Allusion in Walden

Allusion Examples in Walden:

Economy 11

"Vitruvius..."   (Economy)

Sometime in the first century BCE, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, a Roman architect, engineer, author, published his multi-volume work entitled De architectura. Thoreau brings him up to emphasize that "Mr. Balcom" has merely taken his design from an existing template to get it cut from "Dobson & Sons" rather than designing his own.

"and not detect the motes in his eyes..."   (Economy)

A "mote" is a tiny piece of substance or material. Thoreau is likely making an allusion to the biblical book of Matthew 7:5, which talks about the hypocrisy of people pointing out faults in others without looking at their own actions.

"Minerva..."   (Economy)

In Roman mythology, Minerva (Athena in Greek) is the goddess of wisdom. She is also the sponsor of arts, trade, and strategy. In a contest of handiwork that Momus judged, she built a house but was criticized for not including wheels on it so that the inhabitant could get away from his neighbors if need be.

"Momus..."   (Economy)

In Greek mythology, Momus is a god of pleasure, satire, and mockery. This god featured in two of Aesop's Fables, one of which Thoreau references here: Jupiter told Momus to judge which house three different gods had made was the best. Momus was jealous of all, so he found fault with all of the houses.

"and that to retain it would be like keeping new wine in old bottles..."   (Economy)

Thoreau is referring to the biblical book of Matthew 9:17. In biblical times, "bottles" were fashioned from animal skins. Over time, the skin could become brittle, so if an old skin were filled with new wine, the wine would ferment, expand, and destroy the old skin, thereby not retaining any of the wine.

"the same purpose as the Iliad..."   (Economy)

The Iliad refers to the epic tale of the Trojan War by Homer. While readers might think that Thoreau is being a little facetious here, the point he is trying to make is that what little paper he had available was, in the context of his new environment, every bit as engrossing and enjoyable as the legendary tale.

"the winter of man's discontent..."   (Economy)

This phrase may sound poetic, and in fact, it is. Thoreau is playing with William Shakespeare's original line from his play Richard III, in which King Richard expresses his feelings of discontent in a soliloquy, beginning with "Now is the winter of our discontent..." By stating that the winter was thawing, Thoreau paints a vivid image of how pleasant life at Walden Pond was for him in the beginning as he set about his experiment.

"the music of Memnon..."   (Economy)

In Greek mythology, Memnon is the son of Eos, the goddess of the dawn. Although he was slain by Achilles, Zeus granted him immortality and his companions were turned into birds. A colossal stone stature in Egypt was reportedly connected with Memnon and allegedly gave forth musical notes when the sun touched it each morning; purportedly representing Memnon greeting his mother, Eos.

"the blushes of Aurora..."   (Economy)

In Roman mythology, Aurora (known as Eos in Greek mythology)is the goddess and personification of the dawn. The "blushes of Aurora" is refers to the color of the coming dawn as Aurora purportedly announces the arrival of the sun each day.

"Chapman..."   (Economy)

Thoreau is quoting the work of the English playwright George Chapman from his play "The Tragedy of Caesar and Pompey." In addition to his own works, Chapman is also well remembered for his translations of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey.

"Parcae..."   (Economy)

Roman tradition and mythology shares much with the Greek. The Parcae (singular Parca) is the Latin name for the Fates, called the Moirai in Greek. These are the female personification of destiny who could see all that would happen to anyone and spun the metaphorical threads of life.

"like pygmies we fight with cranes;..."   (Where I Lived, and What I Lived For)

Having mentioned Homer's Iliad earlier, this simile alludes to Book III, in which a similar metaphor is conveyed:

the Trojans advanced as a flight of wild fowl or cranes that scream overhead when rain and winter drive them over the flowing waters of Oceanus to bring death and destruction on the Pygmies, and they wrangle in the air as they fly;

""There was a shepherd that did live,..."   (Where I Lived, and What I Lived For)

This text selection is from an anonymous 16th-century song. Thoreau uses this text here to question the philosophy of the shepherd, wondering why the shepherd’s thoughts should be limited only to the heights his flock will venture.

"Memnon..."   (Where I Lived, and What I Lived For)

In Greek mythology, Memnon is a king of Ethiopia and is the son of Aurora, the goddess of the morning, and a mortal named Tithonus.

"chanticleer..."   (Where I Lived, and What I Lived For)

While context in this sentence helps readers understand that "chanticleer" is a rooster, it is also an allusion to Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, and "The Nun's Priest's Tale" in particular. The proud, fierce rooster named Chanticleer dominates the barnyard.

"like Atlas..."   (Where I Lived, and What I Lived For)

In Greek mythology, the Titan Atlas was condemned by Zeus to hold up the sky and the heavens on his shoulders for eternity. Thoreau invokes this myth to illustrate his willingness to enjoy these advantages even if they require enormous amounts of strength and endurance.

""I am monarch of all I survey,..."   (Where I Lived, and What I Lived For)

William Cowper (1731–1800) was an 18th-century English poet, hymnodist, and considered one of the forerunners of Romantic poetry. This line is from his 1782 work The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk.

"Atropos..."   (Sounds)

In Greek mythology, Atropos is one of the three Fates, who are often depicted as spinning the threads of life and destiny for gods and mortals alike. Atropos is the Fate who cuts the thread of life. Thoreau considers this an apt name for the train because its schedule forces people to conform to a destiny besides their own.

"sons of Tell..."   (Sounds)

Thoreau is referring to the legendary Swiss folk hero, William Tell. According to legend, Tell was an expert marksman with a crossbow who resisted and ultimately killed a tyrannical representative, named Gessler, from Hapsburg Austria. Part of the legend involves William Tell’s shooting an arrow off of his son’s head as part of a cruel ploy by Gessler.

