Some Medieval Systems of Polysemy (Allegory):
From Biblical Hermeneutics to Secular Criticism

Talmudic (Legal) Tradition & Jewish tradition in general

Jesus's Parables --

     See Matthew 13:10-17 for the justification of speaking in 

St. Paul (ca. 50 A.D.) -- 

     ". . . our sufficiency is of God; Who also hath made us 
     able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but 
     of the spirit; for the letter killeth, but the spirit 
     giveth life."  (II Cor 3:5-6)

     Also:  Jewish ritual law need not be literally observed, 
     for its true meaning is symbolic (ref?)

Now for the Comprehensive Interpretive Systems . . .

St. Augustine (ca. 427 A.D.) -- 

     1.  History
         (events as simply related)
     2.  Etiology
         (assignment of causes)

     3.  Analogy
         (demonstration of the non-contradiction between 
         passages of scripture)

     4.  Allegory
         (spiritual sense)

Hugh of St. Victor (ca. 1146) --

     1.  Historical Level

     2.  Allegorical Level (including the anagogical)

     3.  Tropological Level (i.e., moral level)

St. Thomas Aquinas (ca. 1272 A.D.) --

     1.  Literal Level

     2.  Allegorical Level

     3.  Tropological or Moral Level

     4.  Anagogical Level

Dante Alighieri (ca. 1308 A.D.) --

     1.  Literal Level
         (not going beyond the strict limits of the letter)

     2.  Allegorical Level 
         (the particular truth hidden under a beautiful fiction) 

     3.  Moral Level 
         (containing general moral truths)

     4.  Anagogic Level
         (the spiritual meaning, passing beyond the things of 
         earthly life)


How much in these systems (including Augustine's own) really 
goes beyond Augustine's 2-part distinction between KERNEL & 

Cf. Augustine's KERNEL / HUSK distinction and Horace's 
injunction to please and instruct.  Do they lead in the same or 
in different directions?

Cf. Augustine and Aristotelian formalism -- Augustine seems much 
less interested in studying form; he wants to shuck the HUSK and 
grasp the KERNEL.


Augustine may be the first person to formulate a coherence 
theory of meaning, rather than a correspondence theory.  MEANING 


Aristotle wanted to explain the nature of art; his successors 
mined him for pragmatic rules, imitated his formal analysis, and 
discarded the philosophy behind it. 

Augustine & Aquinas develop systems for reading Scripture that 
depend on God's miraculous intervention for the safe 
preservation of meaning in figures; their successors, however, 
take the allegorical reading techniques and apply them to 
profane literature as well.  God turns out not to be necessary.