has a certain beauty and charm, but what it lacked, for me, was the power of portraying its characters and their deeds with any kind of visceral reality. Though its heroes and villains are truly intriguing, the verse that described them kept me from fully immersing in their stories.

The heroes here are at once larger than life, god-like, yet full of human frailty. Väinämöinen is the oldest and most powerful of heroes. He is the first man, born of the goddess Ilmatar, and his singing brought trees, vegetation, and order to a new and barren creation. Yet, despite his awesome power and legendary reputation, he is repeatedly rejected in love, because no maiden wants to be yoked to an ancient hero in his dotage. Lemminkäinen is a rash young hero, powerful in both arms and magic, unafraid to take on the most daunting of quests. But he is also a mamma's boy, who never heeds his mother's wise advice and often has to come home to her in defeat. Kullervo is a child of boundless magical power, essentially immortal, yet his ill starred, tragic life leads him to evil, bitterness, and his own destruction.

I found myself wishing that someone would put theses powerful characters and tales into a more gripping, prose form. To a certain extent, J.R.R. Tolkien already has. Väinämöinen was a model for Gandalf (including the idea of being rescued on eagle's back). Tolkien took the tragic story of Kullervo and reworked it into his own tragic hero, Túrin Turambar, who appears in a major cycle within The Silmarillion and The Unfinished Tales. The talismanic Sampo of The Kalevala seems to be mirrored in Tolkien's Silmarils as well. If you have read Tolkien, you cannot miss the obvious influences as you read The Kalevala.
1,071 reviews104 followers
February 24, 2021
Finnish heroes create world, then get into hi-jinx

Back in 1998, I went to a village near Oxford, UK to visit friends and watch the World Cup on the BBC. I drank a lot of beer and also bought THE KALEVALA in one of the big, old bookstores in town. I finally got around to reading it recently. I'd been put off for many years years, thinking it would be a daunting task that I nevertheless "ought to" undertake. No, not at all, this is a most readable translation with modern fillips, yet perhaps more faithful to the original than the super-romantic, Victorian longwindedness that I admit I expected.

As part of the world's treasure hoard of mythology, this ancient Finnish epic holds its own with any. It resembles others in that it explains the birth of the world, the creation of the ur-hero Vainamoinen, and the solution of many problems---finding fire, how to sow fields, how to raise crops, what are ecologically sound practices, the origin of beer, and how a bride should behave. The human characters are intimately tied to the natural world all around them: just as in mythology everywhere, animals, birds and trees speak, magical transformations occur on many a page, and the heroes escape defeat by magic more often than by violence. The number of themes that can be analyzed psychologically or probed for cultural `inner meanings" is great. For example, the third chapter presents youth's eternal confrontation with the older generation. Joukahainen, a youth, challenges old Vainamoinen, to a singing match. He loses and has to pay up in the form of his sister. The sister drowns herself rather than marry an old man., but she becomes a fish. Vainamoinen tries to catch the fish. His mother's spirit tells him to look for another---perhaps a very early version of the phrase "there are many fish in the sea" ! The young man decides to avenge his sister and shoot Vainamoinen with an arrow, but kills Vainamoinen's horse instead. The old hero falls into the sea and is swept away, but is saved by an eagle for whom he'd done a favor once. And so it goes.

Though THE KALEVALA runs to 666 pages, the number of characters is surprisingly small. The reader has no problems keeping track of the main actors. The repetitive style owes to the fact that this ancient epic was originally sung. Many stories are grouped in units of three---three things, three times, three answers, three days. I got into the swing of it at times, thinking like the characters "I read one day, I read two, and soon I read a third." Finnish epics don't have modern plots or character development. I think you will read this because you are curious, because you enjoy the creativeness of the human imagination throughout time, because you are interested in mythology and beautiful, ancient things. You may enjoy, as I did, such things as the `complaint of a boat', a musical instrument made of fish bones, a bee flying over nine seas to bring back a rare ointment to save the hero [just like Hanuman in the Ramayana], hunting a Demon's elk, an expedition to steal a 'horn of plenty', and good sayings that lie like hidden gems amongst the pages: "Strange food goes down the wrong way." or "Seldom is a serf cherished, a daughter-in-law never." Another plus is that I was able to connect with Sibelius' music, I learned, for example, what the Swan of Tuonela is. In sum, while epics may not be everybody's cup of tea, this wonderful translation and lively cycle of stories can hold your interest on long winter nights. "A hundred tried to read it, but not one made it through." Definitely untrue in this case.
Profile Image for Ajeje Brazov.
700 reviews
November 26, 2018
Kalevala, ovvero Terra di Kaleva, è il nome poetico, dato da Lönnrot alla Finlandia. Terra lontana, misteriosa, anticamente sotto l'impero svedese e poi russo, ha inglobato molto delle due "invasioni", ma rimanendo, anzi volendo mantenere la propria cultura, il folklore locale. Questo libro ne è l'esempio più lampante, infatti Lönnrot fin da piccolo nutre una passione sconfinata per i canti popolari del suo paese e cerca, anzi s'impegna più che può, per creare, raggruppare insieme, più canti popolari possibile e provenienti da tutta la Finlandia, dall'inospitale glaciale Nord, al profondo Sud.
Il risultato è un poema di 50 runot (canti), dove tre eroi principali, ma nel complesso tutta la Natura di un paese come Finlandia, spiriti maligni, buoni, animali leggendari, forze mitologiche ecc... ne fanno da protagonisti.

