Abstract

The poems of Ossian, as presented to the world of the 18th century by James Macpherson, had an enormous influence on the course of Romanticism and the growth of folkloristics through key figures such as Johann Gottfried Herder. Controversy still surrounds the compilation of the poems because of Macpherson’s free use of source material. The question of "authenticity" was the original reason for attacks on Macpherson and his methods, but in the present context of concern for the nature and study of folklore, this issue seems less important than Macpherson’s own complex personality and motives, which involve not only his shifting identity but also his attitude toward his sources and his English-language audience, and shed light, as well, on the process of "recomposition" and on the difficulty of "translating" cultural meanings.

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