MATTI KUUSI (1914-1998) IN MEMORY OF THE LAST GIANT OF INTERNATIONAL PAREMIOLOGY
Paremiologists throughout the world knew that the doyen of proverb scholarship was ailing in Helsinki. Some of us had the opportunity to visit Matti Kuusi in Finland during the past few years. Each encounter with this colleague and friend was a special and memorable event, but there was also the sadness that there might be no more visits at all. And on January 16, 1998, the sad news spread from Helsinki to the rest of the world that Matti Kuusi had passed away after a long and fruitful life just a couple of months before his eighty-fourth birthday. With the death of this remarkable scholar the world has lost the fourth major paremiologist of the 20th century. Matti Kuusi’s friends Archer Taylor (1890-1973), Grigorii L’vovich Permiakov (1919-1983), and Bartlett Jere Whiting (1904-1995) had completed their life’s work in paremiology before him, leaving him the honor of being the last member of this unique group of scholars. As we remember Matti Kuusi and these colleagues, we are reminded of an article entitled “Vrienden sijn goet biden weghe” (Friends are good on the way) which Matti Kuusi wrote for Humaniora: Essays in Literature, Folklore, Bibliography (New York 1960), a Festschrift honoring his friend Archer Taylor on his seventieth birthday. Not only were the four paremiological giants Matti Kuusi, Archer Taylor, Grigorii L’vovich Permiakov, and Bartlett Jere Whiting good friends, they also were supportive and special friends to us younger paremiologists who had the fortune to know them and to learn from them. By way of fond memories and their numerous and invaluable publications these four friends will stay alive as long as people will remain interested in the gems of human wisdom expressed in those short and yet so meaningful proverbs. As his renowned three friends, Matti Kuusi was a special force and presence on the scholarly scene, and it is with sincere appreciation and deep sadness that we take leave from this master paremiologist.
There will be many necrologies about Matti Kuusi in newspapers and journals throughout the world, remembering him as a poet, cultural and literary historian, folklorist, and paremiologist. For the pages of Proverbium, the following remarks will concentrate on Matti Kuusi’s unique contributions to proverb scholarship. While it is impossible to mention everyone of his publications in detail, I have attached a bibliography of his paremiological studies at the end of these remarks. All of them are also included with annotations (especially his books and articles written in his native Finnish language) in my International Proverb Scholarship: An Annotated Bibliography (New York: Garland Publishing, 1982, 1990, and 1993). It took many pages in the three volumes of this bibliography to describe the voluminous studies and collections of proverbs which Matti Kuusi has contributed over the years. Together they are ample proof of his deserved title of master paremiologist par excellence!
Matti Kuusi was born on March 25, 1914, in Helsinki, where he studied folklore as well as Finnish language and literature between 1932 and 1939. In 1951 he began his distinguished teaching career at his alma mater, and from 1959 until his retirement in 1977 he held the renowned chair of Finnish and comparative folklore at his beloved University of Helsinki. This is not the place to comment on his numerous studies in the area of the Kalevala and in Finnish epics and folk poetry in general. Suffice it to say that he was honored for his scholarly achievements by becoming a member of the Suomen Akatemia (Finnish Academy) in 1985. Clearly this honor was in part at least also bestowed on him for his incredible accomplishments in Finnish, comparative, and international paremiology. The following remarks will be a short attempt to describe and discuss his invaluable paremiological and paremiographical accomplishments by at least commenting on his major books.
In the early 1950s two Finnish books established Matti Kuusi as the major force in Finnish proverb scholarship. First appeared his Vanhan kansan sananlaskuviisaus. Suomalaisia elämänobjeita, kansanaforismeja, lentäviä lauseita ja kokkapuheita vuosilta 1544-1826 (Porvoo: Werner Söderström, 1953. 3rd reprint 1990. 539 pp.), a superb Finnish proverb collection with an excellent history and introduction to Finnish paremiography from the 16th to the 19th century. This was followed by a small but significant book entitled Sananlaskut ja puheenparret (Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 1954. 181 pp.) in which Matti Kuusi discusses the entire field of paremiology in 46 short chapters, touching on such matters as definition, origin, geographical distribution, loan translation, variation, contradiction, content, function, structure, metaphor, formula, wellerism, etc. There are also chapters on the relationship of proverbs to the Bible, folk narratives, riddles, folk songs, superstitions, epic poetry (especially the Kalevala), and literature. This book was clearly influenced by Archer Taylor’s masterpiece on The Proverb (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1931. 223 pp.). Unfortunately Kuusi’s “gem” did not get the international reception it deserved due to the difficulty that most of us have with the Finnish language. However, let me make a plea here to our Finnish colleagues and call for a belated translation of this book into English. This should doubtlessly be done, and a translation could and should appear in the FFC series where numerous other books by Matti Kuusi have appeared. I would be honored to help finance such a translation to honor my mentor and friend Matti Kuusi. This project should definitely be a priority for international paremiologists.
