Religious, historical, mythological, literary, films #
An allusion is a figure of speech that makes a concise reference to a place, person, or something that happened. This can be real or imaginary and may refer to anything, including paintings, opera, folk lore, mythical figures, or religious manuscripts. The reference can be direct or may be inferred, and can quickly broaden the reader’s understanding.
Allusions are references employed to generalise or universalise experiences and situations relating the particular to the general or the microcosm to the macrocosm. Goethe called it “schwankende Gestalten” - ghosts of culture or tradition that haunt readers across the generations. ‘Twas always thus, and always thus will be’. Schulman - Dead Poet’s Society
Understanding Allusions #
Because allusions make reference to something other than what is directly being discussed, you may miss an allusion or fail to understand it if you do not know the underlying biblical story, literary tale or other reference point.
Allusions allow the writer to give an example or get a point across without going into a lengthy discourse. Allusions are contingent on the reader knowing about the story or event that is referenced.
Fortunately, today it is easy to look these things up so when someone references something you do not understand, you can easily turn to the Internet to learn enough to grasp the allusion for yourself.
There are several ways that an allusion can help a writer:
- Allusions engage the reader and will often help the reader remember the message or theme of the passage.
- Allusions allow the writer to give an example or get a point across without going into a lengthy discourse.
- Allusions are contingent on the reader knowing about the story or event that is referenced.
- Allusions can be pretentious - to show off.
According to Justice Robert French:
Allusion(s), marginally relevant but of sound aesthetic provenance, lightly inserted but suggesting vast allusive reserves, certainly enhances the texture of judicial prose, and may even contribute in useful ways to sustaining a learned and authoritative judicial tone.
Literary Allusions #
Here are some examples that allude to people or events in literature:
“I was surprised his nose was not growing like Pinocchio’s.”
“When she lost her job, she acted like a Scrooge, and refused to buy anything that wasn’t necessary.”
Scrooge was an extremely stingy character from Charles Dickens’, A Christmas Carol.
“He was a real Romeo with the ladies.”
Romeo was a character in Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, and was very romantic in expressing his love for Juliet.
*“Chocolate was her Achilles’ heel.”
- a character in Greek mythology who was invincible. His mother dipped him in magical water - river Styx when he was a baby, and she held him by the heel. The magic protected him all over, except for his heel.
Tennysonianexhortation from the same poem,
“To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.”
“We are part of all that we have met/read”
– Tennyson’s country of the lotus-eaters where it was always afternoon.
Cher’s verdict of Amber, in the 1995 teen movie Clueless She’s a Monet
(she was talking about sex appeal, not judgments):
“It’s like a painting, see? From far away, it’s okay, but up close, it’s a big old mess.”
Mr Bumble on the law:
If the law supposes that, the law is an ass — an idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law’s a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience — by experience.
Ozymandian arrogance: together with its
“sneer of cold command”,
“look on my works, ye mighty and despair,” while nothing remains –
“Told by an idiot, Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.
We will be like Edward Casaubon in Middlemarch, doggedly pursuing his great opus, The Key to All Mythologies, and the pursuit will be as fruitless as it was for George Eliot’s pedantic, obsessive, joyless clergyman.
Biblical Allusions #
“He was a Good Samaritan yesterday when he helped the lady start her car.”
“She turned the other cheek after she was cheated out of a promotion.”
“This place is like a Garden of Eden.”
“You are a Solomon when it comes to making decisions.”
“When the volcano erupted, the nearby forest was swallowed up in dust and ash like Jonah.”
Nostradamus, - Medieval forecaster
Faustian - sacrificing spiritual values for power, knowledge, or material gain: a Faustian pact with the Devil; relating to, or characteristic of Faust: a Faustian novel. He became dissatisfied with his life and with the limits of human knowledge and therefore sold his soul to the Devil for limitless knowledge and pleasure for a limited time—the Faustian bargain.
learned Allusions #
“A man for all seasons." “Happy [families| political parties, |x] are all alike; every unhappy [x] is unhappy in its own way.” “Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated." “The unbearable [x]ness of y."
