I. Derivation of the Term: The Greek term allegoria compounds the bases of two words,

allos ("other") and
agoreuein ("to speak publicly"--that is, to speak in the agora, the "marketplace").
A. Allegory, therfore, is "other speech." This derivation implies that in an allegory, when a writer says one thing, he also says something other. Dante speaks of allegory as being "polysemous," of multiple meaning. In its use in literary criticism, "an allegory" indicates a narrative whose elements mean something other than what the narrative obviously narrates, and the narrative encourages interpretation in order to uncover what that other may be.
B. In his epistle to Can Grande della Scala, Dante claims that the meaning (sensus) of his work is not simple, but

Rather, it may be called "polysemous," that is, of many senses. A first sense derives from the letters themselves and a second from the things signified by the letters. We call the first the "literal" sense, the second the "allegorical" or "moral" or "anagogical."

II. The "Fourfold allegory"--Allegorical Tradition from Early Christian Biblical Exegesis: Dante is merely repeating a division of the various senses of allegory that originated among commentators on the Bible in the early Christian era.
A. Their "fourfold" allegory had become traditional by the sixth century. In this division,

1. the literal or historical sense (the plain sense of the narrative) is distinguished from the "mystical" or "spiritual" or "allegorical" (other) senses: the allegorical, the moral, and the anagogical.

2. With some medieval authority we can substitute "typologlcal" for "allegorical" to avoid confusion with the general term for the mystical senses.

3. Biblical exegetes also used the term "tropological" for "moral."
B. The three allegorical senses, then, are as follows:

1. typological, (allegorical)--referring in the narrative to the deeds and circumstances of Christ, especially by attaching Old Testament events (the Exodus) with New Testament events (the redemption of mankind);

2. moral or tropological--referring in the narrative to the state and progress of the soul;

3.anagogical ("leading up")--referring in the narrative to the final things, or the eschaton, and the final events of Christian history, and to the cosmic circumstances: heaven, hell, judgment, apocalypse, glorification, damnation

III. Allegorical Tradition from Classical Philosophical Speculation and Ensuing Scholastic Commentaries: In addition to early Christian Biblical exegesis, this tradition greatly influenced medieval allegory
A. Development of the tradition

1.The tradition sprang from philosophical speculation. Plato's Myth of Er, which concludes the Republic, which served as the exemplar;

2. It then went through Cicero's account, in his Republic, of the Dream of Scipio;

3. Finally, it was handed on to the Middle Ages by Macrobius' Commentary on the Dream of Scipio.

B. Characteristics of the tradition
1. In this tradition of moral allegory,


the physical structure of the universe,


the relations of the starry spheres and of such cosmic forces as Necessity, Chance, Nature, Love, and Change,
2. were brought to bear

a. on the nature of man,

b. on his place in the universe, and

3. on the ultimate meaning of his conduct.

C. Such allegories often adopted

1. the form of visions--the Revelations that conclude the Bible are an example--and--

2. journeys to the other world.

IV. Boethius and the Birth of Medieval Allegory

The hallf-century from about AD 390 to 440 saw the rise of allegory as the form was known to the Middle Ages.

B. Boethius (ca. 480-524)

1.took it upon himself to transl ate the works of Plato and Aristotle into Latin, but died before completing his project.


2. He must have have been conscious, as the earlier writers were not, of the cultural decline that accompanied the political turmoil of the Roman Empire (a turmoil that caused his execution).

3. The Consolation of Philosophy had an enormous impact on medieval letters.

a. It seemed to solve the problem of evil and the conflict of human free will and divine providence without specific recourse to Christian revelation.

b. It is a learned work, full of references to pagan themes and myths, that helped to authorize the use of non-Christian culture by medieval Christians (who assumed, as modern scholarship does again, that Boethius was a Christian).

c. In its application to allegory, the chief importance of the Consolation is its form.

(1) A dialogue--a mixture of prose and verse--its speakers are the imprisoned Boethius and Lady Philosophy

(2) the sees Lady Philosophy in a vision.--Boethius' personified Philosophy is the source of innumerable latcr such figures.

(3) To Boethius we owe the medieval allegorists' delight in the dialogue form and their use of a visionary narrator in need of information and correction.

