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Title Ewen MacLachlan’s Gaelic Verse Comprising a Translation of Homer’s Iliad Books I-VIII and Original Compositions
Author MacLachlan, Ewen
Editor MacDonald, John
Date Of Edition 1937
Date Of Language 1800-1849
Publisher Printed for the University of Aberdeen by R. Carruthers & Sons
Place Published Inverness
Volume N/A
Location National, academic, and local (Highland) libraries
Geographical Origins Lochaber
Register Literature, Verse
Alternative Author Name MacLachuinn, Eobhon
Manuscript Or Edition Ed.
Size And Condition 25.2cm x 17.5cm
Short Title MacLachlan's Gaelic Verse
Reference Details EUL: .891631MacL
Number Of Pages xv, 262
Gaelic Text By N/A
Illustrator N/A
Social Context Ewen MacLachlan was born in 1773 at Torracalltuin in Nether Lochaber, on the south side of Loch Linnhe. Ewen was the fifth of nine children. His father was a weaver. As a youth, MacLachlan was educated in the parish school and fared so well that he left school early to take up a post as a private tutor in the area. He continued studying and eventually enrolled at King’s College, Aberdeen, in 1796, at the age of 23.

MacLachlan graduated with an Arts degree in 1800, and proceeded to study Divinity from 1800 to 1809. Although he completed his course, he never became a licensed minister. From 1800 to 1818, MacLachlan taught as a substitute parish schoolmaster in Old Machar, in Old Aberdeen. He was also the Librarian of King’s College. In 1818, he became the parish schoolmaster, and in 1821, he was appointed by the parish Session to teach a grammar school in the area. At one point, MacLachlan applied for the Classical Mastership in Inverness Royal Academy, but he was unsuccessful. As well as being a student and scholar of the classical languages, it appears that MacLachlan had some knowledge of modern Italian also.

MacLachlan was devoted to Gaelic scholarship. While still a student, he helped the Lochaber bard, Allan MacDougall (Ailean Dall), prepare a collection of poetry for publication, and some of MacLachlan’s own compositions were included in this. The collection was published in Edinburgh in 1798, and it contained two of MacLachlan’s translations from the Iliad, and eleven of his own compositions. Over the years, MacLachlan continued translating Homer’s masterpiece. In all, he translated the whole of the first seven books, and part of the eighth book. MacLachlan’s translations are not literal, although they remain close to the narrative. John MacDonald, in the introduction to this volume, gives the following estimate: ‘MacLachlan was a student of the Gaelic Bible, and the influence of its vocabulary is clear in the language of his verse, which is noble, and maintains the level at which it is set; the narrative moves rapidly, and despite the difference between the metre employed and the hexametres of the original, it attains power and energy. One could select Book vi. as a strikingly successful rendering’ (pp. xii-xiii).

MacLachlan also composed poetry in Gaelic, Latin, and English. In addition to those Gaelic verses published in Ailean Dall’s 1798 edition, MacLachlan published two collections of his own poetry: Attempts in Verse in 1807, and Metrical Effusions, on a Variety of Subjects in 1816, which contained three Gaelic poems. MacLachlan’s Gaelic verse became well known in Gaelic speaking areas, and remained so down to the twentieth century. In the judgement of the editor of this volume, ‘It may justly be said that to a great extent MacLachlan imitated his predecessors; they were his models in subject, form and metre, but at the same time he added something of his own. The Gaelic poets of the eighteenth century—whether taking their impulse from English or not—made the changes of the seasons and the aspects of nature their subjects’ (p. xiii).

Although MacLachlan borrows the metre, the subject matter, and the descriptive style of writing from his predecessors, his nature poems are focused on the Lochaber area where he grew up. Indeed, his poems to the seasons are described by his editor as ‘a descriptive calendar of the countryman’s lot there at that time. … Here and there a phrase may recall its original, or a measure the surer handling of it by one of his masters, and the apprentice to the art is sometimes detected, but there is enough that is original to account for the appeal of these poems, if only that they are in parts striking pictures of the cottar’s and fisherman’s day’ (p. xiv). Most of MacLachlan’s Gaelic poetry was produced early on in his lifetime, and it is possible that his devotion to Gaelic scholarship deflected him from his more creative endeavours. However, Marbhrann (pp. 245-58), on the death of Professor James Beattie, was written later in life: ‘It is, perhaps, his most finished poem, and it shows a firmer hand in composition and handling of the metre than his earlier poems’ (ibidem).

