Sacred-Texts Legends & Sagas Index Previous Next
ESTHONIA, or Estonia, as some prefer to write it, is the most northerly of the three so-called German or Baltic provinces of Russia—Esthonia, Livonia, and Courland. It is bounded on the north by the Gulf of Finland, which lies between that country and Esthonia; on the east by the Government of St. Petersburg; on the south by Livonia, and on the west by the Baltic. Opposite its western coast lie numerous large islands, the most important of which are Dagö and Oesel; these islands nearly close the north-west corner of the Gulf of Riga.
The northern part of Livonia (including the island of Oesel, already mentioned) is partly inhabited by Esthonians, and is dealt with in popular literature as forming part of the country. The four provinces of Esthonia proper, which are constantly referred to, p. xiv are as follows, the German names being added in brackets. Two western, Arju or Harju (Harrien) on the north, and Lääne (Wiek) on the south; one central, Järva (Jerwen), and one eastern, Viru (Wierland). East of Livonia lies the great Lake Peipse or Peipus, eighty miles long and thirty-two miles broad at the broadest part, across which the son of Kalev is said to have waded to fetch timber from Pihgast or Pleskau, which name is used to include the Russian province of Pskov, bordering the lake on the south and south-east. At two-thirds of its length the lake is divided nearly in two, and the southern portion is sometimes called Lake Pskov. It may have been across the narrow part between the two ends of the lake that the hero is supposed to have waded, when, even during a great storm, the water reached only to his girdle.
The coast of Esthonia is rocky, but the interior of the country is very marshy, though there are no navigable rivers or lakes of much importance except Lake Peipus, which we have already mentioned. Small lakes, however, are very numerous, the largest being Lake Virts.
Esthonia was one of the countries conquered during the Middle Ages by the crusading German p. xv Knights of the Sword, and has been described as a country with a Finnish population and a German aristocracy under Russian rule. Occasionally we meet with reminiscences of oppression by the German nobility in the songs and tales; as, for instance, in the story of the Royal Herd-boy; while everything beautiful or above the ordinary life of the peasants is characterised as Saxon.
The bulk of the population speak a language very closely allied to Finnish, and they possess a large store of oral literature, much of which has been collected, and in part published, during the present century. It has, however, attracted very little attention out of Esthonia, except in Finland, and to some extent in Germany, and very few articles on the subject have appeared in England or France. It is believed that this is the first work published in England giving any detailed account of the popular literature of Esthonia, and it does not pretend to be exhaustive, nor to extend much beyond the publication of Kreutzwald, Neus, and Jannsen.
The Finnish-Ugrian race, though not Aryan, is widely distributed throughout Europe and Asiatic Russia, and the principal peoples belonging to it p. xvi in the North are the Finns, the Esthonians, and the Lapps, who speak very similar languages, and whose tales and legends possess much similarity, while in the south the Magyars are more distantly related to them. The Lapp hero-tales, however, have more of a historical basis, while the popular tales are much shorter and less artistic. It is, however, curious that Swan-maiden stories are peculiarly common among the Lapps. Several other lesser known peoples belong to the same race, whom we need not further notice.
Esthonian abounds in dialects, but is so close to Finnish that it bears almost the same relation to it as Lowland Scotch to English, or perhaps as Danish to Swedish. But there is a strong admixture of German words in Esthonian, and their tales, when exhibiting traces of foreign influence, have apparently derived it from Germany. In Finnish tales, on the contrary, Russian influence is often very apparent.
The orthography is a little unsettled, words like Ukko or Kalev being often written with a single or double consonant, as Uko or Kallev; while words like Käpä are often written with double vowels, as Kääpä.
The pronunciation of most of the letters resembles that of English, or, in the case of the vowels, German, and calls for no special remark.
j as in nearly all languages except English and French, corresponds to our y.
v is printed either v or w in Finnish and Esthonian, but corresponds to our v, and is thus used by the best Finnish authorities. Of course the Germans properly write it w, their w corresponding to our v.
For the modified vowels we have no exact equivalent in English; ä and ü are pronounced nearly as in German; but the ō may roughly be said to resemble our ee in sound. y has somewhat of a u sound, as in the Scandinavian languages; and, as in these too, the modified vowels are placed at the end of the alphabet, but in the following order: ü, ä, ō. Musical as is Finnish itself, Esthonian is still softer, as may be seen in the dropping of final consonants, as Vanemuine for Väinämöinen; and in such words as kannel (harp) for kantele. As in most parts of Northern Europe, the Gothic character is still much used in Finland and Esthonia, especially in literary works.
As a specimen of the language we may quote the original of the lines on p. 14:—
| Ristitantsi tantsitie,|
Viru tantsi veeritie,
Arju tantsi hakkatie,
Lääne tantsi lōhutie,
Sōre liiva sōtkutie,
Tähte peig ja Salme neidu,
Pidasivad pulma ilu!
