The Battle of Lora: Ossian in Russian

We recently acquired a Russian version of “The Battle of Lora”, one of James MacPherson’s Ossianic poems. It was published exactly 200 years ago, in 1813, at the Navy Press in St Petersburg.

MacPherson published his Fingal, and ancient poem in 1762 (Oss.4). The Battle of Lora is one of the epic poems in this collection. A first translation of Fingal into Russian, based mainly on the 1765 French translation by Letourneur, appeared in 1792. It stimulated a huge interest in folk poetry in Russia, and even Pushkin wrote a verse translation of it. In 1813, the editor and translator Valerian Nikolaevich Olin (1788-c. 1840) published this free translation into Russian verse, and followed this in 1823 and 1824 with another two verse adaptations. Olin defended the authenticity of Ossian: he believed that Ossianic poetry was the northern European equivalent of Classical Greek and Roman poetry.

The book was formerly in the Russian Imperial Library at Tsarskoye Selo, a country estate to the south of St Petersburg which was owned by the Russian royal family. It served as a summer residence of the tsars and a place for official receptions. After the October Revolution of 1917, the contens of the Imperial Library were dispersed.

Find out more about James MacPherson in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections).