25 Most Popular Mythological Allusion Examples

The use of mythical allusions does not just enrich language but also deepens the meaning of things.

Some allusions have been used over and over until they have part and parcel of our day-to-day language.

Most of the time we slide them here and there in our writing or speech without knowing we are using them.

What Is Mythological Allusion?

The answer to this question will interest you because you probably use mythical allusions in your everyday conversations or writings.

Mythical allusions are words or phrases whose use hints at some mythology.

 The word allusion is derived from the Latin word “allusion”, which means “a game of words” or rather “a play on words”.

Therefore, mythical allusions are indirect references to something or someone in a particular text.

To understand the meaning of the allusion, one needs to understand whatever it is referencing—whether it is a person, thing, or event.

Mythical allusions can be related to the indigenous culture of a particular people. They can also refer to other cultures as is the case with many English words that are in use today.

Where to Use Mythological Allusion

You use allusions as a device for enhancing the text or message that you seek to pass across.

 Allusion adds layers of meaning to the text, which in some cases can be aimed at achieving some paradoxical effects by comparing things or people who are contrasting with one another.

 You could also use allusions to bring out the overlooked biases and assumptions that the readers may have about a particular issue.

Popular Examples of Mythological Allusions

1. Adonis

Meaning: An extremely handsome young person.

Greek mythology:

Adonis was a very handsome young man who was goddess Aphrodite’s favorite.

 He was however a product of incest between Smyrna and her father, Theias, King of Syria.

Aphrodite handed baby Adonis to be taken care of by Persephone, the underworld queen, who later declined to give him up.

Sample sentence: The way every woman falls for him, you would not doubt that he is an Adonis in his own right.

2. Trojan Horse

Meaning: Someone or something who secretly aimed at undermining or overthrowing an opponent or enemy.

Greek mythology:

 Trojan horse was used by Greek soldiers to enter the city of Troy after 10 years of an unsuccessful siege. 

The soldiers, therefore, hid in the giant wooden horse, which they claimed to be the offering to the goddesses Athena.

Sample sentence: We would not have contracted him had we known he was a Trojan horse in our company.

3. Midas Touch

Meaning:  The ability to convert value or money out of any task that one does.

Greek mythology: 

Midas was the king of Phrygia who encountered the god Dionysus and was granted one wish to make.

Due to his greed, he wished for riches and that everything he touched could turn into gold.

He would soon regret his decision after his daughter and food turned into gold.

He had to wash into a river as instructed by Dionysus to undo the effects.

Sample sentence: His Midas touch has made him wealthy even as an artist.

4. Oedipus Complex

Meaning:  The attachment of a boy to his mother or a girl to his father, which is often accompanied by aggressive feelings or anything towards the parent of the same sex.

Greek mythology:   

Oedipus was the king of Thebes who inadvertently killed his father and ended up marrying his mother.

Sample sentence:  Her total dismissal of her mother’s proposal was their evidence of the Oedipus Complex at play in their relationship.

5. Narcissist

Meaning:  A person who loves themselves excessively to the exclusion of everything else.

Greek mythology:

Narcissus was a legendary handsome young man who is alleged to have fallen in love with his own image while he gazed at it in a pool of water.

He could not be dissuaded from his self-absorption even by the lovely Echo the nymph.

Sample sentence: Do not expect any reciprocation from such a narcissistic lover.

6. Pandora Box

Meaning:  A process that once on course results in lots of unexpected problems.

Greek mythology:

The box was given to Pandora by Zeus with the instructions that she should not open it.

However, Pandora curiously opened the box, unleashing all miseries and evils that came out to afflict humanity.

Sample sentence: Fighting graft at the ministry might open a Pandora’s box that will implicate almost everyone in government.

7. Herculean Task

Meaning:  Any task that is very difficult to accomplish and therefore calls for an exceeding amount of energy to attain.

Greco-Roman mythology:

Hercules was a Greco-Roman hero who was regarded as the strongest man in the world as he expended extraordinary efforts to accomplish twelve impossible tasks that are commonly referred to as the labors of Hercules.

