What Are Some Allusions Present in “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe?

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In his poem “The Raven” Edgar Allen Poe makes allusions to two famous sources, the Bible and Greek mythology. Poe alludes to Greek mythology by bringing up Pallas Athena and a Plutonian shore. He alludes to the Bible by mentioning seraphim and referencing the balm of Gilead.

In line 41 Poe references Pallas Athena by saying that the raven perches on a bust of Pallas that he has hanging above his door. Pallas Athena is the ancient Greek goddess of wisdom. This allusion could be taken ironically, seeing that the Raven seems to know only one word. It is also interesting that other than Athena the only female the narrator mentions is his lost love Lenore. It is possible that he is comparing them and saying that they were both equally wise. It is also possible that mentioning Athena means that he worships Lenore in the same way that ancient Greeks worshipped Athena.

The other reference that the narrator makes to Greek mythology in line 47 has to do with the Plutonian shore. Pluto is the Greek god of the underworld, and by mentioning him the narrator evokes a sense of anguish and darkness that has to do with the underworld. The shore may also refer to the river Styx, where Charon the ferryman piloted the souls of the dead across into the underworld. This mirrors the narrator’s mental state, which is brooding on death.

In line 80 the narrator references the Bible by referencing Seraphim, six-foot tall winged creatures whose job in biblical lore was to fly around God’s throne and praise him by repeating “Holy” over and over. These Seraphim are similar to the raven in the fact that they can only say one word. It is also interesting to note that in the context of the poem these winged beings seem menacing rather than comforting.

Finally, the narrator makes a biblical reference to the balm of Gilead in line 89. The balm was both a literal balm used to treat wounds, and a spiritual cure. The narrator in mentioning this balm may be expressing his desire for a cure for the overwhelming emotions that he feels.