We may add the text of the lines on p. 49:—
| Kalevide poeg ei väsi;|
Piht on meehel pihlakane,
Raudarammu kōiges kehas.
In the year 1838 some Esthonian scholars founded a society called “Die gelehrte Ehstnische Gesellschaft,” and set themselves to collect the popular literature of their country. Doubtless encouraged by the recent publication of the Kalevala in Finland, Dr. Fahlmann undertook specially to collect any fragments of verse or prose relative to the mythical p. xix hero of Esthonia, the son of Kalev, intending to weave them into a connected whole. He did not live to complete the work; but after his death Dr. Kreutzwald carried out his design, and the book was published, accompanied by a German translation by Reinthal and Bertram, from 1857 to 1861.
The materials were defective, and were augmented and pieced together, not always very successfully or artistically,1 by Dr. Kreutzwald, and the story is interrupted by long lyrical passages, especially at the beginning of some of the cantos, which are tedious and out of place in a narrative poem. Consequently, a complete translation would hardly be sufficiently attractive; but there is so much that is curious and beautiful in the poem, that I think that a tolerably full prose abstract may perhaps be found both useful and interesting, as opening up an almost new subject to English readers.
Besides Reinthal’s translation, there are two condensed abstracts of the poem in German, one by C. C. Israel, in prose, published in 1873, and the other by Julius Grosse, in hexameters, published in 1875. p. xx But while the Kalevala has been translated into six or seven languages, and into several of them two or three times, extremely little has been published on the Kalevipoeg outside of Esthonia and Finland.
The metre is the eight-syllable trochaic, which is the commonest metre used by the Esthonians and Finns. In the Kalevipoeg the verse usually flows continuously, while in the Kalevala it is arranged in distichs, almost every second line being a repetition of the first in other words; nor is the Kalevipoeg quite so full of alliteration as the Kalevala.
Longfellow adapted this metre in his Hiawatha from Schiefner’s German translation of the Kalevala, and as it was then a novelty in English, it was set down at the time as Longfellow’s own invention, and was much ridiculed. A similar metre, however, was used before the appearance of Hiawatha in some parts of Kenealy’s Goethe, which was published in 1850, and subsequently condensed and completed under the title of “A New Pantomime.” I quote a passage from this wonderful but eccentric poem (Goethe, p. 301) to show the manner in which Kenealy has used it in the lighter parts of his work; but in some of the darker passages it shows itself as a versatile metre of great power in English:—
| “We have come, enchanting ladyes,|
To sojourn awhile, and revel
In these bowers, far outshining
The six heavens of Mohammed,
Or the sunbright spheres of Vishnu,
Or the Gardens of Adonis,
Or the viewless bowers of Irim,
Or the fine Mosaic mythus,
Or the fair Elysian flower-land,
Or the clashing halls of Odin,
Or the cyclop-orbs of Brahma,
Or the marble realms of Siva,
Or the grandly proud Walhalla.”
I do not find this metre used in either of the two cognate poems, Faust and Festus.
To return to the Kalevipoeg, the poem consists of twenty cantos and about 19,000 verses. Some of the legends are found also in the Kalevala, and the giant-hero whose life and adventures form its subject is evidently the same as the Kullervo of the Kalevala, as will be seen in our notes on various passages in the poem.
Of the other heroes of the Kalevala, besides an occasional reference to Vanemuine and Ilmarine (Väinämöinen and Ilmarinen), we find no trace; but three heroes, apparently cousins of the Kalevipoeg, appear suddenly in the poem. These are usually p. xxii called by their patronymics, Alevide, Sulevide, and Olevide, but sometimes simply Alev, Sulev, and Olev.
The most important collection of Esthonian prose tales was edited by Kreutzwald, and was published by the Finnish Literary Society at Helsingfors in 1866, under the title of Eestirahwa Ennemuistesed jutud, and has since been reprinted at Dorpat. In 1869 the same Society published a useful little Esthonian-Finnish glossary to the volume. A good German translation of many of these tales, by F. Löwe, appeared at Halle in 1869, under the title of Ehstnische Märchen, with notes by various contributors; and M. Dido, who has lately translated two or three of the tales into French, and given more or less detailed notices of the others, mentions that they have also been translated into Russian. Other collections of Esthonian tales have since been published; and Harry Jannsen has published a selection in German under the title of Märchen und Sagen des estnischen Volkes (Dorpat, 1881; Riga, 1888). Some of his tales are taken from Kreutzwald, p. xxiii but I have not seen the Esthonian originals of the others. Many of the longer and more interesting tales in those collections I have given in full; others are more or less abridged, or simply noticed, and some few unimportant tales towards the end of Kreutzwald’s collection have been passed over altogether.
