The Kalevala (Finnish: Kalevala, IPA: [ˈkɑle̞ʋɑlɑ]) is a 19th-century work of epic poetry compiled by Elias Lönnrot from Karelian and Finnish oral folklore and mythology.[1]

It is regarded as the national epic of Karelia and Finland[Note 1] and is one of the most significant works of Finnish literature. The Kalevala was instrumental 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.[3][4]

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 folk stories (Finnish: runot).[5]

The Kalevala
Kalevala. The Finnish national epic by Elias Lönnrot. First edition, 1835.
AuthorElias Lönnrot
Original titleKalevala
TranslatorJohn Addison Porter, John Martin Crawford, William Forsell Kirby, Francis Peabody Magoun, Jr., Eino Friberg & Keith Bosley
CountryGrand Duchy of Finland now Republic of Finland
LanguageFinnish, translated multiple times.
GenreEpic poetry, National epic
PublisherJ. C. Frenckell ja Poika and many others.
Publication date
Old Kalevala: 1835 – New Kalevala: 1849
Published in English
1888, 1907, 1963 & 1989
PagesOld Kalevala: vol 1, 208pp. vol 2, 334pp – New Kalevala: ~500pp.

Collection and compilation

Elias Lönnrot

Elias Lönrot Cabinet Portrait

Elias Lönnrot (9 April 1802 – 19 March 1884) was a physician, botanist, linguist, and poet. 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.[6][7]

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.[8][9]

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.[10][11]


The statue of Väinämöinen by Robert Stigell (1888) decorates the Vanha Ylioppilastalo (Old Student House) built in 1870 in Helsinki, Finland.


Before the 18th century the Kalevala poetry was common throughout Finland and Karelia, but in the 18th century it began to disappear in Finland, first in western Finland, because European rhymed poetry became more common in Finland. Finnish folk poetry was first written down in the 17th century[12][13] and collected by hobbyists and scholars through the following centuries. Despite this, the majority of Finnish poetry remained only in the oral tradition.

Finnish born nationalist and linguist Kaarle Akseli Gottlund (1796–1875) expressed his desire for a Finnish epic in a similar vein to The Iliad, Beowulf and the Nibelungenlied compiled from the various poems and songs spread over most of Finland. He hoped that such an endeavour would incite a sense of nationality and independence in the native Finnish people.[14] In 1820, Reinhold von Becker founded the journal Turun Wiikko-Sanomat (Turku Weekly News) and published three articles entitled Väinämöisestä (Concerning Väinämöinen). These works were an inspiration for Elias Lönnrot in creating his masters thesis at Turku University.[6][15]

In the 19th century, collecting became more extensive, systematic and organised. Altogether, almost half a million pages of verse have been collected and archived by the Finnish Literature Society and other collectors in what are now Estonia and the Republic of Karelia.[16] The publication Suomen Kansan Vanhat Runot (Ancient Poems of the Finns) published 33 volumes containing 85,000 items of poetry over a period of 40 years. They have also archived 65,000 items of poetry that remain unpublished.[17] By the end of the 19th century this pastime of collecting material relating to Karelia and the developing orientation towards eastern lands had become a fashion called Karelianism, a form of national romanticism.

The chronology of this oral tradition is uncertain. The oldest themes (the origin of Earth) have been interpreted to have their roots in distant, unrecorded history and could be as old as 3,000 years.[18] The newest events (e.g. the arrival of Christianity) seem to be from the Iron Age. Finnish folklorist Kaarle Krohn proposes that 20 of the 45 poems of The Kalevala are of possible Ancient Estonian origin or at least deal with a motif of Estonian origin (of the remainder, two are Ingrian and 23 are Western Finnish).[19]

It is understood that during the Finnish reformation in the 16th century the clergy forbade all telling and singing of pagan rites and stories. In conjunction with the arrival of European poetry and music this caused a significant reduction in the number of traditional folk songs and their singers. Thus the tradition faded somewhat but was never totally eradicated.[20]

Lönnrot's field trips

A caricature of Elias Lönnrot by A. W. Linsen "Unus homo nobis currendo restituit rem" – "One man saved a kingdom for us by running".

In total, Lönnrot made eleven field trips in search of poetry. His first trip was made in 1828 after his graduation from Turku University, but it was not until 1831 and his second field trip that the real work began. By that time he had already published three articles entitled Kantele and had significant notes to build upon. This second trip was not very successful and he was called back to Helsinki to attend to victims of the Second cholera pandemic.[21]

The third field trip was much more successful and led Elias Lönnrot to Viena in east Karelia where he visited the town of Akonlahti, which proved most successful. This trip yielded over 3,000 verses and copious notes.[22] In 1833, Lönnrot moved to Kajaani where he was to spend the next 20 years as the district health officer for the region. His fourth field trip was undertaken in conjunction with his work as a doctor; a 10-day jaunt into Viena. This trip resulted in 49 poems and almost 3,000 new lines of verse. It was during this trip that Lönnrot formulated the idea that the poems might represent a wider continuity when poem entities were performed to him along with comments in normal speech connecting them.[23][24]

On the fifth field trip, Lönnrot met Arhippa Perttunen who provided a large portion of the verses for The Kalevala. He also met a singer called Matiska in the hamlet of Lonkka on the Russian side of the border. While this singer had a somewhat poor memory, he did help to fill in many gaps in the work Lönnrot had already catalogued. This trip resulted in the discovery of almost 300 poems at just over 13,000 verses.[25]

In autumn of 1834, Lönnrot had written the vast majority of the work needed for what was to become The Old Kalevala; all that was required was to tie up some narrative loose ends and officially complete the work. His sixth field trip took him into Kuhmo, a municipality in Kainuu to the south of Viena. There he collected over 4,000 verses and completed the first draft of his work. He wrote the foreword and published in February of the following year.[26]

With the Old Kalevala now well into its first publication run, Lönnrot decided to continue collecting poems to supplement his existing work and to understand the culture more completely. The seventh field trip took him on a long winding path through the southern and eastern parts of the Viena poem singing region. He was delayed significantly in Kuhmo because of bad skiing conditions. By the end of that trip, Lönnrot had collected another 100 poems consisting of over 4,000 verses.[27] Lönnrot made his eighth field trip to the Russian border town of Lapukka where the great singer Arhippa Perttunen had learned his trade. In correspondence he notes that he has written down many new poems but is unclear on the quantity.[28]

Elias Lönnrot field trips-notable karelia locations-1
Notable towns visited by Elias Lönnrot during his 15 years of field trips – to the right is Russia, to the left Finland

Elias Lönnrot departed on the first part of his ninth field trip on 16 September 1836. He was granted a 14-month leave of absence and a sum of travelling expenses from the Finnish Literary Society. His funds came with some stipulations: he must travel around the Kainuu border regions and then on to the north and finally from Kainuu to the south-east along the border. For the expedition into the north he was accompanied by Juhana Fredrik Cajan. The first part of the trip took Lönnrot all the way to Inari in northern Lapland.[29] The second, southern part of the journey was more successful than the northern part, taking Lönnrot to the Russian town of Sortavala on Lake Ladoga then back up through Savo and eventually back to Kajaani. Although these trips were long and arduous, they resulted in very little Kalevala material; only 1,000 verses were recovered from the southern half and an unknown quantity from the northern half.[30]

The tenth field trip is a relative unknown. What is known however, is that Lönnrot intended to gather poems and songs to compile into the upcoming work Kanteletar. He was accompanied by his friend C. H. Ståhlberg for the majority of the trip. During that journey the pair met Mateli Kuivalatar in the small border town of Ilomantsi. Kuivalatar was very important to the development of the Kanteletar.[31] The eleventh documented field trip was another undertaken in conjunction with his medical work. During the first part of the trip, Lönnrot returned to Akonlahti in Russian Karelia, where he gathered 80 poems and a total of 800 verses. The rest of the trip suffers from poor documentation.[32]


Inha runonlaulajat
Karelian poem singing brothers Poavila and Triihvo Jamanen reciting traditional Finnish folk poetry, Russia, 1894.