MacLachlan’s expertise in the field of Gaelic scholarship became well known. He was in the running for the mooted Chair of Celtic at Edinburgh University, but the project fell through. In 1811, MacLachlan was invited by the Highland Society of Scotland to examine the manuscripts at the centre of the ‘Ossianic controversy’. He completed his report in May 1812. MacLachlan also completed two transcriptions of the Book of the Dean of Lismore, one of which, entitled An t-Easpuig, is housed within the National Library of Scotland. These transcriptions have been seen as important by later scholars, not least because MacLachlan was able to decipher text that is no longer legible.

MacLachlan also began work on a Gaelic dictionary. When the Highland Society began work on their dictionary, MacLachlan was asked to work with them, and to place his own work at their disposal. He worked on this project until his death in 1822, at the age of 49.

For more information about the author, see the works cited below under Further Reading.
Contents This volume begins (p. iii) with the editor’s Preface. (In the 1980 reprint, this is itself preceded (p. i) by Foreword, contributed by Donald Macaulay.) There follows a table of Contents (p. v), and an Introduction (pp. vii-xv) to Ewen MacLachlan and his work.

The main body of the text is divided into two sections, as follows:

An t-Iliad aig Homer (pp. 1-206): This section contains MacLachlan’s translation of the first seven books and part of the eighth book of Homer’s Iliad. Prose synopses are provided for the first four books, and there is a short prose introduction to the eighth book. Lines are numbered consecutively within each book.

Dain (pp. 207-52): This section contains 15 of MacLachlan’s own compositions.

The Appendix (pp. 253-62) contains information on the MS and printed sources for MacLachlan’s work, on Language and Vocabulary; on Greek Proper Names; on Metre; and on Readings and Additions, in which are recorded ‘the more important variant readings from the text of extracts from the first four books printed in An Gaidheal, the Suim of the fifth book and lines 244-315 of Duan vii. from the same source’ (p. 258).
Sources It is stated in the Appendix (pp. 253-4) that ‘the text of this translation into Gaelic of Books i-vi with part of vii of the Iliad of Homer is taken from two MS. volumes in Ewen Maclachlan’s handwriting … Only a few changes have been made from [MS A] in spellings and diacritic marks, and no spelling that might be of interest is changed.’ Comparing this text with MacLachlan’s translations as printed in MacDougall’s 1798 edition, substantial orthographic differences can be seen. Despite the multiplicity of MS and printed versions of parts of MacLachlan’s translation of the Iliad, it is advisable to follow the editor of this volume in regarding ‘MS A’, dated 1816, as containing the author’s final preferred text. Nevertheless, the variant readings given in the Appendix should be checked for items of lexicographical interest; ideally, all his MSS should be re-checked for the same purpose. With regard to MacLachlan’s original poems, the eleven printed in 1798 should be checked and, if appropriate, quoted. The three which were first printed in MacLachlan’s Metrical Effusions should likewise be taken into account; the one which is omitted from the present volume needs to be treated as the primary source.
Language An t-Iliad aig Homer

The greater part of this volume is taken up by MacLachlan’s Gaelic translation of Books i-viii of the Iliad (pp. 1-206). In the section on Greek Proper Names in the Appendix (p. 256), the editor notes that ‘Greek proper names are given as they are written in the MS. by the author, i.e., sometimes a long vowel is marked, sometimes not’. Names are generally not translated into Gaelic, although some are given accents. Adjectives in -ach are frequently formed from Greek proper names, especially place-names. The Gods are sometimes referred to obliquely by their attributes; e.g. Zeus becomes Tì àrd nan speur (p. 178) and Dia nan stoirm (p. 204). Further examples of this treatment occur in the passages quoted in the following paragraphs.

