At the end of the first rune of the Kalevala (Crawford's translation), Wainamoinen has just been born. These are the last four lines of this rune:

Thus our hero, Wainamoinen,
Thus the wonderful enchanter
Was delivered from his mother,
Ilmatar, the Ether's daughter.

At the start of the second rune, he is already being described as old. He's described throughout this rune, starting from the very first line, as follows:

Then arose old Wainamoinen
Wainamoinen, ancient hero
Wainamoinen, old and trusty

How did he suddenly become "old" just after being born?

3 Answers 3


Crawford translates the opening of the second rune as:

Then arose old Wainamoinen
With his feet upon the island

but in the Finnish original this is:

Nousi siitä Väinämöinen
jalan kahen kankahalle

Looking in a dictionary I find nousi = ‘arose’; siitä = ‘of it’; jalan = ‘on foot’; kahen = ‘two’; kankahalle = ‘materials, surfaces’. So there is no word meaning ‘old’ in these lines: evidently Crawford inserted it for the sake of the metre.

Kirby translates these lines as follows:

Then did Väinämöinen, rising,
Set his feet upon the surface

So why did Crawford pick the word ‘old’ for the sake of the metre, rather than some other single-syllable word? Well, the vast majority of occurrences of the name Väinämöinen in the Finnish text are prefixed with vanha = ‘old’. In the second rune alone, the phrase vanha Väinämöinen appears twelve times. (This kind of repetition is a common feature of orally transmitted epic poetry because the reciter needs a set of stock phases that fit the metre. In classical verse these phrases are known as Homeric epithets.) So it is understandable for Crawford to use the epithet ‘old’ without paying too much attention to whether it would be literally correct in this line. However, since Lönnrot chose to not to use vanha in this line, perhaps because of the difficulty raised in the question, I think Kirby’s version is an improvement, even though it uses ‘did’ as a filler word. (I’d prefer a combination of the two versions: “Then arising, Väinämöinen”.)

The other lines quoted in the question seem to be explained by line 5. In Kirby’s translation this is:

There he dwelt, while years passed over,

I guess enough years passed in this line for him to be ‘old’.


Yes, there is not word 'old' in that verse but; In the first rune it is also said that Wainamoinen is at his mother's uterus for 30 summer and 1 winter (well literally 30 + 1 winter) before born.

Vaka vanha Väinämöinen kulki äitinsä kohussa
kolmekymmentä keseä, yhen verran talviaki,
noilla vienoilla vesillä, utuisilla lainehilla.

So, it is kinda ok to say he is old. Thus Vaka vanha Väinämöinen.

  • True, good find, but 31 years old still isn't "old" or "ancient".
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 8:30
  • That (birth) happend on early years of world creation.
    – Oni
    Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 13:28
  • *the world creation.
    – Oni
    Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 13:59

As other answers have already made clear, the original has no mention of Väinämöinen being very old at the very beginning of the rune, and that later, Crawford's translation seem to be more accurate, and that Wäinämöinen by this point has been said to have spent "many years" on his island, so that "old" is perhaps not unreasonable.

So why is he called old in the first lines of this particular translation? That something was needed for the metre explains why a word was inserted, but not why that word was "old".

Well, to start with, given that Kalevala is at its root a collection of orally transmitted songs, even if they were heavily edited by Elias Lönnroth, typical elements of oral tradition still shows through. One such element is the use of stock phrases and standing epithets, which makes it easier for the teller to created well-formed lines without much effort and instead focus on the story (see e.g. Encyclopaedia Britannica's article Oral tradition). Kalevala is a bit more varied than e.g. The Iliad and The Odyssey, so that a hero can have a few different stock phrases, but the tendency is still there. The stock phrases that are attached to Väinämöinen tend to describe him as "old", "wise", "trusty" or similar. Thus, Crawford, did exactly what earlier transmitters would have done when faced with a problem like this: he used the stock phrase, even if it perhaps was not totally logical.

  • 1
    Ah, so he's just called "old Wainamoinen" in general, and that's how people would have heard of him. Like referring to "the hero Achilles" even if he wasn't a hero as a baby.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 10:36

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