The Book of the Epic
by Helene A. Guerber
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Another version of the tale relates that Sigurd was slain by Hoegni while hunting in the forest, as the story runs in the Nibelungenlied. Next we are informed that the king of the Huns demanded satisfaction from Gunnar for his sister Brynhild's death, and was promised Gudrun's hand in marriage. By means of another magic potion, Sigurd's widow was induced to marry the king of the Huns, to whom she bore two sons. But, when the effect of the potion wore off, she loathed this second marriage and dreamed only of avenging Sigurd's death and of getting rid of her second spouse.

As in the Nibelungenlied, Atli invited her kin to Hungary, where they arrived after burying the golden hoard in a secret spot in the Rhine, a spot they pledged themselves never to reveal. Once more we have a ride to Hungary, but Gudrun, seeing her husband means treachery, fights by her brother's side. Throughout this battle Gunnar sustains the courage of the Niblungs by playing on his harp, but, when only he and Hoegni are left, they are overpowered and flung into prison. There Atli vainly tries to make them confess the hiding-place of the hoard, and, hearing Gunnar will not speak as long as Hoegni lives, finally orders this warrior slain and his heart brought into Gunnar's presence.

Convinced at last that the momentous secret now lies with him alone, Gunnar flatly refuses to reveal it.

Then was Gunnar silent a little, and the shout in the hall had died, And he spoke as a man awakening, and turned on Atli's pride. "Thou all-rich King of the Eastlands, e'en such a man might I be That I might utter a word, and the heart should be glad in thee, And I should live and be sorry: for I, I only am left To tell of the ransom of Odin, and the wealth from the toiler reft. Lo, once it lay in the water, hid deep adown it lay, Till the gods were grieved and lacking, and men saw it and the day: Let it lie in the water once more, let the gods be rich and in peace! But I at least in the world from the words and the babble shall cease."

In his rage Atli orders the bound prisoner cast into a pit full of venomous serpents, where, his harp being flung after him in derision, Gunnar twangs its strings with his toes until he dies. To celebrate this victory, Atli orders a magnificent banquet, where he is so overcome by his many potations that Gudrun either stabs him to death with Sigurd's sword, or sets fire to the palace and perishes with the Huns, according to different versions of the story.

A third version claims that, either cast into the sea or set adrift in a vessel in punishment for murdering Atli, Gudrun landed in Denmark, where she married the king and bore him three sons. These youths, in an attempt to avenge the death of their fair step-sister Swanhild, were stoned to death. As for Gudrun, overwhelmed by the calamities which had visited her in the course of her life, she finally committed suicide by casting herself into the flames of a huge funeral pyre.

This saga is evidently a sun myth, the blood of the final massacres and the flames of the pyre being emblems of the sunset, and the slaying of Fafnir representing the defeat of cold and darkness which have carried off the golden hoard of summer.

Ye have heard of Sigurd aforetime, how the foes of God he slew; How forth from the darksome desert the Gold of the Waters he drew; How he wakened Love on the Mountain, and wakened Brynhild the Bright, And dwelt upon Earth for a season, and shone in all men's sight. Ye have heard of the Cloudy People, and the dimming of the day, And the latter world's confusion, and Sigurd gone away; Now ye know of the Need of the Niblungs and the end of broken troth, All the death of kings and of kindreds and the Sorrow of Odin the Goth.


[Footnote 34: See the author's "Myths of Northern Lands."]

[Footnote 35: All the quotations in this chapter are from Wm. Morris' "Sigurd the Volsung."]


There is strong evidence that the Finns, or some closely allied race, once spread over the greater part of central Europe. The two or more million Finns who now occupy Finland, and are subject—much against their will—to the Czar, are the proud possessors of an epic poem—the Kalevala—which until last century existed only in the memory of a few peasants. Scattered parts of this poem were published in 1822 by Zacharias Topelius, and Elias Loennrot, who patiently travelled about to collect the remainder, was the first to arrange the 22,793 verses into 50 runes or cantos. The Kalevala attracted immediate attention and has already been translated into most modern languages. Like most epics, its source is in the mythology and folk-lore of the people, and its style has been closely imitated by Longfellow in his Hiawatha. The latest English adaptation of this great epic is Baldwin's "Sampo."

Although Russian literature is rich in folk poetry and epic songs, none of the latter have been written down until lately, with the exception of the twelfth-century Song of Igor's Band. The outline of this epic is that Igor, prince of Southern Russia, after being defeated and made prisoner, effected his escape with the help of a slave. Among the fine passages in this work we note Nature's grief over the prince's capture and the lament of his faithful consort.

It was only in the nineteenth century, after Zhukovski and Batyushkoff had translated into Russian some of the world's great masterpieces, such as Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered and Homer's Odyssey, that Pushkin wrote (1820) the epic Ruslan and Lyudmila, drawing the materials therefore from Russian antiquity and from popular legends.

There are in Russia and Siberia any number of epic songs or "bylinas," dating from legendary times to the present day, which have recently been collected by Kireyevski and others, and which already fill some ten volumes. The heroes of these songs are either personifications of the forces of nature or favorite historical personages. They form great cycles, one clustering for instance around Vladimir and the ancient capital of Russia, Kiev, another around the free city of Novgorod, and a third belonging to the later Moscow period. The principal hero of many of the Russian folk tales, and of the epic songs most frequently sung by wandering bards, is Ilya Muromets, who nobly protects widows and orphans and often displays his fabulous strength by reducing mighty oaks to kindling wood with a few blows!


The national epic of the Finns was rescued from oblivion by Topelius and Loennrot, two physicians, who took it down from the mouth of the people and published it in the first half of the nineteenth century. It consists in 22,793 lines, divided into fifty runes, and is considered by a great German authority—Steinthal—as one of the four great national epics of the world.

Not only does it relate "the ever-varying contests between Finns and Laplanders," but that between Light and Darkness, Good and Evil, for in the poem the Finns personify Light and Good, while the Lapps are emblems of Darkness and Evil. The Sampo, which is mentioned in this poem, and which seems to have been some sort of a magic grist-mill, holds the same place in Finn mythology as the Golden Fleece in that of the Greeks. Many of the poems incorporated in this epic date back some three thousand years, and the epic itself is composed in alliterative verse, although it also contains rhythm of line and sound, as the following introductory lines prove.

Mastered by desire impulsive, By a mighty inward urging, I am ready now for singing, Ready to begin the chanting Of our nation's ancient folk-song Handed down from by-gone ages, In my mouth the words are melting, From my lips the tones are gliding, From my tongue they wish to hasten; When my willing teeth are parted, When my ready mouth is opened, Songs of ancient wit and wisdom Hasten from me not unwilling.[36]

The proem then invites all people to listen to legends of by-gone times and to the teachings of the wizard Wainamoinen, to admire the works of Ilmarinen and the doings of Youkahainen in the pastures of the Northland and in the meads of Kalevala. It adds that these runes were caught from the winds, the waves, and the forest branches, and have been preserved in the Northland ever since.

Rune I. In the first rune we are informed that Ilmater, daughter of the air, weary of floating alone in space, finally descended to the ocean, where she was rocked in the cradle of the deep seven hundred, years. She made use of this time to create, out of the eggs of a wild duck, the canopy of the heavens, and the spherical earth, with its islands, rocks, and continents. At the end of these seven hundred years, Ilmater gave birth to Wainamoinen, having waited all this time to be delivered of him, and having vainly called all living creatures to her aid. After coming into the world, this wonderful child floated about on the ocean eight years, and then drew himself up on a barren promontory to admire the sun, moon, and starry skies.

Rune II. After living alone for some time on this promontory or island, Wainamoinen summoned Pellerwoinen, "first-born of the plains and prairies," and bade him scatter broadcast seeds for the trees which were destined to clothe both vales and hillsides. In a twinkling of an eye, every variety of forest growth waved its branches hither and thither, and, although Wainamoinen rejoiced to see the forest, he soon discovered that the oak, the "tree of heaven," was lacking in it. Because the oak still slept within an acorn, Wainamoinen wondered how to conjure it out of its hiding-place, and, after consulting five water-maidens, called the giant Tursus out of the depths of the ocean. After burning the hay the water-maidens raked together, this giant planted in the ashes an acorn, which quickly sprouted, and whence arose a tree of such mighty proportions that its branches hid the rays of the sun and blotted out the starlight.

Terrified by what he had done, Wainamoinen wondered how to get rid of the oak, and implored his mother to send some one to help him. Immediately there rose from the sea a pygmy, armed in copper, whom Wainamoinen deemed incapable of coping with so large a tree, until the dwarf suddenly transformed himself into a giant of such proportions that four blows from his copper axe felled the oak, scattering its trunk to the east, its top to the west, its leaves to the south, and its branches to the north. The chips from the fallen oak were collected by a Northland maiden to make enchanted arrows for a magician, and the soil it overshadowed immediately began to bear vegetation of sundry kinds.

Gazing at this new growth Wainamoinen discovered every kind of seed sprouting there save barley. Soon after he found seven grains of this cereal on the sea-shore and consulted the birds how best to plant them. They advised him to fell the forests, burn the branches, and plant the barley in the land thus cleared. While obeying these directions in the main, Wainamoinen allowed the birch to stand, declaring there must be some place where the cuckoo and the eagle could build their nests. These two birds, greatly pleased by this attention, watched Wainamoinen as he sowed his seed, and heard him chant a prayer to Ukko, Father of Heaven, to send down rain to help it germinate. This prayer was answered to such, good purpose that eight days later Wainamoinen found a crop of barley ready to harvest, and heard the cuckoo's notes as it perched in the birch trees.