Molto affascinante, immaginifico, però la scrittura a canto popolare, dopo un po' mi ha annoiato, comunque un'ottima scoperta.
Tolkien rimase profondamente colpito da quest'opera, soprattutto dal personaggio più oscuro del poema, Kullervo e così scrisse "La storia di Kullervo" reinterpretandolo.


Profile Image for M.M. Strawberry Library & Reviews.
4,069 reviews337 followers
July 9, 2020
This is a classic for a reason, with many fascinating story arcs, and some great writing. This English translation did pretty well in my opinion (not being a native Finnish speaker, I can't speak of the accuracy, but I found it very readable)

My one caveat here is that the heroes of these myths are deeply flawed. Heroes aren't always meant to be perfect, but the heroes do some really dumbassed things here. Vainamoinen makes himself so repulsive to the maid Aino that she decides that offing herself is better than being married to him. And women... well, don't get me started on the advice given to brides here, or what was expected of women. DON'T look to the Kalevala for marriage/relationship advice!

Ilmarinen is all right but not without issues. Lemminkainen dies because of his own dumbassery so his mommy has to stitch him back together, and Kullervo's an abused kid who goes crazy and does a lot of fucked up shit, partly because of his PTSD and shit.

While the Kalevala doesn't have the best role models, the storytelling itself is epic, with a lot of great lines, so this epic is worth reading for that, if you're a literary buff. 4.5/5 stars.
Profile Image for Nikola Pavlovic.
276 reviews40 followers
December 3, 2020
Predivna Kalevala i njeni junaci ostavli su na mene izuzetno jak utisak.
Tek sada nakon sto sam je i sam procitao mogu razumeti zasto je ona bila kamen temeljac za J. R. R. Tolkina. Iskra oko koje su se rasplamsavale njegove misli, gradeci pricu da u nju stanu sve njemu tako drage reci, jezici i pojmovi; ta inspiracija Kalevalom darovala im je priliku da budu smesteni u najvelicanstveniji svet gde su nastavili da postoje, zaodenuti najfinijim ruhom mitologije i epske fantastike.
Profile Image for Annamariah.
127 reviews
January 1, 2018
Mieleni minun tekevi,
aivoni ajattelevi,
lähteäni laatimahan,
arviota arpomahan,
kun sain kirjan katsotuksi,
kaikki lehdet luetuiksi.
Kauan emmin aloitusta,
pitkään kirjaan tarttumista.
Vaiti vuotti hyllyssänsä,
odotellen ottajaansa
ukkikullan kirjastossa,
vaarivainaan varastossa.
Luin mä päivän, luin mä toisen,
luinpa kohta kolmannenkin.
Kului viikko, kului toinen,
kului kotvan kolmattakin,
päivää kaksikymmentäkin,
kunnes pääsin loppuun saakka,
aivan takakanteen asti
eepokseni ennättelin.

Vaka vanha Väinämöinen,
tietäjä iän-ikuinen,
sekä seppo Ilmarinen,
takoja alinomainen,
lähti neittä noutamahan,
Pohjan piikaa kosimahan.
Louhi, Pohjolan emäntä,
Pohjan akka harvahammas,
eipä anna tytärtänsä,
päästä pientä kaunoistansa
sulhasille syyttä suotta,
kosijoille korvauksetta.
Ilmarinen sammon takoi,
kirjokannen kilkutteli,
voitti tytön vaimoksensa,
kainaloiseksi kanaksi.
Myöskin lieto Lemminkäinen,
itse kaunis Kaukomieli,
neitosia nauratteli,
piikasia piiritteli,
kunnes taasen sotaan tahtoi,
kaikkialla riitaa haastoi.
Läksi miehet sotimahan,
Pohjan maille tappelohon,
ryhtyi sammon ryöstäjiksi,
kirjokannen kaappareiksi.
Tapahtuipa kaikenlaista
muutakin jos jonkinlaista,
mistä en nyt tässä haasta,
kusta jouda kertomahan.

Pidin kyllä tarinasta,
Suomen kansan kertomasta,
Lönnrotin kokoamasta,
yksiin kansiin laittamasta.
Hyvän annoin arvosanan,
kolme jaoin tähtösiä,
neljä jäi vähän vajaaksi,
viisi vielä kauemmaksi.
Toistoa on turhan paljon,
samaa kerta kerran jälkeen,
loitsuja kaikkiin vaivoihin,
lauluja joka lähtöhön.
Onpa silti oivallinen,
kirja varsin kelvollinen,
sanoiltansa suurenmoinen,
vaikkakin hidastempoinen.
Ehkä luen uudestaankin,
suosittelen toisillekin.
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 29 books5,627 followers
August 5, 2016
I've never gotten into Finnish history or literature as much as I've followed the other Scandinavian countries. Although, let's face it: Finland is amazing. Not just because they drastically lowered their infant mortality rate by putting their babies in cardboard boxes, and have the best education system in the world. But also because no one knows where they came from! Their language and culture and even genes are very different from the rest of Scandinavia.

And so the Kalevala is also an anomaly. It's not the usual stories of Thor and the other gods. Instead it's their own gods, their own heroes, and their own strange, dark magic. It reminds me more of the Odyssey than the Norse legends.

