This strange man came up with dozens of words that you use every day, and without him, Tolkien’s world-famous fantasy classic might not have been born
Europaeus, who was born on 1 December 1820, introduced over 200 words into the Finnish language and one of its most famous characters to the Kalevala
30 November 2020
It’s a miracle if you’ve ever heard the name David Emmanuel Daniel Europaeus.
It’s also a miracle if you have never heard or used the words eduskunta (“parliament”), harrastus (“hobby”), ilmansuunta (“compass point, direction”), mielikuvitus (“imagination”), johtaja (“manager”), tilavuus (“volume”), keräilijä (“collector”), kunta (“municipality”) or varasto (“stockpile, warehouse”).
All of these words were coined by Europaeus, or at least he published them for the first time in the history of the Finnish language.
Europaeus left us over 200 words that we still use.
Despite his strange-sounding surname, D.E.D. Europaeus was 100% Finnish. He was born 200 years ago on 1 December 1820 in a rural farmhouse in Savitaipale, South Karelia, about 40 km from Lappeenranta.
Without Europaeus, J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, would never have written The Story of Kullervo, nor would Jean Sibelius have composed his symphonic suite Kullervo. Elias Lönnrot’s Kalevala would be thinner.
The Swedish-Finnish dictionary compiled by Europaeus is on display at the Europaeus Museum. On the left is a list of words that Europaeus used for the first time in the history of the Finnish language. Photo: Petri Kivimäki/Yle
It is impossible to describe Europaeus briefly. He was a man of many hats and involved in everything: he was a Finnish-language advocate, newspaperman, pro-Finnish activist, archaeologist, teacher at a school for the deaf, lexicographer, and mathematician. He was an animal welfare officer for decades before any animal welfare society had even been established.
A man who grew up in a small country village 200 years ago, and whose impact is still audible in our lives every day, Europaeus is almost unknown.
Excited about everything
With a population of 3,400, the town center of Savitaipale looks quite similar to many other Finnish towns. There are a couple of grocery stores, a restaurant, several small businesses, a library, a fire department, and a town hall.
The handsome Olkkola estate is located a few hundred meters from the center. It was once the site of the old mansion building where Europaeus was born. His father was the vicar of Savitaipale, and his mother, the cattle girl at the vicarage.
Finnish was spoken at home, and there was a lot of multilingual literature, which Europaeus read voraciously as a boy.
There is now a small Europaeus museum next to the Olkkola estate. Inside, a big display case contains textbooks written by Europaeus, as well as copies of the magazine Suometar, which he published. On the walls, there are maps and reminiscences from his long research expeditions.
A display case next to the back wall contains two human skulls found by Europaeus, which my guide has promised to tell me about soon.
A chart hung on a nail next to the skulls was used to teach the sounds of the Finnish language.
“This picture was used to teach the deaf the positions the mouth must assume to produce a certain sound,” says Eila Kajanus-Jurvanen, president of the Savitaipale Local Heritage Association.
Devised by Europaeus in 1857, the illustrated phonetic diagram was unique in Finland, because before Europaeus, no attempt had been made to teach the deaf to speak.
In his own time, Europaeus received no praise for the chart even though it enabled countless deaf people to get a toehold in the language. The chart was in use for decades: its replacement was published more than 100 years later.
“Europaeus was a special person in that he was always excited about everything new. However, his staying power in completing work was not always very good,” says Kajanus-Jurvanen.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s inspiration
When Europaeus was inspired by folklore, he naturally sought out Elias Lönnrot. Lönnrot, who was 18 years older than Europaeus, was no longer able to travel and collect oral folk poetry, but he set an enthusiastic Europaeus on the task.
Ultimately, Europaeus collected 53,000 verses on his five trips, which was far more than Lönnrot did on his dozen-some collecting trips. The Kalevala contains more poems collected by Europaeus than by Lönnrot himself.
Lönnrot’s so-called Old Kalevala was published in 1835. Lönnrot then planned a new, larger edition. Europaeus sent a message to Lönnrot that the new edition of the Kalevala should be delayed, because he believed there was still a lot of unique poetry to be found in Ingria, the area around St. Petersburg.
That same year, Europaeus went on his fourth collecting trip to Ingria, during which he made a discovery.
“Lönnrot had never been there, and he did not think there would be any Finnish poetry there. Nevertheless, that’s where Europaeus found all the Kullervo poems. It is thanks to Europaeus that the Kullervo poems are now in the Kalevala,” says Kajanus-Jurvanen.
The Kullervo poems recorded by Europaeus ended up in the so-called New Kalevala, which was published in 1849. It is the same work that we read today as the Kalevala.
Kullervo has inspired many artists to create masterpieces. One of them was the writer J.R.R. Tolkien, whose Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit have spread across the globe.
Tolkien was extremely interested in the Finnish language. He read the Kalevala in English, but he didn’t like it. So he learned the Finnish language by reading the Kalevala in the original. Tolkien was so enlightened by this episode that its effect began to appear immediately in his works.
Tolkien wrote his first prose piece The Story of Kullervo in 1914. It tells the tale of a young man who is sold into slavery and vows revenge on a magician who killed his father.
The Story of Kullervo was published in Finnish in 2016 under the title Kullervon tarina.
Tolkien also used mythological elements drawn from the Kalevala in his other works, both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Pölkäre and pyörö
In Europaeus’s day in the 19th century, there was still very little Finnish literature. Even as a child, he wanted Finnish literature and textbooks to be available to Finns.