"Therefore I have left the birch-tree, Left the birch-tree only growing, Home for thee for joyful singing. Call thou here, O sweet-voiced cuckoo, Sing thou here from throat of velvet, Sing thou here with voice of silver, Sing the cuckoo's golden flute-notes; Call at morning, call at evening, Call within the hour of noontide, For the better growth of forests, For the ripening of the barley, For the richness of the Northland, For the joy of Kalevala."

Rune III. In the beautiful Land of the Heroes—Kalevala—Wainamoinen sang songs so wonderful that their fame spread northward to the land of the Lapps, and prompted Youkahainen to journey southward and challenge the "ancient minstrel" to a singing contest. In vain Youkahainen's parents strove to dissuade him from this undertaking; the bold youth harnessed his sledge and drove rapidly southward, colliding with Wainamoinen, who was also out in his sledge that day. Although Wainamoinen was modest, his opponent was boastful and boldly proposed they show their skill by singing. Invited to sing first, Wainamoinen chanted a set of commonplace axioms; but when Youkahainen imitated him, the ancient minstrel challenged his guest to sing of creation or philosophy. Although Youkahainen now claimed he and seven other primeval heroes saw how the earth was fashioned, how the sky was arched, and how the silvery moon and golden sun were set in position, Wainamoinen termed him prince of liars and averred he was not present at the creation as he claimed. This contradiction so enraged Youkahainen that he offered to fight, but, instead of accepting this challenge, Wainamoinen sang a magic song of such power that it resolved Youkahainen's sled and harness to their primitive components, and caused him to sink ever deeper into quicksands which finally rose to his very lips. Realizing his desperate plight, Youkahainen implored Wainamoinen to cease his enchantments, offering as a ransom for his life all manner of magic gifts which Wainamoinen scorned. In fact, it was only when the culprit promised him the hand of his sister Aino that the ancient minstrel reversed his spell, and not only released Youkahainen, but restored to him all his possessions.

The defeated bard now returns to Lapland, and on arriving there smashes his sledge in token of anger. His parents wonderingly question him, and, on learning he has promised his sister's hand in marriage to the magician Wainamoinen, they are delighted that she should marry so influential a man, although the maiden herself mourns because all pleasures are to be taken from her forever.

Rune IV. While out in the forest gathering birch shoots for brooms, this maiden soon after is seen by Wainamoinen, who bids her adorn herself for her wedding, whereupon she petulantly casts off the ornaments she wears and returns home weeping without them. When her parents inquire what this means, Aino insists she will not marry the old magician, until her mother bribes her by the offer of some wonderful treasures, bestowed by the Daughter of the Sun and Moon, and which until now have been hidden in the depths of the earth.

Although decked in these magnificent adornments, the girl wanders around the fields, wishing she were dead, for marriage has no attractions for her and she is not anxious to become an old man's bride. Stealing down to the sea-shore, she finally lays aside her garments and ornaments and swims to a neighboring rock, where she no sooner perches than it topples over, and she sinks to the bottom of the sea! There Aino perishes, and the water is formed of her blood, the fish from her flesh, the willows from her ribs, and the sea-grass from her hair! Then all nature wonders how the news of her drowning shall be conveyed to her parents, and when the bear, wolf, and fox refuse to transmit so sad a message, the sea-maidens depute the hare, threatening to roast him unless he does their bidding.

Learning her daughter has perished thus miserably, the mother of Aino recognizes that parents should not compel daughters to marry against their will.

"Listen, all ye mothers, listen, Learn from me a tale of wisdom: Never urge unwilling daughters From the dwellings of their fathers, To the bridegrooms that they love not, Not as I, inhuman mother, Drove away my lovely Aino, Fairest daughter of the Northland."

Her sorrow is such that three streams of tears flow from her eyes and, increasing as they flow, form cataracts, between which rise three pinnacles of rock, whereon grow birches, upon which cuckoos forever chant of "love, suitors, and consolation!"

Rune V. The news of Aino's death travels swiftly southward, and Wainamoinen, hearing that his bride has perished, is plunged in grief. When he seeks consolation from the water-maidens they bid him go out fishing. After angling for many a day, he finally secures a salmon, larger and more beautiful than any fish ever seen before. He is opening his knife to cut the salmon open, when it suddenly springs back into the deep, saying it was Aino who had come to join him but who now escapes in punishment for his cruelty. Not discouraged by this first failure, Wainamoinen fishes on, until the spirit of his mother bids him travel northward and seek a suitable wife among the Lapps.

"Take for thee a life companion From the honest homes of Suomi, One of Northland's honest daughters; She will charm thee with her sweetness, Make thee happy through her goodness, Form perfection, manners easy, Every step and movement graceful, Full of wit and good behavior, Honor to thy home and kindred."

Rune VI. Preparing for a journey northward, Wainamoinen bestrides his magic steed, and galloping over the plains of Kalevala crosses the Blue Sea as if it were land. The bard Youkahainen, foreseeing his coming, lies in wait for him and prepares arrows to shoot him, although his mother warns him not to attempt anything of the kind. It is the third poisoned arrow from Youkahainen's bow which strikes Wainamoinen's horse, which immediately sinks to the bottom of the sea, leaving its rider to struggle in the water some eight years. Meantime Youkahainen exults because his foe is dead, although his mother insists her son has merely brought woe upon the earth.

Rune VII. Instead of treading the waves, Wainamoinen swims about until an eagle—grateful because he left birch-trees for birds to perch upon—swoops down, invites him to climb upon its back, and swiftly bears him to the dismal northland Sariola. There Wainamoinen is discovered by the Maid of Beauty, who sends her mother, toothless Louhi, to invite him into the house, where she bountifully feeds him. Next Louhi promises to supply Wainamoinen with a steed to return home and to give him her daughter in marriage, provided he will forge for her the Sampo, or magic grist-mill. Although Wainamoinen cannot do this, he promises that his brother, the blacksmith Ilmarinen, shall forge it for her, and thus secures the promise of the hand of the Maid of Beauty. This bargain made, Wainamoinen drives away in a sledge provided by his hostess, who cautions him not to look up as he travels along, lest misfortune befall him.

Rune VIII. Instead of obeying these injunctions, Wainamoinen gazes upward on his way home, and thus discovers the Maid of Beauty, or Maiden of the Rainbow, weaving "a gold and silver air-gown." When he invites her to come with him, she pertly rejoins the birds have informed her a married woman's life is unenviable, for wives "are like dogs enchained in kennel." When Wainamoinen insists wives are queens, and begs her to listen to his wooing, she retorts when he has split a golden hair with an edgeless knife, has snared a bird's egg with an invisible snare, has peeled a sandstone, and made a whipstock from ice without leaving any shavings, she may consider his proposal.

These impossible tasks are quickly accomplished by the wizard, but, while filling the Rainbow Maiden's last order to fashion a ship out of her broken spindle—Wainamoinen accidentally cuts his knee so badly that the blood flows so fast no charm can stop it. In vain different remedies are tried, in vain Wainamoinen seeks help at sundry houses the blood continues to pour out of his wound until it looks as if he would die.

Rune IX. Wainamoinen finally enters a cottage where two girls dip up some of his blood, and where an old man informs him he can be healed if he will only "sing the origin of iron." Thereupon Wainamoinen chants that Ukko, Creator of Heaven, having cut air and water asunder, created three lovely maidens, whose milk, scattered over the earth, supplied iron of three different hues. He adds that Fire then caught Iron, and carried it off to its furnace, where Ilmarinen discovered a way to harden it into steel by means of venom brought to him by the bird of Hades.

This song finished, the old man checks the flow of blood, and sends his daughters to collect various herbs, out of which he manufactures a magic balsam which cures the cut immediately.

Rune X and XI. Wainamoinen now hastens back to Kalevala and interviews his brother Ilmarinen, who refuses to journey northward or to forge the magic Sampo. To induce the smith to do his will, Wainamoinen persuades him to climb a lofty fir-tree, on whose branches he claims to have hung the moon and the Great Bear. While Ilmarinen is up in this tree, the wizard Wainamoinen causes a violent storm to blow his brother off to the Northland, where, welcomed by Louhi, Ilmarinen sets up his forge, and after four days' arduous work produces the magic sampo.

"I will forge for thee the Sampo, Hammer thee the lid in colors, From the tips of white-swan feathers, From the milk of greatest virtue, From a single grain of barley, From the finest wool of lambkins, Since I forged the arch of heaven, Forged the air a concave cover, Ere the earth had a beginning."

The sorceress is so pleased with the Sampo—by means of which she daily grinds out treasure untold—that, after hiding it away safely in a mountain, she authorizes Ilmarinen to woo the Maid of Beauty, who assures him also she never will marry. Saddened by this refusal, Ilmarinen longs for home, whither he is wafted in Louhi's magic boat of copper.

Meanwhile Wainamoinen has been building a magic boat in which to sail northward. He is aided in this work by Lemminkainen, who, seeing the Maid of Beauty, boldly kidnaps her. But the maiden consents to be his spouse only if he will promise never to fight, a pledge he readily gives in exchange for hers to forego all village dances. These vows duly exchanged, the young couple are united, and all goes well as long as both scrupulously keep their promise.