One of Kreutzwald’s longer tales, which I thought too unlike the others to be noticed in the body of the work, is, “How Seven Tailors went to war in Turkey.” Their names were, “First-man, One-strong, Two-strong, Three-strong, Four-strong, Five-strong, and Last-man;” and the story gives a comic account of their poltrooneries.
Other tales relate to a plot against a chaste wife; a girl who clears herself from scandal by lifting and hurling a huge stone; &c.
The plan of the present work did not allow of many short poetical pieces being included; nevertheless, two of the best of the numerous songs and ballads interspersed through the Kalevipoeg have been given, and two other specimens from p. xxiv Neus’ Ehstnische Volkslieder (Revel, 1850-1852) and Kreutzwald and Neus’ Mythische und Magische Lieder der Ehsten (St. Petersburg, 1854). More poetical specimens were thought unnecessary, because many of the principal ballads in the former work will be found translated in Latham’s “Nationalities of Europe,” 1863.
In recent years enormous collections of Esthonian folk-lore have been formed by Pastor Jacob Hurt and his coadjutors.
“Three volumes of these collections were edited by Hurt in 1875, 1876, and 1886, under the title of Vana Kannel, the ‘Old Harp;’ and other collections were published by several of his colleagues. In 1888 Hurt made a renewed appeal to the Esthonians to collect their old songs, and fresh contributions came pouring in from all quarters.
“Special attention was called to Pastor Hurt’s work at the Congress of Folk-lorists in Paris by Henry Camoy.
“According to the latest intelligence which I have received from Dr. Krohn, Pastor Hurt has received p. xxv contributions from 633 different folk-tale collectors in the last three and a half years. Most of these contributors are simple peasants; some are school-masters, but only a few are students or highly educated persons.
“He now possesses, as the result of three and a half years’ work of this nature, epics, lyrics, wedding-songs, &c., upwards of 20,000 items; tales, about 3000; proverbs, about 18,000; riddles, about 20,000. Besides these he has a large collection of magical formulæ, superstitions, &c.
“He has only been able to accomplish these extraordinary results by his having been able to awaken popular interest in the subject.”1
I am glad to hear from my friend Dr. Kaarle Krohn, to whom I have been indebted for much useful information and assistance in my own studies, that part of the results of these great collections are likely to be published very shortly. Of course a great number of tales and songs are merely variants. Many relate to legends belonging rather to the Kalevala than to the Kalevipoeg.
In Dr. Krohn’s important paper, Die geographische p. xxvi Verbreitung Estnischer Lieder, published in 1892, he divides Esthonia and Northern Livonia into several districts, and marks the number of variants obtained in each. It may be interesting to summarise the latter, to show the extent to which the collection of variants has been carried on in Esthonia.
1. Legend of the creation of the earth and of the origin of the heavenly bodies, 62 variants.
2. Salme and her suitors, 160 variants; and 33 relative to the celestial suitors.
3. The Great Ox, 24 variants.
4. The Great Oak, 130 variants, and 61 relative to its fragments.
5. The Weeping Oak, 61 variants.
6. The origin of the harp and of boating, three variations, with 19, 39, and 17 variants respectively.
7. The bride of gold and silver, 52 variants.
8. Songs of the Seluks or Orthodox Esths, 91 variants.
We can, I think, trace Finnish and Esthonian religion through four well-marked stages.
1. Fetishism, as seen in the story of the Treasure-Bringer, and in the account given of the origin of various animals, &c.
3. Transitional stage, well marked in the Kalevala, where the heroes sometimes pray to the gods in conventional Christian phraseology, and at other times try to compel their assistance by invocations and spells. This stage is also seen in the strange travesty of the Nativity in the last Runo of the Kalevala; and indeed, one of the older writers says that the favourite deities of the Finns in his time were Väinämöinen and the Virgin Mary. But this stage is much less visible in the Kalevipoeg, which is, on the whole, a more archaic and more heathenish poem than the Kalevala.
4. Mediæval Christianity.
The gods belong to the stage of Nature-worship. The supreme god is Taara, to whom the oak is sacred. The most celebrated of his sacred oak-forests was in the neighbourhood of Dorpat. Thursday is his day; whence it is more often mentioned in popular tales than any other day in the week. He is also called Uko or Ukko (the Old God), by which name he is usually known in the p. xxviii Kalevala; and also Vana Isa, or Old Father. The Christian God is called Jumal or Jumala, and is probably to be identified with Taara. Ukko or Tarra is the ancestor and protector of the heroes; he attended with Rōugutaja at the birth of the Kalevipoeg, watched over and protected him during his life, sometimes appeared to counsel him in visions, received him in his heavenly halls after death, and assigned to him his future employment.
Ukko’s daughters are Lindu and Jutta, the queens of the birds; and Siuru, who is described as a blue bird herself. Possibly these may be all the same; and the first at least may be identical with Kalev’s bride, Linda, who was born from an egg, and whose name is evidently derived from lind or lindu, a bird.
