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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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.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 ?
Benjamin writes that the allegorist's melancholic gaze causes life
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.
any phenomenon can come by the wily resourcefulness of the allegorist to signify absolutely anything else, in a kind of profane parody of the creative naming of God.
The allegorist leaves the world of the given--his own passions--to talk of that which is confessedly less real, which is a fiction.
If we read Maturing through the lens of the double-blind, then he becomes the historical allegorist of the doubly-embodied Unionist Anglo-Irish, a socio-ethnic group that Margot Gayle Backus describes as simultaneously identified with "the colonized and the colonizer" (132).
This is very likely the moment Benjamin had in mind when he praised Shakespeare for being able to strike "Christian sparks from the baroque rigidity of the melancholic, un-stoic as it is un-Christian, pseudo-antique as it is pseudo-pietistic." (46) In this moment Hamlet himself, we might say, becomes something of an allegorist in a redemptory mode, finding a means to read the play's externalized, Trauerspielische succession of contingencies and accidents as part of a hidden divine drama--and inviting us to do the same.
I shall risk an assertion that I do not have, here, the space to substantiate: it is this allegorist, more than any other poet, who aids Rossetti in her writing of the seemings of "the world." For Rossetti, the world can indeed be the Wandering Wood into which the Red Cross Knight and Una enter: "Faire harbour that them seemes" (I.i.7)--but only seems.
In his 1503 graduation address at the newly founded Wittenberg University, Nikolaus Marschalk referred to the influential interpretation by the late-antique Latin allegorist Fulgentius of the Judgment of Paris as the choice between the 'vita triplex', consisting of the 'vita contemplativa' (Minerva), the 'vita activa' (Juno) or the 'vita voluptuaria' (Venus).
"'To Be Written Under a Picture': The Poet as Allegorist and Visionary." Field 71: 18-24.
In the chapters that follow, Dawson shows how each figural reader of Scripture, Boyarin, Auerbach, and Frei, attempts to contrast his own figural reading of the biblical narrative with the "allegorist" Origen.
(30) Thus, this aesthetic mode of articulating loss through the construction of allegory is a pathway to melancholy, to follow Benjamin's explication: "If the object becomes allegorical under the gaze of melancholy, if melancholy causes life to flow out of it and it remains behind dead, but eternally secure, then it is exposed to the allegorist, it is unconditionally in his power" (183-84).
It is important at the outset to insist that O'Connor was a writer not an allegorist, so her characters function as characters, not as representations.