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Delahunty - The Oxford Dictionary of Allusions (2001).pdf
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Odysseus, known to the Romans as Ulysses, is one of the best-known figures in Greek mythology. He was the king of Ithaca, son of Laertes and Anticlea. His wife was Penelope and his son Telemachus. Odysseus was noted in particular for his guile.

As one of the suitors of Helen of Troy, Odysseus proposed that when she married, she and whoever she finally chose to be her husband would be defended by all the other suitors. She chose Menelaus, and when she was abducted by Paris, the Greeks mounted an expedition to bring her back from Troy. Odysseus was a member of this expedition.

Homer's epic poem the Odyssey is an account of Odysseus' ten-year journey home to Ithaca after the fall of Troy. His adventures included encounters with:

the Lotus-Eaters, whose lotus flowers when eaten made Odysseus' crew lose all memory of past events and their homes and made them wish never to leave;

the one-eyed giant Polyphemus, one of the Cyclopes, who was eventually blinded by Odysseus and his men;

the Laestrygones, a tribe of cannibalistic giants;

Circe, a beautiful enchantress who lived on the island of Aeaea. After she turned half his men into swine, Odysseus protected himself with the mythical herb moly and forced her to break the spell and restore his men into human form. Odysseus was detained on Circe's island for a year; the Sirens, whose singing had the power to lure sailors to their deaths on dangerous rocks. Odysseus had himself tied to the mast of his ship in order to hear their song safely, having first ordered his crew to plug their

ears with wax;

the nymph Calypso, who detained him on her island for seven years. He refused her offer to make him immortal.

When Odysseus finally reached Ithaca after an absence of twenty years, he found Penelope beseiged by suitors. Waiting patiently and faithfully for her husband to return home, Penelope had warded off these suitors by promising that she would marry only when she had finished the piece of weaving that she had started. Each night she unravelled the work that she had done during the day. Athene disguised Odysseus as an old beggar so that he could arrive secretly at his palace. Assisted by his son Telemachus and two faithful retainers, he slew all the suitors and was finally reunited with Penelope.

Throughout this book there are references to the Odyssey and to many of the figures and episodes mentioned in the above account.

See CALYPSO at Danger

CIRCE at Danger, Magic, and Sirens

LOTUS-EATERS at Happiness and Memory

2 8 4 OLD AGE

Odysseus continued

See ODYSSEUS at Destiny and Luck, Disguise, Returning,and Travellers and Wanderers

ODYSSEY at Travellers and Wanderers

PENELOPE at Patience

SIRENS at Danger, Destruction, and Sirens.

Old Age

By far the most commonly used archetype of longevity is METHUSELAH. The idea of longevity is coupled in a number of cases below with that of immortality. This appears to be generally presented as a curse rather than a blessing. The figure of ELLI from Norse mythology is unusual in representing old age as an overpowering force, quite distinct from the physical frailty that it confers. >See also Youth.

Cumaean Sibyl The Cumaean Sibyl was the prophetess (or Sibyl) of the Temple of Apollo at Cumae in south Italy who guided Aeneas through the underworld in the Aeneid. It was said that in her youth Apollo had been enamoured of her and had offered to give her whatever she wished. She took a handful of sand and asked to live as many years as there were grains of sand in her hand, but she forgot to ask for health and youth as well. So she grew old and decrepit and had already lived 700 years by the time Aeneas encountered her. To equal the number of sand grains she still had another three centuries to live.


In a story from Scandinavian mythology, Elli is the personification of old


who in the form of Utgard, Loki's foster-mother, a toothless old crone,

wrestles the mighty Thor to the ground. The episode illustrates the point that no one, not even the strongest, can withstand old age.

Father Time Father Time is the personification of time, usually depicted as an old bearded man with a scythe and hourglass.

Little Father Time is what they always called me. It is a nickname; because I look so aged, they say.

THOMAS HARDY Jude the Obscure, 1895

The American portion of our community 'saw in' the greatest day of their national calendar in a fittingly splendid style and circumstances today a fortnight previous. As our issue of that very date proceeded to the press some days earlier, not possessing mastery of Old Father Time and his scythe, we were unavoidably prevented from commenting on those happy rites.

TIMOTHY MO An Insular Possession, 1986


OLD AGE 2 8 5

Father William In Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), the Caterpillar instructs Alice to recite the poem 'You are old, Father William'. She begins:

'You are old, Father William,' the young man said, 'And your hair has become very white;

And yet you incessantly stand on your head— Do you think, at your age, it is right?'