Sample sentence:  Passing the mathematics entrance exam was such a herculean task that I never dreamt of achieving.

8. Gordian Knot

Meaning: A problem that is very difficult to solve.

Greek mythology:

King Gordius used an intricate and complex knot to tie his wagon to a column that many could not untie.

The gods declared that whoever would untie the knot would be given reign over the world and Alexander the Great did it with one stroke of his sharp sword.

Sample sentence: Getting out of drug addiction is like untying multiple Gordian Knots.

9. Cupid

Meaning: Under the spell of love.

Roman Myth:

Cupid, also referred to as Eros by the Greeks, was the son of Venus, the goddess of love and he carried a bow and a quiver of golden arrows but he would shoot at a person to inspire love or revulsion in his targets depending on the arrow he chose.

Sample sentence:  If it were not for Cupid’s powers she could not be doing such crazy things for him.

10. Aphrodisiac

Meaning: Something that arouses the sentiments for love or sex such as smell, food, or presents.

Greek Mythology:

Aphrodite is the mother of Eros or Cupid and Aeneas.

She is the goddess of beauty and love and is believed to have come from sea form and is depicted in pictures as emerging from the water.

Sample Sentence: The bangles she bought me were my aphrodisiac every time.

11. Argus Eyed

Meaning: Having very vigilant or keen eyes; being very observant.

Greek Mythology:

Argus was a Greek legend with one hundred eyes and was used by Juno, the Greek queen to spy on her husband Zeus who was suspected of waywardness.

Argus has become a symbol of eagle-eyed jealousness amongst lovers, particularly when one of them is insecure or suspected the other of infidelity. 

Sample sentence: He is so argus-eyed to an extent that he will not let his wife leave the house with his company.

12. Aeneas

Meaning: A person that is helpful and loyal to siblings or family.

Greco-Roman mythology:

Aeneas was the son of Anchises and goddess Aphrodite. 

His heroic acts during the Trojan War contributed to defending Troy City against the Greek invasion.

He is also regarded as the warrior of the Aeneid by Virgil.

He is a symbol of filial love and devotion because he rescued his elderly father from the ruined Troy city, carrying him on his back.

Sample Sentence: He is the Aeneas of our family; in every crisis, he always comes through.  

13. Bacchanalian

Meaning: A party that can be considered an orgy as it is characterized by excessive drinking and all manner of boisterous behavior.

Greek mythology

Bacchanalia or Dionysia was the god of wine upon whose honor the bacchanalian festival was held. 

The festival was later on banned due to its excessive drinking and sexual orgies.

Sample sentence:  I do not think her father will ever again let her attend such a Bacchanalian birthday party.

14. Cassandra

Meaning:  A person whose prophecy of doom is not heeded.

Greek mythology:

Cassandra was one of the Trojan prophetesses and served the god, Apollo. 

Her prophecies of doom were destined not to be heeded by the people in Troy.

Sample sentence: She was the Cassandra of the class all this time and we rued to always see this after calamity befell us.

15. Damon and Pythia

Meaning:  A friendship that is marked by love, trust, and loyalty.

Greek mythology:

Damon and Pythias were two friends in Greek legend who were ready to sacrifice anything for each other.

When King Dionysius sentenced Pythias to death, he asked for some time to go a settle his affairs before execution.

Damon pledged his life to allow Pythias the chance to go settle his affairs; when he returns, the king changes his mind and sets Pythias free. 

Sample sentence:  They were better than twins, Damon and Pythia who always watched each other’s back.

16. Fires of Hades

Meaning:  A fire whose temperatures are at a very high level.

Greek mythology:

Hades was the god of the underworld Greek religion and was also referred to as the giver of wealth.

He was the son of Rhea and Titan Cronus and the brother Zeus.

He was considered the ruler of the underworld, or the dead, and was focused on ensuring that they did not leave his domain.

