Kullervo’s Dog

Yesterday I wrote out an “epic” post devoted to the Finnish legend of Kullervo, and how Jean Sibelius took the story and created a musical masterpiece.  But I realize there is something I overlooked in that discussion…

Kullervo’s dog.


One of the intriguing thing about Kullervo is that over the course of his adventures, he was accompanied by a dog named Musti, which is still a popular name for dogs in Finland today.  Musti was given to him by the spirit of his deceased mother, as a last bequest and legacy of this family’s love.

In Runo 35 of the Kalevala, Kullervo visits the grave of his mother and the following scene plays out:

“O my mother, dearest mother,
What did you bequeath me here
When you lived here on this earth?

“But you do not hear me, mother,
Though I weep above your eyes
Or lament above your brow,
Speaking here above your head.”

From the grave his mother heard him,
From beneath the mold she answered:
“But I did leave Musti dog
As a help for you in hunting.
Take the dog along with you
And go yonder to the forest,
High up in the backwoods country,
There among the woodland maids,
To the playground of the wood nymphs
On the edge of a piney castle,
There to search for your provisions
And entreat them for good hunting.”

Kullervo, son of Kalervo,
Took the dog along with him,
Started out to climb the trail
Rising to the backwoods country.


It is a scene of great tenderness amidst sorrow… indeed, Musti was arguably the only honest, loyal friend the ill-fated Kullervo ever had.

Perhaps for this reason, Kullervo is frequently portrayed with his loyal dog… so much so that the presence of Musti is often key indicator that the figure depicted is indeed Kullervo.

What would Musti have looked like? I suspect he would have been a type of dog known as a spitz.  One prominent possibility would be that Musti was a Finnish Spitz—a beloved hunting dog of ancient lineage that has been popular in Finland for centuries, and has been recognized as Finland’s national dog since 1979. A Finnish Spitz would have been a great dog for Kullervo, as they are prized for their skill at hunting and are known for being remarkably loyal to their owners.


Another possibility would be the related Finnish Lapphund, a breed that has been used by the Sami people to herd reindeer for centuries. These dogs are also noted for being loyal and friendly to their human companions, and well-suited for outdoor living.  And, their traditional coloring more closely matches the darkness implied by Musti’s name.


Indeed, most depictions of Musti are drawn from one of these characteristic Finnish dogs.

Musti and Kullervo’s time together was fairly short.  But it’s nice to think that this brave little dog might have brought Kullervo a sense of peace and true companionship—gifts Kullervo never received from his fellow humans.




6 thoughts on “Kullervo’s Dog

  1. It was actually a Finnish Tomato Retriever, a rare dog bred specifically bred for the extremely short growing season of the far northern latitudes. When the tomatoes come ripe in Finland, these gentle, eager-to-please hounds are specially trained to gingerly pluck the ripe fruit right off the vine without breaking the skin of the tomatoes, bringing the bountiful harvest in from the field before succumbing to the killing freeze. It’s true!


  2. In my imagination Musti is an ancestor to the modern-day Karelian Bear Dog, ‘karjalankarhukoira’. Funnily enough I was a bit wary of the one Karelian Bear Dog that lived in my village when I was a child, but I’m happy to believe Musti was a great companion.


  3. I’m glad to see this post because I’ve been worried about the dog ever since Friday night’s performance, because the text says Kullervo took his dog along with him when he went out and ended up committing suicide. As stunned and moved as I was by the music and the brilliant performance, some part of me was thinking, “I hope the dog is okay…”


  4. Pingback: Sibelius’s Kullervo | Mask of the Flower Prince

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