The Celtic heroic saga in the British islands may be divided into the two principal groups of Gaelic (Irish) and Brython (Welsh), the first, excluding the purely mythological, into the Ultonian (connected with Ulster) and the Ossianic. The Ultonianis grouped round the names of King Conchobar and the heroCuchulainn, " the Irish Achilles," the defender of Ulster against all Ireland, regarded by some as a solar hero.
The second cycle contains the epics of Finn (Fionn, Fingal) mac Cumhail, and his son Oisin (Ossian), the bard and warrior, chiefly known from the supposed Ossianic poems of Macpherson.
At the age of ten he composed a tragedy under the inspiration of Caesarotti's translation of the Ossianic poems. On the marriage of his twin sister Rosina with a maternal cousin at Lyons he went to reside in that city, devoting himself during four years to the study of French literature.
Numerous parallels exist between the Arthurian and early Irish heroic cycles, notably the Fenian or Ossianic. This Fenian cycle is very closely connected with the Tuatha de Danaan, the Celtic deities of vegetation and increase; recent research has shown that two notable features of the Arthurian story, the Round Table and the Grail, can be most reasonably accounted for as survivals of this Nature worship, and were probably parts of the legend from the first.
JAMES MACPHERSON (1736-1796), Scottish " translator " of the Ossianic poems, was born at Ruthven in the parish of Kingussie, Inverness, on the 27th of October 1736.
After Macpherson's death, Malcolm Laing, in an appendix to his History of Scotland (1800), propounded the extreme view that the so-called Ossianic poems were altogether modern in origin, and that Macpherson's authorities were practically non-existent.
The antiquity of the Ossianic poems was defended in the introduction by Archibald Clerk to his edition of the Poems of Ossian (1870).
Materials for arriving at a decision by comparison with undoubtedly genuine fragments of the Ossianic legend are available in The Book of the Dean of Lismore, Gaelic verses, collected by J.
Sinclair, A Dissertation on the Authenticity of the Poems of Ossian (1806); Transactions of the Ossianic Society (Dublin, 1854-1861); Cours de litterature celtique, by Arbois de Jubainville, editor of the Revue celtique (1883, &c.); A.
Nutt, Ossian and the Ossianic Literature (1899), with a valuable bibliographical appendix; J.
So far as Arthur himself is concerned these parallels are with the Fenian, or Ossianic, cycle, in the case of Gawain with the Ultonian.