Peer-Reviewed Journal Details
Mandatory Fields
Yose, Joseph; Kenna, Ralph; MacCarron, Pádraig; Platini, Thierry; Tonra, Justin
Journal of Thomas Jeffersons Life and Times
‘The greatest Poet that has [n]ever existed’: A Narrative Networks Analysis of the Poems of Ossian
In Press
Optional Fields
ossian poetry james macpherson thomas jefferson networks social networks forgery controversy epic fenian appropriation
“The greatest Poet that has ever existed” was Thomas Jefferson’s description of Ossian - a third-century “rude bard of the North” whose works James Macpherson claimed to have translated over two hundred and fifty years ago. Scotland’s epic poems of Ossian instigated one of the most famous literary controversies of all time. Met with immediate international acclaim, they were compared with the works of Homer, and their influence on the emergent Romantic period in literature and the arts was profound. However, some scholars doubted the authenticity of the Ossianic poems and argued that they were constructed from material misappropriated from Irish mythological sources. After outlining the origins of the poems, we discuss Jefferson’s longstanding interests in them and their purported author. We then report on a complex network analysis to compare them to works of Homer and the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology. Our statistical analysis shows that the networks approach belies Macpherson’s attempts to position Ossian alongside the Classics and to distance it from Irish sources. We contextualize how this application of new methods in statistical physics to old questions in the humanities sits with longstanding and recent interests in interdisciplinary research and we suggest future themes inspired by Jefferson’s interests.
Grant Details
Publication Themes
Humanities in Context, Informatics, Physical and Computational Sciences