I also like how this translation is called "readable." It's true, if you get a poor or vague translation of this it's going to be pretty bad. This is the edition we used in my Cultural History of Scandinavia class at BYU, and it worked for us!
Profile Image for Maaike.
50 reviews
January 21, 2018
That was great. I never expected I would ever finish it, it being over 600 pages of poetry, but I did, and I enjoyed every second of it.
We all know Greek, Roman and Norse mythology, but Finnish mythology is unfortunately very unheard of. By reading this epoch you can see how the lives of Finnish people centuries ago were influenced a lot by nature. The nature in the story is alive; it speaks, thinks and feels. Birds, fish, bears and wolves all play a vital role in the tale, the god-heroes are much like normal people: both flawed and redeemable. Going into this, I did not know that the Kalevala was a major source of inspiration for Tolkien's Ring trilogy, but hearing about it afterwards I can see why and how. I noticed a ton of similarities between the Kalevala and the Lord of the Rings, and I can see how Väinämöinen was the major inspiration for the character of Gandalf.
My favourite tale was the Kullervo cycle, which is also the most tragic tale (and on which Sibelius based his - in my opinion - beautiful composition with the same name) and it made me excited to pick up Tolkien's - sadly unfinished - "The Story of Kullervo" later, as I'm very curious to read his version of that story.
This brick was definitely worth the read for me. I'm sure it won't be entertaining for everyone, but if you're a lover of mythology/folklore, history and fantasy (and of Tolkien) and you do not mind reading poetry (don't be too afraid of that by the way - I found it to be very easy and accesible to read, though I hardly ever read poetry and English is not my native language) then I'm strongly recommending you to give it a try!
Profile Image for Markus.
471 reviews1,522 followers
February 9, 2017
Let me first clarify that the two-star rating is based solely on my experience with this book, and not on its overall quality.

There were two reasons why I started reading the Kalevala a while ago. Firstly, because it was one of Tolkien's major inspirations in his writing career. Secondly, because it seemed like a classical version of sword & sorcery mixed with old poetry. And that's amazingly enough just what it is.

The negative part is that the story is incredibly boring, filled with endless repetition of every single line, no rhyme and a poor rhythm. I expected a collection of beautiful poems about heroes rescuing maidens with swords and magic. What I got was a lame story about fishing, courtship and singing contests. I don't know whether to blame the faults of the Kalevala on the original folk stories, Elias Lönnrot's recounting or the English translation, but either way, there it is.

Again, I would like to say that my rating of this great work should not dissuade anyone from reading it. It is, after fall, the Finnish national epic and an important part of Nordic cultural heritage. It just wasn't meant for me, apparently.
Profile Image for Caroline.
768 reviews220 followers
February 23, 2015

Old woman of underground
soil-dame, earth-mistress
now set the sward pushing up
the strong earth heaving!
The earth will not want for strength
ever in this world
while there’s love from the givers
and leave from natures’s daughters.

This poem immerses you in physical and mythical Finland. Every page is filled with original, lyrical communion with the natural world. Every episode combines folk heroes, folk wisdom, fantastic shape-changing and song. Because above all else you understand Finland as a country of song. No wonder it produces conductors, composers and musicians at a disproportionate rate.

The old Vainamoinen sang:
the lakes rippled, the earth shook
the copper mountains trembled
the sturdy boulders rumbled
the cliffs flew in two
the rocks cracked upon the shores.
He sang young Joukahainen--
saplings on his collar-bow
a willow shrub on his hames
goat willows on his trace-tip
sang his gold-trimmed sleigh
sang it to tree trunks in pools
sang his whip knotted with beads
to reeds on a shore
sang his blaze-browed horse
to rock on a rapid’s bank;
he sang his gold-hilted sword
to lightnings in heaven
then his bright-butted crossbow
to rainbows upon waters
and then his feathered arrows
to swift-flying hawks

This is a difficult book to choose quotes from. I want to just start typing on page one and keep going. Every page is a marvel, but the mood builds on itself so a few lines out of context just don’t convey the way the full text uses rythym, sound and image to put you into a land of birches and sea, where magic things happen as a matter of course.

There are quests and fights, but for the most part they are over personal things, foolish things. As I was nearing the end of the poem I decided that at its heart this is a collection of folklore that explains how to behave well in your life and your community, and the consequences of behaving foolishly or foolhardily. And advises: always have a back up plan. But the old wives and story tellers sneak the moral into the magical adventure story, perhaps unconsciously, to sugar coat the lesson.

Elias Lonnrot collected folksongs in the countryside of Finland in the early 1800s and then wove them into this poem, which immediately became the national poem of Finland. According to the introduction, he had Homeric aspirations, but this is not exactly an epic in the same way as the Iliad or the Aeneid. He was living in the age of nationalism tied, often, to folk history. There are several main characters who reappear in the many episodes that explain the creation of the world, relationships with the people of the North (Lappland), how to be a good wife, what happens to arrogant/cocky/randy/violent young men, how to come to terms with what suits your character and stage of life. The key characters are wise, steady old Vainamoinen, the skilled blacksmith Ilmarinen , the troublemaker wanton Lemminkainen and his mother, the mistress of Northland, and her daughters. The part I enjoyed most as pure poetry was the creation story, but the dramatic contests that drive most episodes engender powerful verse as well.

As in other folk tale literature, there is a lot of repetition in the poetry. Something happens, and then someone tells another character what happened in almost the same words. But the ‘almost’ is key, the slight variations are essential to the art. Or there are long sequences of metaphors, that build the power of the image. Characters have epithets, and speeches are preceded by the formula ‘Then ____ spoke, put this into words.’ Three is the magic number. There are also echos of other mythologies: a trip to the land of the dead (in this case, for essential words for a song). In this episode, Vainamoinen gets swallowed by a monster, lights a fire in his mouth and shocks him into a torrent of verbage from which he gathers his words. In another episode, as in Hercules and Gargantua, a new baby shortly bursts from his swaddling and creates havoc.

