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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pearl, miniature from Cotton Nero A.x. The Dreamer stands on the other side of the stream from the Pearl-maiden. Pearl is one of the greatest allegories from the High Middle Ages[1]
Pearl, miniature from Cotton Nero A.x. The Dreamer stands on the other side of the stream from the Pearl-maiden. Pearl is one of the greatest allegories from the High Middle Ages[1]

As a literary device, an allegory is a metaphor in which a character, place or event is used to deliver a broader message about real-world issues and occurrences. Allegory (in the sense of the practice and use of allegorical devices and works) has occurred widely throughout history in all forms of art, largely because it can readily illustrate or convey complex ideas and concepts in ways that are comprehensible or striking to its viewers, readers, or listeners.

Writers or speakers typically use allegories as literary devices or as rhetorical devices that convey (semi-)hidden or complex meanings through symbolic figures, actions, imagery, or events, which together create the moral, spiritual, or political meaning the author wishes to convey.[2]

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Transcription

What is reality, knowledge, the meaning of life? Big topics you might tackle figuratively explainIing existence as a journey down a road or across an ocean, a climb, a war, a book, a thread, a game, a window of opportunity, or an all-too-short-lived flicker of flame. 2,400 years ago, one of history's famous thinkers said life is like being chained up in a cave, forced to watch shadows flitting across a stone wall. Pretty cheery, right? That's actually what Plato suggested in his Allegory of the Cave, found in Book VII of "The Republic," in which the Greek philosopher envisioned the ideal society by examining concepts like justice, truth and beauty. In the allegory, a group of prisoners have been confined in a cavern since birth with their backs to the entrance, unable to turn their heads, and with no knowledge of the outside world. Occasionally, however, people and other things pass by the cave opening, casting shadows and echos onto the wall the captives face. The prisoners name and classify these illusions, believing they're perceiving actual entities. Suddenly, one prisoner is freed and brought outside for the first time. The light hurts his eyes and he finds the new environment disorienting. When told that the things around him are real, while the shadows were mere reflections, he cannot believe it. The shadows appeared much clearer to him. But gradually, his eyes adjust until he can look at reflections in the water, at objects directly, and finally at the Sun, whose light is the ultimate source of everything he has seen. The prisoner returns to the cave to share his discovery, but he is no longer used to the darkness, and has a hard time seeing the shadows on the wall. The other prisoners think the journey has made him stupid and blind, and violently resist any attempts to free them. Plato introduces this passage as an analogy of what it's like to be a philosopher trying to educate the public. Most people are not just comfortable in their ignorance but hostile to anyone who points it out. In fact, the real life Socrates was sentenced to death by the Athenian government for disrupting the social order, and his student Plato spends much of "The Republic" disparaging Athenian democracy, while promoting rule by philosopher kings. With the cave parable, Plato may be arguing that the masses are too stubborn and ignorant to govern themselves. But the allegory has captured imaginations for 2,400 years because it can be read in far more ways. Importantly, the allegory is connected to the theory of forms, developed in Plato's other dialogues, which holds that like the shadows on the wall, things in the physical world are flawed reflections of ideal forms, such as roundness, or beauty. In this way, the cave leads to many fundamental questions, including the origin of knowledge, the problem of representation, and the nature of reality itself. For theologians, the ideal forms exist in the mind of a creator. For philosophers of language viewing the forms as linguistic concepts, the theory illustrates the problem of grouping concrete things under abstract terms. And others still wonder whether we can really know that the things outside the cave are any more real than the shadows. As we go about our lives, can we be confident in what we think we know? Perhaps one day, a glimmer of light may punch a hole in your most basic assumptions. Will you break free to struggle towards the light, even if it costs you your friends and family, or stick with comfortable and familiar illusions? Truth or habit? Light or shadow? Hard choices, but if it's any consolation, you're not alone. There are lots of us down here.

Contents

Etymology

Salvator Rosa: Allegory of Fortune, representing Fortuna, the goddess of luck, with the horn of plenty
Salvator Rosa: Allegory of Fortune, representing Fortuna, the goddess of luck, with the horn of plenty
Marco Marcola: Mythological allegory
Marco Marcola: Mythological allegory

First attested in English in 1382, the word allegory comes from Latin allegoria, the  latinisation of the Greek ἀλληγορία (allegoría), "veiled language, figurative"[3], which in turn comes from both ἄλλος (allos), "another, different"[4] and ἀγορεύω (agoreuo), "to harangue, to speak in the assembly"[5], which originates from ἀγορά (agora), "assembly".[6]

Types

Northrop Frye discussed what he termed a "continuum of allegory", a spectrum that ranges from what he termed the "naive allegory" of The Faerie Queene, to the more private allegories of modern paradox literature.[7] 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.