When he started studying at the University of Helsinki, he took it upon himself to translate a geometry textbook into Finnish. Such things did not exist yet.
For The Geometry Book (Mittauden Oppi-kirja), published in 1847, Europaeus had to invent a whole set of Finnish words. Such words as kehä (“circumference”), suunnikas (“parallelogram”), tilavuus (“volume”), and parillinen (“even”) are still in use today.
However, not all the words have survived. Europaeus translated the word “circle” (ympyrä in modern Finnish) as pyörö (suggesting a “wheel”). Lävistäjä (“diagonal”) became keskeinen (which means “central” or “pivotal” in modern Finnish), and kuutio (“cube”) became pölkäre (suggesting a “block”).
Europaeus had to develop even more new words for his Swedish–Finnish dictionary. Although perhaps not all of them were personally coined by Europaeus, he brought them to light for the first time in the history of the Finnish language.
They include enemmistö (“majority”), harrastus (“hobby”), johtokunta (“committee”), vety (“hydrogen”), osoite (“address”), pätevä (“qualified, competent, valid”), ulkomaalainen (“foreigner”), valokuvaaja (“photographer”), viehättävä (“attractive, charming”), väitöskirja (“dissertation”), yhdyssana (“compound word”) and äänenkannattaja (“organ,” i.e., an official magazine, newsletter, or similar publication of an organization)
It is estimated that Europaeus introduced over 200 new words into the Finnish language.
Human bone collector
There is a sight in a display case at the Europaeus Museum that causes many museum visitors to pause for at least a moment: two real human skulls.
They harken back to the period when Europaeus was inspired by archaeology. After collecting folk poetry, he made seven archaeological expeditions, the first of them at the age of 51 in 1872, mainly to the northern shores of Lake Ladoga.
He is still the only Finn to have explored the southeastern parts of Ladoga.
During his travels he found objects in burial mounds that are now in museums around the world.
But Europaeus was not so much interested in objects as in bones and especially skulls. In keeping with the spirit of the times, he believed that they could be used to elucidate the history of European and Russian settlement.
In one of his letters, Europaeus said that he had four skulls retrieved from the Savitaipale cemetery. Later, after his research trips, he wrote that he had all the skulls he needed.
“At the time, craniometry was in vogue. It was used to determine whether people were long-skulled or short-skulled. And then this was used to determine their origins,” says Kajanus-Jurvanen.
On the basis of his skull research, Europaeus concluded that Africa was humanity’s original home.
“That idea was laughed at, and all that was said was, ‘What a strange opinion,'” says Kajanus-Jurvanen.
In the 19th century, D.E.D. Europaeus was considered a peculiar vagabond, even a ragamuffin. In his own time, he was never approved, and he is still not famous.
“Europaeus was modest and did not promote himself,” says Pertti Jurvanen, a local heritage councilor who was involved in founding the D.E.D. Europaeus society.
Juha Nirkko, an archivist at the Finnish Literature Society, also explains how Europaeus was not well liked in his own time
“Lönnrot, for example, was a respected cholera doctor and was recognized for it. Poor Europaeus, on the other hand, was considered a cholera transmitter and well poisoner. Some people can’t get a break,” says Nirkoo.
According to Nirkko, Europaeus was a telecommuter and temp worker of his day and age. He had no family and wandered around the country in search of work.
“He enrolled at university, but his studies never progressed,” says Nirkko.
Nirkko emphasizes how much Europaeus differed from his contemporaries. He was an anarchist of his time.
“He just couldn’t adhere to the norms and conventions of his time. He was not held back by the borders of countries, continents or cultures. Europaeus was not a limited thinker. Maybe he was too unrestrained and uncontrollable,” argues Nirkko.
After leaving Savitaipale to pursue his education, Europeaus was, at different times, a teacher, collected place names in St. Petersburg, and went on poetry collecting trips. He may have been a private tutor in Heinävesi, and studied in Viipuri and Helsinki. In Germany, he attended political rallies.
But he often returned to his native region on holiday. There he wrote, among other things, the Swedish–Finnish dictionary and met his sister Charlotta, who was also an avid collector of folk poetry.
In the spring of 1884 Europaeus went to St. Petersburg, where in the autumn of the same year he died at the age of 63.
Europaeus was buried in St. Petersburg. After a few weeks his remains were exhumed and brought to Helsinki, where on 4 December 1884 he was laid to rest in Hietaniemi Cemetery with other great men and women.
The peace of death has been attained by one wanderer of the world whose whole life was spent in tireless searching, restless acquisition and amateur pursuits. He lived like a bird without thinking about tomorrow’s needs.
—Excerpt from an article about Europaeus’s death, published in Uusi-Suometar on 23 October 1884
Europaeus’s date of death is marked on his tombstone as 15 October 1884, which, according to archivist Juha Nirkko, is at least quite close to the correct date. Some sources claim that Europaeus died in May 1884. Photo: Rudolph Bülow/Yle
Tuesday 1 December 2020 marks 200 years since the birth of D.E.D. Europaeus. The municipality of Savitaipale had planned a variety of events for the jubilee year, but most of them have been cancelled due to the coronavirus.
A small memorial event will take place at the Europaeus monument at 12:00 p.m. on first December.
On Thursday 3 December 2020 at 6:00 p.m. in the courtyard of the Europaeus School, excerpts from the play Europaeus, which was to be performed this year, will be presented. In addition, there will be a program by schoolchildren and a light show.
Thanks to Tiina Pasanen for the invaluable heads-up. Translated by Living in FIN