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Thus, for example,
Pisistratus, as a descendant of the Nelidæ, had an interest in
securing certain parts, at least, of the _Iliad_ and the _Odyssey_
from oblivion. The same family pride embellished and preserved the
epic poetry of early France. There were in France but three heroic
houses, or _gestes_; and three corresponding cycles of _épopées_. Now,
in the 'Kalevala,' there is no trace of the influence of family
feeling; it was no one's peculiar care and pride to watch over the
records of the fame of this or that hero. The poem begins with a
cosmogony as wild as any Indian dream of creation; and the human
characters who move in the story are shadowy inhabitants of no very
definite lands, whom no family claim as their forefathers. The very
want of this idea of family and aristocratic pride gives the
'Kalevala' a unique place among epics. It is emphatically an epic of
the people, of that class whose life contains no element of progress,
no break in continuity; which from age to age preserves, in solitude
and close communion with nature, the earliest beliefs of grey
antiquity. The Greek epic, on the other hand, has, as Preller[175]
points out, 'nothing to do with natural man, but with an ideal world
of heroes, with sons of the gods, with consecrated kings, heroes,
elders, _a kind of specific race of men_. The people exist only as
subsidiary to the great houses, as a mere background against which
stand out the shining figures of heroes; as a race of beings fresh and
rough from the hands of nature, with whom, and with whose concerns,
the great houses and their bards have little concern.' This
feeling--so universal in Greece, and in the feudal countries of
mediæval Europe, that there are two kinds of men, the golden and the
brazen race, as Plato would have called them--is absent, with all its
results, in the 'Kalevala.'

Among the Finns we find no trace of an aristocracy; there is scarcely
a mention of kings, or priests; the heroes of the poem are really
popular heroes, fishers, smiths, husbandmen, 'medicine-men,' or
wizards; exaggerated shadows of the people, pursuing on a heroic
scale, not war, but the common daily business of primitive and
peaceful men. In recording their adventures, the 'Kalevala,' like the
shield of Achilles, reflects all the life of a race, the feasts, the
funerals, the rites of seed-time and harvest, of marriage and death,
the hymn, and the magical incantation.

Though without the interest of an unique position as a popular epic,
the 'Kalevala' is very valuable, both for its literary beauties and
for the confused mass of folklore which it contains.

Here old cosmogonies, attempts of man to represent to himself the
beginning of things, are mingled with the same wild imaginings as are
found everywhere in the shape of fairy-tales. We are hurried from an
account of the mystic egg of creation, to a hymn like that of the
Ambarval Brothers, to a strangely familiar scrap of a nursery story,
to an incident which we remember as occurring in almost identical
words in a Scotch ballad. We are among a people which endows
everything with human characters and life, which is in familiar
relations with birds, and beasts, and even with rocks and plants.
Ravens and wolves and fishes of the sea, sun, moon, and stars, are
kindly or churlish; drops of blood find speech, man and maid change to
snake or swan and resume their forms, ships have magic powers, like
the ships of the Phæacians.

Then there is the oddest confusion of every stage of religious
development: we find a supreme God, delighting in righteousness; Ukko,
the lord of the vault of air, who stands apart from men, and sends his
son, Wäinämöinen, to be their teacher in music and agriculture.

Across this faith comes a religion of petrified abstractions like
those of the Roman Pantheon. There are gods of colour, a goddess of
weaving, a goddess of man's blood, besides elemental spirits of woods
and waters, and the _manes_ of the dead. Meanwhile the working faith
of the people is the belief in magic--generally a sign of the lower
culture. It is supposed that the knowledge of certain magic words
gives power over the elemental bodies which obey them; it is held
that the will of a distant sorcerer can cross the lakes and plains
like the breath of a fantastic frost, with power to change an enemy to
ice or stone. Traces remain of the worship of animals: there is a hymn
to the bear; a dance like the bear-dance of the American Indians; and
another hymn tells of the birth and power of the serpent. Across all,
and closing all, comes a hostile account of the origin of
Christianity--the end of joy and music.

How primitive was the condition of the authors of this medley of
beliefs is best proved by the survival of the custom called
exogamy.[176] This custom, which is not peculiar to the Finns, but is
probably a universal note of early society, prohibits marriage between
members of the same tribe. Consequently, the main action, such as it
is, of the 'Kalevala' turns on the efforts made by the men of Kaleva
to obtain brides from the hostile tribe of Pohja.[177]

Further proof of ancient origin is to be found in what is the great
literary beauty of the poem--its pure spontaneity and simplicity. It
is the production of an intensely imaginative race, to which song came
as the most natural expression of joy and sorrow, terror or
triumph--a class which lay near to nature's secret, and was not out of
sympathy with the wild kin of woods and waters.

