The Kalevala around the world

The Kalevala has been translated into more languages than any other work of Finnish literature. It has been translated into 60 languages, not all of which have yet been published.

The earliest translation appeared in Swedish as early as 1841. The first translation of the New Kalevala was in German and appeared in 1852.

Most of the Kalevala translations have been made on the basis of the Finnish original, but translations existing in English, German and Russian have also served as departure points for many translations.

Why, despite the fact that the language of the Kalevala is archaic, the poetic metre ancient, and the Finnish cultural sphere relatively small, is the Kalevala translated into other languages? There are several possible explanations. First, the Kalevala is part of the world's literature, and as such, it inspires interest and makes itself felt across the boundaries of space and time.

Second, in recent years it has been pointed out that the Kalevala's impact on Finnish national identity brings it closer to those groups wishing to promote cultural self-awareness and national or ethnic independence.

Who translates the Kalevala? How is it possible to interpret the Kalevala for another language and culture? Some translators consider the transfer of precise and detailed meaning, that is, ethnographic or linguistic authenticity, to be the most important; these translators are usually researchers. Other translators, on the other hand, wish to interpret the Kalevala so as to make it attractive to the receiving culture. For these translators, who are usually writers and poets, it is the mental reality of the Kalevala which is significant: the epic's northern exoticism is merely a veneer masking the myths common to all peoples.