Explain at least two allusions from the poem "The Raven."

One allusion from the poem "The Raven" is when the speaker mentions his "bust of Pallis," which refers to a bust of the Greek goddess Athena, known for her wisdom. A second allusion in "The Raven" is when the speaker mentions "nepenthe," which is a drug from Homer's Odyssey that is said to take away one's sorrow.

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The Raven (maintaining Poe's use of capitalization in the poem) perches on a bust of Pallas Athena, often just referred to as Pallas. This is not an accidental landing spot, and it represents at least a couple of symbolic possibilities. First, Athena is known for wisdom. Is the bird therefore speaking prophetically? Does it actually know with certainty that the narrator will never see the beloved Lenore again, symbolized by its placement atop this statue? Or is this situational irony because the bird can only speak this one word, leaving the narrator to torture himself through his own impossible questions? The narrator seems to believe that through the bird's position on Pallas, it brings answers to his questions. He will never see Lenore again, and this will forever torment his soul. The poem concludes with:

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door.

The bird never leaves the narrator, remaining on this symbolic statue of Pallas Athena for an indefinite time.

Another example of allusion is referenced in these lines:

Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”

Nepenthe first appeared in Homer's Odyssey; it is a mythological drug which takes away sorrow. In the Odyssey, Polydamna helps ease Helen's sorrow with nepenthe by helping her to forget. In "The Raven," the speaker longs for the same sort of relief—a forgetting of pain through any means possible.

"Tempter" is another use of allusion in the poem:

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,

Relying on Biblical allusion here, the ultimate source of all temptation, and therefore the ultimate Tempter personified is Satan. Satan is believed to tempt mankind through various means of deception and even attempted to tempt Christ. In these lines, the narrator questions whether Satan has sent the Raven as an evil means of temptation or whether the bird has shown up as a random "tempest," or storm.

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Let's begin with a definition of an "allusion."  An allusion is a a reference in a literary work that references something else without saying so directly.  Often (but not always), allusions are cultural or political references. (It can sometimes be difficult to "get" these types of allusions when they are no longer culturally relevant.)  

However, allusions in Western literature will often be to mythology, the Bible, and other well-known works of literature. This is the case in Poe's classic poem "The Raven."

The first allusion in the poem is a nod to mythology. In line 41, the speaker notices the raven, "Perched upon a bust of Pallas."  "Pallas" is "Pallas Athena," the Greek goddess of wisdom.  The fact that the raven chooses to sit there, upon her head, rather than anywhere else in the room, might be interpreted in a couple of ways. First, it might be taken ironically.  The bird only seems to know one word.  The speaker may be attributing, in his idolatry of Lenore, more wisdom to her than she deserves.  Or it might be positive, in that both Lenore and Pallas are wise. Both are certainly worshiped. 

Another mythological allusion occurs in line 47, in which the speaker demands of the raven to "Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"  Pluto is the Greek god the Underworld.  The underworld, (also known as Hades or Hell) is perpetually dark. The darkness here works as a metaphor for the speaker's state of mind which is filled with thoughts of death. 

The word "shore" may also be an allusion to the River Styx, which existed between the Earth and the Underworld. The river was piloted by Charon, the ferryman who carried recently-deceased souls from the earthly shore to that of the Underworld. This too makes sense, given the speaker's internal torment. 

Line 80 contains a biblical illusion. The air in the speaker's bedroom becomes oppressive and he senses that it was emanating from a "perfumed from an unseen censer / Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor." In the Hebrew Bible, these creatures are six-footed and winged. They continuously fly around God's throne, saying only one word in repetition: "Holy, holy, holy!"  In this way, they have something in common with the winged raven, whose single word is "nevermore." Like Pallas Athena, however, the allusion might be negative and not positive. Although the seraphim are holy and perfumed, the sense is that they are oppressive, not comforting. 

Another biblical illusion is found in line 89. The speaker cries out, saying, "is there no balm in Gilead?" This is from Jeremiah 8:22: "Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there?"  The "balm of Gilead" is a real thing. Mentioned several times in the Bible, it is made from the gum of a bush that grows plentifully in Gilead (an area East of the Jordan River.) It is rather an all-purpose healing compound, used to treat a variety of ailments, from cuts, to bruises, to burns.  In addition to its medicinal uses, the "balm" is also meant to be understood spiritually, something to soothe one's emotional wounds.  Clearly, the speaker here is seeking the spiritual comfort such a balm would bring. 

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"Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my
          chamber door—"

Pallas = Pallas Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom

"Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell
          me, I implore!"

"Balm in Gilead" refers to a place in the Holy Land called Gilead. An old saying, "Is there no Balm in Gilead?" is simply asking whether or not there is anything that can bring comfort to a person.

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