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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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.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 ?
Zuckerman's dualistic approach to the Swede and his story brings us back to a question that was raised in the introduction, in my discussion of Jameson and Frye: is all interpretation--even of characters--somehow allegorical? This possibility certainly presents itself in this novel, for even the "realistic chronicle" that is meant to override the simplified notion of the Swede presented in the first chapter leads to an allegorical interpretation.
He claims that, in having the last word, the chorus brings closure for the audience through allegorical action.
Less encumbered by the jargon, didactic purpose, and obtrusive narrative tricks of Toomer and his colleagues, Hurston is secure in the literary and anthropological roots of her allegorical and mythological tales.
some real historical connection between allegorical works of the past
Chapter two focuses on the general structure of Leopardi's Canti which, according to Brose, should be read as a Bildungsroman, inscribing a passage from the allegorical mode characteristic of the earlier idylls to the ironic one prevalent in later compositions.
The first chapter introduces Walter Benjamin's theory of allegorical criticism to which DeShell returns intermittently throughout the volume.
Among more general matters, we should specially value the distinction between allegory as intention and allegory as text or structure; also the persuasive case for the substantiality or literal validity of allegorical constructs.
Crenshaw is no less profound and disputatious in the Faces in the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism as she was in Bell's first allegorical plunge, And We Are Not Saved
During one period in prison, Bunyan wrote a more general and allegorical treatment of the salvation of the soul.
Such work, centering on a personified abstraction, came to be called the descriptive or allegorical ode.
This is an allegorical tale of a hen named Sprout who becomes dissatisfied with monotonous life in the barnyard and devises a plan to escape into the wild.
of Hawaii) presents 11 essays for which contributors were asked to "think differently" about allegory, although what that exactly means is not well-specified beyond reference to the essays "presenting a variety of topics, not restricted to historical period or generic mode;" "offering experimental ideas;" and "posing complex questions." Specific topics include the allegorical construction of colonialism and the ideology of the museum, the allegorical structures found within the architectural debates and broadsides of early modern Paris, the role of allegory in the performative aspects of Bruno's La Cena de le Cenari and Galileo's Massimi sistemi, allegorical structures in philosophy and Hannah Arendt's Life of the Mind, and the place of allegory in contemporary scientific discourse.