Rune XII. The time comes, however, when Lemminkainen goes fishing, and during his absence his wife secretly attends a village dance. When the husband returns, his sister informs him his bride has broken her promise, whereupon Lemminkainen vows it is time he too should break his, and, harnessing his sleigh, starts off for Lapland to fight. On arriving there he enters sundry houses, and finally meets in one of them a minstrel, whose song he roughly criticises. Then, seizing the man's harp, Lemminkainen chants all sorts of spells, until all present are under their influence save a blind shepherd, whom Lemminkainen allows to go, and who hastens down to the River of Death, declaring he will there await the singer's arrival.

Runes XIII and XIV. Lemminkainen now asks Louhi for her second daughter, whom she refuses to give him, declaring that after deserting her first daughter he can obtain her second only by catching the wild moose ranging in the fields of Hisi (Death), by bridling his fire-breathing steed, and by killing with his first arrow the great swan swimming on the River of Death. The first two tasks, although bristling with difficulties, are safely accomplished by Lemminkainen, but when he reaches the River of Death, the blind shepherd—who is lying there in wait for him ruthlessly slays him, chops his body into pieces, and casts them into the stream.

Rune XV. After vainly awaiting Lemminkainen's return, his aged mother, seeing blood drip from his hair-brush, concludes evil must have befallen her son. She therefore hastens northward, and threatens to destroy Louhi's magic Sampo unless the sorceress will reveal what has become of Lemminkainen. Louhi then confesses that she sent him down to Hades to hunt the Death swan, so Lemminkainen's mother hastens down to the River of Death, only to learn her son has perished. Hastening back to the blacksmith Ilmarinen, the frantic mother beseeches him to make her a rake with a handle five hundred fathoms long, and armed with this implement begins to dredge the river. Presently she fishes out one by one the garments and various fragments of her son! Thanks to powerful incantations she restores Lemminkainen to life, speech, and motion, whereupon the youth thanks her, and graphically relates how he came to his death. But, although he is home once more, Lemminkainen is always thinking of the beautiful maiden he wooed, and he still longs to kill the swan swimming on the River of Death!

Runes XVI and XVII. Leaving Lemminkainen, the poem now relates how Wainamoinen built a boat, asking the God of the Forest to supply him with the necessary material for its different parts. When questioned, the trees one after another declare they are unfit for ship-building, until the oak proffers its strong trunk. Wainamoinen now constructs his vessel, but discovers he lacks three "master words" to finish it properly. After vainly seeking these words among birds and animals, he crosses the River of Death in a boat, only to find the magic formula is unknown even to the angel of Death! The words are, however, well known to Wipunen, a giant of whom he goes in quest. Prying open the monster's lips to force him to speak, Wainamoinen stumbles and accidentally falls into the huge maw and is swallowed alive. But, unwilling to remain indefinitely in the dark recesses of the giant's body, Wainamoinen soon sets up a forge in the entrails of the colossus, thus causing him such keen discomfort that the monster proposes to eject his guest, who flatly refuses to be dislodged until he learns the magic words. Having thus cleverly secured what he is seeking, Wainamoinen returns home and completes a boat, which proves self-propelling, and speedily bears him to the Northland to woo the Maiden of the Rainbow.

Thus the ancient Wainamoinen Built the boat with magic only, And with magic launched his vessel, Using not the hand to touch it, Using not the foot to move it, Using not the knee to turn it, Using nothing to propel it. Thus the third task was completed, For the hostess of Pohyola, Dowry for the Maid of Beauty Sitting on the arch of heaven, On the bow of many colors.

Rune XVIII. Wainamoinen's departure in the magic vessel is noted by Ilmarinen's sister, who immediately informs her brother a suitor is starting to woo the girl he covets. Jumping into his sled Ilmarinen drives off, and both suitors approach the maiden's dwelling from different points at the self-same time. Seeing them draw near, the witch Louhi bids her daughter accept the older man—because he brings a boat-load of treasures—and to refuse the empty-handed youth. But the daughter, who prefers a young bridegroom, declares that the smith who fashioned the incomparable Sampo cannot be an undesirable match. When Wainamoinen therefore lands from his ship and invites her to go sailing with him, she refuses his invitation. Heavy-hearted, Wainamoinen is obliged to return home alone, and, on arriving there, issues the wise decree that old men should never woo mere girls or attempt to rival young men.

Rune XIX. In his turn Ilmarinen now woos the Rainbow Maiden, and is told by Louhi that ere he can claim his bride he must plough the serpent-field of Hades, bring back from that place the Tuoni-bear safely muzzled, and catch a monster pike swimming in the River of Death Helped by the Maiden of the Rainbow, Ilmarinen accomplishes these three difficult feats, by first forging the plough, noose, and fishing eagle required.

Runes XX, XXI, XXII, XXIII, and XXIV. Now extensive preparations are made for the marriage of Ilmarinen and the Maiden of the Rainbow. Not only is the mighty ox of Harjala slain and roasted, but beer is brewed for the first time in the Northland, and many verses are devoted to describe the processes by which this national drink was brought to its state of perfection! When at last Ilmarinen appears to take away his bride, the Rainbow Maiden seems unwilling to go, and objects that a wife is her husband's slave, and has to spend all her days in pleasing him, his father, and his mother. Although her lament is touching indeed, the bride-advisor directs her to please her new relatives, admonishes Ilmarinen to treat her kindly, and watches the two set off, the Rainbow Maiden shedding bitter tears at leaving her beloved home.

Rune XXV. The bride and bridegroom are next warmly welcomed by Ilmarinen's family, old Wainamoinen himself singing at their bridal feast, and again instructing the bride to be all love and submission and to expect nothing save bitterness and hardship from marriage. Having concluded his song by praising the father who built the house, the mother who keeps it, and having blessed bridegroom and bride, Wainamoinen departs for the Land of the Dead, to borrow an auger to repair his sled, which has fallen to pieces while he sang.

Rune XXVI. Meanwhile Lemminkainen, angry because he alone has received no invitation to the wedding banquet, decides, in spite of his mother's advice, to go forth and take his revenge. Although he has to overcome a flaming eagle, pass through a pit of fire, slay a wolf and a bear, and destroy a wall of snakes mounting guard at the entrance of Lapland before he can reach his destination, his spells and incantations safely overcome these and other dire perils. Runes XXVII and XXVIII. Reaching Northland at last, Lemminkainen slays the husband of Louhi, from whom he escapes before she can attack him. His mother now warns him his foes will pursue him and advises him to go to the Isle of Refuge, situated in the centre of the Tenth Ocean, and abide there for three years, pledging himself not to fight again for sixty summers.

Rune XXIX. We now have a description of the Isle of Refuge, where Lemminkainen tarries three whole years with the sea-maidens, who bid him a tender farewell when he sails away again. He has, however, proved neglectful toward one of them, a spinster, who curses him, vowing he will suffer many things in return for his neglect. True to her prediction, he encounters many dangers on the homeward journey, and finds his house reduced to ashes and his parents gone! But, although he mourns for them as dead, he soon discovers them hiding in the forest, to escape the fury of the Lapps.

Rune XXX. To punish these foes Lemminkainen now sets out for the north, taking with him Tiera, hero of the broadsword, who is to help him. Aware of his coming, Louhi bids her son Frost stop them by holding their vessel fast in the ice, but Lemminkainen trudges over the ice, hurls the Frost-God into the fire, and, somewhat discouraged, returns home.

Runes XXXI, XXXII, and XXXIII. During this time a slave, Kullerwoinen, the son of Evil, has been sold to Ilmarinen to serve as his shepherd. The Rainbow Maiden therefore sends him forth with her cattle, giving him a loaf of bread as sole sustenance. When the son of Evil attempts to cut this bread, he breaks his knife, for the housewife has baked a flint-stone in it. In his anger the shepherd conjures up wolves and bears, which devour the cattle, and which he drives home in their stead after dark. When the Rainbow Maiden therefore unsuspectingly tries to milk them, she is instantly devoured by these wild beasts.

Runes XXXIV and XXXV. Having thus effected his revenge, the Spirit of Evil hurries away to his tribe-folk, who bid him perform sundry tasks, in the course of which he crowns his evil deeds by assaulting a sister who was lost in infancy, and whom he therefore fails to recognize. On discovering the identity of her ravisher, the unhappy girl throws herself into the river, where she perishes.

Rune XXXVI. Forbidden by his mother to commit suicide in punishment for his crime, Kullerwoinen decides to seek death on the field of battle. Although the various members of his family see him depart without regret, his mother assures him nothing can destroy her love for her son.

"Canst not fathom love maternal, Canst not smother her affection; Bitterly I'll mourn thy downfall, I would weep if thou shouldst perish, Shouldst thou leave my race forever; I would weep in court or cabin, Sprinkle all these fields with tear-drops, Weep great rivers to the ocean, Weep to melt the snows of Northland, Make the hillocks green with weeping, Weep at morning, weep at evening, Weep three years in bitter sorrow O'er the death of Kullerwoinen!"

Kullerwoinen, armed with a magic sword, does great slaughter among his foes, and returns home only to find all his kin have perished. While he mourns their death, his mother's spirit bids him follow his watch-dog—the only living creature left him. During this strange promenade, coming to the spot where he assaulted his sister, Kullerwoinen falls upon his magic sword and dies, an episode which inspires Wainamoinen with these words of wisdom:

"If the child is not well nurtured, Is not rocked and led uprightly, Though he grow to years of manhood, Bear a strong and shapely body, He will never know discretion, Never eat the bread of honor, Never drink the cup of wisdom."

