Coin That Phrase: "Take Up the Mantle"

An Old Phrase Spurs Discussion in the Free Press Newsroom

by Eleazar Wawa, age 18

I was sitting in the Free Press South Towne newsroom writing a review of Arthur Miller’s novel Death of a Salesman . As Aarushi Agni, an editor, proofread it, she came across a phrase that I had used: “take up his mantle.” Neither she nor another editor were familiar with the phrase, but I insisted that it was in fact an idiom. After several minutes of discussion, a third editor concurred and revealed the phrase’s origin.

To “take up someone’s mantle” means to inherit another person’s dreams, goals, or responsibilities. This phrase originates from the biblical story of the prophet Elijah and his apprentice Elisha. After Elijah ascended to heaven, his cloak or “mantle” fell behind him. His apprentice, Elisha, picked up the cloak and wore it, symbolically suggesting that he would assume Elijah’s role as a prophet.

Because of their antiquity, phrases like “take up his mantle” may be unfamiliar to some. However, idioms like these still hold meaning today.

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Nice piece of writing. Very interesting. I like how you linked to your book review of Death of a Salesman. Good job! – James Kramer , Fitchburg, WI (2014-09-03 10:32)