First used in English in 1382, the word allegory comes from Latin allegoria, the latinisation of the Greek ἀλληγορία allegoria or veiled language Allegory has been used widely throughout the histories of all forms of art, largely because it readily illustrates complex ideas and concepts in ways that are comprehensible to its viewers, readers, or listeners. Allegories are typically used as literary devices or rhetorical devices that convey hidden meanings through symbolic figures, actions, imagery, and events, which together create the moral, spiritual, or political meaning the author wishes to convey.
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).
The Belly and the Members is one of Aesop’s Fables and is numbered 130 in the Perry Index. It has been variously interpreted in different political contexts over the centuries. There are several versions of the fable. In early Greek sources it concerns a dispute between the stomach and the feet, or between it and the hands and feet in later Latin versions. These grumble because the stomach gets all of the food; refusing to supply it with nourishment, they see sense when they realise that they are weakening themselves
‘For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body, is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body, is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour. Version 12.14-23’
image: Wenceslas Hollar’s illustration from John Ogilby’s version of the fables 1668