Major Allusions in Literature

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Last updated: May 9, 2019
George Babbitt was the protagonist of the satirical novel Babbitt (1922) by Sinclair Lewis. Babbitt means a materialistic, complacent, and conformist businessman.

Brobdingnag is the land inhabited by giants in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726). The word describes anything that is gigantic in size or scale.

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Mr. Bumble is in Dickens’s Oliver Twist and is a minor official in the workhouse where Oliver is brought up.

Bumble is a cruel, fussy man with mighty ideas of his own importance. Bumbledom means officious arrogance and conceit of the petty dignitary.

(1) a person or thing that is undeservedly neglected or ignored, (2) used to describe a transformation from poverty of plainness to prosperity or glamour, (3) refer to an undervalued service that nobody will provide for, or(4) an instruction that must be followed precisely (late-night deadline).

Don Juan
was a legendary Spanish nobleman famous for his seductions. The term means a man with a reputation for seducing women.

Don Quixote
Don Quixote allusions pick up on various attributes of his character: his insanity, his idealism and his thinness.

He is a foolish, mistaken idealist or someone who naively believes that he can set the world to rights single-handedly. The character fights against illusory evils or fails to see things as they really are. To tilt at windmills is to attack imaginary or impossible targets. Quixotic means extremely idealistic, unrealistic and impractical.

Sir John Falstaff is the fat, witty, good-humored old knight in Shakespeare’s Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Falstaffian means something that resembles Falstaff, fat, jolly and debauched (a Falstaffian gusto for life.


Mary Shelley’s novel (1818) relates the exploits of Victor Frankenstein, a Genevan student who builds a grotesque manlike creature out of corpses and brings it to life. The creature is never named. The book ends with the monster destroying Victor and then goes away to end its own life. (EX. Does cloning entail Frankensteinian methods?)

Man is in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) and is the name given by Crusoe to the man he meets on his island after spending many years there alone following a shipwreck. The two become close friends and constant companions.

In Arthurian legend, he was the noblest knight of the Round Table, the son of Sir Lancelot and Elaine. His immaculate purity and virtue predestine him to succeed in the quest for the Holy Grail.

His name is a byword for chivalrous heroism, and the image of him riding up on his charger to rescue a maiden in distress is a common one. His name can also mean a person characterized by nobility, integrity, or courtesy.

Achilles’ Heel
A person’s only weak or vulnerable point (Achilles was one of the greatest Greek heroes of the Trojan War, son of mortal Peleus and sea-nymph Thetis. During his infancy, his mother dipped him in the waters of the river Styx, thus making his body invulnerable except for the heel by which she held him. This vulnerable spot would later prove fatal.)

In Greek mythology was a beautiful youth who was loved by both Aphrodite and Persephone.

He was killed by a wild boar, but Aphrodite begged Zeus to restore him to life. Zeus decreed that he should spend the winter months of each year in the underworld with Persephone and the summer months with Aphrodite. A man described an as *his name* usually has a handsome face and gorgeous body.

According to Greek mythology, Aeolus was a mortal who lived on the floating island of Aeolia.

He was a friend of the gods, and Zeus gave him control of the winds. He was later regarded as the god of the winds. He has given his name to the Aeolian harp that produces sounds when the wind passes through it. Aeolian music is thus music produced by the effect of the wind.

In Greek mythology was the son of Zeus and Leto and the twin brother of Artemis.

He was born on the island of Delos, the site of his most important cult festival. The other main shrine for the worship of Apollo was the oracle at Delphi where as a boy he had traveled and killed a huge snake called Python and taken control of the oracle there. He came to be associated with the sun and sometimes given the epithet Phoebus, the Bright One. Apollo later usurped Helios’ place as the god of the sun who drove the sun’s chariot across the sky each day. Music – his instrument was a seven-stringed lyre. Medicine – father of Aesculapius, god of medicine and healing – poetic inspiration, archery, prophecy, and pastoral life (he protected herdsmen). Apollo, representing order, reason, and self-discipline, is often contrasted with Dionysus, representing creativity, sensuality and lack of inhibition. In art, Apollo is represented as an ideal type of male beauty, for example in the famous statue the Apollo Belvedere, now in the Vatican.

Apollo had numerous affairs with nymphs, mortal women, and young men. Among his unsuccessful encounters were those with Daphne and Cassandra.

Greek mythology, Argus was a giant with 100 eyes, whom Hera made guardian of Io (transformed into a heifer by Zeus). Argus never slept with more than one pair of eyes at a time; she was able to watch Io constantly. After Hermes had killed Argus on behalf of Zeus, Hera took the eyes to deck the peacock’s tail. The term “argus-eyed” has come to mean vigilant or observant.