[the monster tells Vainamoinen to put out his fire and go back where he came from]

If you’ve come from heaven, from
the furthest fair-weather clouds
rise again to heaven
go up there into the sky
to the drizzling clouds
to the trembling stars
to smoulder as fire
to sparkle as sparks
where the sun drives, where
the moon-ring revolves!
Should you, weakling, have been drawn
by water, by billows driven
weakling, enter the water
and drive below the billows
to the mud-stronghold’s edges
the water-ridge’s shoulders
there to be driven by the billows
tossed by the gloomy water!

The poem has been translated into English verse by the English poet Keith Bosley, who was working from his own lifetime study of Finnish, not a literal translation by someone else. It is a stunning work, obviously a life achievement by someone who who adores this poetry.

Kalevale metre seems to be basically a trochaic tetrameter measured quantitavely--that is, four feet each consisting of a long and a short syllable...As in Classical prosody, accent--always on the first syllable in Finnish--does not feature, so there is often a tension between verse rhythm and speech rhythm....Kalevale poetry has neither rhyme nor stanza; its other formal features are alliteration and parallelism, often inverted into chiasmus...’ordinary Karelian Finnish' has only eight vowels and twelve consonants

This is from an excellent introduction which (1) summarizes the prosody, (2) explains how Lonnrot collected the songs and worked them into the poem (3) provides an exegesis of the poem itself and (4) explains his translation.

I listened to an audiobook of him reading his own work, which was phenomenal. It was like listening to a grandfather telling age-old stories by the winter fire.

I will say that my interest flagged about two-thirds to three-quarters through. Lonnrot wrote a first version, and then a second in which he almost doubled the length. I suspect most of what he added must have been in this later part; I don’t think the let down is Bosley’s fault. But overall it is a marvelous poem.
Profile Image for Saturn.
387 reviews55 followers
April 7, 2023
Il Kalevala, la storia della terra di Kaleva, è un poema dell'800 che raccoglie storie della mitologia finnica e canti popolari. Gli eroi del poema sono tre, il saggio Vainamoinen, il fabbro Ilmarinen e il guerriero Lemminkainen. Attraverso il poema assistiamo alle loro avventure e all'eterno scontro con la terra del nord, il Pohjola. Una delle cose che mi ha colpito è che si dà sempre molto spazio alle figure femminili, che non sono mai marginali anche se non sono le protagoniste. I loro sentimenti sono sempre molto presenti. Oltre al mito e all'avventura, c'è anche ironia e sarcasmo, infatti ho trovato alcuni canti divertenti che a volte suonano come delle lunghe filastrocche.
Il racconto che mi ha colpito maggiormente è quello di Kullervo, che si sente solo perché orfano e passa la vita a cercare vendetta su chi gli ha distrutto la famiglia. Neanche la riunificazione con i parenti, creduti morti, riesce a distogliere Kullervo dall'odio e dalla vendetta che oramai sono diventati parte integrante della sua identità. Una storia inevitabilmente tragica.
Ciò che comunque amo di più della mitologia è il fatto che suona familiare nonostante la sua antichità e questo anche quando le storie appartengono ad altre terre, diverse dalla mia. Quello che accomuna tutta la mitologia e che ci accomuna con l'antichità è il fatto che alla base di tutto ci sono sentimenti umani universali, che non cambiano a seconda della latitudine e della longitudine delle storie e neanche nel tempo. Possono passare i millenni, ma l'essere umano è sempre lo stesso nel suo profondo. Cambiano i modi di vivere, ma la gelosia, l'amore, la voglia di esplorare e di conoscere, l'ingegnosità, la vendetta, l'amicizia ci accompagneranno sempre e saranno sempre questi sentimenti a ispirare le nostre storie. Qui, come nella mitologia greca, ci sono gli ingredienti per tutte le storie che si possono raccontare e ognuno troverà qualcosa di bello e familiare. Leggendo, non mi ha sorpreso che Tolkien abbia tratto ispirazione da questo poema.
Profile Image for Deborah Ideiosepius.
1,619 reviews127 followers
September 1, 2013
I had never heard of the Kalevala, but recently I visited Finland for the first time (hopefully not the last) and it is everywhere; Go to an art gallery, or a historical house, or a museum and things based on the Kalevala are everywhere. Drive down the highway and there is a construction company named after a character in the Kalevala. So it soon became evident that if I wanted to understand anything about Finland I would have to read it. It proved to be no great effort; reading the Kalevala was pure pleasure.

In the mid 1800’s a scholar named Elias Lonnrot decided that Finland needed it’s own mythological background, separate from Russia or Sweden both of which had historically major impact on the area that is now Finland. He spent a number of summers wandering in remote areas and collecting the folk stories or folk songs which he then amalgamated into the Kalevala. With a remarkable perspective for someone of that era, he wanted this epic tradition to, as much as possible; reflect the tradition which pre-dated Christianity.

I have always regretted that I could not love the ‘classical epics’ as much as I wanted to. The Illiad and Odyssey I read mostly with impatience. The Hiawatha ‘epic’ dragged so badly that I never quite finished it. They all seemed so ponderous and moralistic. The Kalevala is not. It danced off the pages straight into my imagination and proceeded to embed itself cheerfully into my own personal mythology. I can’t even say what makes it so easy to read. But for weeks after I finished it phrases from the story would pop into my head at the most unexpected times.

