"Nothingis more firmly believed than that which we know list"
Michel de Montaigne
Thewide and differentiated use of the term "symbol" in the most variedfields of application (from mathematics to saussarian linguistic philosophy orotherwise; from philosophy to anthropology; from art to literary criticism, toreligion and the events of everyday life) makes not only a merely even ageneralized but constant nucleus, but also the individuation of property 
Inorder to delineate an initial first notion of the term, we just refer to theactual data deriving from our own everyday experience. In this way we note thepresence of those symbols that identify,' institutions, assosiations, partiesand other conoscitive forms that can be defined as "social", and theso-called "status symbols".
Inthis first stage, the term "the symbol simply indicates any element thatrefers to another independently of the methods by which the other isrepresented. Clearly, at such a level the symbol tends to be confused with thesign. The difference with the sign is re-established however by the effect thatone wishes to achieve: the representative must render the presence of therepresented in an immediately effective manner. However the referral must not beconventional, but must communicate, apart from the meaning, a"participation".
Thisleads us to presume (as does Samuel Coleridge, one of the most diligentresearchers of the symbol) that the representative himself takes part in therepresented reality.
Assertingthat the symbol is always a part of the whole that it represents, Coleridgeintended that this bond between the two terms representative
epresented and notthe "synecdoche" (that, which gives the part as a whole) of which,however, the symbol can always make use as of the other rhetorical figures.
Inthis way, the symbol allows us to enter into contact with that basic unionbetween significant and significance: a bond made more magical the more it isindefinite. The aim of this short work is not, however, to provide an even briefhistory of the term restricted to the work of literary art. The references tothe varying successive theories of the past have to be viewed as an introductiveinstrument concerning the allegory postulated by Walter Benjamin, particularlyin the second part of his essay "The origin of the German Baroquedrama" (Usprung des deutschen trauelspiels) 
Theorigins of the concept of the symbol as established in the theory ofinterpretation, are essentially logical and phenomenological. Symbolization, infact, can be traced bach as a form of representation to a more general theory ofexpression and meaning which had its origin in the "first research" byHusserl. The historical critical reference system thus obtained, is representedby a hernieneutical tradition, by an analisys of the significance which startingfrom Husserl reaches, through Diltbey and Heidegger to Gadamer. The dominatingtheme of the theory of the forms of symbolism, is the structure of"cross-reference"
ForHeidegger, as for Gadamer (even if for the latter in a double way: historical-critical, or aesthetic erlebnis; and theoretical, or rather as a critic of theaesthetic conscience), allegory and symbol differ one from the other indifferent forms of reference: one says, and the other gathers together. In anyevent thir aim is identical, since it is the configuration of the"other" that constitutes the artistic.
HansGeog Gadamer ,reconstracts the origins of the term "symbol" referring directly toits Greek etymology. In fact, symbol derives from the Greek substance"symbolon" that in its turn originates from the verb"symballein" which means "throw together" and that expressesa close bondwith a particular emphasis.
Inthe Greek world symbolon indicated a fragment of pottery (tessera hospitalis)given to the guest which perfectly matched another fragment retained by thehouse-owner thus allowing identification even afler a long time. Northorp Fryerefers back to the term symbolon underlining that as well as the matter of thegender, the substantive was also used in the masculine (gender)"symbolos" meaning "auspiceor divination and therefore, linked to something which is fur too complex andmysterious for our immediate understanding" 
Thetwo meanings could be assumed as roots of the two sides of the symbol: in thefirst meaning remains a conventional bond (in fact the tessera hospitalis wasused as an ancient counter mark or receipt), whilst in the second meaning magicpower prevails. But looking closely at this fact, the two meaning are not incontradiction; in the neuter term the fragmentation of the original union itselfcontains an auspice for the recomposition and the renewal of plenitude 
Eventhough the idea of symbol became part of the theological store of knowledge, inthe Middle Ages it played a secondary role compared to the allegory that waspreferred both in scriptural exegis and in literature, becoming the interpreterof the physiological components. Nowadays the symbol according to Umberto Eco,has taken on a role in the field of hermetic mysticism remaining linked to theaesthetic- magical experience. The symbol definitively enters the literary andphylosophical field with the romantic idealistic. As Schlegel and Novalis withtheir oscillating terminology and Hegel with his devaluation of the role of"symbolic art" (on the other hand we can see how nearly every pagewritten by Hegel is characterized by the use of symbols; from those of the moleand the owl, to that of "painting in chiaroscuro" etc.) stillrepresent the initial phase of this period, Schelling, in the view of Gadamer,represents the highest point. In fuct, it is with Schelling that the symbolcomes to coincide with the artistic and beauty as such up to the assertion that"art is symbolical"
Schellinglinks directly his reflection on the symbol with that of ancient mythology: themythological forms "are that which they mean" or rather at the sametime they do not cease to be themselves. It is clear that "the romantic-idealistic aesthetic", in its tendency to assume art both as intransitive(and not longer a camouflaged copy of the world) as well as ideal (Hegel'sformula of beauty as a "sensitive aspect of the idea") had to meet ofnecessity, in its course the idea of the symbol(...).
