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The Symbolic Literature of the Renaissance

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[These pages are under construction. Contributions are welcome and will be acknowledged. For details see here]

Alain de LilleAnticlaudianusBasle: Petrus, 1536

Another ed. Venice: Combeis, 1582; Antwerp: Trognaesius, 1621. Originally composed in 1181, this was satire in the style of Claudian’s In Rufinus

AlbricusAllegoria poetica… poeticarum fabularum de Marnef, 1520*G I, 59

also called Alberic of London

Anon Fior di Virtú Venice: Capcasa de Codeca, 15 January 1493

Said to be composed in early 14th century by Tomasso di Gozzadini.

Apuleius, Lucius Metamorphoseos Venice: Aldi et Andreae 1521

Mid 2nd Century AD

----------------------Comentarii a P. Beroaldo conditi in asinu Venice: Bartolomeus ed Zanis, 1504.

----------------------L'ane dore, XI (Traduit en francais par J. Louveau) Paris: Claude Micard, 1577

D’Arras, Jean L’Histoire de Melusine Lyons: Huss, c1477-1481

A romance – the tale of the tutelary water-sprite of the house of Lusignan

Baillet, Adrien La Vie de Descartes Paris: Hosqhenels, 1691

(The Dream of Descartes) describes the epiphany in which Descartes chooses the path of self-knowledge.

Other eds 1597, 1601 See also Colonna

Béroalde de Verville, François Le cabinet de Minerve Rouen: 1596,

------------------------, Le Moyen de Parvenir 1610

---------------------- See also Colonna.

Bunyan, John Pilgrims Progress London: J. Sturt, 1678-1684

                Another ed. London: Sturt, 1760. Numerous other editions later and in many languages.

Burton, Robert The Anatomy of Melancholy Oxford: Cripps, 1621

Written under the pseudonym Democritus Junior. A satire but also a precursor of modern psychology. Has over 13,000 citations. 8 other editions before 1676 then forgotten until Dr. Johnson brought it back into vogue.

1800 ed.

Colonna, Francesco Hypnerotomachia Poliphili Venice: Aldus, 1499

First edition. Frequently referred to as the most beautiful book of the fifteenth century. See for a full publication listing and here for description of the story.

-------------------------(Tr. Béroalde de Verville (1st French edition)) 1600
--------------------------(Tr. Joscelyn Godwin (1st full English translation) New York: Thames & Hudson, 1999)

Cantimpré, Thomas de Bonum universale de apibus ed G. Colvener Dovai: 1597, 1605, 1627

Originally written c1260. An allegory on the human condition. Also called Bienboec.

Dante Commedia (1265-1321)

First printed in Florence in 1481 

Deguileville, Guillaume de Pelerinage de Vie Humaine 1331 - 1350

(The Pilgrimage of Human Life)  The first of the late medieval allegories which depicts the Pilgrim journeying through life, overcoming the perils of material temptation, earning his place in heaven and achieving reunion with God. Mankind travels through life with his Scarf of Faith and Staff of Hope.

Despériers, Bonaventure Cymbalum mundi Paris: Morin, 1537

Allegorical and facetious stories with anagrams. A forerunner of Rabelais. Other editions Lyons: Bonyn, 1538, 1711, Amsterdam: 1732, Amsterdam: 1755, Avignon: 1778 * BII, 644

Another edition, 1873

Dryden The Hind and the Panther Holy-Rood House: 1687

His longest poem, this was a theological and political ‘fable’ not wholly admired by contemporaries and certainly not by the authorities.,

--------------------------The State of Innocence London: Herringman, 1692

1694 edition

Dunbar, William The Thissill and the Rois 1503

An allegory to commemorate the marriage of Margaret Tudor to Scotland's King James IV.

Nicholas de Guildford The Owl and the Nightingale early 13th cent.

A poem of 2,000 lines in the form of debate between an owl and a nightingale symbolizing respectively asceticism and pleasure or philosophy and art.

Another edition, 1844

Hesiod Theogonia Ferrara: Gallum, 1474

Describing the battle for the creation of the Earth in his Theogony this was also the first illustration of the struggle or fight, the first of the two principal themes of allegory. Other eds. Paris: Bogardus, 1543. Many other eds. And trans. particularly contained in Opera Omnia.

Another edition, 1856

Homer Batrachomyomachia Venice: Cretensis, 1486

(The Battle of the Mice and Frogs) a poem traditionally believed to have been written by Homer. Suidas, the 10th Century encyclopaedist, however, says that the real author was Pigres of Caria in about 480. BCVenice: Aldus, 1504 this ed. contains Homer’s complete works, Paris, Gourmontius, 1507 (2nd book printed in Greek in Paris), Wittenberg: Grunenberger, 1513, Basle: Froben, 1518, Paris: Tiletanum, 1542.

