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Elias Lönnrot

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Lönnrot, Elias (1802-1884), linguist, Finland.

Elias Lönnrot (1802-84) did a huge task of collecting folk poetry from the remote wildernesses of Karelia, and compiling these to what was to become Finland's national epic, the Kalevala (1849). It is composed of 50 poems (sometimes called runes), altogether 22,795 verses. The book starts with a creation-myth, then goes on to recount the deeds and adventures of the three protagonists, Väinämöinen the magician and bard, Ilmarinen the smith, and Lemminkäinen the wanton loverboy and warrior, and ends with the introduction of Christianity to Finland. Lönnrot was under the influence of Homeric ideals and tried to forge the poems into a single epic, adding bits and pieces of his own and altering some parts to make them appear a whole, which they however never have been. Nevertheless, its role to the development of Finnish literature, arts and identity can hardly be over-estimated, and having been translated to all major world languages and lots of minor ones, it is no doubt the most important contribution of Finland to world literature. Lönnrot also published a counterpart to Kalevala, the Kanteletar, a collection of ancient lyrical poetry often sung by women. These two books, however, cover but a small part of the recorded Finnish folk poetry. For instance, between 1908-48 was published a massive, 33-volume book series called Suomen Kansan Vanhoja Runoja, containing altogether 85,000 poems, with well over a million verses. Kalevala & Kanteletar can be found (in Finnish) at the URLs <http://www.sci.fi/kalevala/> & <http://www.joensuu.fi/HumanistinenTDK/Kalevala/kalevala/hyperkalevala.html>.

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