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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)

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A figurative representation or sculpture in which the meaning is conveyed by the use of symbols.
Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture Copyright © 2012, 2002, 1998 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



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.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


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.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


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
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
To comprehend how this device functions it is necessary to take into account that the allegorist plays with power.
(30) It is against this background of a heightened awareness of the contingency of meaning on the levels both of scholarship and of everyday grammar school teaching that both linguists and allegorists were confronted with the question of how language might work.
If the profundity with which Di Iorio Sandin reads Geographies of Home is due to the exquisite detail of her analysis, in her final chapter, "Melancholic allegorists of the street: Piri Thomas, Junot Diaz, and Yxta Maya Murray," the author seems to have taken on too large a subject--Latino/a street writers--to deal with it effectively in the course of one chapter.
meaning, the melancholic gaze of the allegorist, Benjamin writes,
History and romance, as acceptably decorous and unfortunately debased discourses, are symbolized in the essay by wheat and chaff, an image of truth and falsehood as old as the ancient allegorists and the Bible, and one used consistently in Ivanhoe.
But they are actually rather stem criteria, disqualifying those who play by different rules (Updike, Pynchon, DeLillo); allegorists are at special risk of being sent early to the showers.
My object in this essay is to place Kepler within the genealogy of the great European allegorists, the genealogy containing Martianus Capella, Bernardus Silvestris, Dante, and Chaucer.
Note his famous critique of the pure allegorists in Migr.
Virgil's Circe plays a symbolic role analogous to her part in the interpretations of the allegorists; she stands, however, not for pleasure, but for the violent passion or furor which turns human beings into savage beasts, and which is about to erupt when Aeneas lands in the superficially peaceful Latium.
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).
The rabbis are neither literalists nor allegorists: the plain-sense is the irreplaceable vehicle of God's word; but the meaning of that word remains indefinite until it is articulated by way of midrashic reading, which is a way of "reading in."
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.