The clothing of socio-political concerns in a mythic narrative, or any narrative for that matter, is hardly the sole habit of the Enlightenment. Even Macpherson himself, in the dissertation with which he introduces the 1762 publication of Fingal, writes: ‘This is the true source of that divine inspiration, to which the poets of all ages pretended. When they found their themes inadequate to the warmth of their imaginations, they varnished them over with fables, supplied by their own fancy, or furnished by absurd traditions’ (xi). Whether Macpherson is subtly identifying Ossian’s own heroic tales as fables or accidentally giving us a hint towards his own manipulation of the epics might be too presumptuous to assume. Regardless of the specific applicability of the statement, the assertion remains – fables, myths, and all tales of more imaginative than realistic content serve the purpose of embodying those ideals which in plain clothing would be difficult to recognize and lessened in their moral effect.
These are only some of the concerns that went into the composition – translation or manipulation – of the Ossian epics. Their source was a thematic concern, not a narrative interest, and the product of these issues clearly reflects such original emphases. It would be doing both Macpherson and his writing an injustice to claim that these were the only interests driving the epics. That national concerns and curiosity as to the nature of social humanity found their form in an interest in ancient poetry may say as much about the poetry itself as the more social motivations. In an age of passion towards anything ancient, it is only natural that national and philosophical motivations would find themselves embodied in a wider intrigue. Unwritten history, fragments, unburied artefacts, vestiges of things forgotten – the romance of the past provided a popular vehicle for the exploration of these more academic and political concerns.