Lönnrot and his contemporaries (e.g. Matthias Castrén, Anders Johan Sjögren[33] and David Emmanuel Daniel Europaeus[34][35]) collected most of the poem variants (one poem could easily have countless variants) scattered across rural areas of Karelia and Ingria. Lönnrot was not really interested in, and rarely wrote down the name of the singer except for some of the more prolific cases. His primary purpose in the region was that of a physician and of an editor, not of a biographer or counsellor. He rarely knew anything in-depth about the singer himself and primarily only catalogued verse that could be relevant or of some use in his work.[36]

The student David Emmanuel Daniel Europaeus is credited with discovering and cataloguing the majority of the Kullervo story.[37][35][38]

Of the dozens of poem singers who contributed to the Kalevala, significant ones are:

  • Arhippa Perttunen (1769–1840)
  • Juhana Kainulainen
  • Matiska
  • Ontrei Malinen (1780–1855)
  • Vaassila Kieleväinen
  • Soava Trohkimainen

Form and structure

The poetry was often sung to music built on a pentachord, sometimes assisted by a kantele player. The rhythm could vary but the music was arranged in either two or four lines in 5
metre. The poems were often performed by a duo, each person singing alternative verses or groups of verses. This method of performance is called an antiphonic performance, it is a kind of "singing match".

Despite the vast geographical distance and customary spheres separating individual singers, the folk poetry the Kalevala is based on was always sung in the same metre.

The Kalevala's metre is a form of trochaic tetrameter that is now known as the Kalevala metre. The metre is thought to have originated during the Proto-Finnic period. Its syllables fall into three types: strong, weak, and neutral. Its main rules are as follows:[39][40]

  • A long syllable (one that contains a long vowel or a diphthong, or ends in a consonant) with a main stress is metrically strong.
In the second, third, and fourth foot of a line, a strong syllable can occur in only the rising part:
Veli / kulta, / veikko/seni (1:11)
("Dearest friend, and much-loved brother"[41])
The first foot has a freer structure, allowing strong syllables in a falling position as well as a rising one:
Niit' en/nen i/soni / lauloi (1:37)
("These my father sang aforetime")
  • A short syllable with a main stress is metrically weak.
In the second, third, and fourth feet, a weak syllable can occur only in the falling part:
Miele/ni mi/nun te/kevi (1:1)
("I am driven by my longing")
Again, the first foot's structure is more free, allowing weak syllables in a rising position as well as a falling one:
vesois/ta ve/tele/miä (1:56)
("Others taken from the saplings")
  • All syllables without a main stress are metrically neutral. Neutral syllables can occur at any position.

There are two main types of line:[40]

  • A normal tetrameter, word-stresses and foot-stresses match, and there is a caesura between the second and third feet:
Veli / kulta, // veikko/seni
  • A broken tetrameter (Finnish: murrelmasäe) has at least one stressed syllable in a falling position. There is usually no caesura:
Miele/ni mi/nun te/kevi

Traditional poetry in the Kalevala metre uses both types with approximately the same frequency. The alteration of normal and broken tetrameters is a characteristic difference between the Kalevala metre and other forms of trochaic tetrameter.

There are also four additional rules:[40]

  • In the first foot, the length of syllables is free. It is also possible for the first foot to contain three or even four syllables.
  • A one-syllable word can not occur at the end of a line.
  • A word with four syllables should not stand in the middle of a line. This also applies to non-compound words.
  • The last syllable of a line may not include a long vowel.

There are two main schemes featured in The Kalevala:[40]

Alliteration can be broken into two forms. Weak: where only the opening consonant is the same, and strong: where both the first vowel or vowel and consonant are the same in the different words. (e.g. vaka vanha inämöinen "Steadfast old Väinämöinen").
Parallelism in The Kalevala refers to the stylistic feature of repeating the idea presented in the previous line, often by using synonyms, rather than moving the plot forward. (e.g. Näillä raukoilla rajoilla / Poloisilla pohjan mailla "In these dismal Northern regions / In the dreary land of Pohja"). Lönnrot has been criticised for overusing parallelism in The Kalevala: in the original poems, a line was usually followed by only one such parallel line.[42]

The verses are also sometimes inverted into chiasmus.

Verses 221 to 232 of song forty.[41][43]

Vaka vanha Väinämöinen
itse tuon sanoiksi virkki:
"Näistäpä toki tulisi
kalanluinen kanteloinen,
kun oisi osoajata,
soiton luisen laatijata."
Kun ei toista tullutkana,
ei ollut osoajata,
soiton luisen laatijata,
vaka vanha Väinämöinen
itse loihe laatijaksi,
tekijäksi teentelihe.

Väinämöinen, old and steadfast,
Answered in the words which follow:
"Yet a harp might be constructed
Even of the bones of fishes,
If there were a skilful workman,
Who could from the bones construct it."
As no craftsman there was present,
And there was no skilful workman
Who could make a harp of fishbones,
Väinämöinen, old and steadfast,
Then began the harp to fashion,
And himself the work accomplished.

Lönnrot's contribution to Kalevala

Very little is actually known about Elias Lönnrot's personal contributions to The Kalevala. Scholars to this day still argue about how much of The Kalevala is genuine folk poetry and how much is Lönnrot's own work. During the compilation process it is known that he merged poem variants and characters together, left out verses that did not fit and composed lines of his own in order to connect certain passages into a logical plot. Similarly, individual singers would use their own words and dialect when reciting their repertoire, even going so far as to perform different versions of the same song at different times.[36][35][44][45]

The Finnish historian Väinö Kaukonen suggests that 3% of The Kalevala's lines are Lönnrot's own composition, 14% are Lönnrot compositions from variants, 50% are verses which Lönnrot kept mostly unchanged except for some minor alterations, and 33% are original unedited oral poetry.[46]


Finnish language

The first version of Lönnrot's compilation was entitled Kalewala, taikka Wanhoja Karjalan Runoja Suomen Kansan muinoisista ajoista ("The Kalevala, or old Karelian poems about ancient times of the Finnish people"), also known as simply the Old Kalevala. It was published in two volumes in 1835–1836. The Old Kalevala consisted of 12,078 verses making up a total of thirty-two poems.[47][48]

Even after the publication of the Old Kalevala Lönnrot continued to collect new material for several years. He later integrated this additional material, with significantly edited existing material, into a second version, The Kalevala. This new Kalevala, published in 1849, contains fifty poems, and is the standard text of The Kalevala read and translated to this day.