Trimalchio is a character in the 1st century AD Roman work of fiction Satyricon by Petronius. Trimalchio is a freedman who through hard work and perseverance has attained power and wealth. Trimalchio is known for throwing lavish dinner parties, where his numerous servants bring course after course of exotic delicacies, such as live birds sewn up inside a pig, live birds inside fake eggs which the guests have to ‘collect’ themselves and a dish to represent every sign of the zodiac.
• There is a single mention of Trimalchio in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby as his showy parties and background parallels that of Gatsby: Chapter Seven begins:
“It was when curiosity about Gatsby was at its highest that the lights in his house failed to go on one Saturday night - and, as obscurely as it began, his career as Trimalchio was over."
Ancient Philosophies #
Much of yesterday’s wisdom still applies today.
Book 5 of Thucydides history describes how the ambassadors of the powerful city state of Athens rebuffed the leaders of the island of Melos, who wished to remain neutral in the conflict engulfing the ancient Hellenic world.
The ambassadors told the Melians that:
“justice is to be found only as between equals in power. As for the rest, the strong do as they will and the weak suffer as they must”.
The enlightened rule of law,” “seeks to ensure that that is not so, that might is not right."
Its appropriate philosopher was not Descartes but Darwin; not “I think, therefore I am,” but the “survival of the fittest.”
the French have a saying; “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”
It is generally recognised that the first casualty in war is truth. (Aeschylus)
It is better to deserve and not have honours than to have them and not deserve them. Twain
Irresistible allure of the young; youth is wasted on the young:
As one of Chico Marx’s characters once said:
“Who ya gonna believe – me or your own eyes?"
Twas ever thus in the affairs of human beings and ever will it be.
The Sisyphean arguments, laboriously pushed uphill, collapse under the weight of inadequate information, fanciful assumptions, imaginary premises, selective cherry-picking of evidence, misconstrued analysis, contradictory, incoherent arguments, overstretched logic leading to clueless conclusions.
Sisyphus, the king of Thebes managed to escape death by cunning and trickery, offending Zeus.
To clean the Augean stables, you’re not done with only cleaning one stall; you need to complete the job properly, but don’t sweep it into the river and outrage the environmentalists.
“I thought the software would be useful, but it was a Trojan Horse.”
This refers to the horse that the Greeks built that contained all the soldiers. It was given as a gift to the enemy during the Trojan War and, once inside the enemy’s walls, the soldiers broke out. By using trickery, the Greeks won the war.
Emma Thompson, described what I was doing as Promethean – tearing my liver out every night. She didn’t tell me to stop; she said: ‘You’ve got to keep doing it.’ I think that gave me permission to take more care of myself.
Gordian knot - commonly used to describe a complex or unsolvable problem, can be traced back to a legendary chapter in the life of ** lexander the Great.** As the story goes, in 333 B.C. the Macedonian conqueror marched his army into the Phrygian capital of Gordium in modern day Turkey. Gordius, the father of the celebrated King Midas. An oracle had declared that any man who could unravel its elaborate knots was destined to become ruler of all of Asia. According to the ancient chronicler Arrian, the impetuous Alexander instantly “seized with an ardent desire” to untie the Gordian knot. After wrestling with it for a time and finding no success, he stepped back from the mass of gnarled ropes and proclaimed, “It makes no difference how they are loosed.”
He then drew his sword and sliced the knot in half with a single stroke.In another version of the legend, he simply pulled out a lynchpin running through the yoke, loosening the knot enough that he was able to unfasten it.
Or is an adversary like the Judicial System simply too big a monster to slay? Just like the Lernaean Hydra of Greek mythology, if you ever did manage to cut off one of its heads, two more would grow back in its place. Is it an exercise in futility?
