The “Kalevala” in the European Community of romantic myths

The lack of cohesion in Europe is a current issue, but strong ties are not lacking in the history of national states away from each other, as pointed out in April by a series of conferences held in Rome about the "Kalevala", which inspired movements for Finnish independence, becoming - from fascinating treasure chest of popular traditions - a symbolic history of the eastern lands of Finland.

 

credits ALDO CIUMMO

The "Kalevala" (whose legends were collected by Elias Lönnrot in the best-known version) and the rediscovery of "The Gods of Finland and Karelia" by Mikael Agricola (one of the first written records of the Finnish language) offer insights into the ground that was shared by the unification of Italy, by the independence of Finland and of other European countries.

The Finnish poem has been a source of inspiration in the Anglo-American culture (where Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his literary works was inspired by the metric and the themes of a “romantic” native environment) and to the authors of fantasy literature, up to Tolkien. Even in North America, it is hard to distinguish the different Europeans contributions: part of the first Finnish flow - due to the political geography at that time - took place officially as "Swedish" first and "Russian" then (not to mention the Finns of Karelia, which were later identified as Russian, even Soviet). The Kalevala was - like the sauna - an element of identity even when the Finns were no longer able to read it, having it being written in an archaic language.

The grammar adopted by Mikael Agricola became a literary norm in Finland, but the Kalevala’s language remained an  eastern and essentially oral language. The Finnish army, led by Mannerheim, tried to establish itself in Karelia, but this region, although considered the land of Kalevala and a Finnish symbol of identity, given the outcome of the Second World War became part of the Ussr and is now the Russian Federation.

Through lectures relating to "The epic poem and its influences on the Italian and American culture" - April 4th at the Sala della Mercede of Palazzo Marino - Vesa Matteo Piludu (University of Helsinki); Juha Pentikainen (University of Helsinki and Lapland); Andrea Carteny (La Sapienza University); Alexander Saggioro (Università La Sapienza), talked about the projects that the University of Rome "La Sapienza" could accomplish together with the universities of Helsinki and Lapland. Studies about Kalevala however are not limited to the themes of the Nordic world and also have stimulated much research on the subject of shamanism, thus inspiring contemporary Finnish music, literature and art.

As the Kalevala was delivered to us by Lönnrot, it is composed of fifty songs, in which the character of magic and shamanic poetry prevails. In Italy, Domenico Comparetti was the first to deepen this literary work (in 1891 he published "The Kalevala and the traditional poetry of the Finns"), then in 1906 it was the turn of Igino Cocchi: he was a geologist and a naturalist who, in order to draw insights to advantage the Italian national experience - made difficult by persistent illiteracy and regional diversity - emphasized the high literacy rate in Finland, a result that Cocchi attributed to Lutheran ethics, highlighting the great ability of the Nordic nation to survive in an extremely harsh natural environment and in very difficult historical conditions.

Cocchi wrote down what he considered to be the characteristics of the Finns, describing them as strong and quiet individuals (but also stubborn and unpredictably able to take offense ). Paolo Emilio Pavolini later gave to the press, in Florence in 1910, a translation (in octosyllabic) in a metric similar to the original literary work.

The cultural influences were mutual: many Finns took as a symbol Giuseppe Garibaldi and also Hungarian and Polish joined  the Italians at Solferino, although many of them abandoned the ranks after witnessing the repression of banditry, there was also the son (whose name was italianate in "Lawrence") of the Finnish-Swedish poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg.

Asian and shamanic traditions (which can also be found in the Kalevala) often took the direction of the national awakening, for example in Hungary on the conservative path of Turanism, which sought to bring under one roof the minorities of Transylvania as well as the Japanese, due to fear of disappearing under the rising tides of German expansionism from the north and of the Pan-Slavism from east. Oddly, the first Turanian society arose in 1839 among the Crimean Tatars, today on the front pages of the geopolitical chronicles.

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