Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Kaleva, the ancestor of all heroes. Although he never appears in the poem, he is one of the unifying principles of this saga, which is put together from the Finnish folk tales of many generations.
Väinämöinen, the singer-hero, who is the Son of the Wind and the Virgin of the Air. Seeking a daughter of Louhi, the witch, for his wife, Väinämöinen is required to furnish the mother with a magic Sampo that grinds out riches. He provides the Sampo, but the daughter chooses another man for a husband. A large part of Väinämöinen’s story is then concerned with his efforts to recover the Sampo and the catastrophic results of his theft.
Ilmarinen, the smith-hero and forger of the sky and of the Sampo required of Väinämöinen by Louhi. He is in love with Louhi’s daughter and is chosen by her over Väinämöinen.
Lemminkäinen, a warrior-hero, who seeks as a wife a daughter of Louhi.
Joukahäinen, a young man defeated by Väinämöinen in a duel of magic songs.
Aino, Joukahäinen’s sister, who is won in a song duel by Väinämöinen. She drowns herself rather than marry him.
Louhi, a witch, the ruler of Pohjola, and the mother of beautiful daughters sought as wives by Väinämöinen,...
(The entire section is 364 words.)
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One of the three main figures in the Kalevala, Ilmarinen the smith is a great Finnish cultural hero, second only to Vainamoinen. Ilmarinen's name derives from the Finnish word iltna, meaning air, and the ancient Finns may have considered him a deity of the weather and elements. There is no trace of this divine identity in Lonnrot's epic, however, except for the mention that Ilmarinen once hammered out the sky and the stars themselves. Rather, he is depicted as the steadfast, skillful craftsman, forever laboring at his forge.
Ilmarinen's most famous feat is the creation of the Sampo, a mysterious mill that provides its owner with endless prosperity. Less successful are the gold and silver bride he forges to replace his dead wife and the new sun and moon he makes after Louhi steals the real ones: the bride is cold, and the sun and moon do not shine.
In many ways, Ilmarinen occupies the middle ground between wanton young Lemminkainen and celibate old Vainamoinen. Ilmarinen, who woos and marries Louhi's daughter, is the figure of a man in his prime, representing mature, married sexuality.
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Kullervo, son of Kalervo and nephew of Untamo, is a tragic figure whose story unfolds in Poems 31-36. Mentally unbalanced after having been badly raised as an orphan on his uncle's farm, Kullervo is a bother and inconvenience for everybody to deal with. He is lazy, stupid, bitterly defiant, and unfit to do a young man's work; he makes a mess of Untamo's farm, ruins the threshing, and kills a small child he was assigned to babysit. Finally, Untamo rids himself of the troublesome youth by selling him to Dmarinen as a serf.
For some reason, Ihnarinen's wife mistreats Kullervo, baking a stone into his bread before sending him off to watch the cattle herd. When Kullervo cuts into the bread, he breaks his knife on the stone and is thrown into a vengeful rage: the knife, he laments, was the only legacy he had from his dead father. Apparently Kullervo possesses enough magical powers to turn wolves and bears into cattle, which he sends to kill Ilmarinen's wife.
Kullervo then wanders off and finds that his parents are still alive, though his sister is lost. He rejoins the family but does not seem to fit in; once again, he botches all the chores assigned to him, until his father gives up and sends him far away on a tax-paying errand.
Murder and mishaps are followed by incest: Kullervo unwittingly sleeps with his own sister. Unable to live with the shame, the sister kills herself. Kullervo does not go into hiding; instead, he returns home and...
(The entire section is 376 words.)
Impetuous, young, handsome, and warlike, Lemminkainen is one of the three main heroes of the Kalevala. He embodies the heroic, manly virtues of the Viking Age: courage, strength, fighting zeal, restlessness, and sexual appetite. He is always ready to avenge any affront to his honor. Though he is knowledgeable, it is fair to say he is not always wise; his headstrong and belligerent ways earn him a bad reputation and get him into trouble on more than one occasion. Twice he swears not to go to war, and both times he breaks his oath. He repeatedly ignores his mother's warnings and rushes off northwards on knightly quests. He is often injured and is eventually killed while pursuing his warlike activities.
Lemminkainen is called "Wanton Loverboy" in Keith Bosley's translation of the Kalevala, and critic Michael Branch describes him as a "stone age Don Juan." Both epithets are appropriate, since his name is most likely derived from the word tempi, meaning erotic love. He seduces all the women of two separate islands and is unable to settle down for long with a wife before deserting her to woo someone else. However, there is more to Lemminkainen's character than libido and aggression.
Lemminkainen seems to possess great skill as a sorcerer. He may even be a shaman. On both his journeys to Pohjola, his knowledge of spells enables him to overcome dangers and avoid fatal traps. He sings Louhi's soldiers into a stupor and bests the Master of...