Classical allegory

The origins of Allegory can be traced at least back to Homer in his "quasi-allegorical" use of personifications of, e.g., Terror (Deimos) and Fear (Phobos) at Il. 115 f. [8] The title of "first allegorist," however, is usually awarded to whoever was the earliest to put forth allegorical interpretations of Homer. This approach leads to two possible answers: Theagenes of Rhegium (whom Porphyry calls the "first allegorist," Porph. Quaest. Hom. 1.240.14-241.12 Schrad.) or Pherecydes of Syros, both of whom are presumed to be active in the 6th century B.C.E., though Pherecydes is earlier and as he is often presumed to be the first writer of prose. The debate is complex, since it demands we observe the distinction between two often conflated uses of the Greek verb "allēgoreīn," which can mean both "to speak allegorically" and "to interpret allegorically." [9]

In the case of "interpreting allegorically," Theagenes appears to be our earliest example. Presumably in response to proto-philosophical moral critiques of Homer (e.g. Xenophanes fr. 11 Diels-Kranz [10]), Theagenes proposed symbolic interpretations whereby the Gods of the Iliad actually stood for physical elements. So, Hephestus represents Fire, for instance (for which see fr. A2 in Diels-Kranz [11]). Some scholars, however, argue that Pherecydes cosmogonic writings anticipated Theagenes allegorical work, illustrated especially by his early placement of Time (Chronos) in his genealogy of the gods, which is thought to be a reinterpretation of the titan Kronos, from more traditional genealogies.

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).

Among the best-known examples of allegory, Plato's Allegory of the Cave, forms a part of his larger work The Republic. In this allegory, Plato describes a group of people who have lived chained in a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall (514a–b). The people watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them and begin to ascribe forms to these shadows, using language to identify their world (514c–515a). According to the allegory, the shadows are as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality, until one of them finds his way into the outside world where he sees the actual objects that produced the shadows. He tries to tell the people in the cave of his discovery, but they do not believe him and vehemently resist his efforts to free them so they can see for themselves (516e–518a). This allegory is, on a basic level, about a philosopher who upon finding greater knowledge outside the cave of human understanding, seeks to share it as is his duty, and the foolishness of those who would ignore him because they think themselves educated enough.[12]

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 the young man needed to know as guests.[13]

Biblical allegory

Other early allegories are found in the Hebrew Bible, such as the extended metaphor in Psalm 80 of the Vine and its impressive spread and growth, representing Israel's conquest and peopling of the Promised Land.[14] Also allegorical is Ezekiel 16 and 17, wherein the capture of that same vine by the mighty Eagle represents Israel's exile to Babylon.[15]

Allegorical interpretation of the Bible was a common early Christian practice and continues. For example, the recently re-discovered IVth Commentary on the Gospels by Fortunatianus of Aquileia has a comment by its English translator: The principal characteristic of Fortunatianus’ exegesis is a figurative approach, relying on a set of concepts associated with key terms in order to create an allegorical decoding of the text. (pXIX)

Medieval allegory

British School 17th century – Portrait of a Lady, Called Elizabeth, Lady Tanfield. Sometimes the meaning of an allegory can be lost, even if art historians suspect that the artwork is an allegory of some kind.[16]
British School 17th century – Portrait of a Lady, Called Elizabeth, Lady Tanfield. Sometimes the meaning of an allegory can be lost, even if art historians suspect that the artwork is an allegory of some kind.[16]

Allegory has an ability to freeze the temporality of a story, while infusing it with a spiritual context. Mediaeval thinking accepted allegory as having a reality underlying any rhetorical or fictional uses. The allegory was as true as the facts of surface appearances. Thus, the Papal 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 facts on which is based a demonstration with 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." This text also demonstrates the frequent use of allegory in religious texts during the Mediaeval Period, following the tradition and example of the Bible.

In the late 15th 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.

The denial of medieval allegory as found in the 12th-century works of Hugh of St Victor and Edward Topsell's Historie of Foure-footed Beastes (London, 1607, 1653) and its replacement in the study of nature with methods of categorisation and mathematics by such figures as naturalist John Ray and the astronomer Galileo is thought to mark the beginnings of early modern science.[17]

Modern allegory

Since meaningful stories are nearly always applicable to larger issues, allegories may be read into many stories which the author may not have recognised. This is allegoresis, or the act of reading a story as an allegory. Examples of allegory in popular culture that may or may not have been intended include the works of Bertolt Brecht, and even some works of science fiction and fantasy, such as The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and A Kingdom Far and Clear: The Complete Swan Lake Trilogy by Mark Helprin.