Rune XXXVII and XXXVIII. Meantime Ilmarinen, after grieving three months for the loss of the Rainbow Maiden, proceeds to fashion himself a wife out of gold and silver, but, as she is lifeless and unresponsive, he offers her to Wainamoinen,—who refuses her,—and travels northward once more to woo a sister of his former bride. On arriving at Louhi's house,—undeterred by many evil omens which have crossed his path,—Ilmarinen sues for a bride. Louhi reproaches him for the treatment her first daughter has undergone, but, although the second maiden refuses to follow him, he boldly carries her off by force. She is, however, so unhappy with him that the blacksmith finally changes her into a sea-gull.

"I have changed the hateful virgin To a sea-gull on the ocean; Now she calls above the waters, Screeches from the ocean-islands, On the rocks she calls and murmurs, Vainly calling for a suitor."

Runes XXXIX, XL, and XLI. To comfort himself, Ilmarinen concludes he would like to have the Sampo, and persuades Wainamoinen and Lemminkainen to accompany him northward to get it. This time they sail in a magic ship, which is stranded on the shoulders of a huge pike. Wainamoinen kills this fish, and from its bones and sinews fashions the first harp, an instrument so wonderful that none but he can play it, but, whenever he touches its strings, trees dance about him, wild animals crouch at his feet, and the hearts of men are filled with rapture.

All of Northland stopped and listened. Every creature in the forest, All the beasts that haunt the woodlands, On their nimble feet came bounding, Came to listen to his playing, Came to hear his songs of joyance.

The music which he makes is so touching that it draws tears even from the player's eyes, tears which drop down into the sea, where they are transformed into pearls, which are brought to him by a duck.

Gathered Wainamoinen's tear-drops From the blue sea's pebbly bottom, From the deep, pellucid waters; Brought them to the great magician, Beautifully formed and colored, Glistening in the silver sunshine, Glimmering in the golden moonlight, Many-colored as the rainbow, Fitting ornaments for heroes, Jewels for the maids of beauty. This the origin of sea-pearls And the blue-duck's beauteous plumage.

Runes XLII and XLIII. Having lulled the Spirits of Evil to sleep with magic music, Wainamoinen and Ilmarinen go in quest of the Sampo, which they find hidden in the bosom of a magic mountain and bear away in triumph. The spell they have laid upon all living creatures is broken only when Louhi discovers her loss and sets out in pursuit of the robbers of her treasure.

In various guises she attacks them, finally transforming herself into a huge eagle and pouncing down upon the Sampo, which she tries to bear away in her talons. But Wainamoinen fights this aggressor to such good purpose that it drops the Sampo into the sea, where it is dashed to pieces! Not only has Wainamoinen lost the Sampo,—whose fragments he collects and buries so that they may bring prosperity to his people,—but his magic harp has also fallen overboard during his fight with Louhi.

Runes XLIV and XLV. Wainamoinen therefore proceeds to construct a second harp from the wood of the birch, while Louhi, who has returned northward but who still owes him a grudge, sends down from the north nine fell diseases,—colic, pleurisy, fever, ulcer, plague, consumption, gout, sterility, and cancer,—all of which Wainamoinen routs by means of the vapor baths which he discovers.

Rune XLVI. Hearing that Wainamoinen prospers in spite of all she can do, Louhi is so disappointed that she sends a magic bear to devour him and his brother. But, hearing this monster is coming, Wainamoinen directs the blacksmith to make him a wonderful spear, with which he slays the bear, whose skin and flesh prove a boon to his people.

Runes XLVII and XLVIII. Still angry, Louhi steals from Wainamoinen the sun, moon, and fire, and thus all the homes in Kalevala are cold, dark, and cheerless. Gazing downward, Ukko, king of the heaven, wonders because he sees no light, and sends down a flash of lightning, which, after striking the earth, drops into the sea and is swallowed by a pike. This fiery mouthful, however, proves so uncomfortable, that the fish swims madly around until swallowed by another. Learning that the fire-ball is now in a pike, Wainamoinen fishes until he secures that greedy denizen of the deep. Opening his quarry, he seizes the lightning, which burns his fingers so badly that he drops it, until he decides to convey it to his people in the wood of an elm.

Rune XLIX. Although fire is thus restored to mankind, the sun and the moon are still missing. Ilmarinen therefore forges a magnificent silver moon and golden sun, in the vain hope of replacing the orbs which Louhi has stolen, and which are hidden in the cave where she once treasured the Sampo. Discovering this fact by magic means, Wainamoinen starts out in quest of sun and moon, and, by changing himself into a pike to cross the river, reaches the land of Louhi, defeats her sons, and finds the orbs he is seeking guarded by a multitude of snakes. Although Wainamoinen slays these keepers, he cannot recover the captive sun or moon until Louhi, who has meantime assumed the form of an eagle and then of a dove, sends them back to Kalevala, where their return is hailed with joy.

"Greetings to thee, Sun of fortune; Greetings to thee, Moon of good-luck; Welcome sunshine, welcome moonlight; Golden is the dawn of morning! Free art thou, O Sun of silver, Free again, O Moon beloved, As the sacred cuckoo's singing, As the ring-dove's liquid cooing. Rise, thou silver Sun, each morning, Source of light and life hereafter, Bring us daily joyful greetings, Fill our homes with peace and plenty, That our sowing, fishing, hunting, May be prospered by thy coming. Travel on thy daily journey, Let the Moon be ever with thee; Glide along thy way rejoicing, End thy journeyings in slumber; Rest at evening in the ocean, When thy daily cares have ended, To the good of all thy people, To the pleasure of Wainola, To the joy of Kalevala!"

Rune L. Meanwhile there had been dwelling in the Northland a happy maiden named Mariatta, who, wandering on the hillsides, once asked the cuckoo how long she would remain unmarried, and heard a magic voice bid her gather a certain berry. No sooner had she done so than the berry popped into her mouth, and soon after she bore a child, which being the offspring of a berry was to be called Flower. Because her mother indignantly cast her off, she wandered about seeking a place where she could give birth to her child. She was finally compelled to take refuge in the manger of the fiery steed of Hisi, where her infant was charitably warmed by the firesteed's breath. But once, while the mother was slumbering, the child vanished, and the mother vainly sought it until the Sun informed her she would find it sleeping among the reeds and rushes in Swamp-land.

Mariatta, child of beauty, Virgin-mother of the Northland, Straightway seeks her babe in Swamp-land, Finds him in the reeds and rushes; Takes the young child on her bosom To the dwelling of her father.

Mariatta soon discovered him there, growing in grace and beauty, but priests refused to baptize him because he was considered a wizard. When Wainamoinen sentenced the mother to death, the infant, although only two weeks old, hotly reproached him, declaring that, although guilty of many follies, his people have always forgiven him. Hearing this, Wainamoinen, justly rebuked, baptized the child, who in time grew up to be a hero and became the greatest warrior in the land.

Wainamoinen, having grown feeble with passing years, finally built for himself a copper vessel, wherein, after singing a farewell song, he sailed "out into the west," and vanished in the midst of the sunset clouds, leaving behind him as an inheritance to his people his wondrous songs.

Thus the ancient Wainamoinen, In his copper-banded vessel, Left his tribe in Kalevala, Sailing o'er the rolling billows, Sailing through the azure vapors, Sailing through the dusk of evening, Sailing to the fiery sunset, To the higher-landed regions, To the lower verge of heaven; Quickly gained the far horizon, Gained the purple-colored harbor, There his bark he firmly anchored, Rested in his boat of copper; But he left his harp of magic, Left his songs and wisdom-sayings, To the lasting joy of Suomi.

The poem concludes with an epilogue, wherein the bard declares it contains many of the folk-tales of his native country, and that as far as rhythm is concerned—

"Nature was my only teacher, Woods and waters my instructors."


[Footnote 36: All the quotations in this chapter are from Crawford's translation of the "Kalevala."]


German being talked in a large part of Switzerland and of Austria, these countries claim a great share in the Teutonic epics, many of whose episodes are located within their borders. Both the Swiss and the Austrian nations are formed, however, of various peoples, so while some of the Swiss boast of German blood and traditions, others are more closely related to the French or to the Italians. To study Swiss literature one must therefore seek its sources in German, French, and Italian books. It is, though, considered very remarkable that there exists no great Swiss epic on the deeds of William Tell, a national hero whose literary fame rests almost exclusively upon folk-tales and upon Schiller's great drama.[37]

No political division boasts of a greater mixture of races and languages than the Austro-Hungarian empire, whose literature is therefore like a many-faceted jewel. Aside from many Germans, there are within the borders of the empire large numbers of Czechs or Bohemians, who in the thirteenth century delighted in translations of the Alexandreis, of Tristram, and of other epic poems and romances, and whose first printed volume in 1468 was a reproduction of the Trojan Cycle.

There are also the Hungarians, whose literary language continued to be Latin until after the Reformation, and whose earliest epics treat of such themes as the "Life of St. Catherine of Alexandria." It was, therefore, only in the seventeenth century that Zrinyi, Gyoengyoesi, Liszti, and other poets began to compose Magyar epics which roused their countrymen to rebel against their foes, the Turks. In the nineteenth century patriotism was further fostered among this people by the stirring epics of Czuczor, Petoefi (whose masterpiece is Janes Vilez), and of Voeroesmarty, and then, too, were compiled the first collections of genuine Hungarian folk-tales. Among these the adventures of the national Samson (Toldi) have served as basis for Arany's modern national epic in twelve cantos.