These works contain a wealth of terms relating to Greek mythology, including terms relating to the Gods and their powers. At the beginning of Duan VIII, MacLachlan describes in the following words Zeus’s departure from Olympus after a meeting with the Gods: ‘’N sin, cheangail e ’charbad buan \ Ri cùrs-eich luatha nam bròg prais; \ ’S cas-bhuidh na muinngeannan òir \ Bh’ air druim nan steud bu bhòidhche dreach. \ Ann éideadh òr-dhealrach nan speur, \ Shuidh e ’n cathair cheutaich àigh, \ A’ soillseachadh mar ghréin an lò, \ ’S an t-slatag innealt’ òir na làimh!’ (p. 205).

The text also contains a number of prayers and appeals to the Gods and Goddesses. For example, Duan I contains the following prayer to Apollo: ‘’Àird-rìgh a’ bhogh’ airgid! Éisd, \ ’G an rùn Cilla ’s ceutach bàrr, \ Tenedos do d’ neart gu’n géill, \ ’S Chrisa ’g éibhneas fo d’ chaoin-bhlàths! \ Riamh ma chroch mi ’d theampull àigh \ Lus-chrùin ùr a b’ àillidh dealbh; \ Riamh ma chnàmh air t’altair ghrinn \ Sléisnean ìghmhor bhoc is tharbh; \ Éisd rium, ’Apollo nam buadh! \ Air m’ an-shocair chruaidh dean fòir; \ Taosg do shaighdean calgach geur, \ ’S dìoghail air a’ Ghréig mo dheòir’ (pp. 4-5). In Duan VI, the following prayer is offered to Athena: ‘A bhan-dia bhuadhach nam blàr! \ Dìomad millteach pill ’na dheann, \ Brisd a lann, ’s dèan lag a làmh! \ Tilg e marbh an smùr an lòin \ Thall ud faisg do’n chòmhluidh chruim, \ ’S ìobrar dhut dà chalpach dhéug \ Nach d’imir riamh feum fo chuing, \ Ìobrar, mu dhiongas tu fòir \ Oirne tha ’n diugh ’sa’ chàs chruaidh!’ (p. 180).

This text also contains many descriptions of battles and fighting. For example, Duan VI begins: ‘Air triall do fhlaithean nan speur, \ Chog gu geur a’ Ghréig ’s an Tròidh, \ Fad gach ceàrnaidh do’n chian-bhlàr, \ Bu dian àr is ruag is tòir. \ Sleaghan cròchdach nan gorm-bhàrr \ ’Gam frasadh le spàirn nan sonn \ Eadar Simois nam bruach àrd \ ’S Xanthus àigh is gàireach tonn. \\ Aiax Telamon bh’ air thùs, \ Dìon a dhùthch’ an dlùths nan creuchd; \ Bhrisd e ’m feachd Tròidheach le ’chruaidh, \ ’S dhealraich a’ bhuaidh nuadh mu’n Ghréig; \ Bhuail e ’n t-Acamas mór àrd, \ Craobh-chòmhraig nan Tràchdach bras, \ Fo’n ghaoisid chleideagaich mhìn \ ’Sa’ bhiorraid bu lìomhaidh snas. \ Le bruanadh sgreataidh romh’n chnàimh, \ ’Steach ’na bhathais shnàmh an ruinn; \ Dh’iadh mu shùilibh dall-cheò bàis, \ ’S thuit e marbh air làr an fhuinn’ (p. 166).

Also of interest is the catalogue of ships in Duan II, which includes the following typical passage: ‘Luaidheam a nis co lìon feachd \ Argois nam Pelasgach garbh, \ Alos, Phthia, Hellas ghaoil \ Nan rìbhinn is caoine dealbh. \ Alope ’s Tréchin nan stùchd \ Tìr dhùthchais nan laoch gun mheang, \ Myrmidich, Hellenich gharg, \ ’S clann Achaia b’ ainm do’n dream, \ Sheòl iad uil’ air chaogad long, \ Aichioll nan euchd air an ceann’ (pp. 63-64). This section is full of descriptive touches, corresponding to the formulaic epithets which abound in the original.


The second main section in this volume consists of fifteen of MacLachlan’s own compositions (pp. 207-52).

