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. Literally, “inspiration,” like “afflatus,” means “to be blown into” by a divine wind. 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.
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.