The name Kalevala rarely appears in the original folk poetry of the time; it was coined by Lönnrot for the official name of his project sometime at the end of 1834.[27][49] The first appearance of "Kalevala" in collected poetry was recorded in April 1836.[50] The choice of "Kalevala" as the name for his work was not a random choice however. The name "Kalev" appears in Finnic and Baltic folklore in many locations and the Sons of Kalev are known throughout Finnish and Estonian folklore.[19]


Kalevala Hindi
Hindi version of Kalevala, translated by Vishnu Khare, at the Helsinki Book Fair

Of the five complete translations into English, it is only the older translations by John Martin Crawford (1888) and William Forsell Kirby (1907) which attempt to strictly follow the original (Kalevala metre) of the poems.[18][41] Eino Friberg's 1988 translation uses it selectively but in general is more attuned to pleasing the ear than being an exact metrical translation; it also often reduces the length of songs for aesthetic reasons.[51]

A notable partial translation of Franz Anton Schiefner's German translation was made by Prof. John Addison Porter in 1868 and published by Leypoldt & Holt.[52]

Edward Taylor Fletcher, a British-born Canadian literature enthusiast, also translated selections of The Kalevala in 1869. He read them before the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec on 17 March 1869.[53][54]

Francis Peabody Magoun published a scholarly translation of the Kalevala in 1963 written entirely in prose. The appendices of this version contain notes on the history of the poem, comparisons between the original Old Kalevala and the current version, and a detailed glossary of terms and names used in the poem.[55] Magoun also translated the Old Kalevala, which was published six years later entitled The Old Kalevala and Certain Antecedents.

Three recent translations were published in the Karelian and Urdu languages between 2009 and 2015. Thus, the Kalevala was published in its originating Karelian language only after 168 years since its first translation into Swedish.[56]

So far The Kalevala has been translated into sixty-one languages and is Finland's most translated work of literature.[57][58]

The story

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.[59]


Gallen Kallela The Aino Triptych
Aino-Triptych by Akseli 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.

The first Väinämöinen cycle

Songs 1 and 2: The poem begins with an introduction by the singers. The Earth is created from the shards of a goldeneye (a small duck) egg and the first man (Väinämöinen) is born to the goddess Ilmatar. Väinämöinen brings trees and life to the barren world.

Songs 3 to 5: Väinämöinen encounters the jealous Joukahainen and they do battle. Joukahainen loses and pledges his sister's hand in return for his life; the sister (Aino) soon drowns herself in the sea.

Songs 6 to 10: Väinämöinen heads to Pohjola to propose to the maiden of the north. Joukahainen attacks Väinämöinen again; Väinämöinen floats for days on the sea until he is carried by an eagle to Pohjola. He makes a deal with Louhi to get Ilmarinen to create the Sampo. Ilmarinen refuses to go to Pohjola so Väinämöinen forces him against his will. The Sampo is forged. Ilmarinen returns without a bride.

The first Lemminkäinen cycle

Songs 11 to 15: Lemminkäinen sets out to Saari (English: The Island) in search of a bride. He and the maid Kyllikki make vows to each other but thinking Lemminkäinen has repudiated his, the maiden repudiates hers so Lemminkäinen discards her and sets off to woo the Maiden of the North. His mother tries to stop him and be the voice of reason, but Lemminkäinen disregards her warnings, claiming that when he's in danger, his hairbrush starts to bleed. After a long journey to the North, he asks Louhi for her daughter's hand and she assigns tasks to him. While hunting for the Tuonelan joutsen (Swan of Death) Lemminkäinen is shot by the Pohjolan paimen (The Shepherd of the North) who is annoyed by his bad behavior and disrespect, and falls into the river of death. As he lies dead in the river, his mother at home notices blood flowing from Lemminkäinen's hairbrush. Remembering her son's words, she goes in search of him. With a rake given to her by Ilmarinen, she collects the pieces of Lemminkäinen scattered in the river and pieces him back together, a bee bringing her the ingredients necessary to revive him.

Gallen Kallela Lemminkainens Mother
Lemminkäisen äiti (Lemminkäinen's mother) by Akseli Gallen-Kallela 1897 – Lemminkäinen's mother on the banks of the river of Tuonela reviving her son

The second Väinämöinen cycle

Songs 16 to 18: Väinämöinen builds a boat to travel to Pohjola once again in search of a bride. He visits Tuonela (English: The land of Death) and is held prisoner. Väinämöinen uses his magical powers to escape and warns his people of the dangers present in Tuonela. Väinämöinen now sets out to gather the necessary spells from Antero Vipunen. Väinämöinen is swallowed and has to torture Antero Vipunen for the spells and his escape. His boat completed, Väinämöinen sets sail for Pohjola. Ilmarinen learns of this and resolves to go to Pohjola himself to woo the maiden. The Maiden of the North chooses Ilmarinen.

Ilmarinen's wedding

Songs 19 to 25: Ilmarinen is assigned dangerous unreasonable tasks in order to win the hand of the Maiden of the North. He accomplishes these tasks with some help from the maiden herself. In preparation for the wedding beer is brewed, a giant steer is slaughtered and invitations are sent out. Lemminkäinen is uninvited. The wedding party begins and all are happy. Väinämöinen sings and lauds the people of Pohjola. The bride and bridegroom are prepared for their roles in matrimony. The couple arrive home and are greeted with drink and viands.

The second Lemminkäinen cycle

Songs 26 to 30: Lemminkäinen is resentful for not having been invited to the wedding and sets out immediately for Pohjola. On his arrival he is challenged to and wins a duel with Sariola, the Master of the North. An army is conjured to enact revenge upon Lemminkäinen and he flees to his mother. She advises him to head to the Island of Refuge. On his return he finds his house burned to the ground. He goes to Pohjola with his companion Tiera to get his revenge, but Louhi freezes the seas and Lemminkäinen has to return home. When he arrives home he is reunited with his mother and vows to build larger better houses to replace the ones burned down.

Kullervon sotaanlähtö
Kullervo marches to war, fresco by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, 1901 – Kullervo goes to war against Untamo and his people.

The Kullervo cycle

Songs 31–36: Untamo kills his brother Kalervo’s people, but spares his wife who later begets Kullervo. Untamo sees the boy as a threat, and after trying to have him killed several times without success, sells Kullervo as a slave to Ilmarinen. Ilmarinen's wife torments and bullies Kullervo, so he tricks her into being torn apart by a pack of wolves and bears. Kullervo escapes from Ilmarinen's homestead and learns from an old lady in the forest that his family is still alive, and is soon reunited with them. While returning home from paying taxes, he meets and seduces a young maiden, only to find out that she is his sister. She kills herself and Kullervo returns home distressed. He decides to wreak revenge upon Untamo and sets out to find him. Kullervo wages war on Untamo and his people, laying all to waste, and then returns home, where he finds his farm deserted. Filled with remorse and regret, he kills himself in the place where he seduced his sister.