V. Allegory during the Medieval "Dark Ages"
A. The sixth to the eleventh centuries are dark from allegory's point of view: Although allegorical ways of thinking and allegorical ornament abounded in poetry and exegesis of the period, no major single allegory was composed.
B. The influence of Ovid, as his works were filtered through the Middle Ages, had a double effect on the rise of vernacular allegory in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

1. First, there was a new flurry of mythographic activity, much of it based on the Metamorphoses, which had become (as it remains) the standard reference book for information about classical mythology.

a. Certainly by the thirteenth cen-tury, allegorical interpretations of Ovid's myths were common knowledge among the well educated.

b. As allegorical meanings of figures from mythology developed and spread, their use in literature by Christlans grew apace, and the writers could take for granted a habit of mythographic allegoresis in their works

2. The other, more profound influence of Ovid on medieval letters came from his love poetry--especially the Amores, the Ars amatoria, the Remedia amoris, and the Heroides.

a. Ovid's ways of expressing love deeply affected the new Iyric poetry that arose in Provence during the eleventh century.
(1) it early adopted allegory, chiefly in the form of personification

(2) Personifications of the faculties (Reason, Desire, Hope) joined with a mock religion of love, which had Venus and Cupid as the principal deities.

b. By the time of Chretien de Troyes in the late twelfth century, the allegorical expression of the sense of love was inevitable.

(1) The new genre, chivalric romance, absorbed the allegory of love at the outset;

(2) romancers easily turned to personifications when their knights turned from their violent quests to their loves


The Romance of the Rose--the Greatest Allegory of the Early Middle Ages .

A. In the 1230's, Guillaume de Lorris wrote the first part, in French octosyllabic couplets, of Le Roman de la Rose

1. although the use of allegory in secular love poetry was familiar, what was new in Guillaume's work was the persistence and extensiveness of the allegory.

2. His work was left unfinished.

3. What we have is a transparent allegory of an aristocratic love affair, which Guillaume wittily claims is obscure and in need of explication, in the form of a dream-vision.

a. The dreamer enters a garden of delight, whose gatekeeper is Leisure, from which the vices of love are excluded.

b. The vices are portrayed as a series of paintings on the garden wall--Hate, Felony, Villainy, Avarice, Envy, Old Age, and the rest, an amalgam of Christian and courtly vices.

c. In the garden the dreamer encounters the virtues of love--Courtesy, Beauty, Youth, Generosity, Wealth, and others--in a dance led by the God of Love.

d. The dreamer wanders through the garden, comes to the fountain of Narcissus, sees in it two crystal stones that magically reflect the whole garden, and falls in love with a rose, the allegorical image of the lady's favor.

e. The God of Love shoots the dreamer with his arrows--Beauty, Simplicity, lndependence, Companionship, Fair Seeming--and takes the dreamer as his liegeman, enjoining him to obey the ten commandments of love and to worship in love's religion.

f. There follows a series of dialogues between the dreamer and Fair Welcome, Haughti ness, Reason, Friend, Evil Tongue, Jealousy, and others, personified features of the progress of his suit.

g. Guillaume's work breaks off as the rose is imprisoned by Jealousy in a castle. His fragment extends to 4,058 lines.

h. Here the refined sensibility and the delight in detailed exposition of aristocratic manners and love feelings induced by love.

B. Some forty years later Jean de Meun exploded Guillaume's dream.

1. The Romance of the Rose, already extremely popular, was incomplete, and Jean set out to finish it. He added more than seventeen thousand lines.

2. In his continuation Jean took each element of Guillaume's poem and, principally by magnifying it out of proportion, made it an object of humor, often of satire.

a. He brought to bear on the tradition of love allegory the academic learning and intellectual playfulness of a Schoolman.

b. The delicate rhetoric explodes into parodic catalogs of oxymorons and other standard conceits of love poetry;

c. the religion of love is crushed in confrontation with Christianity and with Neoplatonic cosmography issuing from the poems of Bernard Silvestris and Alan of Lille;

d. the dance of love and wounding of the loved burst out in a pitched psychomachia of hostile forces, personifications of the attributes and maneuvers of courtship; the Garden of Delight is set against thc Fair Park, whose core is not the fountain of Narcissus but a jewel symbolizing the Trinity.

e. To the delicate train of virtues and vices of love Jean adds the figures Genius (universal generation), Venus (mythical and cosmic eros), and Nature, in allegories drawn directly from the twelfth-century cosmographies.