Athena Minerva
Also called Pallas Athene was the Greek goddess of wisdom, of war, and of handicrafts, especially spinning and weaving.

She corresponds to the Roman goddess Minerva. Athene is said to have sprung fully grown and fully armed from the brain of her father, Zeus. She is usually represented in sculpture and paintings in armor. The owl was associated with her. (patron goddess of Athens, personifies wisdom)

A legendary island, beautiful and prosperous, which was overwhelmed by the sea – Atlantis was a legendary island continent in the ocean west of the Pillars of Hercules. According to Plato, Atlantis was beautiful and prosperous and ruled part of Europe and Africa, but following volcanic eruptions, it was swallowed by the sea.

Goddess of the dawn

Is another name for the Greek god Dionysus, the son of Zeus and Semele.

Originally, a god of the fertility of nature, associated with wild and ecstatic religious rites, in later traditions he is a god of wine who loosens inhibitions and inspires creativity in music and poetry. Bacchanalia was the name given to the annual feast and celebrations in honor of the Greek god Dionysus. The celebrations were characterized by wild orgies and drunkenness.

Was one of the nine Muses in Greek mythology, associated with epic poetry – generally held to be the chief of the 9 Muses. She was the mother of Orpheus, by either Apollo or King Oeagrus.

In Greek mythology was a daughter of Priam, King of Troy.

Apollo loved her and gave her the gift of prophecy. When she resisted his advances, he turned the gift into a curse by ensuring that, although her prophecies were true, they would not be believed. she foretold the fall of Troy and the death of Agamemnon, fulfilled when his wife, Clytemnestra, murdered him. Her’ name can be used to describe anyone whose warnings go unheeded – one who is a prophet of doom.

In Greek mythology is one of a race of creatures who has the upper body, arms, and head of a man and the body and legs of a horse

In Greek mythology, a fire-breathing female monster with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail – any mythical animal formed from parts of various animals – a thing which is hoped for but is illusory or impossible to achieve(adjective = chimerical)

In Roman mythology Cupid was the god of love, corresponding to the Greek god Eros. He is the son of Venus and Mercury. He is often pictured as a beautiful naked boy with wings, carrying a bow and arrows, with which he wounds his victims and makes them fall in love.

Cupid fell in love with the beautiful Psyche – visiting her only at night and insisting that she not see what he looked like. When Psyche succumbed to curiosity and lit a lamp while he slept, a few drops of hot oil fell on him and woke him. He left her, and she wandered across the earth looking for him and accomplishing various tasks set for her by Venus. Eventually Psyche was reunited with Cupid and married him in heaven. He is known today as the cherubic but mischievous little boy.

Cupidity = excessive desire, esp. for wealth; avarice (from cupere to desire, Cupid derives from cupere, to desire)

Eros was god of love (Greek) see above – deals with sexual love and desire tending to arouse sexual desire; dominated by sexual love or desire

Can refer to drunkenness or to wild or drunken partying.

Alludes to the ultimate rebellious son.

Alpha and Omega
The beginning and end (used by Christians as a title for Jesus ) – the essence or most important features.

The first-born son of Adam and Eve, who murdered his younger brother Abel. Come to stand for the sign of a murderer.

Synonymous with courage of one who faces great danger alone without any material protection.

David and Bathsheba
You’ve got this. Man sleeps with another man’s wife and kills the man

Eye of the Needle
Lucre – money, especially when regarded as sordid or distasteful or gained in a dishonorable way

A person or thing of enormous size or strength

Good Samaritan
Person who is helpful and compassionate

Atilla the Hun
He and his army, noted for their savagery, were the terror of Europe during his lifetime, and later came to be called the Scourge of God.

Means out of control with anger of excitement; wild or frenzied

Means to remove material that is considered improper or offensive from a test or account, especially with the result that the text becomes weaker or less effective

Means to withdraw from commercial or social relations with a country, organization or person as a punishment or protest (refuse to buy or handle goods as a protest) (refuse to cooperate with or participate in a policy or event)

Was an Italian adventurer, spy, gambler, and librarian who, according to his Memoirs, engaged in a prodigious number of promiscuous love affairs.

Blind and absurd devotion to a fallen leader or an obsolete cause. Exaggerated and unreasoning partisanship to any group or cause. A person with a prejudiced belief in the superiority of his or her own kind.

Gallows or a framework

A scene of uproar and disorder; a heated argument

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