Äike, Kōu, Paristaja, Pikne, Piker, or Pikker, is the god of thunder, and some of his names connect him with the Lithuanian Perkunas. He thunders across the iron bridges of the skies in his chariot, and hurls his thunderbolts at the demons, like Thor. He also possesses a musical instrument, ofwhich the demons stand in great terror. He has a ne’er-do-weel son, who has dealings with the Devil, and a mischievous little daughter, called the Air-Maiden.
Ahti, the god of the waters, is mentioned occasionally, but much less frequently than Ahto in the Kalevala. He must not be confounded with Ahti, one of the names of the hero Lemminkainen in the latter poem.
Rōugutaja is the god of the winds and waves, and attends specially on births. In one story, however, he appears rather in the character of a morose wood-demon with very undesirable family connections than as a god. This is very probably due to missionary efforts to malign his character and discredit his worship. However, there is a class of magicians who are called Wind-sorcerers, and witches often invoke the aid of the Mother of the Wind.
An old man, with one eye and a long grey beard, often appears to travellers in the forests. He is probably the Finnish Tapio, but is not named. The sun, moon, and stars are represented as male deities.
Goddesses preside over the woods, fields, waters, &c. Thus we have the Meadow-Queen (literally, Grass-mother), who presides over the home-field, and is therefore one of the protecting deities of the household. She is also the queen of the woods and fields. The Wind-mother and Water-mother are p. xxx similar deities, and the wood-nymphs and water-nymphs are their daughters.
Vanemuine, the Väinämöinen of the Finns, is the god of song and music, rather than the patriarch and culture-hero of the Kalevala. All voices and sounds in nature are only echoes of his music. He has a foster-daughter, Jutta, of whom we have given an account elsewhere.
Ilmarine (Finnish, Ilmarinen) is a great smith, whose workshop is under a mountain at the centre of the earth.
The Devil has many names, being called Kurat, the Evil One; Tühi or Tühja, the Empty One, or rather, perhaps, the Contemptible One; but most often Vana Pois, the Old Boy; God being frequently called Vana Isa, the Old Father. He dwells in the underground kingdom, and has three daughters, or foster-daughters; a hat of invisibility, composed of nail-parings; a bridge-building wand, and a sword. He has also much gold and silver plate, and ducks and geese with gold and silver plumage. These treasures are often carried off by enterprising heroes. The maidens whom the Kalevipoeg found in the palace of Sarvik do not appear to have been at all unkindly treated, though they had to work p. xxxi hard, and much regretted that they had no human company.
Another Devil, more prominent in the Kalevipoeg, is Vana Sarvik, or Old Hornie, who is represented as Tühi’s brother-in-law.
The Devil’s underground kingdom is called Pōrgu, or Hell. His mother usually appears in the form of a bitch, and his grandmother under that of a white mare. The minor Esthonian devils are usually stupid rather than malevolent. They are sometimes ogres or soul-merchants, but are at times quite ready to do a kindness, or to return one to those who aid them. Their great enemies are the Thunder-God and the wolf. The principal outwitter of the devil is generally called Crafty Hans; and several volumes of their adventures have been published in Esthonian. The Devil is often represented as fond of beer.
Besides the above-named gods and demons, we have spirits of the whirlwind and the Northern Lights; gnomes; and a host of inferior demons, as well as various grades of sorcerers, especially Wind-sorcerers, Word-sorcerers, or soothsayers, and Death-sorcerers, or necromancers. The Tont, or House-Spirit, goes by various names; among others Kratt or Puuk. Kratt is perhaps a word p. xxxii of Scandinavian or German origin; Puuk must be the same as our Puck, or the Irish Pouka. He was probably originally a beneficent house-spirit, and in later times assumed the demoniacal character in which he appears in the story of the Treasure-Bringer. In the story of “Martin and his Dead Master,” we have a spectre much resembling a vampyre in character.
The gigantic race of the heroes is represented as descended from Taara. As in the case of so many other hero-races—as, for example, the knights of Arthur, Finn, Charlemagne, Vladimir, Palmerin, &c.—they are at length practically destroyed in a series of terrible battles, while the Kalevipoeg, like Arthur, Olger, Barbarossa, and Tell; remains in enchanted bondage till the day shall come for him to restore the ancient glories of his country.1
1 This is specially noticeable in the manner in which the story of the Great Oak Tree is scattered in disjointed fragments through three cantos; and in the unsuccessful result of the Kalevide’s voyage, when he reaches his goal after his return by a land journey.
1 Kirby in “Papers and Transactions of International Folk-lore Congress of 1891,” p. 429.
1 Further information on most of the subjects discussed in the Introduction will be found in the Notes and Index.