The story of the apple falling onto Isaac Newton's head is another famous allegory. It simplified the idea of gravity by depicting a simple way it was supposedly discovered. It also made the scientific revelation well known by condensing the theory into a short tale.[citation needed]

Poetry and fiction

Detail of Laurent de La Hyre's Allegory of Arithmetic, c. 1650
Detail of Laurent de La Hyre's Allegory of Arithmetic, c. 1650

It is important to note that while allegoresis may make discovery of allegory in any work, not every resonant work of modern fiction is allegorical, and some are clearly not intended to be viewed this way. According to Henry Littlefield's 1964 article, L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, may be readily understood as a plot-driven fantasy narrative in an extended fable with talking animals and broadly sketched characters, intended to discuss the politics of the time.[18] Yet, George MacDonald emphasised in 1893 that "A fairy tale is not an allegory."[19]

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is another example of a well-known work mistakenly perceived as allegorical, as the author himself once stated, "...I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author."[20]

Tolkien specifically resented the suggestion that the book's One Ring, which gives overwhelming power to those possessing it, was intended as an allegory of nuclear weapons. He noted that, had that been his intention, the book would not have ended with the Ring being destroyed but rather with an arms race in which various powers would try to obtain such a Ring for themselves. Then Tolkien went on to outline an alternative plot for "Lord of The Rings", as it would have been written had such an allegory been intended, and which would have made the book into a dystopia. While all this does not mean Tolkien's works may not be treated as having allegorical themes, especially when reinterpreted through postmodern sensibilities, it at least suggests that none were conscious in his writings. This further reinforces the idea of forced allegoresis, as allegory is often a matter of interpretation and only sometimes of original artistic intention.

Like allegorical stories, allegorical poetry has two meanings – a literal meaning and a symbolic meaning.

Some unique specimens of allegory can be found in the following works:

Art

Some elaborate and successful specimens of allegory are to be found in the following works, arranged in approximate chronological order:

Gallery

See also

References

  1. ^ Stephen A. Barney (1989). "Allegory". Dictionary of the Middle Ages. vol. 1. ISBN 0-684-16760-3
  2. ^ Wheeler, L. Kip (11 January 2018). "A". Literary Terms and Definitions. Carson-Newman University.
  3. ^ ἀλληγορία, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library
  4. ^ ἄλλος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library
  5. ^ ἀγορεύω, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library
  6. ^ ἀγορά, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, in the Perseus Digital Library.
  7. ^ [Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1957. Print.]
  8. ^ [Small, S. G. P. (1949). "On Allegory in Homer". The Classical Journal 44 (7): 423.]
  9. ^ [Domaradzki, M. (2017). "The Beginnings of Greek Allegoresis". Classical World 110 (3):301]
  10. ^ [H. Diels and W. Kranz. (1951). Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, vol. 1. 6th edn. Berlin: Weidmann, 126-138.]
  11. ^ [H. Diels and W. Kranz. (1951). Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, vol. 1. 6th edn. Berlin: Weidmann, 51-52.]
  12. ^ [Elliott, R. K. (1967). "Socrates and Plato's Cave". Kant-Studien 58 (2): 138.]
  13. ^ [Capella, Martianus, William Harris. Stahl, Richard Johnson, and E. L. Burge. The Marriage of Philology and Mercury. New York: Columbia UP, 1977. Print.]
  14. ^ Kennedy, George A. (1999). Classical Rhetoric and Its Christian and Secular Tradition from Ancient to Modern Times (2nd ed.). UNC Press. p. 142. ISBN 0-8078-4769-0. Retrieved 7 August 2009.
  15. ^ Jones, Alexander, ed. (1968). The Jerusalem Bible (Reader's ed.). Doubleday & Company. pp. 1186, 1189. ISBN 0-385-01156-3.
  16. ^ "Portrait of a Lady, Called Elizabeth, Lady Tanfield by Unknown Artist". ArtFund.org. Art Fund.
  17. ^ Harrison, Peter (2001). "Introduction". The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural Science. Cambridge University Press. p. 1–10. ISBN 0-521-59196-1.
  18. ^ [Littlefield, Henry (1964). "The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism". American Quarterly, 16 (1): 47–58. doi:10.2307/2710826.]
  19. ^ Baum, L. Frank (2000). The Annotated Wizard of Oz: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Norton. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-393-04992-3.
  20. ^ Bogstad, Janice M.; Kaveny, Philip E. (9 August 2011). Picturing Tolkien: Essays on Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings Film Trilogy. McFarland. p. 189. ISBN 978-0-7864-8473-7.
  21. ^ [Roppolo, Joseph Patrick. "Meaning and 'The Masque of the Red Death'", collected in Poe: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Robert Regan. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1967. p. 137]
  22. ^ Cäcilia Rentmeister: The Muses, Banned From Their Occupations: Why Are There So Many Allegories Female? English summary from Kvinnovetenskaplig Tidskrift, Nr.4. 1981, Lund, Sweden as PDF. Retrieved 10.July 2011 Original Version in German: Berufsverbot für die Musen. Warum sind so viele Allegorien weiblich? In: Ästhetik und Kommunikation, Nr. 25/1976, S. 92–112. Langfassung in: Frauen und Wissenschaft. Beiträge zur Berliner Sommeruniversität für Frauen, Juli 1976, Berlin 1977, S.258–297. With illustrations. Full Texts Online: Cäcilia (Cillie) Rentmeister: publications

Further reading

External links

This page was last edited on 6 March 2019, at 23:14
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