Literary Terms



The Mona Lisa is a famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci.

An allusion is a brief reference to a famous person, place, or thing.

If you've seen the Mona Lisa, then reading that sentence probably made you feel smart. Conversely, if you've never seen this famous painting, that sentence might have made you feel left out—like when your classmates start chatting excitedly about some celebrity that you've never heard of.

Authors must be careful when making allusions, because the same allusion which make one reader feel smart might make another reader feel stupid.

Readers well-versed in the bible might appreciate allusions such as these these:

Meanwhile, baseball aficionados would get more pleasure from these:

As a reader, if you don't understand an allusion, just keep going. It's no big deal. Occasionally, however, you may want to pause to look up the thing to which the author alludes. Then you too can feel smart.

Instructions for the Quiz

Identify the allusion.

Sample Question:

Well, I’m no Hercules, but I could open that jelly jar for you.

This sentence alludes to

  • the man who invented jelly beans.
  • a mythological hero who was famous for his strength.

If you don't understand the allusion, you will need to Google it in order to determine the correct answer. (In this case, you would Google the name "Hercules").