Thomas Percy’s anthology Five Pieces of Runic Poetry Translated from the Islandic Language (1763) has attracted significantly less critical commentary than his monumental Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765). Nonetheless, the two anthologies were conceived as part of the same national project. Percy offered his earlier anthology of Norse verse to a book market that saw increasing competition between national, ethnic and political identities. It is clear from the introduction to this work and letters Percy wrote that he conceived of Five Pieces as a direct response to the “translations” of Ossian. James Macpherson’s Fragments of Ancient Poetry (1760) was a publishing success and an intensely debated phenomenon, as well as a national milestone for Celtic Scotland. At a time before the discovery of Beowulf, Percy promoted the Norse poems of his collection as representative of what he believed Anglo-Saxon heroic verse to have been like. Five Pieces warrants attention for its partly emulative and partly antagonistic relationship to Macpherson’s Ossian project. Percy’s editorial choices, introduction, annotations, and not least the appendix of transcribed manuscript texts were responses, in various ways, to debates over Ossian. In particular, Percy’s emphasis on script-based and bibliographic culture presented a counter to the dubious status of Ossianic oral tradition.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 197-229
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.