It starts with a fairly standard creation myth, standard in that it is purely symbolic, however in one way it is not at all standard; the central creation figure is a woman and most tend to be men. It then proceeds though fifty verses to tell the stories of the ‘wise old man’ figure ‘steady old Vainamoinen’ the feckless oversexed young man ‘wanton Lemminkainen’, the craftsman ‘Smith Ilmarinen’ and many others. Like most folk or mythological figures they do amazing things, create machines, go on voyages, decide to fly or become other beings, talk to animals ect. Where they differ from many other mythologies is how phenomenally human, fallible and ultimately likeable they are. The likeability of the characters is one of the things that sets this epic aside for me from others.

As the Kalevala progresses the stories get closer to the modern day, and the last one is basically about the numinous of mythological beliefs being cast out from the society which has been integrated into christianity. I was sorry it ended, and predictably, as I am not christian, resented the ending while still recognising the phenomenal amount of work that went into this and that it could not have gone on forever.
Profile Image for Mindia Arabuli.
Author 1 book54 followers
December 29, 2020
ეს რაარის ასეთი ლამაზი რამე როგორ დაიწერა ;დ
სულმოუთქმელი სიმღერაა პირველივე სტრიქონიდან სიზმარში რომ უნდა იმღერო, ცხადში ეთეროვნება არ გეყოფა
Profile Image for Ian Slater.
43 reviews10 followers
February 26, 2018
This is a revised version of an Amazon review of two “Kalevala” translations, originally written and posted in 2004, and greatly enlarged in 2012.

For its appearance in Goodreads, I’ve made some additions (and omissions), briefly discussing two other, and readily available, older translations, which I had originally just mentioned.

One thing I learned from the original version of this review is that a reviewer proposes, but only Amazon disposes. (A lesson repeated frequently during the last couple of years....)

Back in 2004, Amazon had lumped together reviews of paperback editions of two translations of the Finnish "National Epic," KALEVALA (variously interpreted as "Kaleva District" and "Land of Heroes"), one in prose by Francis Peabody Magoun, Jr. (1963), and the other, more recent, a verse translation by Keith Bosley (1989).

Naturally, the software would not allow the posting of more than one review of “the same book” by any given reviewer.

In response, I did a revised, extended, review covering both versions.

That received a good response (120 "helpful" votes in 2012, 133 by 2018), but it was left stranded on the Magoun side, when Amazon, in its wisdom, decided to separate the two (as should have been the case from the beginning, of course).

Responding to the challenge, I rewrote the review to focus a bit more on Bosley's translation, and expand my description of Magoun’s.

To begin with, Magoun's translation, now about fifty years old, is a solid, reliable prose version, the first by a translator trained in the study of languages and literatures (mainly medieval Germanic -- but the best translation at the time was by an entomologist....) It was welcomed in academic and other serious-minded circles, and Magoun also translated Lonnrot's first, shorter, published version, as "The Old Kalevala" (1969), which also contained additional documentary material, and a list of proposed corrections to his main translation -- which has been included as Appendix E in more recent printings of "Kalevala," but not incorporated into the main text.

These were extremely impressive performances, aimed mainly, as indicated, at the serious student. But many find them very readable, and, as a friend reminded me, with their end-paper maps, appendices, character indexes, etc, they physically resemble editions of Tolkien.

There is also a non-coincidental similarity of contents -- Tolkien loved the old W.F. Kirby verse translation (the entomologist mentioned earlier), and, typically, followed it up by studying Finnish, an influence which shows up in the Elvish language Quenya, and some of the nomenclature in "The Silmarillion."

The Kirby translation is available (in two “volumes”) as free Kindle books (by way of Project Gutenberg). Some people don’t like its imitative meter, which apparently goes down better in Finnish rather than in English, and he admits to taking some liberties in order to make the meter come out right.

There is another old translation, also available as free Kindle Books, by John Martin Crawford. Crawford, an American physician and some-time diplomat, worked from a German translation: I once read his version, so I can’t say it is unreadable, but it was rather flat and unmemorable (at least to me) compared to Kirby’s rollicking verse, and of course it doesn’t have any claim to greater fidelity to the Finnish. That was what Magoun supplied.

A great many readers, however, found Magoun's prose renderings of both the "Old" and "New" Kalevala to be uninspiring, and even those of us who value it for its careful rendering of the imagery have to admit that, as entertainment, it comes nowhere close to Kirby's sprightly rendering. (Tolkien even claimed that Kirby's version of the story of the invention of beer was actually better, or at least funnier, than the original!)

For those who want both the story and all of the details, but either don't care about, or don't care for, such things as meter and rhyme, Magoun's translation may remain their first choice. For those who know the epic through other translations, it is still worth consulting.

The wishes of many readers were eventually answered in the form of Keith Bosley's elegant (and careful) verse rendering, which, although not as student-friendly in layout and contents, seems to be very reliable.

"Kalevala," variously translated as "Kaleva District" or "Land of Heroes," is a nineteenth-century compilation, revision, and expansion of narratives, spells and charms, and proverbial wisdom collected (mainly, if not entirely, by Elias Lonnrot), from the Finnish-speaking peasants and fisherman of areas of modern Finland and Russia.

It is made up largely, but not entirely, of "runos," narrative songs which even then survived only in isolated, "fringe" areas; ballads with clear connections with other cultures also make an appearance. References to "The Kalevala" are usually to its second edition (1849), also distinguished as the "New Kalevala" in comparison to its shorter predecessor, the "Old Kalevala" (1835).