Part of Poland being incorporated in the Austro-Hungarian empire, it cannot be amiss to mention here the fact that its literature is particularly rich in folk-tales, animal epics, apologues, religious legends, and hero tales, although none of the poetical versions of these works seem to be of sufficient weight or importance to require detailed treatment in this volume.

With the exception of ancient Greece,—whose epic literature is so rich and still exerts such an influence as to demand separate treatment,—there do not seem to be any epics of great literary value among the various races now occupying the Balkan Peninsula. Old Rumanian literature, written in the Slavic tongue, boasts a few rhymed chronicles which are sometimes termed epics, while modern Rumanian prides itself upon Joan Delaemi's locally famous Epic of the Gypsies.

In Servia one discovers ancient epic songs celebrating the great feats of national heroes and heroines, and relating particularly to the country's prolonged struggle for independence. After translating the main works of Tasso from the Italian for the benefit of his countrymen, one of their poets—Gundulitch—composed a twenty-canto epic entitled Osman, wherein he described the war between the Poles and Turks in 1621. The Servian dramatist Palmotitch later composed the Christiad, or life of Christ, and in the nineteenth century Milutinovitch wrote a Servian epic, while Mazuranie and Bogovitch penned similar poems in Croatian. As for the Bulgarians they do not seem to have any epic of note.

Turkish literature having been successively under Persian, Arabic, and French influence, has no characteristic epics, although it possesses wonderful cycles of fairy and folk-tales,—material from which excellent epics could be evolved were it handled by a poet of genius. The Asiatic part of Turkey being occupied mainly by Arabians, who profess the Mohammedan religion, it is natural that the sayings and doings of Mohammed should form no small part of their literature. The most important of these collections in regard to the Prophet were made by Al-Bukhari, Muslem, and Al-Tirmidhi.


[Footnote 37: See the author's "Legends of Switzerland."]



The Book of Job ranks as "one of that group of five or six world poems that stand as universal expressions of the human spirit." For that reason it is considered the representative Hebrew epic, and, as it depicts the conflicts of a human soul, it has also been termed the "epic of the inner life."

Written after the exile,—probably in the latter part of the fourth century B.C.,—it incorporates various older poems, for the theme is thought to antedate the Exodus. In the prologue we have a description of Job, a model sheik of the land of Uz, whose righteousness wins such complete approval from God that the Almighty proudly quotes his servant before his assembled council as a perfect man. "The Adversary," Satan, now dramatically presents himself, and, when taunted by God with Job's virtues, sarcastically retorts it is easy to be good when favored with continual prosperity.

Thus challenged, and feeling sure of his subject, God allows Satan to do his worst and thus test the real worth of Job. In quick succession we now behold a once happy and prosperous man deprived of children, wealth, and health,—misfortunes so swift and dire that his friends in lengthy speeches insist he has offended God, for such trials as his can only be sent in punishment for grievous sins. The exhortations of Job's three argumentative friends, as well as of a later-comer, and of his wife, extend over a period of seven days, and cover three whole cycles; but, in spite of all they say, Job steadfastly refuses to curse God as they advise.

Unaware of the Heavenly council or of the fact that he is being tested, Job, in spite of trials and friends, patiently reiterates "The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away," and, when his wife bids him curse God and die, pathetically inquires, "What! shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?"

There are, besides, whole passages in this book where Job gives way to his overwhelming grief, these laments being evidently either fragments from another, older version of the story, or tokens that even such fortitude as his gave way under pressure of disease and of his friends' injudicious attempts at consolation. These laments exceed in pathos any other Hebrew poem, while Job's descriptions of God's power and wisdom attain to a superbly exalted strain.

Having silenced Zopher, Eliphaz, and Bildad, by assuring them he will be vindicated in heaven,—if not sooner,—Job watches them and his last friend depart, and is finally left alone. Then only, and in an epilogue, we are informed that, having thus been tried in the furnace of affliction and proved true gold, Job receives from God, as reward, a double measure of health, wealth, and descendants, so that all men may know he has not sinned and that his unshaken faith found favor in the eyes of God.

Some Jewish writers quote Ecclesiastes as their best sample of didactic epic, and others would fain rank as epics the tales of Naomi and Ruth, of Esther and Ahasuerus, and even the idyllic Song of Songs by Solomon. Early Christian writers also see in Revelations, or the Apocalypse, by St. John, the Seer of Patmos, a brilliant example of the mystical or prophetic epic.


"The long caravan marches across the monotonous deserts, when the camel's steady swing bends the rider's body almost double, taught the Arab to sing rhymes." But the poems thus sung by camel-drivers are generally short and never reach epic might or length. None of those older poems now exist, and it was only when travellers applied the Syrian alphabet to the Arabic tongue in the sixth century that written records began to be kept of favorite compositions. Poets were then looked upon as wise men, or magicians, and called upon, like Balaam, in times of danger, to utter spells or incantations against the foe.

The most ancient pre-Islamic poems were written in golden ink, suspended in the Kaaba at Mecca, and are known in Arabia as the "necklace of pearls."

Many of these poems—which replace epics in the East—follow fixed rules, the author being bound to "begin by a reference to the forsaken camping grounds. Next he must lament, and pray his comrades to halt, while he calls up the memory of the dwellers who had departed in search of other encampments and fresh water springs. Then he begins to touch on love matters, bewailing the tortures to which his passion puts him, and thus attracting interest and attention to himself. He recounts his hard and toilsome journeying in the desert, dwells on the lean condition of his steed, which he lauds and describes, and finally, with the object of obtaining those proofs of generosity which were the bard's expected meed and sole support, he winds up with a panegyric of the prince or governor in whose presence the poem is recited."

Throughout the East, professional story-tellers still spend their lives travelling about and entertaining audiences in towns and tents with poems and legends, many of the latter treating of desert feuds and battles and forming part of a collection known as the Arab Days. With the founding of Bagdad by the Abbasides, Persian influence begins to make itself felt, not only in politics but in literature also, although Arabic was the sole language of the empire of the Caliphs. The greatest literary work in this literature is the famous "Arabian Nights," an anonymous collection of tales connected by a thread of narrative. Its purport is that an Eastern monarch, "to protect himself against the craft and infidelity of women resolves that the wife he chooses him every day shall be put to death before the next." Two sisters devote their lives to put an end to such massacres. The eldest, who becomes the king's wife, begs that her sister may spend the last night of her life in their room. At dawn the royal bride entertains her sister with a story which is cleverly left unfinished. Such is the sultan's curiosity to hear the end, that the bride of a night is not slain, as usual. But as soon as one tale is ended another is begun, and for one thousand and one nights the clever narrator keeps her audience of two in suspense. Most of the tales told in this collection are obviously of Persian origin, and are contained in the Hasar Afsana (The Thousand Tales) which was translated into Arabic in the tenth century. But some authorities claim that these stories originated in India and were brought into Persia before Alexander's conquests. These tales are so popular that they have been translated into every civilized language and are often termed prose epics.

Arabic also boasts a romance of chivalry entitled "Romance of 'Antar,'" ascribed to Al Asmai (739-831), which contains the chief events in Arab history before the advent of Mahomet and is hence often termed the Arab Iliad.

The "Romance of Beni Hilal" and that of "Abu Zaid," which form part of a cycle of 38 legends, are popular in Egypt to this day.


This Persian epic was composed by the poet Abul Kasin Mansur, who sang so sweetly that his master termed him Firdusi, or Singer of Paradise, by which name he is best known, although he is also called the "Homer of the East." Mahmoud, Shah of Persia, who lived about 920 B.C., decided to have the chronicles of the land put into rhyme, and engaged Firdusi for this piece of work, promising him a thousand gold pieces for every thousand distichs he finished. Firdusi, who had long wished to build stone embankments for the river whose overflow devastated his native town, begged the king to withhold payment until the work was done.

At the end of thirty-three years, when the poem was completed, the grand vizier, after counting its sixty-thousand couplets, concluded not to pay for it in gold, and sent instead sixty thousand small pieces of silver. On receiving so inadequate a reward, Firdusi became so angry that, after distributing the money among the bearers and writing an insulting poem to the king, he fled first to Mazinderan and then to Bagdad, where he lingered until shortly before his death, when he returned to Tous. Tradition claims that the Shah; hearing he had come home,—and having meantime discovered the trickery of his minister,—immediately sent Firdusi sixty thousand pieces of gold, but that the money arrived only as his corpse was being lowered into the tomb! As the poet's daughter indignantly refused to accept this tardy atonement, another relative took the money and built the dike which Firdusi had longed to see.

We know that Persian monarchs made sundry attempts to collect the annals of their country, but these collections were scattered at the time of the Arabian conquest, so that only a few documents were brought back to Persia later on. Although the poem of Firdusi claims to be a complete history of Persia, it contains so many marvels that, were it not for its wonderful diction, it would not have survived, although he declares he has written,

"What no tide Shall ever wash away, what men Unborn shall read o'er ocean wide."[38]

The poem opens with the description of a ruler so prosperous that the Spirit of Evil sent a mighty devil (deev) to conquer him. Thanks to the effort of this demon, the king's son was slain, and, as the monarch died of grief, it was his grandson who succeeded him. During a forty-centuries reign this king gave fire to his people, taught them irrigation and agriculture, and bestowed names on all the beasts.

His son and successor taught mortals how to spin and weave, and the demons, in hopes of destroying him, imparted to him the arts of reading and writing. Next came the famous Persian hero Jemshid, who is said to have reigned seven hundred years, and to have divided the Persian nation into four classes,—priests, warriors, artisans, and husbandmen. During his reign, which is the Age of Gold of Persia, the world was divided into separate parts, and the city of Persepolis founded, where two columns of the ruined royal palace still bear the name of the monarch who instituted the national festival of Persia (Neurouz).

