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„Kalevipoeg” as a core text

The Estonian national epic „Kalevipoeg” (1861) is a literary epic based on folklore motifs, which was created by F. R. Kreutzwald. As part of European romantic literature it stands side by side with Kalevala by Elias Lönnrot. Previous studies of „Kalevipoeg” mainly address the relationship of the epic with Estonian folklore and international myths. Cultural studies emphasize the impetus it gave to the movement of National Awakening in 19th-century Estonia. The present article is focused on the meaning of „Kalevipoeg” as a literary text. The study draws from a corpus of metatexts, which enables the researcher to follow the reception of the epic text from the 19th-century National Awakening to the present day. It appears that it is not the whole text that has been passed down generations, but rather some smaller text items. In the reception three levels – popular, ideological, and literary – can be distinguished, which function in synchrony, yet often in opposite meanings. On the popular level, the epic has served as a vessel of resistance and hope, yet on the ideological level it has been subject to manipulative interpretations. Anyway, the continuity of the reception of „Kalevipoeg” enables one to follow its ramifications in Estonian culture. „Kalevipoeg” has sometimes even been called a ‘nation-building core text’, which serves for the Estonians like the Old Testament for the people of Israel. It is found in the article that the concept of ‘core text’ should be enlarged, because the text of the epic has also been used by extra-national political forces. A considerably richer literary reception would be based on the original epic, opening up its existential meanings. An active and dynamic text of the epic can be depicted as a network of intersemiotic relationship paths. Via „Kalevipoeg” as a base text, such paths provide links from some of the most recent texts to the underlying texts of the epic, such as international myths, thus penetrating into universal and existential meanings. The article brings an example of one of the most representative cultural paths using the motif of the hero returning, as worded in the last stanza of the epic: Surely Kalev will then come home to / Bring his people fortune true, / Build Estonia anew (transl. by Triinu Kartus).