As mentioned above, MacLachlan’s four poems to the seasons, An Samhradh (pp. 207-10), Am Foghar (pp. 211-15), An Geamhradh (pp. 216-20), and An t-Earrach (pp. 221-26), are reminiscent of the works of those other eighteenth century poets who wrote on similar subjects. Like them, MacLachlan’s poems are richly descriptive; but they are also very personal, and it is clear that they draw on his own experiences. An t-Earrach contains the following lines: ‘’Nuair a thogas Phoebus àigh, \ Mach gu h-àird nan nial a cheann, \ O sheòmar dealrach a’ chuain \ Ag òradh air chruach nam beann; \ Brùchdaidh as gach ceàrn an tuath, \ ’Stigh cha’n fhuirich luath no mall, \ Inntrigidh air gnìomh nam buadh, \ Buntàta ’s inneir! suas an crann!’ (p. 224). The language of Am Foghar is equally vivid: ‘Théid sgraing an acrais bhiasgaich dhinn, \ ’S a’ ghorta chrìon gum fuadaichear, \ Bu ghuineach, sgaiteach, bior-ghuinneach, \ Geur-ghointe ’roinn-ghob nuarranta; \ ’S e dheòghladh sùgh nan caolan uait, \ ’Chur greann an aoig mu ’n ghruaim-mhalaidh; \ Gun d’théid an tarmusg diòghaltachd \ A ghreasad a nunn thair chuaintean uainn’ (p. 211).

MacLachlan composed a number of other nature poems, which also show the influence of earlier eighteenth century poets. He tips his hat to Mac Mhaighstir Alastair in Smeòrach Mhic-Lachainn (pp. 227-29) and also in Duan do dh’Oidhche na Bliadhn’ Ùire (pp. 232-36) which, like Moladh Moraig, contains sections styled Ùrlar, Siubhal and CrunluathPeathann (pp. 238-39) is another nature poem, while Dàn Mu Chonaltradh (pp. 239-40) harks back to a fictional time ’Nuair bha Gàidhlig aig na h-eòin (p. 239).

MacLachlan frequently refers to the sun as Phoebus in his nature poems, and Marbhrann, composed in honour of Prof. James Beattie (pp. 245-48), likewise shows reflections of MacLachlan’s classical learning, e.g. ‘’S balbh an labhraiche pongail, \ Bu tearc r’a fhaotainn a chompanach beòil; \ Am briathraibh snaidhte, sgèimh-dhealbhach, \ A chur na h-ealaidh no ’n t-seanchais air n-eòil. \ Ge b’e bàrd an dàin cheutaich, \ Mu chian-astar Aenèais o Thròidh; \ ’S fìrinn cheart nach bu diù leis, \ E féin thoirt mar ùghdair do sgeòil’ (p. 246).

There are two love songs, Ealaidh Ghaoil (p. 241) and E[i]lidh Chamaron (pp. 242-43). Also of interest are the poems Rann do’n Leisg (p. 237), and Am Messiah aig Mr Pope (pp. 249-52). Alexander Pope translated the Iliad into English in the early eighteenth century and his Messiah first appeared in The Spectator in 1712.
Orthography In addition to the remarks on language noted in Social Context above, the Introduction also contains the following statement: ‘There remain only a few short specimens of MacLachlan’s composition in Gaelic prose, but these are sufficient to show that he knew how to write idiomatic, clear Gaelic. It can be said, both of his verse and prose, that his language and idiom is very pure, with hardly a trace of English idiom, a fault that became increasingly common after his time’ (p. xv).

The introduction to the second edition of Ossian’s Poems, edited by MacLachlan and published in 1818, includes the following claim by MacLachlan: ‘Leanadh an so am modh scriobhaidh a chleachd an oll’ urramach, Iain Stiubhart, ministear Luis annsa Phiobul Ghaelach, a thaobh, le breth aonsgeulaich luchd foghluim, gur e so seol scriobhaidh a’s fearr a fhreagras do chomh-dheilbh na cánain’ (quoted in this volume, p. 254). The editor of the present volume notes that the influence of the Bible and the Ossianic poems ‘may account for some few “literary” forms which MacLachlan allowed in his poems’ (p. 254). The examples given include mairfidh, fhuaradar, and dh’ìobradh mid. With regard to dialect, the editor points out that ‘not much can be gathered from MacLachlan’s MSS. as to his dialect, but some of his spellings are interesting, e.g., greònach (v. 399 greadhnach), treodh (treabh, ii. 1081), snaoidh for snaidh (passim); feur-saoibh for -saidh. He always uses the forms ro, roi, etc., for the preposition “through,” not those in tr.’ (p. 255). It is also noteworthy that the plural ending -ibh is used in all cases, and not just in the dative case. More information on the language and linguistic forms adopted by MacLachlan can be found in the Language and Vocabulary section in the Appendix (pp. 254-56).