Having accomplished all these wonderful things, Jemshid became so conceited that he wished to be worshipped, whereupon a neighboring volcano vomited smoke and ashes and innumerable snakes infested the land. Then Prince Zohak of Arabia was sent by the Evil Spirit to drive away Jemshid and to take possession of his throne. Although at first Zohak was very virtuous, the Evil Spirit, having gotten him in his power, began to serve him in guise of a cook. Once, having succeeded in pleasing him, he begged permission as reward to kiss the king between his shoulders. But no sooner had this demon's lips touched the royal back than two black serpents sprang up there, serpents which could not be destroyed, and which could only be kept quiet by being fed with human brains.

"If life hath any charm for thee, The brains of men their food must be."

Zohak, "the Serpent King," as he is now invariably called, was therefore obliged to prey upon his subjects to satisfy the appetite of these serpents, and, as two men were required daily for that purpose during the next thousand years, the realm was sorely depopulated.

The serpents still on human brains were fed, And every day two youthful victims bled; The sword, still ready, thirsting still to strike, Warrior and slave were sacrificed alike.

Naturally, all the Persians grew to loathe their monarch, and, when the seventeenth and last child of the blacksmith Kavah was seized to feed the serpents, this man rebelled, and, raising his leathern apron as a standard, rallied the Persians around him. He then informed them that, if they would only fight beneath "the flag of Kavah,"—which is now the Persian ensign,—he would give them as king Feridoun, a son of Jemshid, born during his exile. Hearing this, the rebels went in quest of Feridoun, "the glorious," in regard to whom Zohak has been favored with sundry visions, although he had been brought up in secret, his sole nurse being a faithful cow. When this animal died at last, the grateful Feridoun made a mace of one of its big bones, and armed with that weapon, defeated Zohak, who was chained to a mountain, where he was tortured by visions of his victims for a thousand years. Meantime Feridoun occupied so justly the throne of Persia—where he reigned some five hundred years—that his realm became an earthly Paradise.

At the end of this long reign, Feridoun despatched his three sons to Arabia in quest of wives, and on their return proceeded to test their mettle by meeting them in the shape of a dragon. While the eldest son retreated, crying that a wise and prudent man never strives with dragons, the second advanced recklessly, without thinking of protecting himself. The third, however, set to work in a business-like way, not only to rescue his foolhardy brother, but to slay the dragon. On perceiving this, the father resumed his wonted form, and announced he would divide his realm into three parts, of which the best share, Iran or Persia, was bestowed upon Trij, the son who had shown both courage and prudence.

Not long after this division, the two elder brothers united to despoil the younger, but, although they succeeded in slaying him, his infant daughter was brought up by the aged Feridoun, and in due time gave birth to a son, Minuchir, destined to avenge his grandfather's death by defeating and slaying his great-uncles. Having done this, Minuchir occupied the throne, while his favorite vassal was made governor of one of the newly conquered realms. This swarthy, dark-haired man proved perfectly happy in these new estates until he heard his wife had given birth to a son with snow-white hair.

"No human being of this earth could give to such a monster birth, He must be of the demon race, though human still in form and face. If not a demon, he at least, appears a parti-colored beast."

Such an offspring seeming nothing short of a curse, the father had little Zal exposed on Mt. Alborz, where he expected he would perish in a brief space of time.

On the top of this mountain the Simurgh, or Bird of God,—a marvellous golden-feathered eagle,—had built a nest of ebony and sandal-wood, lined with spices, around which she had piled all manner of precious stones, whose glitter pleased her. Hearing the cry of a babe, this great bird swooped downward, and, fastening her talons in the child's dress, bore him safely away to her aerie, where she dropped him in the nest beside two eaglets. These little birds proved kind to the young prince, although they were able to leave their nest long before he could walk about and play with the precious stones.

It was only when Zal was about eight years old that his father suddenly realized he had committed a deadly sin, and was correspondingly relieved to learn in a dream that his child had not perished, but had been nursed by the Simurgh. Hastening to the mountain, the father besought the Bird of God to give back his son, whereupon the golden-feathered eagle, after taking affectionate leave of little Zal (upon whom she bestowed a feather which was to be cast into the fire in time of need), bore him back to his father.

"Having watched thee with fondness by day and by night, And supplied all thy wants with a mother's delight, Oh, forget not thy nurse—still be faithful to me, And my heart will be ever devoted to thee."

The father now brought up young Zal, who soon became so remarkable for strength and bravery that he promised to become the greatest warrior the world had ever known. In early manhood this youth journeyed to Kabul, where he beheld the lovely Rudaveh, who belonged to the race of the Serpent King. The arrival of a young but white-haired warrior caused such a sensation at court that the princess, who had already fallen in love with him on hearsay, became anxious to meet him.

One day, when the maidens were gathering roses near his pavilion, Zal shot a bird, which falling in their midst gave them an occasion to address him. He, too, had heard so much about the loveliness of Rudaveh, that he questioned her attendants and gave them jewels to take to her. Such gifts quickly paved the way for an interview, for Rudaveh immediately sent for Zal. On appearing beneath her window, this lover began so sweet a serenade that the princess stepped out in her balcony, where, loosening her long black braids,—which hung down to the ground,—she bade Zal use them to climb up to her. He, however, gallantly refused, for fear he should hurt her, and deftly flinging his noose upward caught it fast in a projection, and thus safely reached the balcony, where this Persian Romeo acceptably wooed his Juliet.

The royal parents, on discovering these clandestine meetings, questioned the young man, who proved his intelligence by solving six riddles, and, after giving satisfactory tokens of his other qualifications, was allowed to marry the princess, for the oracles predicted that from this union would arise a hero who would honor his native land.

Time now passed happily until the moment came when Rudaveh's life was in imminent danger. In his quandary, Zal flung the golden feather into the fire with so trembling a hand that it fell to one side so that only one edge was singed. This proved sufficient, however, to summon the faithful Simurgh, who, after rapturously caressing her nursling, whispered in his ear a magic word, which not only enabled him to save the life of his dying wife, but also assured his becoming the happy father of a stalwart son named Rustem.

This boy, stronger and handsomer than any child yet born, required no less than ten nurses, and after being weaned ate as much as five men! Such being the case, he was able, by the time he was eight years of age, to slay a mad white elephant with a single stroke of his fist. Many similar feats were performed during the boyhood of this Persian Hercules, who longed to fight when the realm was finally invaded by the Tartar chief Afrasiab and war began to devastate the land.

Loud neighed the steeds, and their resounding hoofs Shook the deep caverns of the earth; the dust Rose up in clouds and hid the azure heavens.— Bright beamed the swords, and in that carnage wide, Blood flowed like water.

When the Persians, in their distress, implored Zal to meet and defeat this dreaded foe, the hero answered he was far too old to perform such a task, but that his son Rustem would fight in his stead. Before sending him forth, however, Zal bade Rustem select a suitable steed, and, from all those paraded before him, the youth picked out a rose-colored colt called Rakush (lightning) whom no one had ever been able to mount, although he was quite old enough to use. After lassoing and taming this wonderful steed,—which obeyed him alone,—Rustem, armed with a mace, set out to meet the foe, sent hither as he knew by the evil spirit. Then, to oppose Afrasiab, Rustem placed Kaikobad, a descendant of the old royal family, on the throne, after driving away the foe. The wise Kaikobad, who reigned peacefully one hundred years, was, however, succeeded by a very foolish son, Kaikous, who, ill satisfied with the extent of his realm, undertook to conquer Mazinderan, which was in the hands of demons, but which he had coveted ever since it had been described by a young bard who sang:

"And mark me, that untravelled man Who never saw Mazinderan And all the charms its bowers possess, Has never tasted happiness."

On hearing his master propose such a conquest, Zal vainly remonstrated, but the foolish monarch set out, and on arriving in Mazinderan was defeated by the demons, who blinded him and his army and detained them prisoners. No sooner did the news of this calamity reach Zal, than he bade Rustem go rescue the foolish monarch, adding that, although it had taken Kaikous six months to reach his destination, Rustem could get there in seven days, provided he were willing to brave great dangers.

Of course the hero selected the shorter route, and on the first day slew a wild ass, which he roasted for supper before lying down to rest. The odor of roast meat, however, attracted a lion, which would have made a meal of the sleeping Rustem, had not his brave steed fought with hoofs and teeth until he succeeded in slaying the beast of prey. Awakened only as the fight ended, Rustem reproved his horse for risking his life in this reckless way and bade him henceforth call for aid.

"Oh, Rakush, why so thoughtless grown To fight a lion thus alone? For had it been thy fate to bleed And not thy foe, O gallant steed! How could thy master have conveyed His helm, and battle-axe, and blade, Unaided to Mazinderan? Why didst thou fail to give the alarm, And save thyself from chance of harm, By neighing loudly in my ear? But, though thy bold heart knows no fear, From such unwise exploits refrain Nor try a lion's strength again."

