Kalevipoeg- Estonia

Informant: So in Estonian folklore probably the most traditional and famous epic is the epic of a man named “Kalevipoeg.” Which like.. literally translates to the son of Kalev or the son of Kevin. Back in the days of old, there was this man named Kalev. He was the king of Estonia. He was the biggest guy, coolest guy there was. He had three sons. I forget their..umm.. their names but the youngest one was Kalevipoeg which means Kalev junior or in English Kalev’s son. And he was the strongest, he was kind of like the Estonian Hercules. Uh, once Kalev, like the king died, kalevipoeg, kalev junior, he became like the king and wanted a good sword. He left Estonia to Finland and met the best blacksmith there. He grabbed the best sword and split and anvil in half with it. He had kind of like a temper problem. He has a bad temper in this epic and kills the blacksmith. And he tries to, uh, uh, meet one of these Sirens on his way back home from Finland and sadly when he was trying to meet this woman and she fell off a cliff and passed away so you kind of see heartbreak as well as almost, I don’t know, theft. So when he came back to Estonia hoarded off the devil in one of these epic wars in the swamps. Estonia is mostly swampland. It’s a long epic excuse me haha. Um. Yeah Kalevipoeg ended up getting this fantastic white stallion. And he, um, builds, during his reign as king, and Estonia flourished a lot of great new infrastructure although he has his temper they love him though. However, uh one day a troll tried to steal his sword from him in the swamp and the troll took the sword. Kalevipoeg beat the troll with his bear hands but the sword was stuck in the water. So Kalevipoeg put a curse on it. Whoever stole this sword, er, or whoever tries to steal this sword will have their legs cut off. And he left. Another war breaks out in Estonia and Kalev goes to hell and wrangles the Devil himself. He beats the devil in a fistfight. And he goes, uh, back up, back to the swamp to pick up his sword again after the war is over. The thing is though, when Kalev or Kalevipoeg killed the blacksmith back in Finland, the Fi.. the Finish guy said, “you stole this sword from me because you killed me”. So when Kalev tried to go and pick up his sword from the swamp again his legs were cut off. He passed away and he was sent to heaven. Up there, Heaven really liked what he did for Estonia, they gave him legs again and I guess like a spirit version of his horse and sent him back down to hell to guard the gates of hell against whoever comes and doesn’t deserve it. So Kalevipoeg is kind of like the Hercules, almost Hades of this style Epic of Estonia.

Collector: Who told you this Story?

Informant: I learned it, I hear it every year when I go to Estonian camp.

Collector: From like a camp counselor or something?

Informant: Oh yeah there’s a really old camp counselor there who does like this hour and a half presentation of this story.

Collector: How many times have you heard this?

Informant: I’ve heard it about eight times. And it’s all in Estonian too, so this is.. as you know.. Translated.

Collector: Your family is from Estonia?

Informant: Yeah my family is from Estonia. They’re all from Estonia.

Collector: What part or areas? North? South?

Informant: Tallinn, the capital.

Collector: It’s very small.

Informant: One million people, it’s a small place.

Collector: So what so like, what in particular do you like about the story?

Informant: The story? I don’t know, I just love the scale of it. He does so much in his lifetime. And I love how it pertains back to Estonia and that every Estonian knows this story as well. Like, and like there’s actually monuments and statues of Kalevipoeg. And a lot of Estonian art derives from him breaking the anvil or of him riding the stallion. It’s all on woodwork, leatherwork, in every tavern or just anywhere in Estonia too.

Collector: What’s like, what do you think doesn’t translate from the story to our culture, like Estonian culture to American culture?

Informant: The fact that he killed the blacksmith, the siren died, and him basically cutting off his own legs cuz he was an idiot. He, he had a temper problem and wasn’t the brightest guy, but he made Estonia a better place nonetheless. And I think.. Estonians still love him to death whereas when we tell the story people think he’s just an asshole.




I think this story and Mikk’s interview tell us of differences in humor and how important folklore and stories are in creating a national sense of humor.  Whether humor was first and then the stories is like trying to figure out if the chicken or the egg came first, but what I think can be analyzed is how over time stories that are retold and retold over and over sediment themselves in a culture so as to create a national humor with them. For some reason one story was liked better than another, and this could be an account of humor being chosen, but looking at this specific story there are other elements which make it so compelling and thus could have been a factor in it’s choice over the other stories, this might suggest that over time the story chosen for it’s entire appreciation forced or molded its audience with it’s specific humor. What i mean to point out in my analysis is that stories are very powerful not just because of the message they give but because of how we appreciate them and bring them into our lives as well. Humor holds a lot of power in how we perceive the world.