Between the Baltic and the Mediterranean Sea discovering the Estonian History

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On September 22nd in Italy, European legends enthusiasts have found something to sink their teeth into, during the presentation in Rome of a book by Lennart Meri (at the Travel Literature Festival). The publication (Publisher Gangemi) is by the Foundation Lennart Meri and by the ‘Italy Estonia’ Association. “Hõbevalge”, appeared on the bookshelves in 1976 and has a special meaning twenty five years after the regained independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The philologist Mart Meri, the professor Antonello Folco Biagini (University of Rome ‘La Sapienza’), the Journalist Maurizia Giusti (Syusy Bladi), the translator of the book, Daniele Monticelli (semiotics’ professor at the university of Tallinn) and the curator of the project Gianni Glinni have contributed to the debate.

The Literature critic Arnaldo Colasanti introduced the meeting at Villa Celimontana, attended by the musician Silver Sepp and by the Estonian ambassador in Italy, Celia Kuningas-Saagpakk. Lennart Meri (1929-2006) President of Estonia from 1992 to 2001, as a writer and documentary filmmaker had made it known the Estonian point of view in the Eastern Countries.

“Hõbevalge” offers original solutions to a two thousand year old riddle, where it was the island of Thule: the central hypothesis is that the events told in the Baltic myths began as a meteorite dropped on the island of Saaremaa, that was very populated during the first Viking age. Lennart Meri wrote: “I assumed that the impact of the meteorite had influenced the traditions of the Baltic people”.

But a story, says the researcher, is a better method to propose an hypothesis. ‘If you are not tourists, but travelers – this is the challenge for readers – leave behind the castle built five hundred years ago and stand in front of a field that has been cultivated for two thousand years. It contains a bigger story, where both the past and the future live. The story begins where the poetry ends, sometimes they touch each other’.

Gianni Glinni explained that the Italian version of “Hõbevalge” is the first translated in a foreign language (apart the one in Finnish language, similar to the Estonian). “Hõbevalge” is the best known work of Lennart Meri: it the history of the Estonians, mentioning sources of the classical Mediterranean world and the Nordic pre Indo European history.  Through material gathered in travels to the Urals and in Siberia, Lennart Meri revealed the mutual influences between the Baltic and the Mediterranean regions.

Geographic sources drawn from ancient seafarers provide insights into the origins of Thule, which is the name that was attributed by the Greeks and the Latins to the farthest land then ever reached in the north (a six-day trip from Britain). As alternatives for its location the Shetland islands, Iceland and Norway were suggested. According to Lennart Meri it is possible that the name ‘Thuli’ derives from the word ‘Tuli’, that means fire or from an antique traditional Estonian folk rhythm that tells the origin of Kaali Lake in Saaremaa.


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