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Louhi is the Mistress of Pohjola ("Sariola"), the dark and cold land three days' journey north of Kalevala. Her tribe is apparently matriarchal, for though Louhi has a husband (killed by Lemminkainen in Poem 27), she is clearly the leader of her people. She is a powerful sorceress, but her magic is not as strong as Vamamdinen's. At first, relations between her people and Vainamdinen's are fairly peaceful, and her daughter marries Ilmarinen in Poems 20-25. After the theft of the Sampo, though, Louhi becomes Kalevala's nemesis, sending plagues, beasts, and darkness in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to destroy the southern tribe.
Louhi is Finland's "Witch of the North," a figure to frighten children in bedtime stories. Anselm Hollo and others suggest that the negative depiction of the Mistress of Pohjola is unfair, a literary consequence of men's struggle to dominate women at various times in history: "it must be said that the Kalevala is, possibly due to the time of its collection and compilation, a remarkably patriarchal cycle of narrative poems ... Louhi, the powerful and from our heroes' point of view 'vicious' Lady of the Northland, is Kali, the Great Mother, who is apt to devour feeble ambassadors. Her powerful and decisive presence in the epic as we have it now does seem to hark back to a time when a battle was waged between an ancient, shamanistic matriarchal culture and upstart bands of 'heroes'..." (Hollo, "The...
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Vainamoinen is the central character of the Kalevala. He is born from the sea at the beginning of the world. In oral tradition he is often depicted as a god, but in the Kalevala he is a great shaman and singer, an "Eternal Sage" and prophet who prays to Ukko. Shamans are magician/priests able to achieve trance states in which they leave their bodies and travel in the spirit world, to see into the future, prophesy, and commune with the gods. Vainamoinen's visits to Antero Vipunen and Tuonela in search of knowledge can be read as the dream--or trance--journey of a shaman. More skilled in both music and magic than any other living human being, Vainamoinen outsings Louhi, Joukahainen, and even Death. Like the myth of the Greek singer Orpheus, Vainamoinen is able to enchant all hearers with his music and thus is able to escape from the underworld.
As a Finnish cultural hero, Vainamoinen is depicted as bringing both fire and agriculture to his people in their earliest history (Poems 4 and 48). He heals them of disease (Poem 45), and secures their prosperity by carefully collecting and planting the pieces of the broken Sampo (Poem 43). His birth is described in the opening poem, but he only appears in the narrative as an old man. On two occasions, his great age prevents him from winning a bride. Like King Arthur in British folktales, Vainamoinen is not lucky in love. The fate of such great men is to serve as a founding father of a whole nation, not...
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Antero Vipunen is an ancient giant, a great shaman who now lies underground, more or less dead, with trees growing above him. In Poem 17, Vainamoinen visits the sleeping giant to obtain his knowledge. Vipunen revives enough to swallow Vainamoinen, in a scene reminiscent of the biblical story of Jonah and the whale. Vainamoinen hammers on Vipunen's innards until the giant finally reveals all his spells and releases him. Vipunen is a puzzling character: it is never clear, for instance, whether he is alive or dead, and whether his body is decomposed or intact. All we know is that he is a repository of ancient knowledge and magical songs. John Alphonso-Karkala, in Transmission of Knowledge, 1979, suggests that Antero Vipunen symbolizes the collective unconscious: "What the poet seems to suggest in the personification of the primeval character of Vipunen is that Vainamoinen, perhaps, goes to the cumulative fund of ancestral knowledge of the Finno-Ugric people, and in fact, searches deep in the collective unconscious of the race in the Jungian sense. This includes not only the living, but also those people who have ceased to exist, but whose experience, knowledge, visions, and wisdom continue to live among the surviving members of the race."
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Ahti of the Island
The character of Aino is Lonnrot's own invention and addition to the Kalevala. On one of his field trips to eastern Karelia, he heard a song about Anni, a reluctant bride who hangs herself in her wedding clothes rather than be married. Seizing on this motif, Lonnrot expanded on the basic story and created the character of Aino. She appears in Poems 3-5 as Joukahainen's sister, promised in marriage to Vainamoinen in exchange for Joukahainen's freedom. Unwitting to marry an old man, Aino runs away weeping. She drowns herself in the sea and is transformed into a fish. Vainamoinen catches her, but does not recognize her until she leaps out of the boat, reveals her identity, and swims away, never to be seen again. The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) named his home "Ainola" after this character.
In Poem 12, Annikki is the name of Lemminkainen's sister, who tells him that his wife Kyllikki has broken her vow not to go into the village. In Poem 18, Annikki is the name of Ihnarinen's sister, who questions Vainamoinen on his way to the Northland and then runs to tell her brother what the old man is up to. In general, the name Annikki seems to be associated with characters who are tattletales.
(The entire section is 1617 words.)