Friday, October 23, 2020

Ossian, and his ancient Gaelic redheads

As I noted in the last post I've been looking into the works of Ossian. Albeit somewhat superficially. Ossian is the supposed author of a cycle of epic poems, originally composed in Scottish Gaelic, but translated and published in English by James Macpherson in the 18th century. The general view is that the true author was in fact Macpherson himself, and that he either forged the poems outright, or stitched them together from genuine traditions and texts.

Though less well known now the works of Ossian were hugely influential following their publication, and inspired many of the famous writers and artists in the decades that followed. Even people such as Napoleon and Thomas Jefferson were big fans (perhaps due in part to the fact that they themselves were redheads, and the allure of flame-haired ancient battles and romance appealed to them??).

The works also hugely impacted the cultural landscape in regard Scottish and Gaelic history. Influencing among others Sir Walter Scott.

I found the following little references to red hair in a publication titled The Poems of Ossian: In the Original Gaelic, Volume 2. (1870). Fortunately it also provides the English versions too :)

"Thou head of bards," said Ca-mor;
"Fonnar, call the chiefs of Erin:
Call Connar of the dark-red hair;
Call Malhos of the fiercest brow;

That third line reads as "Gairm Cormar a's dearg-ruadh ciabh" in Scots Gaelic. "Dearg-ruadh" meaning reddish-brown if I'm reading it correctly.

All these poetic lines will no doubt sound a little odd removed from their wider context, but as I haven't read the entire things myself yet (they're quite long and samey, very Homeric) I can't really provide much help. So we'll have to make do and just note these little passages down for now.

Next one >>

"The sounding steps of his warriors came: they drew at once their swords. There Morlath stood with darkened face. Hidalla's long hair sighs in the wind. Red-haired Cormar bends on his spear, and rolls his sidelong-looking eyes."

Then we have this.

"Crathin came to the hall, the son of old Gelláma! 'I behold,' he said, 'a cloud in the desert, king of Erin! a cloud it seemed at first, but now a crowd of men! One strides before them in his strength. His red hair flies in wind. His shield glitters to the beam of the east. His spear is in his hand.'

Next up this. (It really is very Homeric in style isn't it. It's like reading the Iliad. Probably a good giveaway that the poems are indeed forged).

"Cairbar shrinks before Oscar's sword! He creeps in darkness behind a stone. He lifts the spear in secret: he pierces my Oscar's side! He falls forward on his shield; his knee sustains the chief. But still his spear is in his hand. See, gloomy Cairbar falls! The steel pierced his forehead and divided his red hair behind. He lay like a shattered rock which Cromla shakes from its shaggy side, when the green-valleyed Erin shakes its mountains from sea to sea."

Now a nice little short one thankfully.

"He has come with thousands of his host
To the help of Cairbar of red hair -
Now to avenge his death,
King of Morven of lofty trees."

Plus another few lines that note the character Cairbar's red hair.

"Peerless Ca-mor, friend of strangers,
Brother to red-haired Cairbar..

And finally a mention of a "red-haired Olla".

"Red-haired Olla came with song;
Straightway went Oscar to the feast,
Three hundred strode beside him
Over Lena of the full blue streams;
His grey dogs bounded on the heath"

No doubt there'll be other references to hair colour dotted about in other Ossian poems. I'll keep an eye out going forward. Hopefully by that time I'll be a little more familiar with the subject, and I'll be able to provide a bit more context. Perhaps I'm doing these red-haired heroes a distinct disservice by sharing their names and features with so little knowledge or reverence.

Cormar, Cairbar, Olla ..who the hell are these people?!

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