The cornerstone of our system of democracy is the separation of our system of justice from the legislative and executive arms of government. Yet all three are needed to guard the public from abuse of office by the other two.
Like the three nymphs of the Hesperides, given the task of guarding the Golden Apples, had to watch each other. Not trusting them, Hera also placed in the garden a never-sleeping, hundred-headed dragon named Ladon as an additional safeguard. So too, the three bodies of government have to keep an eye on each other to make sure each oneremains true to their calling. We the people have the onerous task of Ladon – vigilantly guarding our hard won freedoms.
Despite her vigilance, the Golden Apples were twice snaffled, once by Atlas for Hercules, and also by Discord, the goddess of strife, aka, Eris, the Greek goddess of mischief, to offer them to the fairest, igniting the Trojan War. Eris, (Eristic reasoning – Casuistry, Sophistry, Specious or Lawyer logic) is present i political debates, in court rooms and wherever people are talking, not to discover truth, but to win with whatever it takes.
Socrates considered the debate in such settings unedifying, pointless and unworthy—in a word, “eristic”.
Socrates’s alternative was “good” conversation or dialectic. To converse originally meant to turn towards one another, in order to find a common humanity and to move closer to the truth of something.
Hannah Arendt claims tyranny begins when people fail to listen.
Dialectic, in other words, is decidedly not about winning or losing, because all the conversants are ennobled by it.
Sophistry evolved into respectability through elevation in meaning – Amelioration.
Sophisticated has a fascinating etymology. About 800 years ago it had pejorative nuances; today it has elevated connotations. It likely came from the Greek word “sophistry” – specious or false arguments. It was associated with adulterate, perversion, falsify and debase.
By 1400 it suggested a mixture of foreign or inferior substances – unrefined. By Shakespeare’s time it had risen to not pure, simple or natural – affected, even deceitful.
By the eighteenth century it had been rehabilitated and today is associated with experienced, worldly wise, subtle, discriminating, exalted, complex, refined – almost an inversion.
Aphrodite(Venus) had an illicit affair with Ares (Mars), uniting the goddess of love and attraction, with the god of war and strife. These opposites balanced each other by producing a daughter, called Harmonia. Opposites attract; male and female, yang (masculine) and Ying (feminine) weak and strong, Dichotomies can be reconciled, balanced and equivalent.
Cornucopia an abundant, overflowing supply. Classical Mythology. a horn containing food, drink, etc., in endless supply, said to have been a horn of the goat Amalthaea.
Minerva - “a woman of great wisdom.” This word for a wise woman takes up the mantle of the Roman goddess of wisdom and the arts, Minerva, an analog to Athena of ancient Greece. Minerva is also the namesake of Minerva McGonagall, who became Headmistress of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter universe.
Lewis Carroll - Alice In Wonderland
It appears fabulists fall down a rabbit hole to that other Tea Party hosted by the Mad Hatter, where Humpty Dumpty patronisingly explains to Alice, a stubborn voice of reason, that the meaning of a word is simply determined by:
“who is to be master -, that is all” , following not Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am,” but Darwin’s* “survival of the fittest. Where might is right”
Later Alice also learns from the White Queen, that with more effort and practice in these post-ironical, post - modern and post cynical times, “we can all be expected to dutifully believe six impossible things before breakfast”.
According to Steph Harmon, of The Guardian, It’s pretty remarkable that Alice has stood the test of time, as a continually evolving hero, She’s such a strong reflection of young women everywhere. She’s as smart as she is curious as she is courageous, as she’s totally cheeky.
And there’s a kind of innocence in her as well that you see in your own kids. It demonstrates the strength and stubbornness of Alice.
“Hold your tongue!” said the Queen, turning purple.
“I won’t!” said Alice. “The more curious you are, the more you’ll find.”
However, as things become curiouser and curiouser, Alice yearns for “something to make sense around here” but finally concludes that “This is just a house of cards”.