The second Ilmarinen cycle

Songs 37–38: Grieving for his lost love, Ilmarinen forges himself a wife out of gold and silver, but finds her to be cold and discards her. He heads for Pohjola and kidnaps the youngest daughter of Louhi. She is outraged and insults him badly so he sings magic and turns her into a bird. He returns to Kalevala and tells Väinämöinen about the prosperity and wealth that has met Pohjola's people thanks to the Sampo.

The plunder of the Sampo (the third Väinämöinen cycle)

Songs 39–44: Väinämöinen, Ilmarinen and Lemminkäinen sail to Pohjola to recover the Sampo. While on their journey they kill a monstrous pike and from its jaw bone the first kantele is made. The heroes arrive in Pohjola and demand a share of the Sampo's wealth or they will take the whole Sampo by force. Louhi musters her army however Väinämöinen lulls to sleep everyone in Pohjola with his music. The Sampo is taken from its vault of stone and the heroes set out for home. Louhi conjures a great army, turns herself into an eagle and fights for the Sampo. In the battle the Sampo is lost to the sea and destroyed.

Louhi's revenge on Kalevala

Songs 45–49: Enraged at the loss of the Sampo, Louhi sends the people of Kalevala diseases and a great bear to kill their cattle. She hides the sun and the moon and steals fire from Kalevala. Väinämöinen heals all of the ailments and, with Ilmarinen, restores the fire. Väinämöinen forces Louhi to return the Sun and the Moon to the skies.

The Marjatta cycle

Song 50: The shy young virgin Marjatta becomes impregnated from a lingonberry she ate while tending to her flock. She begets a son. Väinämöinen orders the killing of the boy, but the boy begins to speak and reproaches Väinämöinen for ill judgement. The child is then baptised King of Karelia. Väinämöinen sails away leaving only his songs and kantele as legacy.

The poem ends and the singers sing a farewell and thank their audience.


An ancient Finnish Hero – Illustration from inside front of Volume 1 of Kalevala


Väinämöinen, the central character of The Kalevala, is a shamanistic hero with a magical power of song and music similar to that of Orpheus. He is born of Ilmatar and contributes to the creation of Earth as it is today. Many of his travels resemble shamanistic journeys, most notably one where he visits the belly of a ground-giant, Antero Vipunen, to find the songs of boat building.

Väinämöinen created and plays the kantele, a Finnish stringed instrument that resembles and is played like a zither.[60][61]

Väinämöinen's search for a wife is a central element in many stories; although he never finds one. One of his potential brides, Joukahainen's sister Aino, drowns herself instead of marrying him. He is the leading member of the group which steals the Sampo from the people of Pohjola.


Seppo Ilmarinen, is a heroic artificer (comparable to the Germanic Weyland and the Greek Daedalus). He crafted the dome of the sky, the Sampo and various other magical devices featured in The Kalevala. Ilmarinen is the second member of the group who steal the Sampo.

Ilmarinen, like Väinämöinen, also has many stories told of his search for a wife, reaching the point where he forges one of gold.


Lemminkäinen, a handsome, arrogant and reckless ladies-man, is the son of Lempi (English: lust or favourite). He shares a very close relationship with his mother, who revives him after he has been drowned in the river of Tuonela while pursuing the object of his romantic desires. This section of The Kalevala echoes the myth of Osiris. Lemminkäinen is the third member of the group which steals the Sampo from Pohjola.


Ukko (English: Old man) is the god of sky and thunder, and the leading deity mentioned within The Kalevala. He corresponds to Thor and Zeus. John Martin Crawford wrote that the name may be related to the obsolete Hungarian word for an old man (agg).[18]


Joukahainen is a base, young man who arrogantly challenges Väinämöinen to a singing contest which he loses. In exchange for his life Joukahainen promises his young sister Aino to Väinämöinen. Joukahainen attempts to gain his revenge on Väinämöinen by killing him with a crossbow but only succeeds in killing Väinämöinen's horse. Joukahainen's actions lead to Väinämöinen promising to build a Sampo in return for Louhi rescuing him.


Louhi, the Mistress of the North, is the shamanistic matriarch of the people of Pohjola, a people rivalling those of Kalevala. She is the cause of much trouble for Kalevala and its people.

Louhi at one point saves Väinämöinen's life. She has many daughters whom the heroes of Kalevala make many attempts, some successful, to seduce. Louhi plays a major part in the battle to prevent the heroes of Kalevala from stealing back the Sampo, which as a result is ultimately destroyed. She is a powerful witch with a skill almost on a par with that of Väinämöinen.


Kullervo is the vengeful, mentally ill, tragic son of Kalervo. He was abused as a child and sold into slavery to Ilmarinen. He is put to work and treated badly by Ilmarinen's wife, whom he later kills. Kullervo is a misguided and troubled youth, at odds with himself and his situation. He often goes into berserk rage and in the end commits suicide.


Marjatta is the young virgin of Kalevala. She becomes pregnant from eating a lingonberry. When her labour begins she is expelled from her parents' home and leaves to find a place where she can sauna and give birth. She is turned away from numerous places but finally finds a place in the forest and gives birth to a son. Marjatta's nature, impregnation and searching for a place to give birth are in allegory to the Virgin Mary and the Christianisation of Finland.[62] Marjatta's son is later condemned to death by Väinämöinen for being born out of wedlock. The boy in turn chastises Väinämöinen and is later crowned King of Karelia. This angers Väinämöinen, who leaves Kalevala after bequeathing his songs and kantele to the people as his legacy.


The Kalevala is a major part of Finnish culture and history. It has affected the arts in Finland and in other cultures around the world.

Finnish daily life

The influence of The Kalevala in daily life and business in Finland is tangible. Names and places associated with The Kalevala have been adopted as company and brand names and even as place names.

There are several places within Finland with Kalevala-related names, for example: the district of Tapiola in the city of Espoo; the district of Pohjola in the city of Turku, the district of Metsola in the city of Vantaa and the district of Kaleva in the city of Tampere; the historic provinces of Savo and Karjala and the Russian town of Hiitola are all mentioned within the songs of The Kalevala. In addition the Russian town of Ukhta was in 1963 renamed Kalevala. In the United States a small community founded in 1900 by Finnish immigrants is named Kaleva, Michigan; many of the street names are taken from the Kalevala.

The banking sector of Finland has had at least three Kalevala-related brands: Sampo (name changed to Danske Bank in late 2012), Pohjola and Tapiola.