Theresearch of authenticity of the exposition and the consequent sentence, becauseinsincere, of any imitation of the past, tenical artifice or scholarly learning,comes to the "death of rhetoric" and with it allegory, whichconsidered only a "cold" intellectual exercise (...). The symbol isapplied not to the mechanic reference, but to a representation that shows itsmeaning spontaneously as an organic birth of its own nature .In this way the symbol assumes in itself a transcendent content obtainedintuitively on the model of the "incoronation", even if the attitudesin the romantic- idealistic aesthetic field have not been able to explain ifthis subject was due to the plurality of Kant's ideas or to the highest conceptof "infinite" and "absolute".
Itwas Goethe duty in his "Massime" who then clarified that both themission of allegory and of the symbol is to connect the peculiar to theuniversal: the allegory through the concept searches for something outsideitself; the symbol instead finds it immediately, demonstrating nothing more thanitself, it is just through its self-evident reason of existence that it carrieswithin itself the essence of the universal.
Between1885 and 1891, the symbol definitively enters the poetic and literate fieldmostly due to the French writers and intellectuals who with Teodor Wyzewa cometo affirm that << allis symbol>> (historical symbolism).
Thefact that the symbol had become accepted by wide fringes of intellectuals andwriters, did not mean that the problems connected with its definition had beeninvestigated and resolved. In fact it is exactly in this period of greater powerin the literary field that the symbol begins to assume within itself,antisymbolistic procedures.
Itis the case of Baudelaire who wrongly, due to "the forest of symbols"present in his "Correspondence", is considered to be a symbolist, butas demonstrated by Benjamin must instead, be counted among the greatestrepresentatives of the opposite current, that of allegory.
Inspite of the confusion perceivable within itself, in the French area the conceptof a connection between symbol and idea persists. But this idea in Renè Ghiland in Jean Moréas loaded with mystical significance (the first and last idea,or truth of Ghil) esoteric and occultist meaning (the idea does not manifestitself entirely, but it remains wrapped in the heavy clothes of analogies,according to Moréas).
Historicalsymbolism uses an initiatory and obscure language losing that transparency andnaturalness indicated by Goethe as innate elements of the symbol, when in his"Massime" he established that <<true symbolism is that in whichthe particular element represents the more general one, not as a dream or ashadow, but as a vivid and instantaneous revelation of the inscrutable>>.This loss of clarity can be considered as an involution, which perhaps finds itsmost intense expression, as far as the French cultural field is concerned, inHuysmans, and in particular in his "Aurebours", in which the symbolsare completely emptied, becoming superficial experiences of aesthetic and thesenses .
Theaim of historical symbolism is to achieve the "exceptional" and thepoetical subject, becomes, therefore, gifted with outstanding sensitiveness<<sensitive refinement is at the apex of the "aristocratic"qualities of the symbolic poetry: which is why poetry establishes itself as thefield of initiation to the divine. This ritualistic prerogative, that distancessocial obligations, can imply a clash with taboos and a certain amount of shareof return of repression (in perverse ceremonials); but the transgression (thedamnation) does not belong exactly to the symbol if not only for what isconcerned with its functionality, to the universal coniucto>> 
Whenthe repressed necessarily re-emerges, it will be sublimed in the ornamentalstylization. In that way it will be rendered harmless and will not represent adanger for that fine net of "fine and ethereal" connections ("theGospel of correspondences") in which symbolistic poetry is substantiated.At the basis of the symbolistic connections, there is a synaesthetic vision ofreality in which all the phenomena of nature are similar to each other inasmuchas all are linked with the essence.
