The Kalevala and the World’s Traditional Epics
A Symposium at the University of Turku, August 14-15, 1999

On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Finnish national epic, the New Kalevala (1849), an international symposium for comparative research on traditional epics will be organised on “The Kalevala and the World’s Traditional Epics” at the Kalevala Institute of the University of Turku, Finland, on August 14-15, 1999. The symposium belongs to the conference programme of Folklore Fellows in Oral Epics, an international network of epic scholars, but it will be open to all interested scholars and the participants of the 5th Folklore Fellows’ Summer School 1999, a scholarly training course taking place on August 8-23 at the University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University.

The term “traditional” refers to epics which are based on oral poetry but in which the oral “texts” have undergone a process of editing in their written codification. A traditional epic cannot be understood apart from its oral base. The Kalevala is an interesting representative of traditional epic mainly because of its well-preserved source materials. The textualisation of Elias Lönnrot’s “mental text” can be followed through five stages during 1828-1862. Oral poetry preserved its enigmatic character in the process and allowed for different interpretations.

The aim of the symposium is to bring together international experts on oral and traditional epics, which constitute an invaluable cultural heritage in various parts of Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa. Experiences of the documentation, editing, translation and publication of long oral epics around the world will be of special interest. The focus on the Kalevala will serve general comparative purposes: it will help to delineate the role of traditional epics in the development of young nations as bearers of their cultural identity.

In conjunction with the symposium a workshop on “Variation and Textuality in Oral Epics” will be organised on August 8-23, 1999. With the permission of the Folklore Fellows Summer School the organisers of the symposium have reserved five subsidised places at the workshop for participants of the symposium coming from eastern Europe and the developing countries.

There will be two sections for papers at the symposium:

1. The Kalevala Cycle of Epics – Models and Descendants.

Papers in the first section will deal with the textualisation of the Kalevala and the impact of great traditional epics (Homer, Beowulf, Edda, Nibelungenlied, etc.) on the Romantic concept of epic and Elias Lönnrot’s work. Papers on the Kalevala’s “descendants” (Kalevipoeg, Hiawatha, Peko, Lacplesis, etc.) are welcome to illuminate the international impact of the Finnish epic.

2. The World’s Traditional Epics.

Papers on oral and traditional epics from all parts of the world are invited to the second section. Fieldwork on and archiving of oral epic traditions are interesting from the point of view of textualisation. Scholars from the developing countries and areas possessing living epic traditions are welcome to report on their work. The more theoretical discussions will focus on the forms of variation in oral epics caused by different performance situations and cultural contextualisation. Another topic will be the textuality in oral epics, i.e. how their singers achieve narrative cohesion and actual meaning in performance.

A book entitled “Thick Corpus, Organic Variation and Textuality in Oral Tradition”, containing 20-25 articles analysing theoretical problems and field projects, will be edited for the participants of the workshop to be read before they arrive in Turku. The book will be made available for the participants of the symposium.

The language of the symposium cum workshop is English. Please send your name, address (also e-mail or fax) and institutional affiliation with a short abstract of your paper prior to February 28, 1999 to:

The Kalevala Institute/Symposium
P.O.Box 14, FIN-20501 Turku, Finland

The fax number is +358 2333 5991 and e-mail address

The organisers will announce the programme by the end of March 1999. The participation fee of USD 50 will include the workshop publication, lunches, coffee and the concluding banquet. For more information see or contact the Kalevala Institute, Director Lauri Honko, telephone +358 40 528 7167, fax (as above) and e-mail

(FFN 16, October 1998: 14-15)

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