Poe makes frequent use of allusions to Greek and Roman mythology and the Christian Bible. The bust of Pallas refers to the Greek goddess of wisdom, Pallas Athena. Her presence in the chamber evokes rationality and learning, which the raven’s presence literally and figuratively overshadows. The speaker calls the raven a messenger from “Night’s Plutonian shore,” alluding to the Roman god of the underworld, Pluto, and emphasizing the common association of ravens with death. This allusion explains why the speaker asks the bird for news of Lenore, as though the bird can confidently speak about the afterlife. Taken together, these allusions contrast with the allusions to Christianity that the speaker makes when thinking about Lenore—the garden of Eden (here “Aidenn”) and the numerous references to Lenore being sainted or dwelling with angels. The way the speaker uses pagan references to discuss himself or his current state but Christian ones to reference Lenore emphasizes his permanent separation from her. When he speaks of the possibility of forgetting Lenore, the speaker alludes to “nepenthe,” a drink mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey and other ancient Greek literature that causes those who drink it to forget. The speaker then follows this reference with a mention of the balm of Gilead, a salve from the Biblical book of Jeremiah. By mentioning both a pagan and a Christian cure for his sorrows, the speaker emphasizes that he can find no relief in either context.
Read about another work that uses allusions to classical mythology as a motif, Dante Alighieri’s Inferno.