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Ossianism


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epic

pre-Romanticism

Hugh Blair (1718—1800) Church of Scotland minister and literary critic

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The craze for Celtic folklore and myth that was prompted by the appearance of two epic poems, Fingal (1762) and Temora (1763), supposedly composed by Ossian (i.e. Oisin, the legendary 3rd-century Gaelic warrior and bard, son of Finn or Fingal) and ‘translated’ by James Macpherson, a Scottish schoolteacher. The supposed discovery of an ancient northern epic had a great imaginative impact in Europe after the translation of ‘Ossian’ into German (1768–9) and French (1777): Goethe, Herder, and Napoleon Bonaparte were among the leading Ossianic enthusiasts. Even after 1805, when investigators found the epics to be forgeries concocted around some genuine Gaelic folklore, Macpherson's vision of the misty and melancholy Celtic world lived on in the Romantic imagination. See also romanticism, preromanticism. For a fuller account, consult Fiona J. Stafford, The Sublime Savage (1988).

Subjects: Literature — Modern History (1700 to 1945).


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