The jewellery company Kalevala Koru was founded in 1935 on the 100th anniversary of the publication of the Old Kalevala. It specialises in the production of unique and culturally important items of jewellery. It is co-owned by the Kalevala Women's League and offers artistic scholarships to a certain number of organisations and individuals every year.[63]

The Finnish dairy company Valio has a brand of ice-cream named Aino, specialising in more exotic flavours than their normal brand.[64]

The construction group Lemminkäinen was formed in 1910 as a roofing and asphalt company, the name was chosen specifically to emphasise that they were a wholly Finnish company. They now operate internationally.[65][66]

Finnish calendar

Kalevala Day is celebrated in Finland on 28 February, to match Elias Lönnrot's first version of The Kalevala in 1835.[67] It is on the same day as the Finnish Culture Day.[68]

Several of the names in The Kalevala are also celebrated as Finnish name days. The name days themselves and the dates they fall upon have no direct relationship with The Kalevala itself; however, the adoption of the names became commonplace after the release of The Kalevala.[69]


Akseli Gallen-Kallela - Kullervo Cursing - Google Art Project
The lachrymose Kullervo has been a source of inspiration for several artists.

Several artists have been influenced by the Kalevala, most notably Akseli Gallen-Kallela who has painted many pieces relating to the Kalevala.[70]

Iittala group's Arabia brand kilned a series of Kalevala commemorative plates, designed by the late Raija Uosikkinen (1923–2004). The series ran from 1976 to 1999 and are highly sought after collectables.[71][72]

One of the earliest artists to depict a scene from the Kalevala is Robert Wilhelm Ekman.[73] One of his paintings depicts Väinämöinen playing his kantele.

In 1989, the fourth full translation of the Kalevala into English was published, richly illustrated by Björn Landström.[74]

In 2018, Sunish Chabba published Kalevala Playing Cards[75], a hand-drawn set of Playing Cards based on the epic. A collaboration between Sunish Chabba and Ishan Trivedi, this project was crowdfunded on Kickstarter. A limited edition linen cotton canvas art print inspired from Väinämöisen soitto was also produced.


The Kalevala has been translated over one-hundred and fifty times into over sixty different languages.[76] (See § translations.)


Finnish cartoonist Kristian Huitula illustrated the comic book adaptation of the Kalevala. The Kalevala Graphic Novel contains the storyline of all the 50 chapters in original text form.[77]

Finnish cartoonist and children's writer Mauri Kunnas wrote and illustrated Koirien Kalevala (The Canine Kalevala). The story is that of The Kalevala with the characters presented as anthropomorphised dogs, wolves and cats. The story deviates from the full Kalevala, presumably, to make the story more appropriate for children.[78]

The Kalevala also inspired the American Disney cartoonist Don Rosa to draw a Donald Duck story based on The Kalevala, called The Quest for Kalevala.[79] The comic was released in the year of the 150th anniversary of The Kalevala's publication.[80]

Works inspired by

Franz Anton Schiefner's translation of the Kalevala was one inspiration for Longfellow's 1855 poem The Song of Hiawatha, which is written in a similar trochaic tetrameter.[81][82]

Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald's Estonian national epic Kalevipoeg was inspired by The Kalevala. Both Väinämöinen and Ilmarinen are mentioned in the work and the overall story of Kalevipoeg (Kalev's son) bears similarities with the Kullervo story.[83]

J. R. R. Tolkien claimed The Kalevala as one of his sources for The Silmarillion. For example, Kullervo is the basis of Túrin Turambar in Narn i Chîn Húrin, including the sword that speaks when the anti-hero uses it to commit suicide. Echoes of The Kalevala's characters, Väinämöinen in particular, can be found in Tom Bombadil of The Lord of the Rings.[84][85]

The Neustadt Prize-winning poet and playwright Paavo Haavikko who is regarded as one of Finland's finest writers, also took influence from The Kalevala, including the poem Kaksikymmentä ja yksi (1974), and the TV-drama Rauta-aika (1982) [86][87]

American science fiction and fantasy authors L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt used the Kalevala as source materials for their 1953 fantasy novella "The Wall of Serpents". This is the fourth story in the authors' Harold Shea series, in which the hero and his companions visit various mythic and fictional worlds. In this story, the characters visit the world of the Kalevala, where they encounter characters from the epic drawn with a skeptical eye.

Emil Petaja was an American science fiction and fantasy author of Finnish descent. His best known works, known as the Otava Series, make up a series of novels based on The Kalevala. The series brought Petaja readers from around the world, while his mythological approach to science fiction was discussed in scholarly papers presented at academic conferences.[88] He has a further Kalevala based work which is not part of the series, entitled The Time Twister.

British fantasy author Michael Moorcock's sword and sorcery anti-hero, Elric of Melniboné is influenced by the character Kullervo.[89]

The web comic "A Redtail's Dream", written and illustrated by Minna Sundberg, cites the Kalevala as an influence.[90] (Physical edition 2014.[91])

The British science fiction writer Ian Watson's Books of Mana duology, Lucky's Harvest and The Fallen Moon, both contain references to places and names from the Kalevala.[92]

The historical work The White Death: The Epic of the Soviet-Finish Winter War by Allen F. Chew has quotes from the Kalevala on chapter headings.[93]


Sibelius with notes
Jean Sibelius in the 1950s. Sibelius is Finland's most famous composer. Many of his works took influence from the Kalevala.

Music is the area which has the richest influence from the Kalevala, which is apt considering the way that the folk poetry and songs were originally performed.[94]

Classical music

The first recorded example of a musician influenced by the Kalevala is Filip von Schantz. In 1860, he composed the Kullervo Overture. The piece premièred on the opening of a new theatre building in Helsinki on November of the same year. Von Schantz's work was followed by Robert Kajanus' Kullervo's death and the symphonic poem Aino in 1881 and 1885 respectively. Aino is credited with inspiring Jean Sibelius to investigate the richness of the Kalevala.[95] The first opera based (although freely) upon the Kalevala, Die Kalewainen in Pochjola, was composed by Karl Müller-Berghaus in 1890, but the work has never been performed.[96]

Jean Sibelius is the best-known Kalevala-influenced classical composer. Twelve of Sibelius' best-known works are based upon or influenced by the Kalevala, including his Kullervo, a tone poem for soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra composed in 1892.[97] Sibelius also composed the music of Jääkärimarssi (The Jäger March) to words written by Finnish soldier and writer Heikki Nurmio. The march features the line Me nousemme kostona Kullervon ("We shall rise in vengeance like that of Kullervo's").[98]

Other classical composers influenced by the Kalevala:

Folk metal

A number of folk metal bands have drawn on the Kalevala heavily for inspiration. In 1993 the Finnish bands Amorphis and Sentenced released two concept albums, Tales from the Thousand Lakes and North from Here respectively, which were the first of many that have been Kalevala-themed. Amorphis’s 2009 album Skyforger also draws heavily on the Kalevala.[105][106] The Finnish folk metal band Ensiferum have released songs, such as "Old Man" and "Little Dreamer", which are influenced by the Kalevala. The third track of their Dragonheads EP is entitled "Kalevala Melody". It is an instrumental piece following the rhythm of the Kalevala metre.[107][108] Another Finnish folk metal band, Turisas, have adapted several verses from song nine of the Kalevala, "The Origin of Iron", for the lyrics of their song "Cursed Be Iron", which is the third track of the album The Varangian Way.[109] Finnish metal band Amberian Dawn use lyrics inspired by the Kalevala in their album River of Tuoni, as well as in its successor, The Clouds of Northland Thunder.[110] On 3 August 2012, Finnish folk metal band Korpiklaani released a new album entitled Manala. Jonne Järvelä from the band said, "Manala is the realm of the dead – the underworld in Finnish mythology. Tuonela, Tuoni, Manala and Mana are used synonymously. This place is best known for its appearance in the Finnish national epic Kalevala, on which many of our new songs are based."

