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Myths and Legends
A Victorian view of Ossian
Ossian: Fact or Fiction

MacPherson was born in 1736, in Ruthven, Inverness-shire. He grew up with a great interest in Highland culture and literature, and went to Edinburgh University to study, with the aim of becoming a minister. He gave up after a year, but left with a new love – he had become a prolific poet. Having left university, MacPherson travelled around the Highlands, indulging his passion in the culture.

On his return he claimed to have found, in whole, a previously unknown manuscript – the epic poem telling the story of Fingal, a third century Scottish king, written by ‘Ossian’, son of Fingal. MacPherson translated this great work from the Gaelic it was written in, and the first version of his work was published in 1762.

Ossian's Cave, Glencoe
© SCRAN
At that time, the public shared the translator’s love of Scottish culture, and these tales became a massive success. They went on to be translated into several further languages, and Napoleon himself was said to carry a copy of the tale of primitive warriors with him. Even places named after the heroes became tourist attractions – Fingal’s Cave in Staffa, and Ossian’s Cave in Glencoe.


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