Wednesday, March 16, 2011


The dream of Ossian, Ingres

James Macpherson 1736-1796 was a Scottish poet and expert on ancient Gaelic poetry. In 1765 he published "The Works of Ossian" a collection of rediscovered poems from ancient Scotland. They were a sensation and were studied and read around the globe in many languages. They were similar in some ways to the Homeric legends and were the poems of a blind bard, Ossian.

Goethe and Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon and Sir Walter Scott were enamored with Ossian, but the great Dr. Samuel Johnson, the English writer, was skeptical and called Macpherson a mountebank. A great controversy ensued that lasted for at least a hundred years. The Irish claimed that Ossian must have been Irish and the Scots claimed he was Scottish. Some disputed the entire work as a fake. Artists painted scenes from the story and children were named Ossian.
Scubert wrote songs based upon episodes in the epic.

In the 20th century Ossian was concluded to have been a fake. Macpherson had taught himself to write in the ancient Gaelic tongue and compiled a number of previously obscure stories and mixed in some ideas of his own and a dash of classical literature, cooking up the mess into a extremely well written forgery.

There are a number of towns in American named after Ossian as the book was verety popular in the 19th century when many of them were founded. Above is the State Bank in Ossian, Iowa. It appears to have a modern facade pasted over the remnants of a much older structure which was no doubt, damaged in the process.


Steven Zapata said...

"It appears to have a modern facade pasted over the remnants of a much older structure which was no doubt, damaged in the process. "

I don't think I've ever read a blog with subtle thematic motifs running through it before, but I'm not complaining.

Mark Heng said...

Interesting how balderdash can inspire even the greats...

So, knowing the fallacy upon which this painting was based, does it lessen the painting's value in your eyes?

willek said...

How would that be pronounced, Stape? Oshiun... Long Ohssian or short ossien? Or is there some gaellic pronunciation? I need to know because I am using it for a Sunday school lesson I am presenting this coming weekend.

Stapleton Kearns said...

There are a number of concealed themes running through this blog.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I don't really care for the painting much, I wanted to trot out Ossian.

Stapleton Kearns said...

It rhymes with Panglossian.