The material is, for the most part, clearly pagan in origin, with hints of roots in the Viking Age, if not earlier, but processed through centuries of Christianity, Catholic and Lutheran in Finland proper, Russian Orthodox in the Karelia district.

Fortunately, Elias Lonnrot, as the main collector, as well as the man responsible for this literary version, was also engaged in laying the foundations of the scientific study of folk traditions, and the collections he made or sponsored formed the basis of a major archive, the publication of which was only recently completed.

In the meantime, his popularization had become a part of the world's culture, as well as that of Finland. As one example of its impact: the American poet Longfellow adapted a German translator's adaptation of the Finnish meter for his pseudo-Iroquois epic, "Hiawatha," with the paradoxical result that the original is sometimes described, in English, as being in Hiawatha-meter.

The contents are various, but the main themes are the military and romantic adventures and misadventures of a handful of warrior-magicians, quite as quick with an incantation as with a sword. Vainamoinen, "the Eternal Sage," and a kind of demiurge who sings the Finnish homeland into being, is born an old man. His attempts to find a young wife lead to the creation of the mysterious and wonderful "Sampo" by his friend, the smith Ilmarinen, as a kind of bride-price. However, Ilmarinen himself uses it in his own wooing.

These two great heroes share the stage with the irresponsible Lemminkainen, a kind of combined Don Juan and Achilles, and the hapless Kullervo. Kullervo's story -- which you may know as a cantata by Sibelius -- is one of the underpinnings of Tolkien's tale of Turin in "The Silmarillion" and "Unfinished Tales," where it is combined with elements from the "Volsunga Saga." And, of course, Tolkien actually did his own version of “Kullervo,” recently published (but no, I haven’t seen it yet).

(When the "Silmarillion" first appeared, it seemed obvious that the Quest for the Sampo, and the Sampo's ultimate fate, was a direct, immediate, source, as well as a major inspiration, for Tolkien; the publication of his early drafts shows that most of these resemblances emerged over time, in the course of endless re-workings, but they remain enlightening. Other resemblances include the creation of the sun and moon, and attempts to harm them, and the importance of trees. “Kalevala” was clearly at the back of his mind — if not front-and-center — as he created his own mythology: and that is as much more as I'm going to say about the story.)

There have been a number of abridged or retold versions of "The Kalevala" in English, and there were two early complete versions in verse, that by Crawford (nineteenth-century, from a German translation; available on-line), and the 1907 W.F. Kirby translation, directly from Finnish (in -- if you will excuse the expression -- a version of Hiawatha-meter; long available in the Everyman's Library edition, it also is in various formats on-line). I’ll return to these later.

Between Magoun's prose translations, and Bosley's (1989) there was another verse translation of the "New Kalevala," by Eino Friberg (1988), which was clearly driven by love for the epic (and which I keep planning to read and review — I should probably face the fact that I will never find the time). At first glance, Magoun's translation seems very different from Bosley's. Only some of the differences are real.

It should be said that Magoun, despite translating as prose, marks the verse divisions. He follows some Finnish editions in presenting the verse form as a long line with a pause (caesura), instead of as twice as many short lines. His page count therefore is much shorter, even with abundant supplemental material, but he has omitted nothing. There is no extended introduction; information is postponed to extensive appendices. It is well organized enough to be easy to use to find answers as questions arise, or be profitably consulted years later.

Keith Bosley, on the other hand, made an effort to produce a work of literature. This goes beyond translating verse as verse (which he does very well), arranged in short lines (which looks more like poetry to many). Lonnrot's prose summaries of each *runo* (for this purpose, canto) are not translated by Bosley. Magoun used them as "arguments" (in the manner of Milton's prose summaries for each book of "Paradise Lost"). For Bosley, nothing interrupts the flow of narrative and lyric, ritual and spell. The result is extremely engaging, far beyond Magoun's prosy rendition; a distinct plus.

There are, however, no glossaries or indexes to otherwise serve as a guide through the complex set of stories. Bosley offers just ten pages of brief (albeit extremely useful) notes. These are followed by a two-page appendix on "Sibelius and the Kalevala," which untangles the references -- and some non-references -- to the "Kalevala" in the titles of several of the Finnish composer's works. (A certain amount of garbling took place as his music publisher translated titles into German, and the German was turned into English without checking against the original meaning.)

Bosley's Introduction is excellent, and establishes the literary and cultural background of Lonnrot's work and the nature of the folk-poetry he collected, and makes useful observations about the structure of the completed epic. It is far better reading than Magoun's documentation. Of course, taking advantage of this synthesis means careful reading, ideally in advance of the story. The reader should take the time, but *should* is not *will.* Here, Magoun's formidable-looking book is actually more user-friendly.

The Magoun translation was available for decades as a hardcover (with endpaper maps), before being issued as an otherwise identical trade paperback. Either form should stand up to reasonable handling.

Bosley's translation apparently was published in paperback only, in two slightly-different formats; first as a "World's Classics" mass-market paperback (1989), and then as a larger (but otherwise identical) "Oxford World's Classics" paperback in 1999. It is a very fat volume, over 700 pages long, due to Bosley's decision to treat the verse as short lines.

Because of the different proportions of height and width to the binding, the slightly larger format of the OWC edition seems to me physically more stable, likely to stand up better to repeated readings and consultations; but I haven't heard of any problems with copies of the older World's Classics printings.

Happily, Bosley’s translation is now available also in Kindle format, at a slightly lower price than the large paperback.

