epic note—the warrior’s rage and
the warrior’s generosity, dire cruelty yet infinite
tenderness, wild lust yet also true love, a world of
magic supernaturalism, but an exact copy of things
as they were in that far-off age. The barbarism
of the time is in these old tales—deeds
which make one shiver, customs regarding the relations
of the sexes now found only among savages, social
and domestic arrangements which are somewhat lurid
and disgusting. And yet, withal, the note of bravery,
of passion, of authentic life is there; we are held
in the grip of genuine manhood and womanhood.
MacPherson gives a picture of the Ossianic age as
he conceived it, an age of Celtic history that “never
was on sea or land.” Even his ghosts are
un-Celtic, misty and unsubstantial phantasms, unlike
the embodied revenants
of the saga which are
in agreement with the Celtic belief that the soul
assumed a body in the other world. MacPherson
makes Fionn invariably successful, but in the saga
tales he is often defeated. He mingles the Cuchulainn
and Ossianic cycles, but these, save in a few casual
instances, are quite distinct in the old literature.
Yet had not his poem been so great as it is, though
so un-Celtic, it could not have influenced all European
literature. But those who care for genuine Celtic
literature, the product of a people who loved nature,
romance, doughty deeds, the beauty of the world, the
music of the sea and the birds, the mountains, valour
in men, beauty in women, will find all these in the
saga, whether in its literary or its popular forms.
And through it all sounds the undertone of Celtic pathos
and melancholy, the distant echo
“Of old unhappy, far-off things
And battles long ago.”
 See Joyce, OCR 447.
 Montelius, Les Temps Prehistoriques,
57, 151; Reinach, RC xxi. 8.
 The popular versions of this early part of the
saga differ much in detail, but follow the main outlines
in much the same way. See Curtin, HTI
204; Campbell, LF 33 f.; WHT iii. 348.
 In a widespread group of tales supernatural
knowledge is obtained by eating part of some animal,
usually a certain snake. In many of these tales
the food is eaten by another person than he who obtained
it, as in the case of Fionn. Cf. the Welsh story
of Gwion, p. 116, and the Scandinavian of Sigurd,
and other parallels in Miss Cox, Cinderella,
496; Frazer, Arch. Rev. i. 172 f.
The story is thus a folk-tale formula applied to Fionn,
doubtless because it harmonised with Celtic or pre-Celtic
totemistic ideas. But it is based on ancient ideas
regarding the supernatural knowledge possessed by
reptiles or fish, and among American Indians, Maoris,
Solomon Islanders, and others there are figured representations
of a man holding such an animal, its tongue being
attached to his tongue. He is a shaman,
and American Indians believe that his inspiration
comes from the tongue of a mysterious river otter,
caught by him. See Dall, Bureau of Ethnol.
3rd report; and Miss Buckland, Jour. Anth.
Inst. xxii. 29.