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allegory, 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 symbolists).


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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.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 ?
However, it wrongly interprets the Passage, ignoring the fact that the Passage tries to define "the figural mode with the ethical tonality" (de Man, Allegories of Reading 188), the immanent ethicity of rhetorical devices, of allegory as a trope, and has nothing to do with the making of ethical judgments, pertaining to the practical ethical (moralistic), thematic dimensions.
Similarly, you can expand on the activities below and examine allegories and filmmaking for students in Years 11 and 12 as well as at the tertiary level.
Melaney concludes his project in Part IV with two chapters respectively devoted to "A Semiotics of Reading" and "Allegories of the Spirit." It is in these final chapters that the value of Melaney's approach to modernist literature becomes clearest.
Fields, "Upon my honor, I am not quite sure that I entirely comprehend my own meaning in some of these blasted allegories; but I remember that I always had a meaning--or, at least, thought I had" (Myerson 2002, 181).
The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien's other novels--notably, The Hobbit--function allegorically as allegories of reading, for their characters perform acts of interpretation; they become figures of the modern Reader as they move through the mythic landscape of Middle-earth.
Their allegories set descriptions of the nation in an international frame and point toward political questions that move past nationalism and into the terrain of the world system.
'Gender in the Religious Allegory of Love: From Active Woman to Passive Souls', argues that Porete's most frequent way of approaching the relationship between the Soul and God is through allegories of romantic love, running the entire gamut of gender combinations.
While the volume's editors, Cristelle Baskins and Lisa Rosenthal, have organized the essays into four groups--"Making Allegory," "Allegories of Place," "Allegory and Audience," and "Allegory as Carnal Knowledge"--they encourage their audience to identify themes shared among the studies.
Scrivener's lively and informed account will prove quite useful to period scholars, but is also worth the notice of readers interested in the genesis of democracy and the thrill of "revolution in the air." Not only does Seditious Allegories offer cogent analyses of political ideology, it also tells fascinating stories in readable prose.
Perhaps the dilemma here involves the conflation of allegory with an allegorizing process of/within writing itself, the distinction that Ullen makes "between allegory and allegoresis, or loosely speaking, between intended and unintended allegories, that is, between allegories originating in the writer and allegories originating in the reader" (41).
The remaining two, titled (somewhat ambiguously) Allegories of Navigation, are on loan from the Los Angeles County Museum.
Antin also presented a record of the photographs' making in the form of a video, Shooting Eleanor Antin's Roman Allegories, in which the artist and company eat apples, drink Coke, sit around in curlers, spray hairspray and paint, pretend to become statuary, smoke, impassively dodge joggers on the beach, move around sets, and rush to shoot a scene before the sun sets behind the hills.