'These songs,' says the prelude, 'were found by the wayside,
and gathered in the depths of the copses; blown from the
branches of the forest, and culled among the plumes of the
pine-trees. These lays came to me as I followed the flocks,
in a land of meadows honey-sweet and of golden hills.... The
cold has spoken to me, and the rain has told me her runes;
the winds of heaven, the waves of the sea, have spoken and
sung to me; the wild birds have taught me, the music of many
waters has been my master.'

The metre in which the epic is chanted resembles, to an English ear,
that of Mr. Longfellow's 'Hiawatha'--there is assonance rather than
rhyme; and a very musical effect is produced by the liquid character
of the language, and by the frequent alliterations.

This rough outline of the main characteristics of the 'Kalevala' we
shall now try to fill up with an abstract of its contents. The poem is
longer than the _Iliad_, and much of interest must necessarily be
omitted; but it is only through such an abstract that any idea can be
given of the sort of unity which does prevail amid the most utter
discrepancy.

In the first place, what is to be understood by the word 'Kalevala'?
The affix _la_ signifies 'abode.' Thus, 'Tuonela' is 'the abode of
Tuoni,' the god of the lower world; and as 'kaleva' means 'heroic,'
'magnificent,' 'Kalevala' is 'The Home of Heroes.' The poem is the
record of the adventures of the people of Kalevala--of their strife
with the men of Pohjola, the place of the world's end. We may fancy
two old Runoias, or singers, clasping hands on one of the first nights
of the Finnish winter, and beginning (what probably has never been
accomplished) the attempt to work through the 'Kalevala' before the
return of summer. They commence _ab ovo_, or, rather, before the egg.
First is chanted the birth of Wäinämöinen, the benefactor and teacher
of men. He is the son of Luonnotar, the daughter of Nature, who
answers to the first woman of the Iroquois cosmogony. Beneath the
breath and touch of wind and tide, she conceived a child; but nine
ages of man passed before his birth, while the mother floated on 'the
formless and the multiform waters.' Then Ukko, the supreme God, sent
an eagle, which laid her eggs in the maiden's bosom, and from these
eggs grew earth and sky, sun and moon, star and cloud. Then was
Wäinämöinen born on the waters, and reached a barren land, and gazed
on the new heavens and the new earth. There he sowed the grain that is
the bread of man, chanting the hymn used at seed-time, calling on the
mother earth to make the green herb spring, and on Ukko to send down
clouds and rain. So the corn sprang, and the golden cuckoo--which in
Finland plays the part of the popinjay in Scotch ballads, or of the
three golden birds in Greek folk-songs--came with his congratulations.
In regard to the epithet 'golden,' it may be observed that gold and
silver, in the Finnish epic, are lavished on the commonest objects of
daily life.

This is a universal note of primitive poetry, and is not a peculiar
Finnish idiom, as M. Leouzon le Duc supposes; nor, as Mr. Tozer seems
to think, in his account of Romaic ballads, a trace of Oriental
influence among the modern Greeks. It is common to all the ballads of
Europe, as M. Ampère has pointed out, and may be observed in the
'Chanson de Roland,' and in Homer.

While the corn ripened, Wäinämöinen rested from his labours, and took
the task of Orpheus. 'He sang,' says the 'Kalevala,' of the origin of
things, of the mysteries hidden from babes, that none may attain to in
this sad life, in the hours of these perishable days. The fame of the
Runoia's singing excited jealousy in the breast of one of the men
around him, of whose origin the 'Kalevala' gives no account. This man,
Joukahainen, provoked him to a trial of song, boasting, like
Empedocles, or like one of the old Celtic bards, that he had been all
things. 'When the earth was made I was there; when space was unrolled
I launched the sun on his way.' Then was Wäinämöinen wroth, and by the
force of his enchantment he rooted Joukahainen to the ground, and
suffered him not to go free without promising him the hand of his
sister Aino. The mother was delighted; but the girl wept that she must
now cover her long locks, her curls, her glory, and be the wife of
'the old imperturbable Wäinämöinen.' It is in vain that her mother
offers her dainty food and rich dresses; she flees from home, and
wanders till she meets three maidens bathing, and joins them, and is
drowned, singing a sad song: 'Ah, never may my sister come to bathe in
the sea-water, for the drops of the sea are the drops of my blood.'
This wild idea occurs in the Romaic ballad, ἡ κόρη ταξιδεύτρια,
where a drop of blood on the lips of the drowned girl tinges all the
waters of the world.



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