In 1845 Edgar Allan Poe first published "The Raven", a story, narrated by the main character, which appears to be morning the loss of his love named Lenore. The nature of how his love was lost is not clear, but the events that occur during that night allude that the narrator is responsible for Lenore’s death and the raven is there to deliver the news of the narrator’s impending hell
Near the opening of the story the narrator mentions he is attempting to “surcease his sorrow – sorrow for the lost Lenore” (Poe, 1996, p. 81) and continues by describing Lenore as a “rare and radiant maiden” (Poe, 1996, p. 82). A raven visits the narrator and upon entering the room, perches directly upon the bust of Pallas, and remains there throughout the story. The name Pallas is roughly translates to maiden or virgin (Smith, 1890, p. 100). Since the narrator mentions that Lenore is a “radiant maiden” we could therefore make a connection that the bust of Pallas is a reminder of Lenore. The raven is used to highlight the importance of this symbol in the story.
The name Pallas is also most commonly associated with Pallas Athena, a Greek goddess. However the name Pallas actually stands alone in several Greek stories that involve Athena as well. The character of Pallas appears in many forms as a relative or as an adversary, but is ultimately slain by Athena, who then takes the name the name.
In one story Athena and Pallas - daughter of Triton - are friends who practiced “the art of war together” (Mark P. O. Morford, 1999, p. 100). Athena accidently slays Pallas and feels guilty and decides to assume her name. In another story, Athena slays the giant Pallas - son of Uranus - after he apparently attempted to violate her. She then takes his name and uses his skin to cover her shield (Smith, 1890, p. 100).
Pallas was slain, and perhaps Lenore was as well. In the beginning, the narrator
states clearly that he is distraught over the loss of Lenore, but the reader most likely assumes that her death is due to natural causes. As the story progresses it appears the narrator eventually comes to understand why the raven has paid him a visit.
Quite early on, the narrator asks the raven “what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!” (Poe, 1996, p. 83). The narrator clearly assumes that the raven is there on some dark purpose and begins to question the raven’s intent. In Greek mythology, Pluto (as in Plutonian) was the god who ruled the underworld (James Hall, 2007, p. 257). Pluto is also known as Hades, which is another name used to refer to hell.
Ravens have been used in Greek mythology to serve as the messengers or
servants to their masters. Although not a Greek god, it was believed that the god Odin had two ravens that he sent out into the world to do his bidding. Odin is often associated with Mercury and Mercury is often associated with Hermes, (Viktor Rydberg, 1907, p. 80) the Greek messenger to the gods and the “conductor of the soul” (Wikipedia). He would bring newly dead souls to Hades (Wikipedia). The raven in this particular story could either be Hades himself or a messenger of Hades, sent to inform our narrator of his hell bound fate. The narrator suggests that the raven is a messenger in “`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil!” (Poe, 1996, p. 85)
The bust of Pallas in the narrator's room is an odd choice and could be clue as to what happened to the narrator's lover. Based on the meaning associated with the bust, the visit from the raven and Poe’s other stories; it appears likely this tale is also about murder. It also seems likely that this story follows in the story lines as other stories such as the “Black Cat” and the “Tell Tale Heart”, where the narrator tries to hide their deeds, but is eventually exposed.
James Hall, K. (. (2007). Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art. Westview Press.
Mark P. O. Morford, R. J. (1999). Classical Mythology. Oxford University Press US.
Poe, E. A. (1996). In P. F. Quinn, & G. R. Thompson, Poe Poetry, Tales &
Selected Essays (p. 81). New York City: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc.
Smith, W. (1890). A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology : Oarses-Zygia. Harvard University: J. Murray.
Viktor Rydberg, R. B. (1907). Teutonic mythology: gods and goddesses of the Northland. Norrœna Society.
Wikipedia. (n.d.). Hermes. Retrieved 06 22, 2009, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermes
Raven Image: David Goodnow, 1992. How Birds Fly. Periwinkle Books; 1st edition.