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in literature, symbolic story that serves as a disguised representation for meanings other than those indicated on the surface. The characters in an allegory often have no individual personality, but are embodiments of moral qualities and other abstractions. The allegory is closely related to the parable, fable, and metaphor, differing from them largely in intricacy and length. A great variety of literary forms have been used for allegories. The medieval morality play Everyman, personifying such abstractions as Fellowship and Good Deeds, recounts the death journey of Everyman. John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, a prose narrative, is an allegory of man's spiritual salvation. Spenser's poem The Faerie Queene, besides being a chivalric romance, is a commentary on morals and manners in 16th-century England as well as a national epic. Although allegory is still used by some authors, its popularity as a literary form has declined in favor of a more personal form of symbolic expression (see symbolistssymbolists,
in literature, a school originating in France toward the end of the 19th cent. in reaction to the naturalism and realism of the period. Designed to convey impressions by suggestion rather than by direct statement, symbolism found its first expression in poetry but
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See C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love (1936); P. de Man, Allegories of Reading (1979); M. Quilligan, The Language of Allegory (1979)


A figurative representation or sculpture in which the meaning is conveyed by the use of symbols.



a conventional representation, in art, of abstract ideas which are not assimilated in the artistic image but retain their independence and remain external to the image. The connection between image and meaning is ascertained in allegory by analogy (for example, the lion as the embodiment of strength). Unlike a symbol, which has multiple meanings, allegory is characterized by a unique, constant definition and is revealed not directly in the artistic image but only through interpretation of the obvious or hidden allusions and evidence contained in the image—that is, by subsuming the image under some concept (religious dogma, moral, philosophical, or scientific ideas, etc.). Insofar as the universal and the particular are inseparably intertwined in an artistic image, allegory cannot fully account for the content of the image, even while being a fundamental and necessary component of it.

The term “allegory” was first used in Longinus’ and Cicero’s treatises on rhetoric. In the aesthetics of the Middle Ages allegory was one of the four meanings contained in a work of art, in addition to the grammatical (literal), moral, and anagogical (edifying) meanings. As a specific form of artistic image, allegory was studied in detail by German aes-theticians of the 18th through the beginning of the 19th centuries (Winckelmann, Goethe, Schelling, Hegel, Solger, Schopenhauer, and others).

In literature many allegorical images are borrowed from mythology and folklore. Fables, morality plays, and parables, as well as many works of Eastern poetry of the Middle Ages, are built on allegory; it also appears in other genres (“The Three Springs” by A. S. Pushkin, the stories of M. E. Saltykov-Shchedrin). In the mid-19th century the concept of allegory was narrowed to mean only an artistic technique.

In the fine arts, allegory (figures with constant attributes, groups of figures, and compositions embodying some concept) constitutes a separate genre whose features are discernible in the mythological pictures of antiquity. Allegories of virtue, vice, and the like, which were widespread during the Middle Ages, took on humanistic attributes during the Renaissance. Allegories in mannerist, baroque, and rococo art became particularly complex and refined. Classicism and academism viewed allegory as part of the “high” historical genre. In contemporary art allegory has given way to symbolic images with a more highly developed psychological imagery.


Losev, A. F., and V. P. Shestakov. Istoriia esteticheskikh kategorii. Moscow, 1965. Pages 237–57.
Sorensen, B. A. Symbol und Symbolismus in den ästhetischen Theorien des XVIII. Jahrhunderts und der deutschen Romantik. Copenhagen, 1963.


allegory: Cathedral of Worms, 13th cent. The beast with four heads symbolizes the Four Gospels
A figurative representation in which the meaning is conveyed symbolically.


1. a poem, play, picture, etc., in which the apparent meaning of the characters and events is used to symbolize a deeper moral or spiritual meaning
2. the technique or genre that this represents
3. use of such symbolism to illustrate truth or a moral
References in periodicals archive ?
Just as the allegorists found themselves challenging the allegorical assumption that language exists in a magically mimetic relationship to the outside world, and then restoring it at the end of their plays, a number of critical writers found themselves responding to linguistic change with almost wishful allusions to the ancient idea that there might be an innate connection between a word and the thing it 'stands for'.
Some medieval writers of theology are praised as gifted stylists--certainly the "mystics," women and men, canonized and heretical, but also theological poets and allegorists (Alan of Lille, the Victorines, Bonaventure).
The current truce between the allegorists and the authenticists has been erected on the comprise view suggested by Billanovich according to whom the Ascent of Mount Ventoux is an allegory but one that is underpinned by Petrarch's experience of a real ascent (Billanovich 1966).
with the image of ruins, is because modern allegorists have always felt
But it is the identification of the two brothers which creates problems for the allegorists and results in a variety of interpretations.
Focusing on the fatality of Circe's eroticism, nearly all allegorists had neglected Odysseus' benevolent and enlightening sexual relationship with the goddess, also discounting her guidance of Odysseus through the underworld (Book Eleven) and back to Ithaca (Book Twelve).
35) Halivni offers a comparable reading of the kabbalists to show that they do not, in rabbinic fashion, read a corrected text into the peshat but only claim, as do earlier allegorists, to have articulated the hidden meaning of the peshat as it stands: "allegorization burdens the text, .
When we speak of this or that figure in a naturalistic novel or play as a "typical" character, we ourselves, instinctively turning allegorists or personifiers, reduce these figures to embodiments of one or two predominant traits or qualities; so that, as they pass current from mind to mind, they have no more three-dimensional actuality than what attaches to a personified abstraction - which is exactly what they have become: eponymous personified abstractions.
Mediaeval allegorists, true to the more optimistic attitude to the body inspired by the Incarnation and the Pauline use of the building-metaphor, were ready to see the body itself as the building inhabited by the soul or by the presence of God.
As Martin notes, this reading was in fact adopted by some Christian allegorists, such as William of St.
Indeed, few other authors in history have been subjected to quite so many re-readings as Vergil has been, whether at the hands of medieval allegorists reappropriating the pagan poet as a Christian prophet, or when re-inscribed in English as Paradise Lost or a mock epic in the Age of Pope.
Dawson uses Frei's The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative (1974) to show that modern Christianity has good reason to avoid allegory: just as Christian allegorists once neglected the literality of the Old Testament in favor of its fulfilled "meaning" in the New Testament, so too modernists can subvert the literality of New Testament accounts of events such as the resurrection of Jesus by substituting an allegorical meaning for the literal sense of the story.