Barely three years later Matti Kuusi surprised the world with two books written in German, giving him the opportunity to convince scholars outside of Finland that he was quickly becoming a leader in comparative proverb studies. His voluminous book on Regen bei Sonnenschein. Zur Weltgeschichte einer Redensart. FFC 171 (Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1957. 420 pp.) is to this day the most complete international study of a proverbial expression and its variants, namely “When it rains and the sun shines the devil is beating his grandmother”. Kuusi must have been delighted to learn that an Italian translation of this monograph was completed and published in 1994 (see no. 7 below). The other book is entitled Parömiologische Betrachtungen. FFC 172 (Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1957. 52 pp.); a slender volume to be sure, but one rich with insightful comments on international paremiology. Following in Archer Taylor’s footsteps, Kuusi develops a series of methodological principles for various paremiological problems and discusses research desiderata. Above all he calls for a synthesis of geographical-historical, social-anthropological, and philological (literary) approaches in paremiology since proverbs are “monumenta humana” (p. 52). Even though this book was published some forty years ago, it should still be read by every proverb scholar interested in comparative studies.
Many individual studies in journals followed these books, but a very special and lasting event was Matti Kuusi’s creation of his journal Proverbium in the year 1965. For the next ten years he published twenty-five issues and a total of 1,000 pages in this truly international and comparative journal, where scholars from around the globe could present and exchange ideas (see also the two-volume reprint of this unique journal under no. 48 below). This journal knew no political or linguistic borders, and every proverb scholar could afford to receive the journal since it was mailed free of charge due to the sponsorship by the Society of Finnish Literature. There is no serious proverb scholar of that time who did not publish in Matti Kuusi’s Proverbium. I remember how honored I felt when I published my first article in Proverbium in 1974, the same year when I had the honor to meet Matti Kuusi in Helsinki where he had organized an international proverb symposium in conjunction the VIth International Congress for Folk Narrative Research (June 16-21, 1974). For me personally those days are unforgettable indeed. When Matti Kuusi relinquished his editorship of Proverbium in 1975, Vilmos Voigt in Budapest published four issues between 1980 and 1989 under the new title Proverbium Paratum, but in 1984 Matti Kuusi gave his blessing to the idea that I should become the editor of Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship here in the United States. This very obituary appears in volume sixteen of the annual Proverbium, and it has been an honor and privilege for all these years now to carry on Matti Kuusi’s editorial work. Among my correspondence are numerous treasured letters by my dear friend and idol Matti Kuusi, telling me upon receipt of yet another new volume of Proverbium that he was pleased with my work. How much these yearly letters have meant to me over the years! They always gave me the strength and inspiration to carry on. While I edit Proverbium for all proverb scholars, I always also felt that I was doing this especially for my friend Matti Kuusi in distant Helsinki. I will always be thankful to him that he entrusted me with this responsible task, and I am deeply touched to know that he was satisfied with his student’s work.
Matti Kuusi’s own most significant publication in Proverbium was his monograph Towards an International Type-System of Proverbs, which appeared in issue no. 19 (1972), 699-736, and as a separate publication (FFC 211. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1972. 40 pp.). This is indeed a seminal theoretical study on the possible organization of an international type-system of proverbs. Especially Matti Kuusi and Grigorii L’vovich Permiakov expanded much energy into creating a system of proverb classification which would enable scholars to perform more meaningful comparative studies. Unfortunately this work has not been continued very vigorously by recent scholars, but there is hope that modern computers will help to revive the interest in type systems. It is, of course, a very time-consuming undertaking, but a workable international classification system of proverbs would without doubt lead to knew insights about the logical and semiotic aspects of human wisdom expressed in proverbs.