Other musical genres

In the mid-1960s, the progressive rock band Kalevala was active within Finland and in 1974, the now prolific singer-songwriter Jukka Kuoppamäki released the song Väinämöinen. These were some of the first pieces of modern music inspired by the Kalevala.

In 1998, Ruth MacKenzie recorded the album Kalevala: Dream of the Salmon Maiden, a song cycle covering the part of the story concerning Aino and her choice to refuse the hand of the sorcerer Väinämöinen and instead transform herself into a salmon. MacKenzie has continued to perform the piece live.

The Karelian Finnish folk music group Värttinä has based some of its lyrics on motifs from The Kalevala.[111] Also, the Vantaa Chamber Choir have songs influenced by the Kalevala'. Their Kalevala-themed third album, Marian virsi (2005), combines contemporary folk with traditionally performed folk poetry.[112]

In 2003, the Finnish progressive rock quarterly Colossus and French Musea Records commissioned 30 progressive rock groups from around the world to compose songs based on parts of the Kalevala. The publication assigned each band with a particular song from the Kalevala, which the band was free to interpret as they saw fit. The result, titled simply Kalevala, is a three-disc, multilingual, four-hour epic telling the entirety of the Kalevala.

In the beginning of 2009, in celebration of the 160th anniversary of the Kalevala's first published edition, the Finnish Literature Society, the Kalevala Society, premièred ten new and original works inspired by the Kalevala. The works included poems, classical and contemporary music and artwork. A book was published by the Finnish Literature Society in conjunction with the event and a large exhibition of Kalevala-themed artwork and cultural artefacts was put on display at the Ateneum museum in Helsinki.[113]

In 2017 a New York-based production Kalevala the Musical got started in celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the Republic of Finland. The production features original pop, folk and world music score written by Johanna Telander. The concert version way performed across the United States and Finland.[114]


In 1959, a joint Finnish/Soviet production entitled Sampo (a.k.a. The Day the Earth Froze) was released, inspired by the story of the Sampo from the Kalevala.[115]

In 1982, the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) produced a television mini-series called Rauta-aika (The Age of Iron), with music composed by Aulis Sallinen and book by Paavo Haavikko. The series was set "during the Kalevala times" and based upon events which take place in The Kalevala.[116][117] The series' part 3/4 won Prix Italia in 1983.

The martial arts film Jadesoturi (a.k.a. Jade Warrior), released in Finland on 13 October 2006, is based upon the Kalevala and set in Finland and China.[118]


The Kalevala has attracted many scholars and enthusiasts to interpret its contents in a historical context. Many interpretations of the themes in The Kalevala have been tabled. Some parts of the epic have been perceived as ancient conflicts between the early Finns and the Sami. In this context, the country of "Kalevala" could be understood as Southern Finland and Pohjola as Lapland.[119]

However, the place names in Kalevala seem to transfer the Kalevala further south, which has been interpreted as reflecting the Finnic expansion from the South that came to push the Sami further to the north.[Note 2] Some scholars locate the lands of Kalevala in East Karelia, where most of the Kalevala stories were written down. In 1961, the small town of Uhtua in the then Soviet Republic of Karelia was renamed Kalevala, perhaps to promote that theory.

Finnish politician and linguist Eemil Nestor Setälä rejected the idea that the heroes of Kalevala are historical in nature and suggested they are personifications of natural phenomena. He interprets Pohjola as the northern heavens and the Sampo as the pillar of the world. Setälä suggests that the journey to regain the Sampo is a purely imaginary one with the heroes riding a mythological boat or magical steed to the heavens.[6][121][122]

The practice of bear worship was once very common in Finland and there are strong echoes of this in the Kalevala.[18]

The old Finnish word väinä (a strait of deep water with a slow current) appears to be the origin of the name Väinämöinen; one of Väinämöinen's other names is Suvantolainen, suvanto being the modern word for väinä. Consequently, it is possible that the Saari (Island) might be the island of Saaremaa in Estonia and Kalevala the Estonian mainland.[49]

Finnish folklorists Matti Kuusi and Pertti Anttonen state that terms such as the people of Kalevala or the tribe of Kalevala were fabricated by Elias Lönnrot. Moreover, they contend that the word Kalevala is very rare in traditional poetry and that by emphasizing dualism (Kalevala vs. Pohjola) Elias Lönnrot created the required tension that made The Kalevala dramatically successful and thus fit for a national epic of the time.[49]

See also


  1. ^ Professor Tolkien disagreed with this characterization: "One repeatedly hears the 'Land of Heroes' described as the 'national Finnish Epic': as if a nation, besides if possible a national bank theatre and government, ought also automatically to possess a national epic. Finland does not. The K[alevala] is certainly not one. It is a mass of conceivably epic material; but, and I think this is the main point, it would lose nearly all that which is its greatest delight if it were ever to be epically handled."[2]
  2. ^ It may be noted that place-names and other evidence show that in the medieval period, the Sami lived far more south than in the modern age, well south of Lapland, and place-names of Sami origin are not only found all over White Karelia, but as far as the Svir River basin and Nyland. Finnic peoples, on the other hand, were in antiquity, in the Iron Age, probably originally limited to the coasts south of the Gulf of Finland, in what is now Estonia, and no further north than the Karelian Isthmus.[120] In view of this, the possibility of identifying Pohjola with Finland/Karelia and Kalevala with Estonia (see further below on the location of the Saari) suggests itself.


