Elias Lönnrot Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Elias Lönnrot (LURN-rewt) is one of those little-known individuals who through diligence and unusual ability help to re-create the past glory and artistic history of a nation. Born at Sammatti, Finland, on April 9, 1802, he labored throughout most of his career to preserve the old folk legends and poetry of Finland in readable form. His formal education, at the University of Abo and later at Helsinki, had been in medicine, and he qualified as a physician, but his abiding interest was in philology. By 1827 he was writing articles on the nature of the early Finnish language, and he soon began to collect old legends and folk tales. In 1833 he settled in the rural district of Kajana, ostensibly as a doctor, but most of his time was spent in touring the countryside of Finland, nearby parts of Russia, and even Lapland in search of fragments of old stories and verse to expand his collection of the national literature of Finland.

Lönnrot’s most important work was the Kalevala, a collection of folk literature that became the national epic of Finland. His work went far beyond simply collecting, which in itself was laborious and often had to be done on foot for days at a time; he also had to edit and connect the fragmented items of the epic, and often he needed to supply connective material as well. Most of the source material was preserved only in oral tradition, and his work involved careful research combined with truly creative imagination. He was rewarded for his labors by an appointment to the Chair of Finnish Literature at the University of Helsinki.


(Epics for Students)

Elias Lonnrot was born in the southern parish of Sammatti, Finland in 1802, the fourth of seven children in a poor tailor's family. In spite...

(The entire section is 514 words.)


(European Poets and Poetry)

Elias Lönnrot, the fourth of seven children, was born in Sammatti, a Finnish-speaking area in Swedish Finland, to a poor tailor and his wife. Financial difficulties and the need to learn Swedish, the country’s official language until 1863, prevented Lönnrot from attending college until he was twenty years old. In 1822, he enrolled at the University of Turku, where he studied classical and modern languages and literatures (Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Swedish, and Russian), history, philosophy, and the natural sciences. A major influence on him was the Romantic nationalism of Finnish historian Henrik Gabriel Porthan and Turku professor of Finnish Reinhold von Becker, both of whom advocated the collection, study, and popularization of folklore and the vernacular as depositories of Finnish national and cultural identity. Encouraged by von Becker, in 1827, Lönnrot defended a thesis on the Finnish epic and cultural hero Väinämöinen. Later that year, because of a fire in Turku, Lönnrot transferred to Helsinki, where he obtained a degree in medicine in 1832. His thesis, “On the Magical Medicine of the Finns,” again reflected a strong intellectual investment in Finland’s indigenous traditions. Medical degree in hand, Lönnrot became a district physician in Kajaani, northeastern Finland.

Part of Lönnrot’s duties in Kajaani involved making health inspection trips, which created rich opportunities to further his study of the Finnish language and folklore....

(The entire section is 473 words.)