Network Science and Epic Poems

Abstract from our last paper A Networks-Science Investigation into the Epic Poems of Ossian
by Joseph Yose, Ralph Kenna, Pádraig MacCarron, Thierry Platini, Justin Tonr

In 1760 James Macpherson published the first volume of a series of epic poems which he claimed to have translated into English from ancient Scottish-Gaelic sources. The poems, which purported to have been composed by a third-century bard named Ossian, quickly achieved wide international acclaim. They invited comparisons with major works of the epic tradition, including Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, and effected a profound influence on the emergent Romantic period in literature and the arts. However, the work also provoked one of the most famous literary controversies of all time, colouring the reception of the poetry to this day. The authenticity of the poems was questioned by some scholars, while others protested that they misappropriated material from Irish mythological sources. Recent years have seen a growing critical interest in Ossian, initiated by revisionist and counter-revisionist scholarship and by the two-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of the first collected edition of the poems in 1765. Here we investigate Ossian from a networks-science point of view. We compare the connectivity structures underlying the societies described in the Ossianic narratives with those of ancient Greek and Irish sources. Despite attempts, from the outset, to position Ossian alongside the Homeric epics and to distance it from Irish sources, our results indicate significant network-structural differences between Macpherson’s text and those of Homer. They also show a strong similarity between Ossianic networks and those of the narratives known as Acallam na Senorach (Colloquy of the Ancients) from the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology.

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