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Further reading


  • Magoun, Francis Peabody, ed. (1969), The Old Kalevala and Certain Antecedents, ISBN 978-0-674-63235-6 , translation of the 1835 Old Kalevala
  • Bosley, Keith, ed. (1990), The Kalevala: Or the Land of Heroes, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-283570-3


  • Steffa, Tim; Kunnas, Mauri, eds. (1997), The Canine Kalevala, ISBN 978-951-1-12442-9
  • Huitula, Kristian (2005), Friberg, Eino, ed., The Kalevala Graphic Novel, ISBN 978-952-99022-1-7
  • McNeil, M.E.A (1994), The Magic Storysinger: A Tale from the Finnish Epic Kalevala, ISBN 978-0-88045-128-4 , a retelling in a style friendly to children
  • Rosa, Don (1999), "The Quest for Kalevala", Uncle Scrooge (334), ISBN 978-0-911903-55-3 , a story in tribute to the Kalevala featuring Scrooge McDuck and some characters from the Kalevala
  • Fillmore, Parker Hoysted (1923), The Wizard of the North : A Tale From the Land of Heroes
  • Kolehmainen, John Ilmari (1973), Epic of the North


  • Honko, Lauri, ed. (2002), The Kalevala and the World's Traditional Epics, ISBN 978-951-746-422-2
  • Schoolfield, George C., ed. (1998), A History of Finland's Literature, ISBN 978-0-8032-4189-3
  • Alho, Olli, ed. (1997), Finland: a cultural encyclopedia, ISBN 978-951-717-885-3
  • Kallio, Veikko (1994), Finland: A Cultural Outline, ISBN 978-951-0-19421-8
  • Branch, Michael; Hawkesworth, Celia, eds. (1994), The Uses of Tradition: a Comparative Enquiry Into the Nature, Uses and Functions of Oral Poetry in the Balkans, the Baltic and Africa, ISBN 978-0-903425-38-4
  • Honko, Lauri, ed. (1990), Religion, Myth, and Folklore in the World's Epics, ISBN 978-0-89925-625-2
  • Pentikäinen, Juha Y. (1999), Kalevala Mythology, ISBN 978-0-253-33661-3
  • Oinas, Felix J. (1985), Studies in Finnish Folklore, ISBN 978-951-717-315-5
  • Kuusi, Matti, ed. (1977), Finnish Folk Poetry, ISBN 978-951-717-087-1
  • Wilson, William A. (1976), Folklore and Nationalism in Modern Finland, ISBN 978-0-253-32327-9
  • Haavio, Martti Henrikki (1952), Väinämöinen, Eternal Sage
  • Setälä, E.N. (1932), Sammon Arvoitus [The Riddle of the Sampo]
  • Kaukonen, Väinö (1978), Lönnrot ja Kalevala [Lönnrot and The Kalevala]
  • Hämäläinen, Niina (Dec 2013), ""Do Not, Folk of the Future, Bring up a Child Crookedly!": Moral Intervention and Other Textual Practices by Elias Lönnrot", RMN Newsletter, 7: 43–56


External links

Aino (mythology)

Aino is a figure in the Finnish national epic Kalevala. It relates that she was the beautiful sister of Joukahainen. Her brother, having lost a singing contest to the storied Väinämöinen, promised Aino's "hands and feet" in marriage if Väinämöinen would save him from drowning in the swamp into which Joukahainen had been thrown. Aino's mother was pleased at the idea of marrying her daughter to such a famous and well born person, but Aino did not want to marry such an old man. Rather than submit to this fate, Aino drowned herself (or ended up as a nix). However, she returned to taunt the grieving Väinämöinen as a salmon.

The name Aino, meaning "the only one", was invented by Elias Lönnrot who composed the Kalevala. In the original poems she was mentioned as "the only daughter" (aino tytti).

Finnish mythology

Finnish mythology is a commonly applied description of the folklore of Finnish paganism, of which a modern revival is practiced by a small percentage of the Finnish people. It has many features shared with fellow Finnic Estonian mythology and other Uralic mythologies, but also shares some similarities with neighbouring Baltic, Slavic and to a lesser extent, Norse mythologies.

Finnish mythology survived within an oral tradition of mythical poem-singing and folklore well into the 19th century.

Of the animals, the most sacred was the bear, whose real name was never uttered out loud, lest his kind be unfavorable to the hunting. The bear ("karhu" in Finnish) was seen as the embodiment of the forefathers, and for this reason it was called by many circumlocutions: mesikämmen ("mead-paw"), otso ("browed one"), kontio ("dweller of the land"), metsän kultaomena ("the golden apple of the forest") but not a god.

Finnish poetry

Finnish poetry is the poetry of the Finnish language. It has its roots in the early folk music of the area, and still has a thriving presence today.

The best-known opus of Finnish poetry is the mythical epic Kalevala, compiled by Elias Lönnrot.


Ilmarinen, the Eternal Hammerer, blacksmith and inventor in the Kalevala, is a god and archetypal artificer from Finnish mythology. He is immortal and capable of creating practically anything, but is portrayed as being unlucky in love. He is described as working the known metals of the time, including brass, copper, iron, gold and silver. The great works of Ilmarinen include the crafting of the dome of the sky and the forging of the Sampo. His usual epithet in the Kalevala is seppo, a poetic word for "smith". and the source of the given name Seppo.


In the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic, Ilmatar was a virgin spirit of the air.

Kalevala, Russia

Kalevala (Russian: Калевала; Karelian: Kalevala) is an urban locality (an urban-type settlement) and the administrative center of Kalevalsky District in the Republic of Karelia, Russia. As of the 2010 Census, its population was 4,529.

Kalevala Township, Carlton County, Minnesota

Kalevala Township is a township in Carlton County, Minnesota, United States. The mayor is Aston Ceccardi. The population was 302 as of the 2000 census.

Kullervo (Sibelius)

Kullervo, Op. 7, is a suite of symphonic movements by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. Although often referred to as a "choral symphony," the work avoids traditional symphonic structure and its five movements constitute a set of related but independent tone poems. The third and fifth movements make use of a men's chorus. The third, authorized by the composer for performance as an independent work, also calls for two soloists, a baritone and a mezzo-soprano. Based on the character of Kullervo in the epic poem Kalevala and using texts from that poem, the work premiered to critical acclaim on 28 April 1892 with Emmy Achté and Abraham Ojanperä as soloists and the composer conducting the chorus and orchestra of the Helsinki Orchestra Society, which was founded in that year.


Lemminkäinen (Finnish pronunciation: [ˈlemːiŋˌkæinen]) or Lemminki (Finnish pronunciation: [ˈlemːiŋki]) is a prominent figure in Finnish mythology. He is one of the Heroes of the Kalevala, where his character is a composite of several separate heroes of oral poetry. He is usually depicted as young and good-looking, with wavy red hair.

The original, mythological Lemminkäinen is a shamanistic figure. In the Kalevala, he has been blended together with epic war-heroes Kaukomieli/Kaukamoinen and Ahti Saarelainen.

In one myth, he drowns in the river of Tuonela (the underworld) in trying to capture or kill the black swan that lives there as part of an attempt, as Ilmarinen once made, to win a daughter of Louhi as his wife. In a tale somewhat reminiscent of Isis' search for Osiris, Lemminkäinen's mother searches heaven and earth to find her son. Finally, she learns of his fate and asks Ilmarinen to fashion her a rake of copper with which to dredge her son's body from the river of Tuonela. Thus equipped, she descends into the underworld in search of her son. On the banks of the river of the underworld, she rakes up first Lemminkäinen's tunic and shoes, and then, his maimed and broken body. Unrelenting, she continues her work until every piece of Lemminkäinen's body is recovered. Sewing the parts together and offering prayers to the gods, the mother tries to restore Lemminkäinen to life, but while she succeeds in remaking his body, his life is still absent. Then, she entreats a bee to ascend to the halls of the over-god Ukko and fetch from there a drop of honey as ointment that would bring Lemminkäinen back to life. Only with such a potent remedy is the hero finally restored.