In addition to his remarkable theoretical work, Matti Kuusi also spent many hours of his long life in putting together proverb collections that serve as models for future work. Let me at least mention here Suomen kansan vertauksia (Vaasa: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 1960. 3rd reprint 1982. 552 pp.), Ovambo Proverbs with African Parallels. FFC 208 (Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1970. 356 pp.), Suomalaista, kirjalaista vai savokarjalaista? Vienan ja Pohjois-Aunuksen sananlaskut ja Kalevalan runojen alkuperäkiista (Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 1978. 70 pp.), (with Hannu Lukkarinen), Rapatessa roiskuu. Nykysuomen sananparsikirja (Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 1988. 437 pp.), and (with Outi Lauhakangas), Maailman sananlaskuviisaus (Helsinki: Werner Söderström, 1993. 403 pp.). What a breadth and depth of paremiographical work! From Finnish proverbial comparisons to Ovambo proverbs with African parallels on to a collection of the proverbial wisdom of the world. And then there is the magnificent comparative collection Proverbia septentrionalia. 900 Balto-Finnic Proverb Types with Russian, Baltic, German and Scandinavian Parallels. FFC 236 (Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1985. 451 pp.) which the untiring Matti Kuusi edited with the help of Marje Joalaid, Elsa Kokare, Arvo Krikmann, Kari Laukkanen, Pentti Leino, Vaina Mälk, and Ingrid Sarv. This is without doubt one of the very best comparative proverb collections, a model for us all, and a clear sign of Matti Kuusi’s interest in and dedication to international paremiography and paremiology.
On his eightieth birthday on March 25, 1994, Henni Ilomäki edited a number of Matti Kuusi’s essays in English translation with the fitting title Mind and Form in Folklore: Selected Essays [by Matti Kuusi] (Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 1994. 199 pp.), which also includes seven articles on proverbs (see nos. 3, 5 [two essays], 6, 12, 24, and 29 below). These articles indicate that Matti Kuusi has a great deal to say still, and it is to be hoped that some of the other Finnish articles mentioned in the bibliography below will also be translated in due time. Some of them could certainly appear in Proverbium where they will reach their deserved international readership. In 1975 I edited a volume with Archer Taylor’s Selected Writings on Proverbs. FFC 216 (Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1975. 204 pp.), and on behalf of proverb scholars everywhere I now plead that a similar FFC volume will be published with translations of Matti Kuusi’s most significant journal articles. This would surely be a most befitting tribute to this magnificent scholar, invaluable mentor, and special friend.
It is painful to find the last words for this essay in memory of Matti Kuusi. How does one take leave from such an intellectual giant? Of course he will be missed by all of us who knew him personally, but he will be remembered and appreciated also by all of those who never had the fortune to meet him in Helsinki or at a conference. Generations of proverb scholars will benefit from the insights and wisdom of Matti Kuusi, and when they will look back on the 20th century, they will mention his name together with Archer Taylor, Grigorii L’vovich Permiakov, and Bartlett Jere Whiting. – There is no doubt, dear and revered Matti Kuusi from Helsinki, that you are one of the greatest proverb scholars ever, whose writings and life are proof that proverbs are indeed “monumenta humana”.
Paremiological and Paremiographical Publications by Matti Kuusi:
- “Vanhin suomalaisten sananlaskujen kokoelma.” Kalevalaseuran Vuosikirja, 31 (1951), 64-86.
- “Esivanhempiemme kymmenen käskyä.” Kalevalaseuran Vuosikirja, 32 (1952), 78-85.
- “Sananparsien suosionmuutoksista.” Virittäjä, 57 (1953), 337-345. In English translation as “Variations in the Popularity of Finnish Proverbs” in M. Kuusi, Mind and Form in Folklore: Selected Articles. Ed. Henni Ilomäki. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 1994. 114-122.
- Vanhan kansan sananlaskuviisaus. Suomalaisia elämänobjeita, kansanaforismeja, lentäviä lauseita ja kokkapuheita vuosilta 1544-1826. Porvoo: Werner Söderström, 1953. 3rd reprint 1990. 539 pp.
- Sananlaskut ja puheenparret. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 1954. 181 pp. Chapter 25 on “Kristillistä ja ei-kristillistä” (pp. 86-90) and chapter 40 on “Perikuvat ja formulat” (pp. 139-142) also in English translation as “Basic Images and Formulae” and “Christian and non-Christian (Proverbs)” in M. Kuusi, Mind and Form in Folklore: Selected Essays. Ed. Henni Ilomäki. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 1994. 145-147 and 142-144 respectively.
- “On the Aptness of Proverbs” (Lecture given at the University of Helsinki on March 23, 1956). Now finally published for the first time in M. Kuusi, Mind and Form in Folklore: Selected Articles. Ed. Henni Ilomäki. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 1994. 105-113.
