Kalevipoeg is an epic poem by Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald held to be the Estonian national epic.


The main material is taken from Estonian folklore of a giant hero named Kalevipoeg ("Kalev's son", often Anglicized as "Kalevide"). These tales mainly interpret various natural objects and features as traces of Kalevipoeg's deeds and have similarities with national epics from neighbouring regions, especially the Finnish Kalevala, and also in Scandinavia.

In 1839, Friedrich Robert Faehlmann read a paper at the Learned Estonian Society about the legends of Kalevipoeg. He sketched the plot of a national romantic epic poem. In 1850, after Faehlmann's death, Kreutzwald started writing the poem, interpreting it as the reconstruction of an obsolete oral epic. He collected oral stories and wove them together into a unified whole.

The first version of "Kalevipoeg" (1853; 13,817 verses) could not be printed due to censorship. The second, thoroughly revised version (19,087 verses) was published in sequels as an academic publication by the Learned Estonian Society in 1857–1861. The publication included a translation into German. In 1862, the third, somewhat abridged version (19,023 verses) came out. This was a book for common readers. It was printed in Kuopio, Finland.


In Estonian (mainly East Estonian) legends, Kalevipoeg carries stones or throws them at enemies, and also uses planks edgewise as weapons, following the advice of a hedgehog. He also forms surface structures on landscape and bodies of water and builds towns. He walks through deep water. Kalevipoeg eventually dies after his feet are cut off by his own sword.

Kalevipoeg was one of the sons of Kalev and Linda. Kalevipoeg's real given name was Sohni/Soini. Alevipoeg, Olevipoeg and Sulevipoeg were his relatives.

The character only rarely appears in folk songs. In literature, he was first mentioned by Heinrich Stahl in the 17th century.


Poetic structure

The epic is written in old Estonian alliterative verse. Approximately one eighth of the verses are authentic; the rest are imitation.

Contents and synopses

The Kalevipoeg consists of twenty "'Cantos.

Canto I. - The marriages of Salme and Linda

:Three brothers travel to different places. The youngest is Kalev. He is taken to Estonia on the back of a great eagle. He becomes king of the land.:A widow walks alone and finds a hen, a grouse's egg and a crow on her travels. She takes them home and the former 2 grow into the maidens Salme and Linda. The crow--which she discarded--grows into a servant girl.:Many suitors come to the girls, Salme and Linda. Salme is wooed by the sun, moon and stars themselves. Linda is also wooed by them, but she chooses Kalev, the frightening giant, as her husband. Salme and Linda leave with their respective husbands to complete their lives with them.

Canto II. - The death of Kalev

:Kalev dies, but before his death prophecises the greatness of his unborn sons (Sohni, Kalevide, Son of Kalev).:Linda weeps for seven days and nights over her husband's death. She then prepares him for his funeral and buries him 35 metres below the ground.:Linda feels the birth of her son approaching and asks the gods for help. Ukko comes to her aid with bedding and comfort.:When her son is born, he cries for months and proceeds to tear his clothes and cradle. He grows quickly, learns the trades of the land and plays games.

Canto III. - The fate of Linda

:The 3 sons of Kalev go on a hunting trip, leaving their mother to attend to her duties at home.:While the men are off hunting, a Finnish sorcerer (who had previously tried to win the hand of Linda and failed) sneaks up on Linda and steals her away. She fights hard and manages to get away. She is turned into a rock by the gods.:The brothers return and search in vain for their mother. The Kalevide asks for help from his father's grave.

Canto IV. - The island maiden

:The Kalevide swims to Finland. He stops off at an island where he meets and seduces a beautiful maiden.:The maiden hears the name and origin of the Kalevide and is horrified. She loses her footing and plunges into the water. The Kalevide jumps in after her but is unable to find her so he carries on to Finland.:The maiden's parents check the sea and find an oak and fir tree and other trinkets, but not their daughter.:A song rises up from the sea telling the story of how the maiden was seduced down into the deep.

Canto V. - The Kalevide and the Finnish sorcerer

:The parents of the maiden plant the oak tree they found at the bottom of the sea. In a short time it grows to the sky. The mother finds a small man hiding in the wings of an eagle, he is asked to fell the tree, he agrees on the condition he is let free.:The Kalevide reaches Finland and finds the sorcerer in his house. The sorcerer creates a huge army to fend of the Kalevide, but the Kalevide fells them all with his mighty strength and proceeds to question the sorcerer about his mother. When he fails to answer, the Kalevide crushes his head with his club and proceeds to weep for his crime.

Canto VI. - The Kalevide and the sword smiths

:The Kalevide visits Ilmarinen (Ilmarine in Estonian), the famous Finnish blacksmith, and asks him to create a sword. He presents various swords. Not all are adequate, so Ilmarinen presents a sword created at the bequest of Kalev, which pleases the Kalevide greatly.:A great feast and drinking bout is held. Unfortunately, the Kalevide gets angry and fells the head of Ilmarinen's eldest son with the very sword he helped create. Ilmarinen curses the Kalevide. He leaves and later realises his second great crime and weeps.:The great oak tree of the maiden of the island is felled to create a bridge, ships and a hut.

