Ossian

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Ossian is the narrator and supposed author of a cycle of poems which the Scottish poet James Macpherson claimed to have translated from ancient sources in the Scots Gaelic. He is based on Oisín, son of Finn or Fionn mac Cumhaill, a character from Irish mythology. Although the poems were well-received, many critics voiced concerns about their authenticity, a debate that continued into the 20th century.

Contents

The poems

In 1760 Macpherson published the English-language text Fragments of ancient poetry, collected in the Highlands of Scotland, and translated from the Gaelic or Erse language, and later that year obtained further manuscripts.[1]

In 1761 he claimed to have found an epic on the subject of the hero Fingal, written by Ossian. The name Fingal or Fionnghall means "white stranger".[2]

He published translations of it during the next few years, culminating in a collected edition; The Works of Ossian, in 1765. The most famous of these poems was Fingal, written in 1762.

Reception

The poems achieved international success (Napoleon and Thomas Jefferson were great fans) and were proclaimed as a Celtic equivalent of the Classical writers such as Homer.[3] Many writers were influenced by the works, including the young Walter Scott and the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, whose own German translation of a portion of Macpherson's work figures prominently in a climactic scene of The Sorrows of Young Werther.[4]

Goethe's associate Johann Gottfried Herder wrote an essay titled Extract from a correspondence about Ossian and the Songs of Ancient Peoples in the early days of the Sturm und Drang movement.

The poem was as much admired in Hungary as in France and Germany; Hungarian János Arany wrote "Homer and Ossian" in response, and several other Hungarian writers – Baróti Szabó, Csokonai, Sándor Kisfaludy, Kazinczy, Kölcsey, Ferenc Toldy, and Ágost Greguss, were also influenced by it.[5]

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