Lonnrot also published (1840-41) a collection of non-epic folk genres, including much material eventually absorbed into "Kalevala," as "Kanteletar" (roughly, "zither-daughter"). This has been under-represented in translation. Bosley translated a selection as "The Kanteletar," published in "World's Classics" in 1992, and currently out of print. It is an excellent companion to any "Kalevala" translation, but especially (of course) to Bosley's own. Back in 2004, I hoped that would be reprinted in the “Oxford World’s Classics” large format: this is still something to be desired. Or maybe a Kindle version?
Profile Image for Michael Haase.
356 reviews6 followers
July 27, 2018
The Kalevala is without a doubt the most insanely hilarious and absurd epic poem or collection of epic poems I've ever read. It's really quite difficult to put to word just how ridiculous the story of The Kalevala truly is. In this book, you'll find a man peeling a rock and crafting a boat out of yarn, a man being born on top of a pile of burning charcoal with a pair of miniature smithing tools in each hand, a single bee going on a vast journey to collect special honey to be used as healing ointment for a man that was sliced in pieces and then sewn back together again, two old guys calmly chatting by the stove about the origin of metal while one of them is spewing blood everywhere from his knee, and the most amazing part of all, instead of people fighting each other with swords and spears they have epic rap battles! These are just a few things that happen in the text! Honestly, I've never encountered an epic with as many crazy surprises as this. Each chapter I was just waiting to see what sort of madness would occur next.

The characters are also more appealing and ironically more realistic than those of other epics. They have an emotional capacity and vulnerability that sets them apart from other epic heroes, especially Scandinavian heroes.

Besides the outlandish things going on in the plot, I was rather confused by the composition. The text seems disjointed when you look at the religious underlining. I saw the Christian god as well as Judas being mentioned alongside Thor, and it goes without saying that neither of those two figures and their respective mythologies fit in with The Kalevala's origin story for the universe.

The reason I'm giving The Kalevala only three stars is because despite the immensely amusing narrative, the book becomes very tedious and boring at times, as well as overly repetitive with its style. I haven't read the Finnish text, so I don't understand the original rhythm and rhyme scheme of it, but the Oxford version displays a manner of reiterating phrases and strophes with a few word variations, in a melodic fashion. This gets weary after a while, as the reader must wade through the same texts over and over again.

There is also a weird manner in which everything is done in pairs of three, like Goldilocks with the three bears. If a man is wounded he visits three houses, when a person is facing trials to win a maiden's hand he must face three trials, etc. etc. Weirdly enough, Goldilocks is even mentioned in the Oxford edition, though they probably don't say Goldilocks in the Finnish version.

Then there is the incredibly boring 100+ page passage about marital rites and obligations, which is coincidentally followed by the most entertaining part of the book imo.

Likewise, there is also a large portion about a character named Kullervo which I just didn't care for. I found him an unattractive character and the passage the most the resembling to other Germanic epics about feuds and revenge. It doesn't fit in with the rest of the story and seems sort of like a digression.

Lastly, I cannot reconcile myself with the fact that the original authors of these poems tacitly endorse kidnapping, theft, rape, and wrath-induced murder. Is the reader supposed to side with Väinämöinen and his gang after they've just stolen the livelihood of the northern folk? What was the purpose of including all those bride-kidnapping scenes?

Don't let yourself be intimidated by the size of the book. It reads fast, especially if you skip all the repeated phrases and superfluous details. It's entertaining, full of surprises, and contains a cast of goofy characters, but also has countless boring passages as well.
Profile Image for Michael.
544 reviews122 followers
December 1, 2021
As I've struggled for several decades to read the whole epic, I decided to read the Kullervo episode by itself, inspired by the recent purchase of a recording of Sibelius' Kullervo symphony.

The story of Kullervo's birth, life and death runs from tragedy to tragedy, with some moments of dark comedy. He is born into the household of an uncle "of hasty temper" who slaughtered Kullervo's people over a dispute about "fishes entrails", and violent overreaction to minor slights is a thread through the story.

Kullervo is abused as a child, mocked as a youth, and his anger and sullenly vengeful nature is understandable, even if his actions are indefensible. His joy at learning his parents and siblings survived the genocide turns to bitterness when they also fail to see his inner qualities, and then to grief when he unwittingly commits incest. Horrified, he acts out his self-loathing upon his hated uncle's people, closing the circle of genocide, and ending in suicide. The poet's closing moral is sympathetic: Parents, don't be cruel to your children; raise them well. 5 dark stars
Profile Image for Biblio Curious.
233 reviews8,280 followers
September 21, 2018
The backstory of how this epic came to be is also fascinating & is riddled with language awesomeness. Women have important roles to play. And sometimes, men are simply buffoons. It's such a wonderful change of pace from these old epics to see women hold their own so well. In the early parts, among my favourite are when the man is newly created, he actually takes time to stop and think. He reflects on what he should do. When he stops thinking, that's when everything falls apart for him. There's still quite a few surprises in this hilarious, wisdom pack romp of a good time.
Profile Image for Karīna Janova.
151 reviews4 followers
April 11, 2023
Grāmatu grāmata! Ekselenta literatūras pērle! Bet ne tikai - man bija sajūta, ka esmu atradusi slēptu un slepenu grāmatu - Ziemeļu Bībeli.

