09 April 2015

April 9 - mikael agricola flag day

on this day, the founder of literary finnish (mikael agricola) died and elias lönnrot, the collector/organizer of the epic poem, the kalevala, was born. the day is also celebrated as the day of the finnish language.

mikael agricola was a clergyman born in 1510 (died in 1557). when he was young, there was still no standard form of written finnish, only spoken. he wanted to translate the new testament. after writing to the swedish king for a stipend after his religious studies, and being granted it, he set to work on his translation. he is known as the father of literary finnish.

since today is also another celebration of the kalevala, sort of, i thought i would summarize below some of the major stories from the epic. since kalevala day in february, ive had a chance to read 4 childrens versions of the stories and can now speak to some of the general themes.

books i read:
-canine kalevala (best choice for a good summary)
-heroes of the kalevala (best choice for something a bit more thorough)
-louhi, witch of north farm (best choice for beautiful drawings of finnish scapes)
-the maiden of northland (most closely [of these choices] resembles the poetic style of the original epic)

from these 4 books, the same stories are repeated with various adjustments and levels of detail. here is a summary of the overarching parts of the stories that were consistent...

väinämöinen - the wise old 'magician', of sorts. his mother basically created the earth and water, and he was the first person on land, he made it habitable. in the stories, he is often looking for love (and not succeeding), playing enchanting music, or making voyages that require him to use his magical chants.

ilmarinen - a faithful friend to väinämöinen. he is a strong, hardworking blacksmith who forges the fabled 'sampo' mill. he also 'gets the girl' (of the north) in a competition against väinämöinen.

louhi - witch of the north. she is like the leader of her people, in what is essentially lapland. her people are at odds with the people to the south-east where väinämöinen lives. she has magical powers and often uses them for making mischief, notably against väinämöinen and/or ilmarinen.

joukahainen - an arrogant, young 'magician' who challenges väinämöinen a few times and loses.

lemminkainen - a reckless, though enthusiastic, young man whose efforts to find adventure or to be helpful often end in disaster for himself and those around him.

sampo - a magic mill that ilmarinen forges for louhi as a gift to offer for her daughters hand in marriage. the mill produces endless amount of flour and/or coins. louhi locks it away in the mountain and doesnt want to share it with väinämöinen and his friends, they try to steal it from louhi, it ends up at the bottom of the lake and no one gets it.

kantele - a harp-like instrument väinämöinen creates from the jaw bone of a giant pike that is killed on a voyage to the north. when väinämöinen plays it, it has magical abilities to entertain, to soothe, and to put people to sleep. the original kantele also ends up at the bottom of the lake with the sampo, but another is made from birch and hair.


tracie @ beets+birch said...

i love that you're reading the kalevala. i really should try to read it. finnish folklore does intrigue me.

Mary Ann said...

Guess I'll get a couple of the children's books.easy way for me to acquaint myself with the epic.