Sample sentence: I wish the fires of Hade consume him to ashes

17. Hymen

Meaning:  The membrane that encloses the vagina opening partially, which is used to indicate virginity in females.

Greek mythology:

 Hymen is considered the god of marriage in Greek mythology.

 The Greeks sang the wedding hymn as they escorted the bride into the residence of the groom.

Sample sentence: The doctor’s report showed that her hymen was broken during the assault.

18. Nemesis

Meaning: Something that causes someone’s downfall, which seems to be unavoidable.

Greek mythology:

Nemesis or Rhamnusia was the remorseless goddess who prescribed retribution against those people who could not overcome their arrogance or pride before the gods.

 She invoked punishment to men who committed offenses against others because of the power that they held over them.

Sample sentence: He seemed unable to defeat his, nemesis, alcoholism, which had for long denied him the opportunity for personal and career development.

19. Odysseus

Meaning:  A long wandering journey that is characterized by various changes along the way.

Greek mythology:  

Odysseus was a Greek legend renowned for his brilliance and cunning character.

He is credited for developing the Trojan horse that was used to infiltrate the city of Troy. 

He is also known for his long journeys trying to find his way back home after the Trojan War

Sample sentence: His career in law was an Odyssey marked by many highs and lows.

20. Promethean

Meaning:  The attribute of being radically innovative as attributed to demigod Promethean.

Greek mythology:

Promethean was a god of fire, a Titan, and an excellent trickster. 

His name meant a fore thinker and he became a master craftsman who was believed to have created fire and mortals.

Sample sentence:  The design of the tower is the work of a Promethean architect keen on conquering the skies in style.

21. Pygmalion Effect

Meaning:  The improvement in performance when one is expected to perform better or achieve more in something.

Greek mythology:

Pygmalion was a Greek King and a renowned sculptor who abhorred women but then fell in love with the sculpture of a woman that he curved.

Sample sentenceThe promise of a holiday in an exotic location had a Pygmalion effect on the performance of the employee in the last quarter of the year.

22. Sisyphean task

Meaning:  A task that is difficult to accomplish, which eventually becomes futile.

Greek mythology:

 Sisyphus was a Greek legend and King renowned for his mischievous tricks and for having escaped death twice. 

He however found his match in Zeus who punished him by ordering him eternally to roll around bolder up a hill to the heights of Hade.

Sample sentence: Voting for the same brand of corrupt leaders is a Sisyphean task if at all development is our goal as voters.

23. A Sop of Cerberus

Meaning:  A gift, bribe, or concession that is given for the purpose of attaining reconciliation.

Greco-Roman mythology: 

During ancient times, the Greeks and Romans put honey cakes in small bags and placed them in the hands of the deceased as a way of pacifying Cerberus, a hungry monster who would then let them head to Hades.

Sample sentence: The dress he brought her was a sop of Cerberus for the heartache he caused her when he left.

24. Sword of Damocles 

Meaning:  A situation in which a disaster is just about to happen or may happen at any time.

Greek mythology:

 Damocles, a Greek legend, was invited by Dionysius to an extravagant dinner and was invited to sit under an unsheathed sword that was hung from the ceiling by a thin thread.

Sample sentence: As the bodyguard of a prominent person, the Sword of the Damocles is ever hanging over your head.

25. Xanadu

Meaning:  An exotic or idealized place with picturesque beauty.

Mongolian mythology:

 Xanadu is an exotic legendary place that is captured in the poetry work by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, where Kublai Khan erected a giant dome in which he indulged in his ethereal fantasies.

Sample sentence: He promised her that he will build her a Xanadu if she would accept to marry him, which is funny considering his miserable income.

 Conclusion

The use of mythical allusion makes language interesting by creating layers of meaning which do not just point to the past but also reveal how relevant the alluded people or events are to modern-day occurrences.

As a language, English has borrowed heavily from Greek and Roman mythology, which are anyway very rich and almost inexhaustible resources.

 It is difficult to tell where the English language would be if it did not borrow so much from these mythologies.