Canto VII. - The return of the Kalevide

:The Kalevide takes the sorcerer's boat and returns home. The brothers tell their stories. The Kalevide visits his father's grave again.

Canto VIII. - The contest and parting of the brothers

:Kalev's 3 sons go to a lakes edge and throw stones to decide who will stay and rule the land. The Kalevide wins and the brothers part.:The Kalevide tends to the land and falls into a deep sleep. During this time, his horse is eaten by wolves.

Canto IX. - Rumours of war

:The Kalevide wakes from a terrible dream that his horse was killed by wolves only to find it is true. He runs through the land, killing all the wild beasts his can find in vengeance. He becomes tired and sleeps again.:A messenger comes to the Kalevide and informs him of a battle against his people.

Canto X. - The heroes and the Water-Demon

:While the Kalevide and his cousin Alevide are walking through the country they come across a pair of demons arguing over the ownership of a pool. The Alevide drains the pool, but the host water-demon asks him to desist. The Alevide tricks the water-demon out of his riches.:The Alevide sends his cousin's servant to the water-demons lair. He is teased and runs away. The Kalevide wrestles the water-demon and wins.:The Kalevide decides to fortify towns for protection, he goes to Lake Peipus to fetch wood. He meets the Air-maiden in a well.

Canto XI. - The loss of the sword

:The Kalevide walks across Lake Peipus but a sorcerer spies him and decides to drown him. His efforts fail.:The sorcerer steals the Kalevide's sword. After an attempt to take it away, he is forced to drop it in a stream. When the Kalevide awakes he goes hunting for his sword. When he finds it, he consults it and finds it is happier in the stream. He leaves it there, but orders it to cut off the legs of the sorcerer should he ever return.:The Kalevide carries on in this journey and meets a man of human stature who regales him with a story of giants. The Kalevide is amused and offers his protection. He places the man in his wallet.

Canto XII. - The fight with the sorcerer's sons

:The three sons of the sorcerer attack the Kalevide while he is walking on his way. He fights hard but gains no ground until he hears and heeds the advice of a small voice from the underbrush. He defeats the sorcerer's sons and asks his helper to show himself. After some persuasion, his helper comes out of the underbrush and the Kalevide cuts some of his coat for the small creature to cover himself up, but only cuts enough to cover his back.:The Kalevide discovers that man in his wallet is dead and grieves. He falls asleep and is enchanted by the sorcerer. He sleeps for 7 weeks and dreams about Ilmarine's workshop.

Canto XIII. - The Kalevide's first journey to Hades

:On his return journey, the Kalevide sees demons cooking at the entrance to a cave. He enters the cave and finds the palace of Sarvik. He breaks in and meets 3 maidens.:The Kalevide and the maidens talk and they give him a magic hat and rod. He promises to free them from Sarvik and find them husbands.

Canto XIV. - The palace of Sarvik

:The 3 maidens show the Kalevide around Sarvik's palace. It is an intricate and massive castle. They confess that they are immortal and ever radiant, but they are unhappy and have no joys in life. The Kalevide tells them he will rescue them and he makes plans to wrestle with Sarvik. The 2 oldest maidens switch Sarvik's magical liquors so he will be weakened when he drinks. The Kalevide uses the magic hat to make himself appear smaller.:When Sarvik returned, he demanded the Kalevide explain himself. Kalevide makes his challenge and the 2 combatants wrestle viciously. When they stop for a rest, the Kalevide uses the hat to regain his old size and strength and bashes Sarvik into the ground.:The Kalevide and the maidens flee from Sarvik's palace. The Kalevide burns the magic hat much to the distress of the maidens.

Canto XV. - The marriage of the sisters

:The maidens and the Kalevide are chased by demons. The youngest maiden uses the magic rod to create a torrent of water and a bridge to take them to safety.:Tühi questions the Kalevide about his visit to Põrgu and his fight with Sarvik, the Kalevide answers sarcastically.:The maidens are married to Alev and Sulev but the second maiden is kidnapped by a sorcerer. The hunt for her, kill the sorcerer and recover her, she is married to Olev.

Canto XVI. - The voyage of the Kalevide

:The Kalevide ponders a voyage to the end of the world. A great ship called Lennuk is created.:The Kalevide meets a Laplander called Varrak who tells him that the end of the world is not reachable. He offers to take them home. The Kalevide says he needs no help to return home but would be grateful if Varrak would take them to the world's end. The voyage to an island of fire, steam and smoke where the Sulevide gets scorched.:They are found by a giant child who carries them to her father. The father requests that they solve his riddles for their release. They are successful and the daughter takes them to their boat and blows them out to sea.:The group carries on in its journey north. They witness the northern lights and eventually come to an island of dog men. After some troubles, peace is made with the dog men and the leader of them tells the Kalevide that he has wasted his time. The Kalevide finally decides to go home.

