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Elias Lönnrot ( ˈɛlias ˈlœnruːt (help·info)) (April 9, 1802 – March
19, 1884) was a Finnish philologist and
collector of traditional Finnish oral poetry. He is best known for
composing the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic
compiled from national folklore.
Education and early life
Elias Lönnrot's birth home
Lönnrot was born in Sammatti, in the province of Uusimaa in Finland. He studied medicine at the Academy of Turku. To
his misfortune the year he joined was the year of the Great Fire
of Turku, burning down half the town – and the University.
Lönnrot (and many of the rest of the University) moved to Helsinki, where he graduated
He got a job as district doctor of Kajaani in Northern Finland during a time of famine in the district. The
famine had prompted the previous doctor to resign, making it
possible for a very young doctor to get such a position. Several
consecutive years of crop failure resulted in enormous losses of
population and livestock; Lönnrot wrote letters to the State
departments, asking for food, not medicines. He was the sole doctor
for the 4,000 or so people of his district, at a time where doctors
were rare and very expensive, and where people did not buy
medicines from equally rare and expensive pharmacies, but rather trusted to their
village healers and locally available remedies.
Elias Lönnrot with his family
His true passion lay in his native Finnish language. He began writing
about the early Finnish language in 1827 and began collecting folk
tales from the rural people about that time.
Lönnrot went on extended leaves of absence from his doctor's
office; he toured the countryside of Finland, Sapmi (Lapland), and nearby portions of Russian Karelia to support his collecting
efforts. This led to a series of books: Kantele, 1829–1831
(the kantele is a
Finnish traditional instrument); Kalevala, 1835–1836 (possibly Land of
Heroes; better known as the "old" Kalevala); Kanteletar, 1840
(possibly Kantele Daughter); Sananlaskuja, 1842
(Proverbs); an expanded second edition of
Kalevala, 1849 (the "new" Kalevala); and Finsk-Svenskt
lexikon, 1866–1880 (Finnish-Swedish Dictionary).
Lönnrot was recognised for his part in preserving Finland's oral
traditions by appointment to the Chair of Finnish Literature at the University of Helsinki. He died
on March 19, 1884 in Sammatti, in the province of Uusimaa.
Botanists remember him for writing the
first Finnish-language Flora Fennica – Suomen Kasvisto in
1860; in its day it was famed throughout Scandinavia, as it was among the very first
common-language scientific texts. The second, expanded version was
co-authored by Th. Saelan and published in 1866.  The
Flora Fennica was the first scientific work published in Finnish
(instead of Latin). In addition, Lönnrot's Flora Fennica includes
many notes on plant uses in between descriptions of flower and
As a botanist he was well-respected, and in the standard botanical author abbreviation
Lönnrot is applied to species he described.
The Finnish graphic artist Erik Bruun used Lönnrot as a motif for the
banknote in his banknote
Based on Elias Lönnrot's fame as a researcher, the Argentine
Luis Borges used the name Lönnrot for the diligent detective in
his story, Death and the Compass
(La muerte y la brújula), which was also made into a film by Alex Cox.
The Kalevala, the Finnish national epic that
Lönnrot compiled, was an inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien's the
Silmarillion and The
Lord of the Rings.
Elias Lönnrot has been the main motif for a recent commemorative
coin, the Finnish Elias
Lönnrot and folklore commemorative coin, minted in 2002. On the
reverse, a feather (as a symbol of an author) and Elias Lönnrot's
signature can be seen.