- Regen bei Sonnenschein. Zur Weltgeschichte einer Redensart. FFC 171. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1957. 420 pp. Italian translation by Maria Tereza Bizzarri with the title La pioggia con il sole. Storia di un modo di dire nel mondo. Bologna: Società editrice il Mulino, 1992-1994 (=Quaderni di Semantica, 13, no. 2 , 279-327; 14, no. 1 , 79-152; 14, no. 2 , 249-331; 15, no. 1 , 123-179; and 15, no. 2 , 273-320).
- Parömiologische Betrachtungen. FFC 17 Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1957. 52 pp.
- “Lisiä Vanhan kansan sananlaskuviisauteen.” Verba docent. Juhlakirja Lauri Hakulisen 60-vuotispäiväksi. Eds. Pertti Virtaranta, Terho Itkonen and Paavo Pulkkinen. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 1959. 522-530.
- Suomen kansan vertauksia. Vaasa: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 1960. 3rd reprint 198. 552 pp.
- “`Vrienden sijn goet biden weghe’.” Humaniora. Essays in Literature, Folklore, Bibliography. Honoring Archer Taylor on His Seventieth Birthday. Eds. Wayland D. Hand and Gustave Arlt. Locust Valley, New York: J.J. Augustin, 1960. 172-179.
- “Kansanparadokseista.” Kalevalaseuran Vuosikirja, 42 (1962), 56-68. In English translation as “Concerning Folk Paradoxes” in M. Kuusi, Mind and Form in Folklore: Selected Articles. Ed. Henni Ilomäki. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 1994. 131-141.
- “Sananparret ja arvoitukset.” Oma maa, 11 (1962), 164-175.
- “Suomalisten sananlaskujen ensiesiintymiä vuoden 1642 Raamatussa.” Virittäjä, 66 (1962), 395-399.
- “Sananparsiston rakenneanalyysin terminologiaa.” Virittäjä, 67 (1963), 339-348.
- “Thesen für das parömiologische Smposium in Helsinki 28. 8. 1965.” Proverbium, no. 3 (1965), 58.
- “Tieteelisen sananlaskukokoelman hanke 1883-1906.” Virittäjä, 69 (1965)121-135.
- “Ein Vorschlag für die Terminologie der parömiologischen Strukturanalyse.” Proverbium, no. 5 (1966), 97-104. Also in Ergebnisse der Sprichwörterforschung. Ed. Wolfgang Mieder. Bern: Peter Lang, 1978. 171-176.
- “Fatalistic Traits in Finnish Proverbs.” Fatalistic Beliefs in Religion, Folklore and Literatre. Ed. Helmer Ringgren. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1967. 89-96. Als in The Wisdom of Many. Essays on the Proverb. Eds. Wolfgang Mieder and Alan Dundes. New York: Garland Publishing, 1981; rpt. as a paperback edition at Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1994. 275-283.
- “Johdatusta sananlaskuston formula-analyysiin.” Kalevalaseuran Vuosikirja, 47 (1967), 71-88.
- “Rapports locaux: Sorben.” Proverbium, no. 10 (1968), 250.
- “Suum cuique 25 [Paremiological Terminology].” Proverbium, no. 10 (1968), 251-252.
- “Internationale Aufgaben der Sprichwortforschung.” VII. Mezhdunarodnyi kongress antropologicheskikh i etnograficheskikh nauk, Moskva, 3-10 avgusta 1964 g. No editor given. Moskva: Nauka, 1969. VI, 385-387.
- “Lainasananlaskujen tutkimusongelmia.” Esitelmät ja Pöytäkirjat 1968. Ed. Esko Suomalainen. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Kirjapaino Oy, 1969. 169-181. Now in English translation as “Research Problems in Loan-Proverbs” in M. Kuusi, Mind and Form in Folklore: Selected Articles. Ed. Henni Ilomäki. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 1994. 123-130.
- “Southwest African Riddle-Proverbs.” Proverbium, 12 (1969), 305-311.
- “How Can a Type-Index of International Proverbs Be Outlined?” Proverbium, no. 15 (1970), 473-476.
- Ovambo Proverbs with African Parallels. FFC 208. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1970. 356 pp.
- “A.A. Koskenjaako (1885-1954).” Leading Folklorists of the North. Biographical Studies. Ed. Dag Strömbäck. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1971. 67-80.