""You who govern public affairs, what need have you to employ punishments? Love virtue, and the people will be virtuous. The virtues of a superior man are like the wind; the virtues of a common man are like the grass—the grass, when the wind passes over it, bends."..."   (The Village)

This passage is an excerpt from Chinese philosopher Confucius's Analects. The central idea of the passage is one Thoreau has touched upon throughout the chapter: people need less governance and fewer resources than they commonly think.

"The Pope's Homers..."   (The Village)

This is a reference to Alexander Pope (1688–1744), a neoclassical-era English poet and satirist. Pope used heroic couplets to translate Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. Thoreau subsequently quotes one of Pope’s couplets.

"the Sirens..."   (The Village)

In Greek mythology, the Sirens are a group of creatures—half-monster, half-women—who sing so beautifully that they lure mariners to destruction on the rocks that surround their island. Thoreau alludes to the Sirens as a comparison for the neighbors who invite him over. He envisions himself as Orpheus, drowning out these invitations so as not to accept them.

"Orpheus..."   (The Village)

Orpheus was a central figure of Greek mythology. He was an exceptionally gifted musician and poet, known for his ability to enthrall animals with his performances. The quotation about Orpheus Thoreau uses comes from “Wisdom of the Ancients,” a work of collected mythology by the English Elizabethan-era author Francis Bacon.

""brave attempt resounds."..."   (The Ponds)

These phrases are drawn from the poem “Icarus” by William Drummond of Hawthornden (1585–1649), a Scottish poet.

"the Icarian Sea..."   (The Ponds)

The Icarian Sea is a subsection of the Aegean Sea that lies between the Cyclades and Asia Minor. It is named for Icarus, who according to Greek mythology, flew too close to the sun while wearing wings made from feathers and wax. The wings melted and he drowned at sea while his father Daedalus watched.

"Castalian Fountain..."   (The Ponds)

According to Greek mythology, the Castalian Fountain is a source of poetic inspiration and a site sacred to the Muses. The fountain is supposedly located at the summit of Mount Parnassus. The fountain originated with the nymph Castalia, who was chased by Apollo until she transformed into the legendary fountain.

"Michael Angelo..."   (The Ponds)

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475–1564) was a prominent Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet. Michelangelo drew studies, usually based on live models, in preparation for his sculptures. These studies have a distinctive style of shading that gives the skin and flesh a look of rippling water. It is this feature that Thoreau alludes to.

"ambrosial..."   (The Ponds)

The adjective “ambrosial” comes from the noun “ambrosia,” a sweet beverage consumed by the gods, heroes, and deities of ancient Greek mythology. This is neither the first nor the last reference Thoreau makes to Greek mythology in “Walden.” Thoreau describes the “ambrosial… part of the fruit” to describe its essence of wild, natural perfection which is lost when the fruit is picked and packed for commercial consumption.

""to fresh woods and pastures new,"..."   (The Ponds)

This phrase is drawn from the poem “Lycidas” by the influential English poet John Milton (1608 - 1674). Because “Lycidas” is a pastoral elegy, a poem that is set in nature and memorializes the natural world, it serves as a fitting reference point for Thoreau.

""How happy's he who hath due place assigned              To his beasts and disafforested his mind!                           . . . . . . .              Can use this horse, goat, wolf, and ev'ry beast,              And is not ass himself to all the rest!              Else man not only is the herd of swine,              But he's those devils too which did incline              Them to a headlong rage, and made them worse."..."   (Higher Laws)

These lines are drawn from John Donne's (1572–1631) poem “To Sir Edward Herbert.” The topic is that of sensuality, which Thoreau sees as a single human phenomenon that stands as the polar opposite to purity. The Donne poem uses the metaphor of animals as the baser, or more instinctual, impulses of the human psyche. In a clever use of language, Donne recommends that one “disafforest” the mind. That is to say, one is rewarded for removing the forest where the animals of instinct and carnality dwell. This discussion ties into one of Thoreau’s broader questions in “Walden”: how ought we to live? For Thoreau, the life of the body is an important moral consideration.

"Mencius..."   (Higher Laws)

Meng Ke (ca. 372–289 BCE) was a Chinese philosopher, teacher, and the most famous disciple of Confucius. Thoreau agreed with many of the concepts of the Confucian school, namely the idea that humans are inherently good and noble.

"Hindoo commentator..."   (Higher Laws)

The commentator Thoreau cites is Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772–1833), an Indian religious thinker and politician. The quotation is a translation from the Hindu Vedas.

"the Ved..."   (Higher Laws)

This is a reference to the Vedas, the ancient scriptural texts that form the foundations of Hinduism. Thoreau was deeply interested in Hindu religion and philosophy and read the Bhagavad Gita and the Vedas during his solitary stints of reading and writing at Walden Pond.

"Chaucer's nun..."   (Higher Laws)

The quoted nun appears in Geoffrey Chaucer's (ca. 1343–1400) estates satire The Canterbury Tales. The nun’s comment suggests that hunters are not necessarily holy, an idea which Thoreau entertains in his moral weighing of hunting and meat-eating.

"the Sphinx..."   (Conclusion)

According to Greek mythology, the Sphinx is a creature with the body of a lion and the head of a woman. In the myth and drama of Oedipus the King she posed a riddle (“What walks on four feet in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three at night?”) to travelers and killed those who gave the wrong answer. Oedipus solved the Sphinx's riddle and became King of Thebes. The Sphinx is commonly referred to as a possessor of enigmatic knowledge.