Father William is also sprightly enough to turn back-somersaults and balance an eel on the end of his nose. • See special entry o on p. 10.

Jared According to the Book of Genesis, Jared was one of the patriarchs and is supposed to have lived to be 962 years old (Gen. 5: 20). He was the grandfather of Methuselah (who lived seven years longer).

It was one of those faces which convey less the idea of so many years as its age than of so much experience as its store. The number of their years may have adequately summed up Jared, Mahalaleel, and the rest of the antediluvians, but the age of a modern man is to be measured by the intensity of his history.

THOMAS HARDY The Return of the Native, 1880

Mahalalel According to the Book of Genesis, Mahalalel was one of the patriarchs and lived to the age of 895 (Gen. 5: 17). He was the great-grandfather of Methuselah.

Methuselah In the Bible, Methuselah was the oldest of the patriarchs, grandfather of Noah. He is supposed to have lived 969 years (Gen. 5: 27). His name is now proverbial for longevity.

I would rather travel with an excursion party of Methuselahs than have to be changing ships and comrades constantly, as people do who travel in the ordinary way.

MARK TWAIN An Innocent Abroad, 1869

The throne, being lowered, was placed before the altar as it has been every year since the oldest Methuselah in the habitation can remember.

JULIAN BARNES A History of the World in IOV2 Chapters, 1989

So around Richard were arrayed a few tattoo-bespattered warthogs and authentic thirty-year-old Methuselahs fingering their earrings as they applied themselves to their tabloids.

MARTIN AMIS The Information, 1995

Struldbrug In Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726), the Struldbrugs are inhabitants of Luggnagg, a race endowed with immortality but who become increasingly infirm and decrepit. After the age of 80 they are regarded as legally dead. The term can be used to describe a person who is incapacitated by age or infirmity. VSee special entry GULLIVER'S TRAVELS on p. 171.

Yet which of us in his heart likes any of the Elizabethan dramatists except Shakespeare? Are they in reality anything else than literary Struldbrugs?

SAMUEL BUTLER The Way of All Flesh, 1903

Tithonus In Greek mythology, Tithonus was a Trojan prince who was so beautiful that the goddess Aurora fell in love with him. She asked Zeus to grant him immortality but forgot to ask for eternal youth, and he became very old and decrepit although he talked perpetually. Tithonus pleaded with Aurora to


remove him from this world and she changed him into a grasshopper.


The allusions that make up this theme all typify a tendency to look on the

bright side of a situation or event, or to expect the best possible outcome.

A MICAWBER is confident that the future will turn out well; a PANGLOSS has

the capacity to interpret any misfortunes favourably; a POLLYANNA is excessively cheerful. • See also Pessimism.

Aunt Chloe In Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1851), Uncle Tom, a negro slave, is about to be sold to a slave trader and separated from his family. When his wife, Chloe, protests at how unfair this is, Uncle Tom urges her to look on the bright side: 'Let's think on our marcies!'. Aunt Chloe then repeats this advice to their children.

We needed that lesson, and we won't forget it. If we do, you just say to us, as old Chloe did in Uncle Tom, 'Tink ob yer marcies, chilien! Tink ob yer marcies!'

LOUISA M. ALCOTT Little Women, 1868

Mr Micawber Mr Wilkins Micawber, in Dickens's novel David Copperfield (1850), dreams up elaborate schemes for making money which never materialise, but remains undaunted, always hoping for something to 'turn up'.

No good news yet, but I have a Micawber-faith that something will turn up. GEORGE ELIOT Letters, 1852

'Christ, no!' said Lomas angrily. 'All that crap about running his car off the road because his company was collapsing was just gutter press garbage. He beat Micawber for optimism!'

REGINALD HILL Child's Play, 1987

Pangloss In Voltaire's Candide (1759), Dr Pangloss is the tutor who imbues Candide with his guiding philosophy that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. No matter what misfortunes they each suffer on their travels—disease, shipwreck, earthquake, flogging, and even attempted hanging and dissection—Pangloss confidently and complacently assures Candide that things could not be otherwise.

Of course it would be naive to expect the Chancellor to draw attention to the failings of government policy. None the less, the rest of us notice them, and find them hard to reconcile with the distinctly Panglossian tone that Mr Clarke adopted yesterday.

The Daily Telegraph, 1996

Nor do the proposals even address the preoccupations of economic underperformance, poor training, underinvestment and growing inequality. Instead there is an explicit Panglossian view that all in the economic garden is flourishing.

The Observer, 1997

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