Afflatus translates literally from Latin as “to blow upon/toward” and was used by Cicero to describe an unexpected rush of inspiration and power. It comes from nowhere that the writer can define and may leave as suddenly as it came. Today, afflatus is usually used as a synonym for “inspiration.”
Definition of Afflatus
Afflatus refers to a surprising and sudden feeling of inspiration. It is usually associated with writing but is also connected to the visual arts and music. The term is uncommon today but fills a very specific need. It defines a feeling of inspiration that comes on powerfully as if one is being blown over and shocked by it. Sometimes it’s referred to as divine afflatus.
A modern example of this phenomenon, and a connection beyond the literary world, can be found in the world of music. When describing his inspiration for the song ‘Let it Be,’ Paul McCartney, cited a dream he had in which his mother came to him, twelve years after her death. When speaking about the dream he said: “my mother appeared, and there was her face, completely clear, particularly her eyes, and she said to me very gently, very reassuringly: “Let it be.”’
Example of Afflatus in Literary History
Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The most famous example of a writer receiving sudden inspiration for a work, at least when it comes to the term afflatus, comes from Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the story he told around the composition of ‘Kubla Khan.’ The poet described composing the poem after reading about the Yuan dynasty and having an opium-fueled dream. Here are a few lines in which the reader might sense the otherworldly nature of Coleridge’s dreamland:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
When he woke, he started writing and only stopped when he was interrupted by someone from “Porlock.” The poem was never completed because he stated, he forgot the lines.
Read more Samuel Taylor Coleridge poems.
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Famously, Rowling got the inspiration to write about a boy wizard while waiting for a delayed train from Manchester to London King’s Cross. Her website describes how over the next five years she planned the seven-book series.
The Stand by Stephen King
Often, inspiration comes from unusual sources and perhaps not totally out of the blue. Such is the case with this famous novel of a world-ending pandemic. It was inspired by a few minutes of the 60 Minutes special King watched about biological warfare, according to Bustle. That, in combination with a news report of a chemical spill that killed sheep in Utah, inspired the writer to create what turned out to be one of his greatest novels.
Another interesting inspiration story from King is related to the composition of The Shining, another of his best-known novels. According to Bustle, King and his family were staying at Estes Park, Colorado’s Stanley Hotel by themselves. He woke up from a terrible dream of his son, Joe, being chased down the hotel corridor by a fire hose. It was from the setting and dream that he started structuring The Shining.
History of Affaltus
The word “afflatus” was first used by Cicero in De Natura Deorum, a philosophical dialogue written around 45 BC. It contains three books that discuss views on various philosophies like Epicureanism and Stoicism. The book was written only two years before his death in 43 BC. Within the book, readers can discover that he wrote it as a relief from Julius Caesar’s role in the government and the fact that he was politically inactive, as well as a way to distract from the death of his daughter.
A possible sentence might read: He was struck by afflatus as soon as he considered giving up on his novel.
It is a word used to describe divine or sudden inspiration. This inspiration should lead to the creation of some kind, literary or artistic. Writers who experience it might find themselves suddenly struck by an idea that they have never thought of before and the need to write it down.
Demiurgic refers to a powerfully creative force that strikes a creator. It is similar to afflatus.
The word comes from the Latin meaning “to blow upon/toward.” It was used by Cicero in De Natura Deorum.
No one knows why sometimes inspiration strikes more powerfully than others. But it’s likely due to the perfect coordination of events, memories, and a desire to create. Writers, artists, and other creators can spend days, weeks, months, and even years looking for inspiration before it strikes.
Related Literary Terms
- Anecdote: are short stories used in everyday conversation in order to inspire, amuse, caution, and more.
- Imagery: the elements of a poem that engage a reader’s senses. These are the important sights, sounds, feelings, and smells.
- Symbolism: the use of symbols to represent ideas or meanings. They are imbued with certain qualities often only interpretable through context.
- Synesthesia: refers to a technique authors use to blur human senses in their imagery.
- Surrealism: a movement of literature, art, and drama in which creators chose to incorporated dreams and the unconscious, and fuse reality and pure imagination.
- Point of View: what the speaker, narrator, or character can see from their perspective.
- Watch: Stephen King on Writing – Creative Writing Advice
- Listen: How to Be Creative
- Watch: George R.R. Martin’s Earliest Inspiration