Elias Lennrūts 19.gs. sākumā apkopojis somu tautadziesmas, ko no paaudzes paaudzē dziedājuši Somijas austrumu puses iedzīvotāji. Mums kā latviešiem tautasdziesmas nav nekāds pārsteigums. Bet ir viena lieta atšķirība - senie dziedājumi šeit veido stāstus. Garus mītiski episkus stāstus jeb rūnas. Kalevala sastāv no 50 rūnām. Sākumā liekas, ka starp tām nav saistība, tomēr ar laiku ielasoties parādās vienota sižeta līnija. Galvenie varoņi parādās atkal un atkal, līdz beidzot veidojas varoņu tēli, viņu piedzīvojumi, transformācija, attīstība vai destrukcija. Līdzīgi kā Homēra Iliādā un Odisejā. Tikai nevis tu lasi par kādu tālu dienvidu Grieķiju, bet tepat - par mums, par Ziemeļeiropu.

Atgriežoties pie Bībeles tēmas. Kalevala sākas ar pasaules radīšanu un noslēdzas ar kristietības ienākšanu. Gluži kā Vecā Derība. Bet nevis par kādu tālu Izraēlu, bet tapat - par mums, par Ziemeļeiropu. Visa pirmkristīgā doma, vērtības, pasaules un cilvēces attīstība, cīņas, mīti, arhetipi- viss ir šajā grāmatā. Arhetipus izprast man palīdzēja “Northern myth podcast” autori:
Ļoti interesantas sarunas un iedziļināšanās Kalevalas mītu pasaulē!

Vārdu sakot, šoziem adīju somugru (Zemgales votu) cimdus, klausījos somugru tautas teikās, faktiski sēžot (un dažreiz slēpojot) bijušajās somugru (līvu) zemēs - pašā Satezeles zemes sirdī.

- - -

Pasaules rašanās no gaigalas olas:

“Čaulas izveidojās skaisti;
No tās olas apakšdaļas
Izašķīlās māte zeme,
Bet no viņas augšas daļas
Radās augstais debess lokums;
Dzeltēnuma virsējdaļa
Vērtās dienas saules gaismā,
Olas baltums, augšas daļa
Izmetās par mēnesnīcu;
Bet no olas raibās puses
Zvaigznes saradās pie debess,
Un no melnuma, kas olā,
Celās gaisā makoņpulki.”
(1.rūna 233.-244.rinda)

- - -

“At the heart of the Kalevala is the shamanistic power of words to transform, lead astray, destroy, create, or bring back to life.”
The NYT Review, Nov 4, 2021
Profile Image for Noah.
450 reviews46 followers
August 17, 2019
In der Zeit von 1828 bis 1844 zog Elias Lönnrot in der Nachfolge der Gebrüder Grimm durch das ländliche Finnland, um die örtlichen Legenden von den noch recht ursprünglich lebenden finnischen Stämmen zu sammeln. In der Folgezeit führte er diese Legenden, die - soweit die Wissenschaft es rekonstruiren konnte - aus ganz unterschiedlichen Zeitaltern als mündliche Überlieferungen überlebt hatten zur "Kelevala" zusammen. Die ältesten Geschichten stammten wohl aus der frühen Wikingerzeit, die letzten waren wohl frisch aus Russland übernommene Rezeptionen der Antike und der modernen Dichtung. Bei der Zusammenfügung dieser höchst unterschiedlichen Erzählungen zu einem Heldenepos erlaubte sich Lönnrot erhebliche Freiheit. Seine Fans würden sagen, nicht anders hat es Homer auch getan, seine Kritiker würden sagen, er hat nicht anders gehandelt, als James Macpherson mit dem "Ossian" und in genau diesem Spannungsfeld handelt Lönnrot, was ihm nicht gut bekommt.

Lönnrot ist kein Homer und so sehr auch Väinämöinen ein durchaus homerischer Held ist, so sehr fehlt es Lönnrot als frommem Lutheraner an dem, was die Ilias zu einem der großartigsten Werke der Weltliteratur machte, an Sinn für Ironie, für Widersprüche und Grautöne.

Lönnrot ist auch kein Macpherson, auch wenn Väinämöinen erstaunlich viel mit Ossian gemein hat. Dazu ist er zu wenig Dicheter und hält wiederum zu sklavisch am von den Erzählern übernommenen Stoff und am Versmaß fest, um sich wie Macpherson dem Leser gefällig auszutoben.

Dennoch möchte ich diese Lektüre nicht missen, die ein Tor zu einer Sagen- und Legendenwelt liefert, die mit den benachbarten Welten der Wikinger oder der slawischen Stämme erstaunlich wenig gemein hat und genuin eigene Motive entwickelt.

Zu dieser Ausgabe: Von den gut 600 Seiten in mikroskopisch kleiner Schrift ist weniger als die Hälfte der eigentliche Text. Im Annex wird der Stoff mehrfach in unterschiedlichen Längen repetiert, annotiert und analysiert. Ferner findet sich eine recht detaillierte Analyse der verschiedenen Fassungen und eine nicht gerade kurz geratene Kurzbiographie von Lönnrot. Das alles ist zu viel und die wirklich interessanten Fußnoten, sowie das Vorwort reichen völlig aus.

Profile Image for Panagiotis.
80 reviews22 followers
August 18, 2012
In fact i decided to read kalevala because one of my favorite band,Amorphis from Finland,writes music that deals with stories from this epic poem.Well,i did right,cause as a fan of worldwide Mythologies,Kalevala offered me all the things i just wanted to read.Gods,evil witches,heroes,battles and exciting,heroic,funny or tragic stories.Recommended to all people who like such stuff,by reading this you will also put yourself in a place comparing the stories with similar of other's Mythologies.One of the most important things is that you will be in a way inducted to Finnish culture,since this poem is considered to have played an important role in the develpoment of the Finnish national identity.
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