Canto XVII. - The heroes and the dwarf

:Magnificent fortified cities have been built by Olev. The Alevide and the Sulevide have also built fine cities. The Kalevide names Olev's city after his mother, Lindanisa (modern day Tallinn).:News of a great invasion force reaches the Kalevide and he sets of to fight in a long pitched battle, during which he loses his horse in the sheer depth of gore created during the battle.:After the battle is over and the spoils handed out, the Kalevide and his friends set out to find further invaders. They come across an old woman cooking and settle down for the night.:During the night a dwarf appears and asks each of the heroes if he can take a sip from the pot of soup the old woman was cooking. All but the Kalevide allow him to and he proceeds to drink the whole pot, grow to the sky then vanish.:After the dwarf has appeared to all of the heroes the daughters of the Meadow Queen dance and sing and tell the tale of adventures still to come to the Kalevide.

Canto XVIII. - The Kalevide's journey to Põrgu (Hell)

:The Kalevide wakes in the night and finds the gates to Põrgu. He enters and proceeds into the depths of hell itself, aided by creatures along the way.:The Kalevide comes across a large iron bridge and the huge army of Sarvik. He battles hard and eventually gets over the bridge to the palace of Sarvik. He beats his way in and is greeted by a vision of his mother and Sarvik's mother.

Canto XIX. - The last feast of the heroes

:The Kalevide and Sarvik have a lengthy wrestling match in which the Kalevide prevails. He binds Sarvik heavily with chains, takes a small treasure and leaves for the world of men.:The Kalevide and his friends have a meal of ox which the Alevide was able to kill.:The Kalevide and his friends return to Lindanisa and a great feast and drinking bout begins. Many songs are sung and much joy is in the air. There is news of yet another invasion from all sides of the country by many enemies.:Varrak departs for Lapland, taking with him a book of wisdom, given to him by the Kalevide, much to the dismay of the sons of Olev and Sulev.:Many refugees arrive with news of the impending battles. The Kalevide consults his Father's grave, but no answer comes.

Canto XX. - Armageddon

:The Kalevide and his friends prepare for war. The Kalevide buries his treasure and protects it with incantations to Taara.:The Kalevide and his friends engage in a fierce battle which lasts many days and in which the Kalevide loses his horse and the Sulevide is badly injured. The Sulevide eventually dies.:Olev builds a large bridge over the river Võhanda and the army proceeds over to engage the remaining enemy. The battle rages hard for many days until the heroes are exhausted and decide to take a drink. The Alevide slips and falls into the lake and drowns.:The Kalevide is so grief-stricken he abdicates and places his kingdom in the hands of Olev. The Kalevide leaves for a peaceful life on the banks of the river Koiva. He does not get the peace he desires and is annoyed by many visitors, some aggressive. He wanders around the country annoyed by these intrusions and makes his way to Lake Peipus. He wades into Käpä, the brook where his old sword lay, and the sword keeps its promise to cut off the legs of anyone who dares wade in the brook. Unfortunately the Kalevide had forgotten this promise and his legs are cut off.:The Kalevide dies and is taken to heaven. However, he is deemed too valuable and is reanimated in his old body to stand guard for eternity at the gates of Põrgu to keep watch on Sarvik and his demons. He is there still tied to the gates of Põrgu by his hand, which is locked in a rock.

Comparative Mythology

*The permanent trapping of Kalevide by his hand being caught in the gates of Pőrgu is similar to the Sumerian mythic theme of the trapping of Enkidu into the netherworld by his hand being caught in the door of Huwawa ( [http://www.piney.com/Gil07.html Gilgames^, Tablet 7] ).
*The amputation of the legs of Kalevide by a magical sword is similar to the Ĥurrian mythic theme of the amputation of the feet of Ulli-kummi (Ullikummi) by a [http://home.comcast.net/~chris.s/hittite-ref.html supernatural knife] . According to Eustathios ("ad Hor".), the [http://www.theoi.com/Pontios/Telkhines.html Telkhin-es] were likewise beings without feet.


* The hero of Estonia. And other studies in the romantic literature of that country - William Forsell Kirby. 1895
* Kalevipoeg: An Ancient Estonian Tale - Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald , Trans. Jüri Kurman - ISBN 0-918542-02-2. 1982

ee also

*Toell the Great
*Estonian mythology

External links

* [http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/19438 The English version (translated by W. F. Kirby) at Project Gutenberg] . Kalevipoeg as well as other Estonian folk tales.
* [http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/hoe/index.htm The English version (translated by W. F. Kirby) at Sacred Texts] . Kalevipoeg as well as other Estonian folk tales.
* [http://www.kalevipoeg.info/ Kalevipoeg]
* [http://www.lituanus.org/2001/01_3_05.htm An article exploring the meaning and depth of the Kalevipoeg]
* [http://www.nlib.ee/html/expo/kalevipoeg/sisse-eng.html An article on the compilers of the Kalevipoeg]
* [http://www.kalevipoeg.info A site containing the five initial Cantos of Kalevipoeg (in Estonian)]
* [http://www.utlib.ee/ekollekt/eeva/index.php?do=tekst_yldandmed&lang=1&tid=1066 Digital images of first printing] at EEVA

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