The question remains, who are the jokers?
Auden: “All truths are derived from the ordinary, daily common lives of contemporary people”.
Allusions and Fairy tales #
Peter Pan** is a play for children: like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, it demands a suspension of adult skepticism and linear thinking, and plays upon the archetypal fears of being lost and orphaned. But if Oz is benign and forward-looking-full of the optimism of a new continent – Peter Pan is haunted and haunting: if, for Dorothy and the Darling children, there is no place like home, then for Peter there is no home.
Rip Van Winkle
Because while working in official positions - institutions, a disease of forgetfulness comes over you, so that you may forget that the people you work alongside exist outside the building, that outside is where the real business of living occurs, and that it is possible to wake up, Rip Van Winkle–style, 20 years in the future, wondering what happened.
‘holds her baby like a gypsy’
Liberal Party critics said of Kelly O’Dwyer that she quote ‘holds her baby like a gypsy’,”
They were commenting on Financial Services Minister Kelly O’Dwyer’s superannuation changes. For those who don’t get the reference, it means she throws her baby at you while stealing from your pocket. We are not sure those pushing to have O’Dwyer unseated have thought this public relations campaign through.
Paul Keating said commissioner Kenneth Hayne’s final report was “huff and puff” that had failed to deal with problems in the financial Super sector. “He [Hayne] huffed and puffed and blew no house in” .
Allusions in Sport #
Steven Bradbury -The Most Unexpected Gold Medal In History Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympics
As the Roman codger Juvenal who wrote of the people’s appetite for bread and circuses; the court prefers the cheap nourishment of legal theatrics, failing memories and entertaining fantasies, to real hard research for solid material and reliable evidence.
“…the arrogance of officialdom need to be tempered and controlled,….” Cicero, 55 BC
As Tacitus put it:
” misdeeds, once exposed, have no refuge but in audacity”.
Bismarckian would not be to overstate it, and the program has the same imperative as had Iron Otto’s: “to starve socialism of any chance to grow beyond a small heartland, and flourish in the centre”.
No choice - chuse whether you will have this horse or none.
an impossible choice
From the novel and film of the same name, an impossibly difficult choice, especially when forced onto someone. The choice is between two unbearable options, and it’s essentially a no-win situation.
“Sophie’s Choice” is centered on a scene in Auschwitz where Sophie has just arrived with her ten-year old son and her seven-year old daughter and a sadistic doctor, presumably Doctor Mengele, tells her that she can only bring one of her children; one will be allowed to live while the other is to be killed.
As a mother, Sophie adores both of her children and can’t make this agonizing choice… until several soldiers force her and she hastily gives her daughter to them, sobbing as they take her little girl away.
Animal Allusions #
I’m a goose. If I do the crime, I pay the time.
Looks calm and inactive; but all the paddling happens underwater.
If it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck, quacks like a duck, paddles like a duck, and flies like a duck, - it most probably is a duck.
Commissioning a skulk of foxes to investigate the presence of blood in a chicken coop is hardly likely to implicate one of their own.
A stalking horse for another’s agenda ;acting under directions.
gynandromorph, “an organism that contains both male and female characteristics.” - Lobsters Hermaphrodite
A cormorant is a type of water bird. But, thanks to its perceived voraciousness, the cormorant can represent gluttony and greed in literature, figured as Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost and maligned in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost.
On March 16, 2009, the date when President Obama expressed outrage at the insurance company AIG giving bonuses to its top executives from taxpayer bailout money, and said he would do everything in his power to stop it.
“This is a corporation that finds itself in financial distress due to recklessness and greed,” .
Politicians are like a ‘post turtle - a fence post with a turtle balanced on top.
You know he didn’t get up there by himself. He doesn’t belong there; you wonder what dumb ass put him there; he can’t get anything done while he’s up there; and you just want to help the poor, dumb thing down.’
A favorite self deprecation of both Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama’s.