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Title: Afflatus  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Genius (literature), Divino afflante Spiritu, Literary criticism, Latin words and phrases, De Natura Deorum
Collection: Latin Words and Phrases, Literary Criticism, Poetics
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Afflatus is a Latin term derived from Cicero (in De Natura Deorum (The Nature of the Gods)) that has been translated as "inspiration." Cicero's usage was a literalizing of "inspiration," which had already become figurative. As "inspiration" came to mean simply the gathering of a new idea, Cicero reiterated the idea of a rush of unexpected breath, a powerful force that would render the poet helpless and unaware of its origin.

Literally, the Latin "afflatus" means "to blow upon/toward". It was originally spelt "adflatus," made up of "ad" (to) and "flatus" (blowing/breathing), the noun form of "flāre" (to blow). It can be taken to mean "to be blown upon" by a divine wind, not unlike its English equivalent "inspiration," which comes from "inspire," meaning "to breathe/blow onto".

In English, "afflatus" is used for this literal form of inspiration. It generally refers not to the usual sudden originality, but to the staggering and stunning blow of a new idea, an idea that the recipient may be unable to explain. In Romantic literature and criticism, in particular, the usage of "afflatus" was revived for the mystical form of poetic inspiration tied to "genius", such as the story Coleridge offered for the composition of Kubla Khan. The frequent usage of the Aeolian harp as a symbol for the poet was a play on the renewed emphasis on afflatus.

See also: List of Latin phrases (N): "Nemo igitur vir magnus sine aliquo adflatu divino umquam fuit" (No great man ever existed who did not enjoy some portion of divine inspiration).

Example: Divino afflante Spiritu ('Inspired by the Holy Spirit'), an encyclical letter of Pope Pius XII dealing with Biblical inspiration and biblical criticism, laying out his desire to see new translations from the original language instead of the Vulgate version.


  • Brogan, T.V.F. "Inspiration" in Alex Preminger and T.V.F. Brogan, eds., The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993. p. 609. ISBN 978-0691021232
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