During the second day's journey, Rustem was saved from perishing of thirst by following a stray ram to a mountain stream; and on the third night, having forbidden his horse to attack any foe without warning him, Rustem was twice awakened by the loud neighing of Rakush, who had seen an eighty-yard long dragon draw near. Each time he neighed, however, the dragon disappeared, so Rustem, seeing nought, reproved his horse for breaking his rest. The third time, however, he caught a glimpse of the dragon's fiery eyes, so, attacking him, he slew him, thanks to the help of his horse. The fourth day was signalized by other marvellous adventures, and on the fifth, while journeying through the land of magic, Rustem was met by a sorceress, who tried to win him by many wiles. Although he accepted the banquet and cup of wine she tendered, he no sooner bade her quaff it in the name of God, than she was forced to resume her fiendish form, whereupon he slew her.

On the sixth day, Rustem, forced to ride through a land where the sun never shone, allowed his intelligent steed to guide him, and thus safely reached on the seventh a land of plenty and light, where he lay down to rest. There, while he was sleeping, the people of Mazinderan captured his wonderful steed. But, following the traces of his struggling horse, Rustem, by dint of great exertions, made them give back Rakush, and forced them to guide him to the cave where the White Demon was detaining his fellow-countrymen prisoners.

In front of this cave Rustem found an array of demons, and, after conquering them all, forced his way into the Persian hell, whence he rescued his companions, whose sight he restored by trickling the blood of the White Demon into their sightless eyes.

Having thus earned the title of "champion of the world," Rustem escorted the stupid king home, but this monarch, not satisfied with this blunder, committed one folly after another. We are told that he even undertook to fly, his special make of aeroplane being a carpet borne by four starving eagles, fastened to the four corners of its frame, and frantically striving to reach a piece of meat fixed temptingly above and ahead of them.

Time and again the foolish monarch Kaikous was rescued by the efforts of Rustem, who, in the course of his wanderings, finally came to the court of a king, whose daughter, loving him by hearsay, had his horse stolen from him. When Rustem angrily demanded the return of his steed, the monarch assured him he should have Rakush on the morrow. But that night the beautiful princess, Tamineh, stole into Rustem's room, and, after waking him, promised he should have his horse provided he would marry her. Charmed by her beauty and grace, Rustem readily consented, and found such attractions in his bride that he lingered by her side for some time.

The moment came, however, when the foolish monarch required Rustem's services, and, as Tamineh was not able at that time to bear the long journey, Rustem bade her a fond farewell, leaving an onyx bracelet bearing the image of the Simurgh, with which he bade her deck their expected child. In due time the lovely princess gave birth to a beautiful boy, whom she called Sorab (sunshine), but, fearing lest Rustem should take him away to train him as a warrior, she sent word to him that she had given birth to a daughter. Girls being of minor importance in Persia, Rustem inquired no further about this child, and was kept so busy serving his monarch that he never once visited his wife while his son was growing up.

For a long time Tamineh jealously guarded the secret of Sorab's birth, fearing lest her young son would want to go forth and do battle too. But when she could no longer keep him home, she told him the story of her wooing:

"Listen, my child, and you shall hear Of the wondrous love of a maiden dear For a mighty warrior, the pride of his day Who loved, and married, and rode away, For this is the romance of Rustem."

The lad, who had always cherished a romantic admiration for Rustem, was overjoyed to learn his origin, and departed only after being reminded that he must never fight his father, although about to help the Tartars in a war against Persia. Sorab was doing so because everybody was tired of the foolish king, who was to be overthrown, so that Rustem could be placed on the throne in his stead. To make sure her son should not fail to recognize his father, Tamineh sent with him two faithful servants who had known Rustem well when he came to woo her.

Meantime Afrasiab, chief of the Tartars, delighted to have Sorab's aid against Persia, cautioned all his warriors not to tell the youth, should his father appear in the opposite army, for he slyly hoped "the young lion would kill the old one," and felt sure that, were he only rid of father and son, he would be able to rule over Persia himself.

In the course of this war young Sorab met with many adventures, fighting once against an Amazon, who by trickery managed to escape from him. However, Sorab kept hoping the time would come when he and his father would meet face to face, and, whenever a fray was about to take place, he always bade his companions scan the ranks of the foe to make sure that Rustem was not there.[39]

Meantime the foolish king, having gotten the worst in the war, had sent for Rustem, who, for reconnoitring purposes, entered the Tartar camp as a spy. There he beheld Sorab, and could not help admiring the young warrior, of whose many brave exploits he had already heard. While thus sneaking about the enemy's tent, Rustem was discovered by the two servants whom Tamineh had placed by her son's side, both of whom he killed before they could give the alarm. Thus, when Sorab and Rustem finally came face to face, there was no one at hand to point out the son to the father or inform the son of his close relationship to his antagonist. After the war had raged for some time, Sorab challenged the Persians to a single fight, for he was anxious to distinguish himself, knowing that should he win a great triumph his father would hear of it, and inquire the origin of the youth of whom such tales were told:

"Come then, hear now, and grant me what I ask. Let the two armies rest to-day; but I Will challenge forth the bravest Persian lords To meet me, man to man: If I prevail, Rustum will surely hear it; if I fall— Old man, the dead need no one, claim no kin. Dim is the rumor of a common fight, Where host meets host, and many names are sunk; But of a single combat fame speaks clear."[40]

Such was the reputation of Sorab, however, that none of the Persians dared encounter him, and urged Rustem to undertake this task himself. Fearing lest so youthful an opponent should withdraw if he heard the name of his antagonist, or that he should pride himself too greatly on the honor done him, Rustem went into battle in disguise.

On seeing a stalwart old warrior approach, Sorab felt strangely moved, and, running to meet him, begged to know his name, for he had a premonition that this was Rustem. The father, too, seized by a peculiar feeling of tenderness for this youth, commented to himself that had he a male descendant he would fain have had him look like Sorab, and therefore tried to make him withdraw his challenge. Notwithstanding Sorab's eager inquiries, Rustem obstinately refused to divulge his name, and, seeing his opponent would not desist, bade him begin the fight without further ado.

And then he turned and sternly spake aloud,— "Rise! wherefore dost thou vainly question thus Of Rustum? I am here whom thou hast called By challenge forth; make good thy vaunt, or yield! Is it with Rustum only thou wouldst fight? Rash boy, men look on Rustum's face, and flee! For well I know, that did great Rustum stand Before thy face this day, and were revealed, There would be then no talk of fighting more."

For three consecutive days the battle raged, father and son proving of equal strength and skill. But, although Sorab once overthrew Rustem, he generously stepped aside and allowed the aged warrior to recover his footing. Several times, also, the young man proposed that they sheathe their swords, for his heart continued to be attracted to his opponent, who, fighting down similar emotions, always taunted his antagonist into renewing the fight.

He spoke; and Sohrab kindled at his taunts, And he too drew his sword; at once they rushed Together, as two eagles on one prey Come rushing down together from the clouds, One from the east, one from the west; their skulls Dashed with a clang together, and a din Rose, such as that the sinewy woodcutters Make often in the forest's heart at morn, Of hewing axes, crashing trees,—such blows Rustum and Sohrab on each other hailed.

It was only on the fifth day that Rustem, forgetting everything in the excitement of the moment, met his foe with his usual war cry, "Rustem, Rustem." The mere sound of so beloved a name so paralyzed Sorab, that, instead of meeting this onslaught, he sank beneath his father's blow. Then he gasped that, although dying, his adversary could not pride himself upon having fairly won the victory, for nothing short of his father's name could have disarmed him thus!

"But that beloved name unnerved my arm,— That name, and something, I confess, in thee, Which troubles all my heart, and made my shield Fall; and thy spear transfixed an unarmed foe. And now thou boastest, and insult'st my fate. But hear thou this, fierce man, tremble to hear: The mighty Rustum shall avenge my death! My father, whom I seek through all the world, He shall avenge my death, and punish thee!"

On hearing these words, Rustem anxiously demanded explanation, only to learn that the man he had mortally wounded was his own son, as was only too surely proved by the bracelet decorated with the Simurgh which Sorab exhibited.

It was that griffin which of old reared Zal, Rustum's great father, whom they left to die, A helpless babe, among the rocks; Him that kind creature found, and reared, and loved; Then Rustum took it for his glorious sign.

Not only did broken-hearted Rustem hang over his dying son in speechless grief, but the steed Rakush wept bitter tears over the youth who had so longed to bestride him.

And awe fell on both the hosts, When they saw Rustum's grief; and Ruksh, the horse, With his head bowing to the ground, and mane Sweeping the dust, came near, and in mute woe First to the one, then to the other, moved His head, as if inquiring what their grief Might mean; and from his dark compassionate eyes, The big warm tears rolled down and caked the sand.

In hopes of saving his son, Rustem vainly implored the foolish monarch to bestow upon him a drop of some magic ointment he owned. But Sorab expired without this aid in Rustem's arms, and the broken-hearted father burned his remains on a pyre. Then he conveyed to his home Sorab's ashes, and sent the young hero's riderless steed back to his poor mother, who died of grief.

We are told that the foolish king proved so fortunate as to have a noble and generous son named Siawush, of whom he became so jealous that the youth had to leave home and was brought up by Rustem. The step-mother, who had so poisoned his father's mind against him, plotted Siawush's death as soon as he returned to court, by accusing him of making love to her. In anger the father decreed that Siawush should submit to the test of fire, so huge furnaces were lighted, through which the young man rode unharmed, the Angel of Pity and the spirit of his dead mother standing on either side of him to guard him from injury. Because the step-mother had wrongfully accused Siawush, she too was condemned to pass through the fire, but her step-son, knowing she could never stand such an ordeal, pleaded successfully in her behalf.

