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Allusion in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Irving makes use of allusions to numerous sources in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Like many Western writers, the two central sources of reference are the Judeo-Christian Bible and the mythology of ancient Greece and Rome. From the Bible come numerous references to Satan—particularly in the evocations of evil forces haunting Sleepy Hollow—as well as St. Vitus, and the namesakes for both Ichabod Crane and Abraham Van Brunt. From Greco-Roman myth come references to Achilles and Mercury. Finally, the story’s epigraph is drawn from James Thomson’s poem “The Castle of Indolence,” whose lines evoke a landscape as dreamlike and surreal as that of Sleepy Hollow.

Allusion Examples in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow:

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

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"any more than that stormy lover, Achilles...."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

Achilles is a mythical figure of Greek legend, best known for his role in Homer’s epic the Iliad. Most of his actions are driven by anger, particularly at having his concubine Briseis taken from him. In legend Achilles was rumoured to have many lovers and a great temper, perhaps accounting for the description “stormy.”

"chanticleer..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

Chanticleer is a character in European folklore, appearing in both Aesop’s Fables and Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Though its precise origin is unknown, it dates back to the Middle Ages. The basic story is that Chanticleer, a proud rooster, is forewarned about capture by a predator, usually a fox. First the fox tricks the rooster, then the rooster outwits the fox; both are shamed by their gullibility. The widespread repetition of the fable led to “chanticleer” being used as another name for rooster.

"he gained the opposite side; and now Ichabod cast a look behind to see if his pursuer should vanish, according to rule, in a flash of fire and brimstone..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

Ichabod Crane thinks back on past tellings of the local legend of the Headless Horseman. In Brom’s telling, the horseman was halted at the church bridge, disappearing in “a flash of fire and brimstone.” This phrase is a reference to the old testament, according to which divine punishment was cast down on evildoers in just such a sulfurous flash.

""sugared suppositions,"..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

In a very specific and obscure allusion, Irving references the 1632 travelogue Rare Adventures & Painful Peregrinations by the English writer William Lithgow. In his on-foot travels through the Greek region of Arcadia, Lithgow wrote:

the remembrance of these sweet seasoned Songs of Arcadian Shepherds which pregnant Poets have so well penned, did recreate my fatigued corpse with many sugared suppositions.

Apparently Irving was a fan of antique travelogues, for this scene with Crane runs parallel to Lithgow’s, the way Crane strengthens his resolve with the fruits of his imagination.

"like the cap of Mercury,..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

Mercury, the Roman messenger God, wore a winged cap to assist in his flight around and through the worlds of both the living and the dead. That this man wears a Mercurian hat is fitting—no pun intended—in that he is delivering a message important to Ichabod Crane’s fate, and thus channeling Mercury’s divine role.

""Spare the rod and spoil the child."..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

Though often thought to come from the Bible (“He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes,” Book of Proverbs 12:24), it is likely that this popular phrase comes from the Samuel Butler poem “Hudibras,” which reads “Love is a boy by poets stil'd / Then spare the rod and spoil the child.”

"—CASTLE OF INDOLENCE...."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

Invoking a quote from another source, such as the poem “Castle of Indolence,” is what’s known as an epigraph. Epigraphs are intended to suggest the theme of the work that follows. In this case, “Castle of Indolence” by British poet James Thomson is a lengthy Spenserian allegorical poem. The lines quoted here are most applicable to the setting of Sleepy Hollow, which is a town of idleness and dreamlike atmosphere.

"the nightmare, with her whole ninefold..."   (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

The "nightmare" here refers to a female demon in the shape of a horse that runs away with the helpless sleeper.

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