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EASTERN EUROPE 87
of scales and intervals quite unusual in Western Europe is the large body of heroic epic song in Yugoslavia.
Actually, the tradition of epic poetry is quite widespread in Europe. An epic can be defined as a narrative poem, usually sung, with a heroic main character, a number of events, wars and battles, considerable length (this varies greatly, of course, but an epic is normally distinctly longer than a ballad), and a form whose point of orientation is the single line rather than the stanza. In the Middle Ages the epic was fairly widespread in Western Europe; the French "chansons de geste" and such famous works as the "Song of Roland" are examples. In Western Europe, the epic tradition was evidently one in which folk and sophisticated traditions shared and mixed, for it was presumably carried by professional minstrels who at least partially used written texts. In Eastern Europe the epic tradition is today much more alive and much more closely associated with the genuine folk culture. We find epic material in the Slavic world, but also in Albania and Finland, where the main body of folk epics, the Kalevala, consists of songs dealing with the Finnish mythical culture hero, Vainemdinen. The Kalevala is structured in couplets, and the songs were performed by pairs of bards who would alternate, which is probably responsible for the peculiarly repetitive form of the text shown in this excerpt:2
O thou wisest Vainemdinen,
O thou oldest of magicians.
Speak thy words of fnagic backwards,
And reverse thy songs of magic.
Loose me from this place of terror
And release me from my torment.
Of course the reader will recognize the style as that also used in Longfellow's "Song of Hiawatha." The influence of the Kalevala on nineteenth-century poets was certainly considerable. The Finnish bards used the accompaniment of the kantele, a psaltery with 20 to 30 strings.
The Russian tradition of epic poetry is, typically, unaccompanied. The Russian poems are called by liny; they are slow-moving, mrimed, and performed in a rhythmically free style. Their stories--i n contrast to the mythical past of the Finnish KalevaTa cycle—deal mth historical or semihistorical events of eleventh-century Russia
2 Kalevala, the Land of the Heroes (New York: Dutton, 1907) I, 29.