- “Naisen arvo Suomen ja Ambomaan sananlaskustossa.” Suomen Akatemia, 1 (1971), 99-107. German summary in Proverbium, no. 18 (1972), 695. Now in English translation as “The Place of Women in the Proverbs of Finland and Ovamboland” in M. Kuusi, Mind and Form in Folklore: Selected Articles. Ed. Henni Ilomäki. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 1994. 148-158.
- Towards an International Type-System of Proverbs. FFC 211. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1972. 40 pp. Also published in Proverbium, no. 19 (1972), 699-736.
- “Anna itkeä itikan.” Journal de la Société Finno-ougrienne, 72 (1973), 184-190.
- “A Symposium on Paremiology / Ein parömiologisches Symposium.” Proverbium, no. 21 (1973), 816.
- “Archer Taylor. 1.8.1890-30.9.1973.” Proverbium, no. 22 (1973), 817-818.
- “Symposium on Paremiology.” Proverbium, no. 22 (1973), 862-864.
- “Tayloriana.” Proverbium, no. 22 (1973). 819-820.
- “Tytär-Karjalan kalevalaisuus.” Kalevalaseuran Vuosikirja, 53 (1973), 95-112. German summary in Proverbium, no. 21 (1973), 814-815.
- “Tiefenstruktur und Oberflächenstruktur in der Parömiologie.” Proverbium, 23 (1974), 920-924.
- “Resolutions of the Symposium on Paremiology: Helsinki, Finland, June 19-21, 1974.” Proverbium, no. 24 (1974), 929-930.
- “Nachtrag [to Permiakov: 75 naibolee …].” Proverbium, no. 25 (1975), 975-978.
- “Itämerensuomalaisuuden profiili: Viron yleisimmissä sananlaskuissa.” Virittäjä, 80 (1976), 108-125.
- “Otvet na vystuplenic Vil’mosha Voita (v sokrashchennom vide).” Acta Ethnographica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, 26 (1977), 179-180.
- “Kalevalakielen kysymyksiä.” Virittäjä, 82 (1978), 209-225.
- “K voprosu o mezhdunarodnoi sisteme poslovichnykh tipov (opyt klassifikatsii kolichestvennykh poslovits).” Paremiologicheskii Sbornik. Ed. Grigorii L’vovich Permiakov. Moskva: Nauka, 1978. 53-81. Somewhat shortened Russian translation of M. Kuusi’s study Towards an International Type-System of Proverbs. Helsinki: Suomalaien Tiedeakatemia, 1972.
- Suomalaista, kirjalaista vai savokarjalaista? Vienan ja Pohjois-Aunuksen sananlaskut ja Kalevalan runojen alkuperäkiista. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 1978. 70 pp. A German summary and evaluation by Vilmos Voigt is printed in Proverbium Paratum, no. 1 (1980), 98-102.
- “Zur Frequenzanalyse.” Proverbium Paratum, no. 2 (1981), 119-120.
- (editor, together with Marje Joalaid, Elsa Kokare, Arvo Krikmann, Kari Laukkanen, Pentti Leino, Vaina Mälk, Ingrid Sarv), Proverbia septentrionalia. 900 Balto-Finnic Proverb Types with Russian, Baltic, German and Scandinavian Parallels. FFC 236. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1985. 451 pp.
- “Zur Einstellungsanalyse der Sprichwörter. Ein finnisch-südwestafrikanisches Experiment.” Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship, 2 (1985), 87-95.
- (editor, together with J. Krzyzanowski, D. Loukatos, A. Taylor), Proverbium, no. 1 (1965) – no. 25 (1975). Ed. in two volumes by Wolfgang Mieder. Bern: Peter Lang, 1987. 1052 pp.
- “Kyllä-küll-gal-alkuisista sananlaskuista.” Virittäjä, 92 (1988), 143-154.
- (with Hannu Lukkarinen), Rapatessa roiskuu. Nykysuomen sananparsikirja. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 1988. 437 pp.
- (with Outi Lauhakangas), Maailman sananlaskuviisaus. Helsinki: Werner Söderström, 1993. 403 pp.
- Mind and Form in Folklore: Selected Essays [by Matti Kuusi]. Ed. Henni Ilomäki. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 1994. 199 pp. For the seven articles on proverbs contained in this volume see nos. 3, 5 (two essays), 6, 12, 24, and 29 above.
Department of German and Russian
University of Vermont
Burlington, Vermont 05405