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26 March 2015 | This 'n' that

Kullervo's curse

Kullervo’s curse. Painting by Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1899)

Finland’s national epic adapted for the stage by Finland’s national writer: best known as the author of the first significant novel in Finnish, Seitsemän veljestä (Seven Brothers, 1870), Aleksis Kivi (1834-1972) also turned one of the Kalevala’s grimmest stories, that of Kullervo – a tale of incest, revenge and death– into a five-act tragedy.

The translation is by one of Books from Finland’s most long-standing collaborators, David Barrett (1914-1998), a true linguistic genius with a speciality in Georgian as well as Finnish in addition to classical Greek; as well as his work with texts in Finnish and Georgian, he made extensive translations of Aristophanes for Penguin Classics. Barrett felt, as he argues here in his introduction, ‘that Kullervo, if suitably translated, might succeed where Seven Brothers had failed, in bringing Kivi’s genius to the notice of the English-speaking world’.

Was he right? It is up to you, dear readers, to judge.

For a very different, demythologized, view of the Kullervo story, we also publish a manuscript by the modernist poet Paavo Haavikko (1931-2008) from his television adaptation Rauta-aika (‘Age of iron’, 1982).

The Kalevala is in development as a film by the Finnish entertainment company Rovio, of Angry Birds game, and the Finnish-born video game company Supercell. It remains to be seen how the Kalevala take to the big screen.

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The digitisation of Books from Finland continues, with a total of 372 articles and book extracts made available online so far. Each week, we bring a newly digitised text to your attention.

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