A classical allusion is a reference to a particular event or character in classical works of literature, such as ancient Roman or Greek works. This type of allusion can be made to a particular work, usually a famous work such as the plays of Homer, in which case they can be exact quotes or merely specific references to events in a literary work. Such allusions can also be references to figures popular in stories and myths from classical eras. A classical allusion is often cultural in nature and usually refers to classical works within a particular society or geographical location.
The exact nature of a classical allusion can vary somewhat, since it is so often culturally-dependent, though it usually refers to some ancient story or character. Allusions, in general, are references typically made by a speaker or a writer in his or her work, which creates a connection between the ideas in the work and something else. In the instance of a classical allusion, this reference is made to figures or stories that come from the ancient past of a particular culture. Such allusions in much of Europe and the US, for example, often make reference to ancient Greek or Roman myths, epic poems, and plays.
This means that a classical allusion often refers to a story or character that is thousands of years old. The specific reference can be to a number of different things, depending on the needs of a writer or speaker and the nature of his or her work. Someone writing about a cunning plan that someone is coming up with to trick an opponent in some way, for example, might make reference to a “Trojan horse.” This is an allusion to the story of the Trojan Wars and how the armies of Greece utilized a large wooden horse to trick the people of Troy into allowing their armies into the city, which led to the downfall of that city.
In other cultures, however, a classical allusion may refer to other events and figures of historical and classical significance. Chinese works, for example, would likely make reference to ancient stories from China’s past, rather than Greek or Roman tales. These stories or figures would still need to be quite ancient, however, and more modern references, even to events of 200 years ago, would not be considered classical allusions. This cultural component means that a classical allusion usually works best when a writer or speaker knows his or her audience, and understanding some allusions may be seen as a sign of education or cultural status.