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The Illusions of Allusions
The Illusions of Allusions
The richness and depth of allusion is rarely appreciated- Matthias Voyanovi, from "Interconnexions: the Lectures", delivered April 30, 2035.
and even more rarely seen for what it truly is.
For example, the Christian allusions in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
are well known and were admitted to by none other than C.S. Lewis himself
- but Lewis's borrowing of the "child going through a wardrobe into another world"
from Edith Nesbit's "The Aunt and Amabel", written more than forty years earlier
is almost unknown to the public - and far less publicized by Lewis than his Christian sources.
But even the Christian myths from which Lewis drew the structure of his stories
themselves draw on even earlier myths and legends; regardless of the reality you assign
to the historical status of Jesus and his metaphysical status as the Christ,
his story is neither unprecedented nor unique, but is instead echoed
in particular after particular in the stories of many other so-called "Sons of God"
scattered across the Greco-Roman world around what we would now call its millenial divide -
most notably, in the person of the Pythagorean teacher Apollonius of Tyana, whose remarkable life
--- miraculous birth, precocious childhood, saintly ethics, compelling teaching,
inconvenient miracles, unjust execution, and glorious resurrection ---
mirrors Jesus's in almost every detail, even down to the subsequent glowing writeups
penned by his stunned followers in the wake of the non-permanence of his demise.
Unfortunately Philostratus' The Life of Apollonius did not have the good fortune
to be incorporated into the official texts of a popular religion later co-opted
as the state religion of the Roman Empire, which perhaps explains why Jesus' biographies
are still on the bestseller lists and Apollonius' are not. But I digress.
Regardless, the stories of both Jesus' life and Apollonius' life mirror that of deeper, older myths
- what Joseph Campbell identified as the monomyth, more popularly known as the Heroes' Journey.
However, I don't mean to say that these echoes should shake the faith of any Christians
--- or Apollonians --- in the audience. In fact, I mean to do quite the opposite.
The story of Jesus' life mirrors not only the pagan stories of demigods - Sons of Gods
but also the midrashical structure of Jewish commentary on the Torah and its Men of God.
If we give any credence at all to the accounts given of his life --- especially the one
now called the Gospel of Luke, which by its own account tried to straighten out the oral
tradition into something resembling a history --- this echoing was visible
even when Jesus was alive. He was mistaken for the reincarnation of John the Baptist
or Elijah the Tishbite; while the early Christian writers drew a different conclusion,
the point is that even before storytelling begins, people see echoes of stories
in the lives of famous, powerful, saintly or otherwise exceptional people.
So something more is going on than just exaggeration on the part of followers
wishing to talk up their fallen hero in an attempt to get more converts.
Storytellers capture what people see even when they're not telling stories.
What if the monomyth and the midrash aren't just storytelling conventions?
Could it be instead that the monomyth, this perennial story of
extraordinary people who bring hope to mankind, is not just wish fulfillment...
but instead a reflection of a very real process going on in our world?
If so, literary allusions are far more than simple borrowing
but instead are an inevitable, tantalizing glimpse into
the glittering network of connections underlying
the fundamental structure of reality.