chapter  12
10 Pages


Allegory was first practised in antiquity not as a method of writing but as a method of reading texts. Stoic and, later, Neoplatonic philosophers allegorised the myths narrated by Greek and Roman poets so that they revealed a variety of meanings (this process is described in Chapter 2). This can be described as imposed allegory, since there is no reason to suppose that Virgil or Homer would have recognised some of the meanings read into their works. Allegory can be imposed on authors for different reasons. On a simple level this can be a schoolmasterly attempt to make dangerous authors respectable, and there is something of this tendency in the allegorisation of Homer in the Hellenistic period, Ovid in the Middle Ages, and Ariosto in the Renaissance. More seriously, allegory can be imposed because the interpreter believes that the text he is studying contains significant hidden truths which have

escaped careless readers. Both Homer and Virgil were repeatedly allegorised from late antiquity to the Renaissance for this reason. The fifteenth-century Italian humanist Landino in allegorising the Aeneid emphasised its moral meaning: Aeneas’ journey from Troy to Italy guided by Venus is the voyage of man away from passion towards the contemplative life guided by celestial love. Such allegory might even be imposed subsequently by an author himself, as Tasso did in his ‘Account of the Allegory’ of Jerusalem Delivered. However, some Renaissance readers were sceptical of imposed allegory. In the Prologue to Gargantua Rabelais satirises the allegorising reader in the image of a dog trying to lick marrow out of a bone: he regards the Neoplatonising of Homer and the Christianising of Ovid as equally implausible.