This picture of Scotland as poor and remote, the last outpost before the vast emptiness of the ocean, has stuck very hard. It goes back to Tacitus who wrote of Caledonia, ‘when you go farther north you find a huge and shapeless tract of country, jutting out towards the land’s end and finally tapering into a kind of wedge’,2 the final limit of the voyage of Agricola’s fleet. He added a vivid description of the strength and sluggishness of the ocean and, by implication, of its danger. It was an image which the Scots could cultivate when it suited them, and which fitted well with the fierce nationalism which we see in so much of Scottish literature in the two centuries after the Wars of Independence.
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