Tag Archives: Balkan epic poetry

The stuff of legend

Art has no purpose but it has an infinite number of uses, and when politics and nationalism come into the picture, some of those uses are less benign than others. 

On the benign side, we see Elias Lonnrot and his colleagues gathering Finnish legends and folk tales, which Lonnrot then combined into a massive epic, the Kalevala, the publication of which in 1835 fueled the nationalist sentiment that led to Finland’s independence from Russia in 1917.

On the spookier side, we see Richard Wagner invoking “holy German art” at the conclusion of Parsifal in a way that makes it clear the holiness comes not from the art, but from the fact that it is German.

Scholar and historian Jeff Sypeck talks about the capture of Radovan Karadzic and the uses to which Balkan epic poetry have been put by Serb nationalists, and the result is a short essay you really ought to read.

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