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Elias Lönnrot (Fi-Elias_Lönnrot.ogg ˈɛlias ˈlœnruːt ) (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 in 1832.

Early medical career

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.

Linguistics work

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.

Work in botany

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. [1] 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 leaf.

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 500 markka banknote in his banknote series.

Based on Elias Lönnrot's fame as a researcher, the Argentine author Jorge 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.


  1. ^ This version is online here henriettesherbal (in Finnish).

External links


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