Lorris, Guillaume with Jean de Meung Roman de la Rose Paris: Renault, 1538

Begun end of C13th by Guillaume de Lorris but finished by Jean de Meung after the former died. De Meung had an altogether different style with long, meandering and sometimes irrelevant commentaries.
Another edition Paris: Galliot du Pré, 1526.First prose ed. was the Romant de la Rose Moralisé Lyon: Balsarin, c 1503

Lydgate Reson and Sensualyte 1412

Lydgate dreams that Nature offers him a choice between Reason and Sensuality

Another edition, 1906

La Marche, Olivier de Le Chevalier Délibéré Paris: Marchand, 1488

Very popular allegorical poem. 13 woodcuts. Only 3 examples known Another ed. nd np (Gouda: van Os, 1489) has colored woodcuts. ‘One of the most important illustrated books of the period.’ Another ed. Paris: Lambert, 1493, Holland Schiedam: np,nd, Lyons: Hauard, nd, Paris: Treperel, 1500, Paris: le Noir, nd, Anvers: Steelsius, 1553, Anvers: Nucio, 1555, Salamanca: Batista, 1560, Barcelona: Bornat, 1565, Salamanca: Laso, 1575, Anvers: Plantin, 1591

Martianus Capella De Nuptiis Philoligiae et Mercurii Vicenza: Sancto_Urso, 1499

 (The Marriage of Learning and Eloquence)  Written about c500 AD, this was a milestone in the development of literary allegory and personification, and a textbook description of each of the liberal arts as they were given by Mercury to his bride. It was popular throughout the Middle Ages and later; there were eight editions of this book between 1499 and 1599 and Leibniz himself contemplated editing an edition. Eds: Vienna: Victorem, 1516, Lyons: Raphelengius, 1599.

Marvell, Andrew Dialogue between the Soul and the Body
-----------------------A Dialogue between the Resolved Soul and Created Pleasure

In the tradition of the medieval debat.

More, Thomas Utopia Antwerp: Aegidius, 1516

Parker, Henry Dialogue of Dives and Pauper Pynson 1493

An explanation of the ten commandments and the duties of the rich towards the poor. This was the first dated book printed by Pynson.

Petrarch Trionfi c 1350

A series of poems on the successive triumphs of Love, Chastity, Death, Famine, Time and Eternity. The Trionfi outshone the Canzonieri and Dante’s Commedia in popularity for more than 100 years. Inspired by the triumphal processions of the emperors and generals of Rome after their victories, they featured captives and attendants who were either personified allegorical figures or great men and women from the past

Philo of Alexandria Legum Allegoria

(Allegorical Interpretation) a detailed allegorical interpretation of the stories of Genesis which also prefigured the Christian practice of typology

Philon, dit le Juif Les Oeuvres...Contenans l'interpretation de plusieurs divins & sacres mysteres Paris: Michel Sonnius, 1598

de Pisan, Christine Epistre d‘Othea


-------------------------Chemin de long estude Paris: Estienne Groulleau, 1549

Prudentius Psychomachia

Personified depiction of the vices and virtues, particularly the latter as female figures, became the model for the allegorical struggle of good over evil for the remainder of the Middle Ages until the 14th century.

Rabelais Pantagruel and Gargantua

Published over a number of years starting in 1532

de Rojas, Fernando Celestina 1499

One of the first Spanish comedies

Sachs, Hans Die Wittenbergische Nacthigall 1522

Allegorical poem in honor of Luther

Sachs, Hans and Georg Lang Die Christliche Gedult Nürnberg: Georg Lang Formschneider ca. 1585/1598

Skelton, John The Bowge of Court 1499

Allegory of the court of Henry VII

Spenser The Faerie Queen London: Ponsonbie, 1590

---------------------The Shepheardes Calendar London: Singleton, 1579


------------------------ Mother Hubberd's Tale 1591

Statius Thebaid (late 1st century AD)

Another edition, 1928

Swift, Jonathan Gulliver’s Travels
---------------------Tale of a Tub 1704

An interpretation of Reformation history

-----------------------The Battle of the Books

An example of the Dialog as an allegorical struggle.

Sylvestris, Bernard De Universitate mundi 1147

(Of the Universe)

Tesauro, Emanuele Il Cannochiale AristotelicoVenice: Curti, 1678

The leading 17th century commentary on the Aristotle’s theories of metaphor.

another edition, 1670