International Symposium Traditional and Literary Epics of the World: Textuality, Authorship, Identity, the

in Tartu, November 29-30, 2011



Epic is an extraordinary form of artistic expression, because of its history of more than three thousand years and its outstanding role in building ethnic and national identities. Epics have excelled both as literary masterpieces, and as highly esteemed oral genres, performed by well-trained singers. Starting from the Sumerian Gilgamesh, Babylonian Enuma Elish, Greek Iliad and Odyssey, Indian Mahabharata and Ramayana, epic traditions have continued throughout the Middle Ages until modern times when the Romantic movement produced new monuments, such as the Ossian by James Macpherson, Kalevala by Elias Lönnrot and the Kalevipoeg by Friedrich R. Kreutzwald. These and other literary works have strong connections with oral epics - traditions, which have become obsolete among many nations, but thrive among other peoples even in 21st century.

Finnish folklorist Lauri Honko has defined epics as “grand narratives about exemplars, originally performed by specialised singers as superstories which excel in length, power of expression and significance of content over other narratives and function as a source of identity representations in the traditional community or group receiving the epic”. Thus, epics provide core symbols for group identities and they function as master-narratives of many cultures.

The symposium is organised to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of the Estonian epic Kalevipoeg (1857-1861). Papers will be welcomed on oral and literary epics of the world, covering a range of subtopics, such as:

  • Texts and contexts of world epics
  • Authorship and epic traditions
  • Comparative studies of oral and literary epics
  • Performance of oral epics
  • Epics and identity
  • Epics and mythology
  • Epics and intertextuality
  • Epics and the related genres
  • Epics and their reception
  • “Forgotten” epics of the world

The working language of the symposium will be English. Each paper will be allotted 20 minutes for presentation followed by 10 minutes for discussion. Proposals for papers and abstracts (max 300 words) may be submitted until August 15, 2011, via the webpage: or e-mail: You will be notified about your proposal by September 5, 2011. Registration fee for the symposium is 50 EUR, participants are expected to cover their travel and accommodation costs.

The organizers of the symposium are the Estonian Literary Museum and the Institute for Cultural Research and Fine Arts, University of Tartu.

Welcome to Tartu!

The symposium committee:
Risto Järv (Estonian Literary Museum)
Mare Kõiva (Estonian Literary Museum)
Marin Laak (Estonian Literary Museum)
Ülo Valk (University of Tartu)



More information from the symposium secretaries:
Mare Kalda (; tel +372 5340 4517)
Pihla Siim (; tel. +372 527 7927).

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