Lemminkäinen and the Scandinavian Balder have many things in common in their respective myths (for example, both are killed by a blind man at the feast of gods or heroes), which has led some researchers to believe they share a common origin.


Louhi (Finnish pronunciation: [ˈlouɦi]) is a wicked queen of the land known as Pohjola in Finnish and Karelian mythology. As many mythological creatures and objects are easily conflated and separated in Finnish mythology, Louhi is probably an alter-ego of the goddess Loviatar.


Loviatar (Finnish pronunciation: [ˈloʋiɑtɑr], alternative names Loveatar, Lovetar, Lovehetar, Louhetar, Louhiatar, Louhi) is a blind daughter of Tuoni, the god of death in Finnish mythology and Tuonetar, the underworld queen. Loviatar is regarded as the goddess of death and disease. She was impregnated by wind and gave birth to nine sons, the Nine diseases. In some poems, she also gives birth to a tenth child who is a girl. She is mentioned in the 45th rune of the Kalevala.

Luonnotar (Sibelius)

Luonnotar, Op. 70, is a tone-poem for soprano and orchestra, completed by Jean Sibelius in 1913. It was dedicated to Aino Ackté, who premiered the work at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester, England on 10 September 1913, with an orchestra conducted by Herbert Brewer. Sibelius arranged it for voice and piano in 1915.Luonnotar is based on Finnish mythology, the words coming from the Kalevala. The text is from the first part of the Kalevala and deals with the creation of the world. Luonnotar or Ilmatar is the Spirit of Nature and Mother of the Seas. Setting music to Finnish texts was relatively new to Sibelius, as his first language was Swedish and most of his earlier settings had been to Swedish texts (except Kullervo in 1892, which is entirely in Finnish).


In Finnish mythology, the Sampo or Sammas was a magical artifact of indeterminate type constructed by Ilmarinen that brought riches and good fortune to its holder. When the Sampo was stolen, it is said that Ilmarinen's homeland fell upon hard times and he sent an expedition to retrieve it, but in the ensuing battle it was smashed and lost at sea.

Tapiola (Sibelius)

Tapiola (literally, "Realm of Tapio"), Op. 112, is a tone poem by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, written in 1926 on a commission from Walter Damrosch for the New York Philharmonic Society. Tapiola portrays Tapio, the animating forest spirit mentioned throughout the Kalevala. It was premiered by Damrosch on 26 December 1926.

The Story of Kullervo

The Story of Kullervo is a prose version of the Kullervo cycle in the Karelian and Finnish epic poem Kalevala, written by J. R. R. Tolkien when he was an undergraduate at Exeter College, Oxford, from 1914 to 1915. That was an unsettled period for the author and this is thought to be reflected in the story's dark subject matter. It also marks "the first time that J. R. R. Tolkien, who had been a poet until then, began writing prose". Known as a source (among others) for Túrin Turambar, "The Story of Kullervo" was the centre of Tolkien's efforts in 1914, as he was "trying to turn one of the stories [of the Kalevala] — which is really a very great story and most tragic – into a short story" (Letters, October 1914, #1). As well as Tolkien's treatment of the Kullervo cycle, the book also contains three essays: two by Tolkien from the same period and the third by Flieger – the two essays by Tolkien are (as is the story) accompanied by notes and commentary by the editor. The first of Tolkien's essays (On The Kalevela or Land of Heroes) was written in 1914 and was delivered as a talk to the Corpus Christi College 'Sundial' club at Oxford in November 1914 and again at the Exeter College Essay Club in February 1915; his second essay (The Kalevela), a revised version of the first, is unfinished and is unknown to have ever been delivered. Flieger suggests a date of circa 1919 for the revised essay, though she notes (but disagrees with) Scull & Hammond's estimation to be 1921-24.

The main parts of the book are:

The Story of Kullervo

Notes and commentary

On 'The Kalevela' or Land of Heroes

Notes and commentary

The Kalevela

Notes and commentary

Tolkien, The Kalevela, and 'The Story of Kullervo' by Verlyn FliegerThe Story of Kullervo was edited by Verlyn Flieger, published in 2010 in Tolkien Studies, and republished in book form in August 2015 by HarperCollins.

Trochaic tetrameter

Trochaic tetrameter is a meter in poetry. It refers to a line of four trochaic feet. The word "tetrameter" simply means that the poem has four trochees. A trochee is a long syllable, or stressed syllable, followed by a short, or unstressed, one. Stresses on a syllable are detected by simply noting which syllable one puts stress on when saying the word. In many cases, this is the syllable which is pronounced loudest in the word, for example, the word 'purity' will take a stress on the first syllable and an unstress on the others.

Because English tradition is so strongly iambic, some feel that trochaic meters have an awkward or unnatural feel to the ear.


Tuonela is the realm of the dead or the Underworld in Finnish mythology. Tuonela, Tuoni, Manala and Mana are used synonymously. In Estonian mythology, it is called Toonela or Manala.

According to traditional Finnish religion, the fate of good and bad people is the same and the dead wander the afterlife as shadow-like ghosts. Tuoni and his wife Tuonetar are the rulers of Tuonela. At times living people visited Tuonela to gather information and spells. The trip there required weeks of trekking in a desert, and finally the crossing of the river with the help of a ferryman (similar to Charon in Greek mythology). Shamans could visit Tuonela by falling into a trance and tricking the guards.

Tuonela is best known for its appearance in the Finnish national epic Kalevala. In the 16th song of Kalevala, Väinämöinen, a shamanistic hero, travels to Tuonela to seek the knowledge of the dead. On the journey, he meets the ferryman, a woman, Tuonen tytti, or Tuonen piika (Death's maid), who takes him over the river of Tuoni. On the isle of Tuoni, however, he is not given the spells that he was looking for and he barely manages to escape the place by turning into a snake. After his return, he curses anyone trying to enter the place alive.

Tuonela is used as the translation for the Greek word ᾍδης (Hades) in Finnish translations of the Bible. In Finnish Christianity it is often interpreted as the place of the dead before the Last Judgement.


Vammatar is the Finnish goddess of pain, disease, and/or suffering (other versions have her as more negative, the goddess of evil and misfortune). She is the daughter of Tuoni (god of the underworld) and Tuonetar (goddess of death). Her sisters are Kipu-Tyttö, Kivutar and Loviatar.

She is also a fictional character in the Marvel Comics version of the Conan the Barbarian mythos, appearing as the Witch-Queen of portions of Hyperborea, an enemy of Conan and a sometime ally of Kulan Gath.


Väinämöinen (Finnish pronunciation: [ˈʋæinæˌmøinen]) is a demigod, hero and the central character in Finnish folklore and the main character in the national epic Kalevala. His name comes from the Finnish word väinä, meaning stream pool. Väinämöinen was described as an old and wise man, and he possessed a potent, magical voice.

Runonlaulajan kädet -merkki Kalevala Runonlaulajan kädet -merkki

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