What is an allegory

Allegory: definition & 8 + 3 typical examples of the style figure

Allegory is a popular stylistic device and is used in various forms. It is mainly used in the fine arts and literature. Here's everything you need to know about allegory.

The allegory is similar to the metaphor. It also depicts vividly what would otherwise be too abstract to describe. Allegory even uses the metaphor for its own purposes. In the following you will find out exactly how this works and what exactly constitutes an allegory.

Definition of allegory

Definition of allegory

The word allegory comes from the Greek and means “veiled language”. And exactly about this Obfuscation it goes with the allegory. With the help of the stylistic device, a certain fact is abstracted and symbolized. A general phenomenon is represented by a specific symbol. This can be both a single item as well as a pictorial text which goes hand in hand with numerous metaphors and personifications that form a whole in the text. You can find out more about the rhetorical stylistic devices here.

For example, the depiction of death in the form of the grim reaper is an allegory. The complicated and abstract facts of death take on an exact form here and are therefore more accessible and less complex. In this case, a personification is used. Human traits are assigned to an abstract fact. This gives the representation figurative features, whereas if several metaphors were used it would remain on the purely linguistic level. You can therefore distinguish the allegory between the pictorial allegory and the linguistic allegory.

Pictorial allegory

The pictorial allegory has a long tradition in art and goes back to antiquity. For example, certain values ​​such as love and anger are personified and based on Paintings or as Sculptures shown. A best-known example is the painting “La liberté guidant le peuple” by the French painter Eugène Delacroix from 1830, which shows freedom personified in the form of a woman on the battlefield.

The woman has some symbols of freedom. On the one hand, as a symbol of France, she is holding the French flag in her right hand. The country was at that time in the July Revolution, during which the common citizens rebelled against French rule. On the other hand, the depicted woman holds a rifle and wears the so-called freedom cap, which served as a distinguishing mark in the French Revolution. Both point to a militant revolution that should lead to freedom. Due to numerous features, the painting can thus be interpreted as an allegory for freedom.

Allegorical Examples of Pictorial Allegory

Allegorical Examples of Pictorial Allegory: Grim Reaper

There are numerous well-known examples of pictorial allegories that are no longer perceived as such in everyday life, but have a fixed place in local culture or as a national allegory that has an important meaning for the respective country. Almost everyone knows their symbolism and their meaning, but we will explain some well-known examples to you.

Lady Justice: Justitia is the Roman goddess of justice, who stands for a compensatory justice and therefore holds a scale in her hands. Over the centuries, however, their meanings have been mixed with those of the Greek goddesses Dike and Themis, who personified justice through divine order and punitive justice. The Justitia is now known primarily as a symbol for the legal system.

Black Death: In the late Middle Ages, the term “Black Death” was used to describe the plague, which claimed several million lives in Europe between 1346 and 1353. On the one hand, the term expresses the severity of the epidemic and, on the other hand, it could refer to the black coloration of the plague bumps. The black death is often depicted as a skeleton with a black cape and a large scythe and thus resembles the general symbol for death: the grim reaper.

Reaper: The Grim Reaper as a personified allegory for death comes from the Middle Ages and is used in the performing and visual arts as well as in literature. His typical representation is that of a skeleton with a long black robe and a huge scythe with which he brings people to their deaths.

cornucopia: The symbol of the cornucopia can also be seen as an allegory. Mythologically it stands for luck in the form of fertility, wealth and abundance. The horn is a funnel-shaped wicker basket filled with all kinds of flowers and fruits.

Helvetia: Helvetia is a female figure who symbolizes the Swiss Confederation and has been an important national allegory since Switzerland was founded in the 19th century. Images of Helvetia can still be found on the state's own coins.

Uncle Sam: The officially recognized and world-famous advertising figure of Uncle Sam from the USA is also a national allegory. He is portrayed as a lean, older, white man with a serious look and a goatee who is dressed in the national colors of the USA.

Germania: Germany also has such a national allegory in the form of Germania, which in the 19th century served as a national romantic symbol for the democratic movement and the German nation-state. Germania is usually represented as a woman.

mother Nature: Mother Nature is an allegory of nature personified. The femininity or motherliness is reflected in the fertility, originality and wholeness of nature.

Linguistic allegory

The linguistic allegory

The linguistic allegory is limited to a text, but no less pictorial. This is mainly about them Interpretation of a literary work, which among other things also as Allegory referred to as. The work as such is then called an allegory, in which one has to read between the lines. The actual message of the text only becomes clear on closer inspection. You can encounter allegories, for example, in a poem analysis, short story analysis or novel analysis.

A well-known example is George Orwell's "Animal Farm" or "Animal Farm", which is superficially about a farm where the animals rebel against human rule. After the animals are initially better under their own rule, the pigs gradually take control until they themselves establish a tyranny. The fable is mostly interpreted in relation to the history of the Soviet Union, in which the revolution was followed by a dictatorship by Stalin.

Fables are typical genres of linguistic allegorieswhich always contain a certain meaning. Although texts from almost all literary genres can be allegories, some text genres tend to be read allegorically or should even be understood as allegory in order not to draw false conclusions (example, the Bible).

Allegorical Examples of Linguistic Allegory

Some types of text can quickly be recognized as allegories. They contain a hidden messagewhich comes to light after a long study of the text. Examples are fables, proverbs, and biblical parables. These statements or stories appear irrelevant at first, but if you recognize their meaning, they can be related to many situations in life.

Fable: The peacock and the jackdaw (Aesop)

A peacock and a jackdaw argued over the merits of their properties. The peacock boasted of the luster, color, and size of its feathers.
The jackdaw admitted all this, only noting that all these beauties were not good for the main thing - for flying. It flew open and the peacock stayed behind, ashamed.
Do not be proud of merely superficial merits.

(Aesop, around 600 BC, ancient Greek poet)

It is easiest to recognize the meaning of fables. Because although the actual fable is written as an allegory, it stands Message at the end of the fable once again clearly and clearly formulated. The meaning does not remain hidden, but the actual story is an allegory. The protagonists of a fable are mostly humanized animals that reflect human society. You can find out more about the fable here.

saying: Anyone who digs a pit for others will fall into it themselves.

Proverbs as a linguistic allegory

Meaning: Whoever sets a trap for others steps into it himself. It is warned against reprehensible behavior: Those who want to harm others also run the risk of harming themselves.
Origin: This saying comes from the Old Testament: "Anyone who digs a pit can fall into it" (Koh 10.8)

Proverbs usually clarify one in the form of an allegory Wisdom, which is expressed succinctly in this way. Usually certain experiences are generalized. These experiences can in turn be related to different areas of life. Proverbs have no authors and are often firmly anchored in common parlance. You can find more proverbs and their meanings here.

Biblical parable: The parable of the mustard seed: 13: 31-32

He gave them another parable and said: The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man sows in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds; but as soon as it is tall, it is larger than the other growths and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the sky come and nest in its branches.

Biblical parables should also not literallybut always be interpreted allegorically. If you were to take it literally, it would probably have little meaning for you. This example would be all about the growth of a seed. As an allegory related to Christianity, it denotes the importance of the kingdom of God, which at first appears small, but will later be significant.

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