Last week’s New Yorker had a review article about World War One, “The Big One” (not online), by one of my favorite essayists, Adam Gopnik. I want to highlight one sentence that shows Gopnik’s light touch with an allusion:
History does not offer lessons; its unique constellations of contingencies never repeat. But life does offer the same points, over and over again. A lesson is many-edged; a point has only one, but that one sharp.
This is a clever variation on Archilochus‘s line poll’ oid’ alopex, all’ echinos hen mega ‘The fox knows many tricks, the hedgehog only one./ One good one’ (Lattimore’s translation), which served Isaiah Berlin (another of my favorite essayists) as the springboard for his famous essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox.” I doubt many readers will have caught it, and it’s certainly not necessary to understanding the passage; Gopnik must have done it primarily to please himself. I like that.