In Greek mythology, Ixion was punished for coveting Hera, the wife of the god Zeus.
Ixion was bound to a fiery, spinning wheel for eternity. The wheel stopped spinning only when Orpheus played his lute.
Antinous was a member of the entourage of the Roman emperor Hadrian. In one version of the story, Antinous is said to have been chosen by the emperor after a search to find the most beautiful youth in his domain. The two may have had a romantic relationship. After his death, Antinous was deified (declared to be a God).
Apollo was a Greek God. The son of Zeus and Leto, he was held to be the ideal example of youth. He is commonly depicted with a lyre, created for him by Hermes.
By comparing Angel to these two figures of youthful perfection, Hardy reflects once more the idea that Tess and her story are timeless archetypes; patterns which are played out again and again over the centuries.
A Bronze Age earthwork and stone circle created over a period of 2,000 years, Stonehenge is thought to have had mystical or religious significance for the ancient Britons. It is still held to be a sacred site by modern-day druids.
The henge (ring bank and ditch) clearly has great imaginative potency for Hardy, as for once he drops his convention of fictionalizing west-country locations and sets a scene in a real-life place. This has a powerful effect, making the reader feel that Angel and Tess's blissful, dream-like escape from reality must be coming to an end as reality catches up with them.
Aeschlyus was the earliest ancient Greek playwright whose plays survive today. His trilogy, The Oresteia, is seen by many critics as a key work establishing many of the dramatic conventions that characterise our ideas of ancient greek tragedy.
Prometheus Bound was Aeschlyus's dramatisation of the myth of Prometheus, who stole the fire of the Gods for human use and was punished with eternal agony, bound to a rock where an eagle would feast on his regrowing liver every day.
The last paragraph of the book, with its classical reference, is challenging. On one hand, Hardy seems to be suggesting that Tess's life and story is a very small and insignificant game, or bit of 'sport', that has achieved nothing. By drawing the observer back to the level of the 'Immortals', he reminds us of that strange description of Tess being like a fly on a billiard table when she first arrives at Talbothay's dairy; she seems tiny and unimportant in the great scheme of things.
However, the reference also suggests that Tess and her story have a significance that goes beyond the time and place in which her story is set; like Prometheus, she too has strived to achieve something extraordinary and has been harshly punished for it, inviting the admiration, pity and sympathy of all who hear her tale. Perhaps she is a timeless, mythic character, or perhaps she is just a milkmaid who overstepped the social boundaries of her time. Hardy leaves it to us to decide.