Not daring to remain at his father's court, this young prince withdrew among the Tartars, where he married Afrasiab's daughter. But such were his qualities and noble deeds, that his wicked father-in-law became jealous enough of him to slay him. He did not, however, succeed in exterminating the race, for a kind-hearted nobleman, Piran-Wisa, secreted Siawush's little son, and entrusted him to a goat-herd to bring up. When Afrasiab discovered a few years later that this child was still living, he planned to put him to death, until the nobleman assured him the child was an idiot and would, therefore, never work him any harm. Only half convinced, Afrasiab sent for the youth, Kai-Khosrau, who, duly instructed by his protector, returned such crazy answers to his grandfather's questions, that Afrasiab felt satisfied he was an idiot indeed.

This young prince, having attained manhood, led a rebellion so successfully that he not only dethroned his grandfather, Afrasiab, but also recovered his hereditary throne of Persia. There he reigned for many years, at the end of which he became so anxious to leave this world, that he prayed the good god (Ormudz) to receive him in his bosom. In a dream this divinity informed the king that, as soon as his affairs were in order and his successor named, his wish would be granted. Kai-Khosrau, therefore, made all his arrangements, and set out on the journey to the next world, bidding his friends not try to accompany him, for the road would be too hard for them to travel. In spite of these injunctions, a few faithful followers went with him, until they reached a place where the cold was so intense that they all froze to death, and thus left him to continue alone the journey from whence he never returned.

And not a trace was left behind, And not a dimple on the wave; All sought, but sought in vain, to find The spot which proved Kai-Khosrau's grave.

The successor which Kai-Khosrau had chosen proved a just ruler until he became jealous of his own son, Isfendiyar, who was also a great warrior, and who, like Rustem, accomplished seven great works. He, too, overcame demons, wolves, lions, enchanters, dragons, and unchained elements, and on one occasion proceeded to rescue two of his sisters, who were detained captives in the fortress of Arjasp, a demon king. Knowing he could not enter this stronghold by force, Isfendiyar penetrated into it in the guise of a merchant, having hidden in his chests a number of soldiers, who were to help him when the right moment came. Thanks to their aid and to the fact that he began by intoxicating his foe, Isfendiyar triumphed.

The time came, however, when Isfendiyar was ordered by his father to bring Rustem to court in chains. This task proved most distasteful to the prince, who, on approaching Rustem, explained that he was not a free agent. Because the old hero obstinately refused to be manacled, the two warriors began fighting, and at the end of the day Rustem and his steed were so severely wounded that Isfendiyar felt sure they would not be able to renew the fight on the morrow.

It happened, however, that the aged Zal, on seeing his wounded son, remembered his partly burned feather, and promptly cast it into the fire. Immediately the Simurgh appeared, and with one touch of her golden wings healed the horse, and used her clever beak to draw the lance out of Rustem's side. Having thus healed her nursling's son, the Simurgh vanished, leaving Rustem and his steed in such good condition that they were able to renew the battle on the morrow. This time, Isfendiyar perished beneath Rustem's blows, exclaiming that the hero was not to blame for his death and that he fell victim to his father's hate. In token of forgiveness, he begged Rustem to bring up his son, a wish which was piously carried out by the brave warrior as long as he lived.

Because it had been written in the stars that "he who slew Isfendiyar would die miserably," Rustem was somewhat prepared for his tragic fate. It seems his young half-brother finally became so jealous of him that he plotted to kill him by digging seven pits lined with swords and spears. These were hidden in a road along which Rustem had to travel when he came in the king's name to claim tribute. Falling into the first pit, Rustem set his spurs to Rakush's sides; and the brave steed, although wounded, leaped out of this trap, only to tumble into a second and third. From pit to pit Rustem and his dauntless horse landed at the bottom of the seventh, fainting from their many wounds.

The treacherous step-brother now drew cautiously near to ascertain whether Rustem were dead, whereupon our hero begged for his bow and arrows, declaring he wished to ward off the wild beasts as long as he remained alive. The unsuspecting brother, therefore, flung the desired weapons down into the pit, but no sooner were they within reach, than Rustem fitted an arrow to the string, casting such a baleful look at his step-brother that this coward hastened to take refuge behind a tree. No obstacle could, however, balk the righteously angry Rustem, who sent his arrow straight through the trunk into his brother's heart, thus punishing the murderer for his dastardly trick. Then, returning thanks for having been allowed to avenge his wrongs, Rustem breathed his last beside his faithful steed.

On hearing his son had perished, Zal sent an army to lay Kabul waste, and, having recovered the corpses of Rustem and of his steed, laid them piously to rest in a magnificent tomb in Seistan.


[Footnote 38: All the quotations in this article taken from the Shah-Nameh are from Champeon's translation.]

[Footnote 39: It is this part of the story which Matthew Arnold rendered so ably in his "Sohrab and Rustum," one of his best-known poems.]

[Footnote 40: All the quotations in regard to this episode are from Matthew Arnold's "Sohrab and Rustum."]


Besides the two great classical epics (Mahakavyas)—the Mahabharata and the Ramayana—Indian literature claims eighteen Puranas, each of which bears a distinctive title. These Puranas treat mainly of "ancient legendary lore," and contain many tales of gods and sages, as well as descriptions of the Hindu world, with Mount Meru as its centre, and also of the deluge.

Many of the incidents of the two great epics inspired later poets to compose what are known as kavyas, or court epics. Six of these by Bahrtruhari are termed Great Court Epics (Mahakavyas), and another, by the poet Acvaghosha, describing the doings of Buddha at length, was translated, into Chinese between 414 and 421 A.D. The Golden Age for the court epics (which were written from 200 B.C. to 1100 A.D.) was during the sixth century of our era.

In the fifth century A.D. the poet Kalidasa composed a nineteen-canto epic, entitled Raghuvamca, wherein he related at length the life of Rama, as well as of Rama's ancestors and of his twenty-four successors. This poem abounds in striking similes, as does also the same poet's Kumarasambhava or Birth and Wooing of the War God Siva. There are, however, sundry cantos in all these poems which are too erotic to meet with favor among modern readers. Kalidasa is also the author of an epic in Prakrit, wherein he sings of the building of the bridge between India and Ceylon and of the death of Ravana.

We are told that the Ramayana inspired the greatest poet of Mediaeval India, Tulsi Das, to compose the Ram Charit Manas, an epic wherein he gives a somewhat shorter and very popular version of Rama's adventures. This work still serves as a sort of Bible for a hundred million of the people of northern India.

The poet Kaviraja (c. 800 A.D.) composed an epic wherein he combines the Ramayana and Mahabharata into one single poem. This is a Hindu tour de force, for we are told that "the composition is so arranged that by the use of ambiguous words and phrases the story of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata is told at one and the same time. The same words, according to the sense in which they are understood, narrate the events of each epic."


This Hindu epic, an older poem than the Mahabharata, was composed in Sanscrit some five hundred years before our era, and is contained in seven books, aggregating twenty-four thousand verses. It is often termed "the Odyssey of the East," and relates events which are said to have occurred between two thousand and nine hundred B.C. The poem is generally attributed to Valmiki, a hermit on the bank of the Ganges, who, seeing one bird of a happy pair slain, made use of a strange metre in relating the occurrence to Brahma. This god immediately bade him employ the same in narrating the adventures of Rama, one of the seven incarnations of the god Vishnu.

"Praise to Valmiki, bird of charming song, Who mounts on Poesy's sublimest spray, And sweetly sings with accents clear and strong Rama, aye Rama, in his deathless lay."[41]

The poem opens with a description of the ancient city of Ayodhya (Oude), beautifully situated on the banks of a river and ruled by a childless rajah.

In by-gone ages built and planned By sainted Manu's princely hand, Imperial seat! her walls extend Twelve measured leagues from end to end; Three in width, from side to side With square and palace beautified. Her gates at even distance stand, Her ample roads are wisely planned. Right glorious is her royal street, Where streams allay her dust and heat. On level ground in even row Her houses rise in goodly show. Terrace and palace, arch and gate The queenly city decorate. High are her ramparts, strong and vast, By ways at even distance passed, With circling moat both deep and wide, And store of weapons fortified.

This monarch (Dasaratha), a descendant of the moon, was sixty thousand years old when the story begins. Although his reign had already extended over a period of nine thousand years,—during which his people had enjoyed such prosperity that it is known as the Age of Gold,—the king, still childless in spite of having seven hundred and fifty concubines, decided to offer a great horse sacrifice (asvatmedha) in hopes of obtaining a son, to celebrate his funeral rites and thereby enable him to enter heaven.

In order to perform the ceremony properly, a horse had to be turned out to wander at will for a year, constantly watched by a band of priests, who prevented any one laying a hand upon him, for, once touched, the animal was unfit to be offered up to the gods. This horse sacrifice having been duly performed, the happy rajah was informed by the gods that four sons would uphold his line, provided he and three of his wives quaffed the magic drink they gave him.

Having thus granted the rajah's prayer, the lesser gods implored their chief Indra to rid them of the demons sent by Ravana, the Satan of the Hindus. This evil spirit, by standing on his head in the midst of five fires ten thousand years in succession, had secured from Brahma a promise that no god, demon, or genius should slay him. By this extraordinary feat he had also obtained nine extra heads with a full complement of eyes, ears, and noses, hands and arms. Mindful of his promise, Brahma was at a loss to grant this request until he remembered he had never guaranteed Ravana should not be attacked by man or monkey. He, therefore, decided to beg Vishnu to enter the body of a man and conquer this terrible foe, while the lesser gods helped him in the guise of monkeys.

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