**f. He also introduces the Old Woman (prime source of Chaucer's Wife of Bath) and False Seeming (who lies behind Chaucer's Pardoner), who embody the satiric spirit alien to Guillaume.

g. Jean's countermyth to Guillaume's Narcissus is the myth of Pygmalion, a myth that concludes not in self-indulgent death but in successful procreation.

h. And while Guillaume's poem allegorized the courteous play of courtship, Jean rudely concludes his poem with a transparent allegory of sexual intercourse: Jean deflowers the Rose

VII. The Great allegories of the High Middle Ages
A. Only four allegories besides The Romance of the Rose deserve to be called great

1. One, The Faerie Queene, belongs to the Renaissance;

2. the other three are all of the fourteenth century: the Diuine Comedy, William Langland's Piers Plowman, and the anonymous English poem The Pearl.

B. William Langland's Piers Plowman: From the point of view of the traditions we have surveyed, Piers Plowman is the most conservative of these.

1. It mixes an encyclopedic array of allegorical devices and topics--dream-vision, pilgrimage, personification, satire (including satire on the social estates), the allegorical banquet, psychomachia, vices and virtues, the potentia addressing the naif dreamer from her specula, a disruptive figure (the liar often found in allegories that point toward the apocalypse, even a variant (in the Tree of Charity episode) of the enclosed garden.

2. More than any other allegory it makes use of specific commonplaces of biblical exegesis--for instance, the notion that Abraham represents Faith.

3. But underlying its sometimes confusing spray of knotty dialogues, abrupt transitions, dreamlike locales, and baroque figures is a typological structure that holds thc poem together: the dreamer's progress recapitulates the progress of biblical history from Fall to Apocalypse.

4. ln many ways Piers Plowman is the chief precursor of the most original development of allegory in the fifteenth century, the morality plays like The Castle of Perseverance and Everyman, which likewise project a scheme of human weakness, in the form of personifications, against a background of divine providence expressed in the more historical, time-full form of typology.

C. The Pearl is just as firmly based on a typological view of history.

1. lts whole plot constitutes an anagogical allegory, in which a translated soul, the potentia, the pearly maiden, introduces the dreamer to the heavenly Jerusalem.

2. Where Piers attempts to assess the meaning of human society and individual vice against the truth of Christianity, The Pearl focuses, with amazing poetic virtuosity, on rhe single issue of the meaning of death.

3. It is a religious and beautiful response to Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy.

D. Dante's Divine Comedy--the finest product of the Middle Ages

1. Dante so perfectly integrated the allegorical mode with the whole design that it scarcely seems to be allegory the literal sense and the ''other" sense are hard to distinguish.

2. His own account of the four senses aptly describes the way the poem means:

a. literallly, it tells of Dante's vision;

b. typologically, it is Dante's immitation of all the great quests, especially (as he hints when he says that he is not Aeneas or St. Paul) the descent to the underworld of Aeneas, the classical type of Christ's harrowing of hell, and the visionary ascent to the spheres of St. Paul, in imitation of Christ's ascension;

c. morally, it is concerned with the purification of the moral state of the people he encounters--the stripping away in death of everything accidental, nonmoral, about them, so that their place perfectly defines their being;

d. anagogically, it is identical to the literal level because in this particular work the vision is of the afterlife.

3. Dante's choice of a subject matter, a pilgrim's vision of the places of the afterlife, of course draws on the tradition of the voies of hell and paradise, but he was the first to see how intricately the relationships of typological allegory could be knotted: Each of the four traditional senses is the basis for all the others:

a. the anagogy (the vision of the afterlife)

(1) obviously coincides with the literal sense,

(2) but it is also the typology (as Dante imitates in vision what Christ did);

b. the moral sense (the whirlwind of desire) is the literal sense (Dante sees the whirlwind; hell really is this way).

4. Dante saw through what allegory could do, and realized its full potential as an instrument of discovery and of intellectual liberation.