The Kalevala or The Kalewala (/ˌkɑːləˈvɑːlə/; Finnish: [ˈkɑle̞ʋɑlɑ]) is a 19th-century work of epic poetry compiled by Elias Lönnrot from Karelian and Finnish oral folklore and mythology.
It is regarded as the national epic of Karelia and Finland and is one of the most significant works of Finnish literature. The Kalevala played an instrumental role in the development of the Finnish national identity, the intensification of Finland's language strife and the growing sense of nationality that ultimately led to Finland's independence from Russia in 1917.
The first version of The Kalevala (called The Old Kalevala) was published in 1835. The version most commonly known today was first published in 1849 and consists of 22,795 verses, divided into fifty songs (Finnish: runot). The title can be interpreted as "The Land of Kaleva" or "Kalevia".
Elias Lönnrot (9 April 1802 – 19 March 1884) was a physician, botanist and linguist. During the time he was compiling the Kalevala he was the district health officer based in Kajaani responsible for the whole Kainuu region in the eastern part of what was then the Grand Duchy of Finland. He was the son of Fredrik Johan Lönnrot, a tailor and Ulrika Lönnrot; he was born in the village of Sammatti, Uusimaa.
At the age of 21, he entered the Imperial Academy of Turku and obtained a master's degree in 1826. His thesis was entitled De Vainamoine priscorum fennorum numine (Väinämöinen, a Divinity of the Ancient Finns). The monograph's second volume was destroyed in the Great Fire of Turku the same year.
In the spring of 1828, he set out with the aim of collecting folk songs and poetry. Rather than continue this work though, he decided to complete his studies and entered Imperial Alexander University in Helsinki to study medicine. He earned a master's degree in 1832. In January 1833, he started as the district health officer of Kainuu and began his work on collecting poetry and compiling The Kalevala. Throughout his career Lönnrot made a total of eleven field trips within a period of fifteen years.
Prior to the publication of the Kalevala, Elias Lönnrot compiled several related works, including the three-part Kantele (1829–1831), the Old Kalevala (1835) and the Kanteletar (1840).
Lönnrot's field trips and endeavours not only helped him to compile the Kalevala, but also brought considerable enjoyment to the people he visited; he would spend much time retelling what he had collected as well as learning new poems.
The Kalevala begins with the traditional Finnish creation myth, leading into stories of the creation of the earth, plants, creatures and the sky. Creation, healing, combat and internal story telling are often accomplished by the character(s) involved singing of their exploits or desires. Many parts of the stories involve a character hunting or requesting lyrics (spells) to acquire some skill, such as boat-building or the mastery of iron making.
As well as magical spell casting and singing, there are many stories of lust, romance, kidnapping and seduction. The protagonists of the stories often have to accomplish feats that are unreasonable or impossible which they often fail to achieve leading to tragedy and humiliation.
The Sampo is a pivotal element of the whole work. Many actions and their consequences are caused by the Sampo itself or a character's interaction with the Sampo. It is described as a magical talisman or device that brings its possessor great fortune and prosperity, but its precise nature has been the subject of debate to the present day.
There are also similarities with mythology and folklore from other cultures, for example the Kullervo character and his story bearing some likeness to the Greek Oedipus. The similarity of the virginal maiden Marjatta to the Christian Virgin Mary is also striking. The arrival of Marjatta's son in the final song spelling the end of Väinämöinen's reign over Kalevala is similar to the arrival of Christianity bringing about the end of Paganism in Finland and Europe at large.
Aino Trip-tych by Aleksi Gallen-Kallela, 1891.
Left: The first meeting of Aino and Väinämöinen. Right: Aino laments her woes and decides to end her life rather than marry an old man. Middle: The end of the story arc – Väinämöinen catches the Aino fish but is unable to keep hold of her.
(Lemminkäinen's mother) by Akseli Gallen-Kallela 1897 – Lemminkäinen's mother on the banks of the river of Tuonela reviving her son.
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