On the basis of his study of MacLachlan’s MSS, the editor concludes that MacLachlan himself was often inconsistent in his spelling. Sometimes his choice of a particular form is dictated by poetic considerations (e.g. the use of crìdh rather than cridhe and fàidhe rather than fàidh, to suit the metre of the poem). Some of these irregularities have been suppressed in the 1937 edition. The editor also points out that in MS. A (‘a fair copy written out by the author in the way in which he intended it to be printed’, p. 254), ‘MacLachlan uses the spiritus asper to mark aspiration of l m n and r, but as he puts his mark mechanically, just under those conditions where h is used for other consonants, it does not serve to indicate his pronunciation in any way. He does not mark consistently, and puts it in with consonant groups like sg, which do not aspirate’ (p. 255). The editor explains that he has removed this otiose h, as ‘it seemed that no useful purpose could be served by retaining it.’ (ibid.) Potentially of greater linguistic interest was the fact that MacLachlan frequently marked the presence of an epenthetic vowel with an apostrophe, e.g. imo’chrith and col’chan. As to lexis, the editor supplies (p. 256) a short list of words, used by MacLachlan, ‘which are not given in the dictionaries, or not given in his spelling’. These include fusgais, which we are told is a common term in East Inverness-shire for ‘strength’; ruth-bhalg, also meaning ‘strength, power’; and tunnta, ‘apparently “abundant”’.
Edition The first edition of the collected works of Ewen MacLachlan, 1937. (The 1980 edition reproduces the 1937 text unaltered, save for the addition of a new Foreword.) MacLachlan’s 1798 edition of Ailean Dall’s poems contained two of MacLachlan’s translations: ‘a version of part of Book iv. of the Iliad (not printed in the present [= 1937] edition) and of the beginning of Book viii’ (p. 253), along with 11 of MacLachlan’s own compositions. In addition to these, a version of Book iii of the Iliad was published in Patrick MacFarlane’s Co’-chruinneachadh de dh’Orain in 1813. No more of MacLachlan’s translations appeared in print during his lifetime. However, An Gaidheal (Vols. 1-6), published between 1871 and 1877, contains a number of MacLachlan’s translations. A selection of variant readings from these sources is given in the Appendix of the present volume (pp. 258-62).

MacLachlan’s orthography was variously revised, standardised and modernised in later editions, including the 1937 edition. Editors should check the readings of earlier printed versions where these exist. Ideally, the MS sources of MacLachlan’s poems (and especially those of ‘MS A’) should also be consulted, if accessible.
Other Sources
Further Reading See Anderson (1918), for a detailed bibliography of MacLachlan’s work.

Editions of MacLachlan’s Verse
MacDougall, Allan, Orain Ghaidhealacha; maille ri Co-chruinneachadh Òran is Dhàn le Ùghdarribh eile, 1798.
MacFarlane, Patrick, Co’-chruinneachadh de dh’Orain, 1813.
An Gaidheal, vols 1-6, 1871-1877.
MacLachlan MSS, if located. Possibly housed in the AK Bell Library (formerly the Sandeman Library) in Perth.

Further Information
Anderson, Peter John, Ewen Maclachlan, Librarian to University and King’s College, Aberdeen, 1800-1818, 1918. (Reprinted from the Aberdeen University Library Bulletin, No. 18.)
Black, Ronald ‘The Gaelic Academy’, Scottish Gaelic Studies 14, 1986, pp. 1-30.
MacKenzie, John (ed.), Sar-Obair nam Bard Gaelach, 1841, pp. 321-27.
Thomson, Derick S. (ed.), The Companion to Gaelic Scotland, 1994.
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