Study Guide

Acts of the Apostles Allusions

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Literary and Philosophical References

Inferno by Dante
When Dante runs into Pope Nicholas in Hell, he asks how much the apostles charged Matthias for taking Judas's place among the apostles. The answer is nada. Take that, Pope Nicholas.

Purgatorio by Dante Alighieri
The souls in Purgatory love to tell stories (about people who have it way worse than them). One of these stories that comes up is about Sapphira and her husband, who held out on the apostles and paid the price. Dante also writes that Stephen spends all his time in Purgatory praying for his persecutors. That is one stand-up saint.

Paradiso by Dante Alighieri
When Peter asks Dante what faith is, he quotes Paul back to him. We're imagining Peter rolling his eyes a little bit at that.

Billy Budd by Herman Melville
When Billy attacks and kills the lying Claggert, Captain Vere shouts, "It is the divine judgment on Ananias! Look! […] Struck dead by an angel of God! Yet the angel must hang!" And he does.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
The narrator shares some words of wisdom from his grandfather (and Acts): "'You start Saul, and end up Paul,' my grandfather had often said. 'When you're a youngun, you Saul, but let life whup your head a bit and you starts to trying to be Paul—though you still Sauls around on the side.'"

Watership Down by Richard Adams
The chapter that features the rabbits swimming across the river opens with a quote from Acts 27:43-44: "The centurion […] ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, and the rest to follow, some on planks and others on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land." Don't worry—the bunnies make it, too.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The narrator of the novel wonders about a quote she sees: "From each according to her ability; to each according to his need." She thinks it comes from Acts 11:29—"The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea"—but it's really closer to something Karl Marx said. Oops.

Fences by August Wilson
When Gabriel suffers a head injury in WWII, he starts to believe he's the archangel Gabriel. The cool part is he gets to hang out and eat biscuits with Peter in Heaven.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Pentecost comes up a few times in this novel. Dr. Urbino dies on Pentecost (bummer), and Florentino and América share a bed on the morning of Pentecost. It's not one of the sexier holidays, but hey.

Lycidas by John Milton
This poem features a really long speech by Peter, who holds the keys to Heaven and complains (rather loudly) about corruption in the church. To be fair, that probably was one of his pet peeves.

Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
Oliver Mellors writes a love letter to his beloved Connie: "My soul softly flaps in the little Pentecost flame with you, like the peace of f**king." What a charmer.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
When Stephen Dedalus is going through his religious phase (deciding whether or not to become a priest), his director tells him to pray to his patron saint, which is none other than St. Stephen himself.

Le Morte D'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory
Every year on Pentecost, King Arthur's knights are supposed to take an oath of honor and goodness to uphold the virtuous knightly way of life. Pentecost seems like a good time for that.

The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare
Paulina's name links her to St. Paul. At the end of the play, the king's wife is even miraculously resurrected in her house. Paul would be proud.

Twenty Years After by Alexandre Dumas
In this sequel to The Three Musketeers, the Duc de Beaufort escapes from prison on Pentecost. He tells his jailor before the big prison break: "Now, what has Pentecost to do with me? Do you fear, say, that the Holy Ghost may come down in the form of fiery tongues and open the gates of my prison?" We wouldn't put it past the Holy Ghost.

I Put a Spell on You by Nina Simone
In her autobiography, the famous jazz singer said, "I sat struck dumb in my den like St. Paul on the road to Damascus," when she learned about the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama.

The Twelve Apostles by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
In this fairy tale, Peter is the oldest of twelve brothers who realize that they've been born three hundred years before Jesus. Oops! With the help of an angel, the brothers are able to sleep soundly in a cave until Jesus comes. That's some smart thinking.

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