AskDefine | Define allegory

Dictionary Definition



1 a short moral story (often with animal characters) [syn: fable, parable, apologue]
2 a visible symbol representing an abstract idea [syn: emblem]
3 an expressive style that uses fictional characters and events to describe some subject by suggestive resemblances; an extended metaphor

User Contributed Dictionary



Middle English allegorie, from Latin allegoria, from Ancient Greek ἀλληγορία (allēgoria), from ἄλλος "other" + ἀγορεύω "speak".


  1. The representation of abstract principles by characters or figures.
  2. A picture, book etc. using such representation.
  3. A symbolic representation.


  • Croatian: alegorija
  • Czech: jinotaj
  • Finnish: allegoria
  • French: allégorie
  • German: Allegorie, Sinnbild, Allegorik
  • Hebrew:
  • Italian: allegoria
  • Spanish: alegoría

Extensive Definition

An allegory (from , allos, "other", and , agoreuein, "to speak in public") is a figurative mode of representation conveying a meaning other than the literal.
Allegory is generally treated as a figure of rhetoric, but an allegory does not have to be expressed in language: it may be addressed to the eye, and is often found in realistic painting, sculpture or some other form of mimetic, or representative art.
The etymological meaning of the word is broader than the common use of the word. Though it is similar to other rhetorical comparisons, an allegory is sustained longer and more fully in its details than a metaphor, and appeals to imagination, while an analogy appeals to reason or logic. The fable or parable is a short allegory with one definite moral.
Since meaningful stories are nearly always applicable to larger issues, allegories may be read into many stories, sometimes distorting their author's overt meaning. For instance, many people have suggested that The Lord of the Rings is an allegory for the World Wars, though it was written well before the outbreak of World War II and in spite of J. R. R. Tolkien's emphatic statement in the introduction to the second edition "It is neither allegorical nor topical....I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence."
Northrop Frye discussed what he termed a "continuum of allegory", ranging from what he termed the "naive allegory" of The Faerie Queene, to the more private allegories of modern paradox literature. In this perspective, the characters in a "naive" allegory are not fully three-dimensional, for each aspect of their individual personalities and the events that befall them embodies some moral quality or other abstraction; the allegory has been selected first, and the details merely flesh it out.


Allegory has been a favourite form in the literature of nearly every nation. It represents many tales. In classical literature two of the best-known allegories are the cave in Plato's Republic (Book VII) and the story of the stomach and its members in the speech of Menenius Agrippa (Livy ii. 32); and several occur in Ovid's Metamorphoses. In Late Antiquity Martianus Capella organized all the information a fifth-century upper-class male needed to know into an allegory of the wedding of Mercury and Philologia, with the seven liberal arts as guests; Capella's allegory was widely read through the Middle Ages.
Medieval thinking accepted allegory as having a reality underlying any rhetorical or fictional uses. The allegory was as true as superficial facts of surface appearances. Thus, the bull Unam Sanctam (1302) presents themes of the unity of Christendom with the pope as its head in which the allegorical details of the metaphors are adduced as actual facts which take the place of a logical demonstration, yet employing the vocabulary of logic: "Therefore of this one and only Church there is one body and one head—not two heads as if it were a monster... If, then, the Greeks or others say that they were not committed to the care of Peter and his successors, they necessarily confess that they are not of the sheep of Christ" (complete text).
In the late fifteenth century, the enigmatic Hypnerotomachia, with its elaborate woodcut illustrations, shows the influence of themed pageants and masques on contemporary allegorical representation, as humanist dialectic conveyed them. Some elaborate and successful specimens of allegory are to be found in the following works, arranged in the approximate chronological order: Modern allegories in fiction tend to operate under constraints of modern requirements for verisimilitude within conventional expectations of realism. Works of fiction with strong allegorical overtones include:
Where some requirements of "realism", in its flexible meanings, are set aside, allegory can come more strongly to the surface, as in the work of Bertold Brecht or Franz Kafka on one hand, or on the other in science fiction and fantasy, where an element of universal application and allegorical overtones are common, as with Dune.
Some artwoks of allegory include:


Further reading

External links

allegory in Bosnian: Alegorija
allegory in Bulgarian: Алегория
allegory in Catalan: Al·legoria
allegory in Czech: Jinotaj
allegory in Danish: Allegori
allegory in German: Allegorie
allegory in Estonian: Allegooria
allegory in Modern Greek (1453-): Αλληγορία
allegory in Spanish: Alegoría
allegory in Esperanto: Alegorio
allegory in French: Allégorie
allegory in Galician: Alegoría
allegory in Korean: 알레고리
allegory in Croatian: Alegorija
allegory in Ido: Alegorio
allegory in Indonesian: Alegori
allegory in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Allegoria
allegory in Icelandic: Táknsaga
allegory in Italian: Allegoria
allegory in Hebrew: אלגוריה
allegory in Georgian: ალეგორია
allegory in Lithuanian: Alegorija
allegory in Hungarian: Allegória
allegory in Macedonian: Алегорија
allegory in Dutch: Allegorie (letterkunde)
allegory in Japanese: アレゴリー
allegory in Norwegian: Allegori
allegory in Norwegian Nynorsk: Allegori
allegory in Occitan (post 1500): Allegoria
allegory in Uzbek: Allegoriya
allegory in Polish: Alegoria
allegory in Portuguese: Alegoria
allegory in Romanian: Alegorie
allegory in Russian: Аллегория
allegory in Simple English: Allegory
allegory in Slovak: Inotaj
allegory in Slovenian: Alegorija
allegory in Serbian: Алегорија
allegory in Finnish: Allegoria
allegory in Swedish: Allegori
allegory in Thai: สัญลักษณ์แฝงคติ
allegory in Vietnamese: Phúng dụ
allegory in Turkish: Alegori
allegory in Ukrainian: Алегорія
allegory in Chinese: 託寓

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Marchen, Western, Western story, Westerner, adventure story, allusion, analogy, apologue, arcane meaning, assumption, balancing, bedtime story, charactery, cipher, coloration, comparative anatomy, comparative degree, comparative grammar, comparative judgment, comparative linguistics, comparative literature, comparative method, compare, comparing, comparison, confrontation, confrontment, connotation, contrast, contrastiveness, conventional symbol, correlation, detective story, distinction, distinctiveness, emblem, fable, fabliau, fairy tale, fantasy, fiction, figuration, folk story, folktale, gest, ghost story, hint, horse opera, iconology, ideogram, implication, implied meaning, import, inference, innuendo, intimation, ironic suggestion, legend, likening, logogram, logotype, love knot, love story, matching, meaning, metaphor, metaphorical sense, mystery, mystery story, myth, mythology, mythos, nuance, nursery tale, occult meaning, opposing, opposition, overtone, parable, parallelism, pictogram, presumption, presupposition, proportion, relation, romance, science fiction, shocker, simile, similitude, space fiction, space opera, subsense, subsidiary sense, suggestion, supposition, suspense story, symbol, symbolic system, symbolism, symbolization, symbology, thriller, tinge, token, totem, totem pole, touch, trope of comparison, type, typification, undercurrent, undermeaning, undertone, weighing, whodunit, work of fiction
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