Kalevipoeg. An ancient Estonian tale
15. march 2002 - 15. january 2003 in National Library of Estonia
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This book exhibition marks several important dates connected with the Kalevipoeg (Kalev’s Son) and Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald: in August 2001 it was 140 years since the original publication of the epic; this year we are celebrating 140 years of its popular edition; in the coming year 2003 it will be two hundred years since the birth of F. R. Kreutzwald. All Estonian-language publications of the Kalevipoeg are displayed at this exhibition. Translations are presented partially. There is also a selection of thematic literature on the Kalevipoeg.

Our story originates from 1839, when Friedrich Robert Faehlmann and Georg Julius Schultz-Bertram delivered their papers at the Learned Estonian Society. Faehlmann’s speech for the first time assembled Kalevipoeg’s folk tales existing in Estonia into a coherent cycle. The paper by the Baltic-German literary man Schultz-Bertram became known by a programme call to provide the nation with an epic and the history: “Is there anything that can indisputably demonstrate the historical importance of a nation but the existence of its epopee?”

Faehlmann died in 1850, not having completed a German-language prose version of the epic. The same year the LES suggested that F. R. Kreutzwald, the Võru medical doctor, completed the compilation of the epic. Initially Kreutzwald chose an Estonian-language prose form. However, he gave up this style and in 1853 presented the Kalevipoeg’s original wording, the so called Original Kalevipoeg in verses following the example of Estonian folk songs. Later Kreutzwald added eight more songs to the Kalevipoeg, extending the themes of folk songs. To avoid “the narrow gate” of censorship, the LES decided to publish the Kalevipoeg by parts in the series of their transactions in parallel with the German language translation that was completed in 1857-61. This period is characterised by the quarrel between Kreutzwald and translator Carl Reinthal; the doubts about originality of the epic that appeared in the Baltic-German press; and the Petersburg Academy of Sciences’ Demidov’s prize awarded to Kreutzwald. In order to get any reward for his life work, in 1862, Kreutzwald himself wrote a second popular edition of the Kalevipoeg. For economic purposes it was more reasonable to have it published in Kuopio, Finland. During Kreutzwald’s lifetime also the third edition was issued. In 1911, Estonian community festively celebrated the 50th anniversary of the epic Kalevipoeg. The jubilee celebrations encouraged the Estonian Literary Society to initiate the idea of publishing the illustrated epic. In 1913 the Society made a proposal to Kristjan Raud to illustrate the Kalevipoeg. The artist agreed, however, discussions over the amendments of the epic’s text got into full swing, and in a couple of years the started work died away. In 1934, on the eve of the Book Year the ELS once again discussed the problem of a new redacted and illustrated edition of the Kalevipoeg. K. Raud was again made a proposal to illustrate the publication. Hando Mugasto was chosen to design vignettes and initial letters. The critics were not equally complimentary about K. Raud’s illustrations after the publication had been issued in 1935. However, K. Raud’s and H. Mugasto’s Kalevipoeg remained unsurpassed by the following artists. Their works have been repeatedly used in later editions.

The first illustrated publication paved the way to other artists. In 1946, the Kalevipoeg stylishly designed by P. Luhtein was issued. The 1951 edition was the most magnificant: the illustrations were collectively done by A. Hoidre, O. Kangilaski, and R. Sagrits. In 1954, the Kalevipoeg with E. Haamer’s drawings appeared in Toronto. A jubilee publication with E. Okas’s illustrations, which was dedicated to the centenary of the epic, appeared in 1961. Also, in 1961, as a result of a long-lasting research, a text critical publication about the Kalevipoeg was issued, the text of which has been the basis for the following Kalevipoeg’s editions. K. Raud’s charcoal drawings were used again for the 1975 Book Year Kalevipoeg. The epic was not printed in the 1980s, but in the 1990s the three editions of the epic appeared. The last 17th edition was issued in 1998.

After the popular edition of the Kalevipoeg came out, the necessity to retell the contents of the epic arose; and in 1869 A Short Interpretation of the Kalevipoeg’s Songs by Kreutzwald himself was published. The retellings of the 20th century may rather be considered youth literature; they have been widely used at schools. The best known example of this genre is Eno Raud’s Kalevipoeg (1961) which has been repeatedly published and translated. A. Viidalepp, H. Laretei and J. Tammsaar have successfully illustrated this publication.

Translations of the Kalevipoeg at the exhibition are grouped by languages. The Kalevipoeg has been translated most of all into German and Russian. The first translation was done in 1857-61 with a parallel German text whereby along with C. Reinthal and G. J. Schultz-Bertram Kreutzwald himself was one of the translators. The German-language parts of the original edition bound together were issued in 1861. The German literary man Ferdinand Löwe became one of the most important mediator of Kreutzwald’s creation. The Kalevipoeg translated by Löwe with a voluminous foreword and comments to it appeared in 1900. The first translator of the epic into the Russian language was the censor Jüri Truusmann, whose prose translation appeared in two parts (installments) (1886, 1889). In addition to German and Russian, the Kalevipoeg’s verse translations were published in Hungarian (1929), Latvian (1929), Finnish (1957), Czech (1959), Lithuanian (1963), Rumanian (1978), Ukrainian (1981), English (1982) and Swedish (1999). Shorter translations and retellings as separate books are in Danish (1878), Jewish (1922), French (1930), Italian (1931) and Esperanto (1975).

A selection of voluminous thematic literature about the Kalevipoeg is also displayed. The idea of improving the epic existed in the reviews of the Kalevipoeg from the very beginning. J. Aavik was the one who most persistently tried to renew the language, the contents as well as the rhythm of the Kalevipoeg . The linguistically improved Kalevipoeg was issued in 1935, A. Annist being the main redactor and editor. He published the 3-part monograph and proved to be the leading researcher of the Kalevipoeg in the 1930s. Also, Annist was the active editor of a text-critical edition of the Kalevipoeg. Prior and after the 100th jubilee year of the Kalevipoeg Legends on Kalevipoeg by E. Laugaste and E. Normann, two collections of articles Problems of the Kalevipoeg, and an album The Kalevipoeg Depicted in Fine Arts were published. The exhibition is concluded by an essay collection The Immortal Kalevipoeg (1994) by F. Oinas.

Thematic illustrations, ballet performance costume designs, and works of the applied art have made the exhibition more expressive. Part of these interesting items are kindly lent by Estonian museums to the National Library of Estonia.

Kalevipoeg. An ancient Estonian tale
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