Wha's like us

O — Ossian

Ossian illustration

Illustration from a volume of 'Ossian' (1799) owned by Napoleon Bonaparte.


The Romantic movement in Europe owes a lot to Scots poet James Macpherson (1730-1700) whose Ossian poems were the favoured reading of the French Emperor Napoleon.

From 1780, Macpherson published 'translations' of a Gaelic language epic by a 'blind' warrior bard, Ossian. The results were highly successful, but soon controversial.

Critics suggested Macpherson's poems were forgeries. Europe meanwhile recognised Ossian as a sensation, thrilling to the Celtic world of heroes, heroines, and wild landscapes.

Great writers, artists and musicians were inspired. Parents named children after Macpherson characters. Fingal's Cave on Staffa is named after Ossian's dad.

Napoleon's volumes of Ossian poems from the Imperial shelves at Fountainbleau now grace the shelves of the National Library of Scotland.


An ABC of Scotland

Ossian was just one of the 'O' topics in our alphabetical exhibition celebrating some of the outstanding achievements by Scotland and Scots.

'Wha's like us?' ran from 13 December 2013 to 18 May 2014.

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