Friday, April 10, 2015

Ossian

Ossian Receiving the Ghosts of Fallen French Heroes by Anne Louis Girodet, 1805.

In chapter 15 of A Midwinter Night's Revolution, (The Trolls' Revolt,) Jasper gives Madeleine a copy of Ossian, though I do not mention the book's title.

Ossian was one of the best-sellers of Jasper and Lyta's day, and its path to obscurity is a curious one. Back in 1760, Scottish poet James MacPherson claimed to have discovered a cycle of epic poems authored by an ancient Scottish bard, Ossian. In an age when Homer was still popular, Ossian caught on like wildfire, and was soon translated into French, German, Italian, Danish, Dutch, Spanish, Polish, Russian, Hungarian--and perhaps others.

In Goerthe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, Werther exclaims to a friend that, "Ossian has replaced Homer in my heart!" In France, Napoleon was an enthusiastic fan of the poems. The King of Sweden and Norway named his son Oscar (also king of Sweden and Norway) after a character from the poems.

Girodet, artist of the painting at the top of the post, studied under Jacques-Louis David, artist of The Oath of the Horatii. Said David of Girodet's work, "Either Girodet is mad or I no longer know anything of the art of painting."

Then something unfortunate happened. It turned out that Ossian probably wasn't real, and that MacPherson had actually written all of the poems himself. Normally people aren't too bothered by authors employing pen names, but in this case, everyone seems to have decided that if the poems weren't really ancient, then they just weren't worth reading.

Which is a pity, really, because I think they actually are quite good.

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