Kalevala is the poetic name for Finland: ‘the land of heroes’. Here you’ll find the cultural essence of a young country but an old land, the stories, songs and poems that recount the mythical adventures of humankind. Ambition, lust, romance, birth and death can all be found within its pages, as well as the sampo, a mysterious talisman that brings great happiness to its possessor and over which great battles will be fought.
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY HORATIO CLARE
Elias Lönnrot was a Finnish country doctor born in 1802. During twenty years spent working in a remote part of eastern Finland, Lönnrot collected fragments of folk tales and poetry which he believed formed a continuous epic. He undertook eleven field trips on a quest to gather as much material as he could, partly funded by the Finnish Literary Society, of which he was a founding member. The result was the Kalevala, first published in 1835. Lönnrot continued to collect material, eventually bringing out the version we know today in 1849. It consists of 22,795 verses, divided into fifty songs. Lönnrot most likely merged similar variants and stitched fragments together with his own words.
Lönnrot became a professor of Finnish language and literature at the University of Helsinki in 1853. His work paved the way for the development of modern Finnish literature and promoted Finnish as the national language over Swedish. From 1866 he worked on the fourteen-year-long task of compiling the first Finnish–Swedish dictionary which contained over 200,000 entries. Many of the translations were coined by Lönnrot himself. He died in 1884.