Example Texts With Allusions to Greek and Roman Myth

Generally, the collected works of William Shakespeare are filled with references to Greek and Roman mythology, but particular texts to explore include the following:

     A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which Shakespeare makes multiple allusions to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Virgil’s Aeneid, and other Greek myths—often for humorous effect. 

     Hamlet, in which Hamlet’s first soliloquy compares his father, King Hamlet, to the god Hyperion and his uncle Claudius to a satyr.

     Julius Caesar, in which Cassius portrays himself as the hero Aeneas and characters allude to many Roman myths.

     King Lear, in which King Lear makes multiple invocations of Greek and Roman gods in his desire to find order and meaning in a chaotic world.

     Much Ado About Nothing, in which allusions to many Greek myths are made by Beatrice and Benedick as part of their witty repartee.

     Othello, in which Iago’s duplicitous nature is further confirmed by his choosing to swear by Janus, the Roman god of transitions.

     Romeo and Juliet, in which Romeo compares his first love, Rosaline, to the goddess Diana, and Mercutio makes many references to myths about doomed lovers from Greek and Roman antiquity.

     The Merchant of Venice, in which Bassanio uses the myth of Jason and the Argonauts to compare Portia to the Golden Fleece, and others make character comparisons to myths from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

As for other texts, the following list, while not exhaustive, represents other texts from romanticism through modernism that contain allusions to classical Greek and Roman mythology:

     “Adonais,” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, in which the title itself is a reference to the Greek Adonis, a god of fertility and the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

     Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, in which the complete title is “Or, the Modern Prometheus,” revealing the connection between Victor Frankenstein and the Greek myth of Prometheus and how he defies the gods to bring fire to humanity. 

     Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, in which two of the three Fates are alluded to in the Company’s headquarters in France.

     Dante's Inferno, by Dante Alighieri, in which Aeneas’s descent into the underworld serves as a primary source for Dante’s own journey.

     Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë, in which Jane claims that she will never be another Danaë, an allusion to the myth of Zeus and Danaë, in which he appears to her in the form of a shower of golden coins.

     “My Last Duchess,” by Robert Browning, in which the Duke proudly sees a connection between himself and Neptune, the Roman god of the sea.

     “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” by John Keats, in which the titular urn is painted with scenes of Greek culture and the romantic ideas of antiquity are discussed.

     “Ode to a Nightingale,” by John Keats, in which the speaker considers the appeal of forgetting his life and alludes to drinking from the River Lethe, one of the four in Hades. 

     A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce, in which Stephen’s last name, Dedalus, is a clear allusion to the myth of Icarus.

     “The Black Cat,” by Edgar Allan Poe, in which the cat’s name, Pluto, is a direct reference to the Roman god of the underworld and, consequently, death.

     “The Garden Party,” by Katherine Mansfield, in which the Virgil’s Aeneid and the “Abduction of Persephone” myth heavily influence the journey of Laura Sheridan.

     “The Raven,” by Edgar Allan Poe, in which the titular raven sits upon a statue of Pallas Athena, and the speaker makes several mentions of the Roman god of the underworld.

     “The Waste Land,” by T.S. Eliot, in which Eliot refers to the myth of the Rape of Philomel and directly mentions Tiresias, the blind prophet from many Greek myths.

     Walden, by Henry David Thoreau, in which Thoreau draws on Greek and Roman essays and myths from antiquity to develop and support his arguments.