Takingthe opposite direction to that suggested by Goethe, the symbolists concentrateon evanescence; the symbol is not to be found in a single element, but in amultiplicity which establishes an atmosphere. <<In the atmosphere it isnot so much the "rapport" between a particular and the related ideal,but a group of particulars, even more infinitesimal, that to a sense ofglobality which is however, an unattainable ideal. The atmosphere carries themystery (...); it is the mystery itself, which no longer consists on establishedmetaphysics, but in this evasion and confusion of meaning>>.Charles Maurice explains that the truth must be obscured by symbols in order notto blind the beholden with its astonishing light. The prosecution of symbolismin the 1900's, whilst renouncing to over accentrated rituality and prefusing tolapse into the usual symbolic epiphany, places itself in this track withoutmodifying its main characteristics. In fact, the sublimation of real lifefurther weakens the symbolic agent reconsigning it to the ephemeral andemptiness. The symbolic transfiguration usually occurs when the symbols appearto the mute: <<in the crises of relative power it is sufficient howeverthat there be insistent interrogation and the hypothesis of more, to renew thespell and refresh - be it "in extremis"- the sacrality ofpoetry>> 
Inthe psychoanalistical interpretation the function of the symbol is not univocal.Referring to the theories of Breuer on histeria, Freud in "Hysteria andAnguish" treats the symbol on a sort of" indirect figuration"through which the patient speacks of his trauma Therefore, symbol as symptom.But Freud corrects his theory later in <<Interpretation of Dreams>>when he affirms that it is the symptom which utilizes the symbols which arerecalled from the patient's already formed representative representativepatrimony.
Whenthere free associations of the patient are not sufficient, the analyst resortsto his symbolic experience, that is, his cultural background. In this wayelements of dreams may be traced to mystical images, folcrore, to that whichFreud calls "the age-old dreams of humanity". Jung conceives of anunchangeable collective unconscious. He sees the symbol as a myth in itsarchetypical state which lies at the root of the unconscious and feeds themanifestations. Whilst for Freud it is always the "symbol ofsomething" and this something is in fact parts of the body and sexualorgans, in Jung the symbols are the inexhaustible patterns of primitive images.Psychic disturbances are thus considered to be incidents occurring during theprocess of emergence from the images.
Accordingto Jung the unconscious nature of the symbol is clearly enounced. Just as clearis the opposition between symbol and allegory bases itself on the dualism ofconsciousunconscious. Like the artist also the interpreter unconsciouslyreaches the symbolic depths abandoning his critical vigilance and lettinghimself be carried along by the action of the work (also in Jung the"mystic" promise of the symbol is fulfilled).
Inanthropology( above all in "The Structural Anthropology" of Lévi-Staussand in "The language and its doubles"). The researchers of the"savage thought" see the symbol as fruit of analogic logic of theprimitives: the magic impinges on the real, the mark on the thing.
Thisis a position which has been profoundly criticized by Wittgenstein, according towhom there are no logical leaps in the use of symbols and in fact, such forms ofmental operations belong to the entire humanity in each stage of itsdevelopment, and are universal. In fact, according to Wittgenstein, the"primitive" who points an animal on a rock face with the aim ofpropitiating its capture, is also perfectly capable of constructing instruments,houses, of making projects, exactly like our contemporaries. Wittgensteinwrites:" The same primitive who pierces the image of his enemy, apparentlyto kill him, actually builds his own shelter of wood and he makes real lethalarrows, not effigies>> 
Thusas in psychoanalysis, also in anthropology one speaks more of the symbol in thesingular than of a plurality of symbols forming a symbology. This symbology is aprimary formation of the imaginary of man: the aim of art is to rediscover it,being lost ancient knowledge. It is in this track that Cesare Pavese sets hisconcept of the symbol as a unique and unrepeatable event, which defines thespace of the holy, occurring once and all time, but producing an inexhaustiblesignificance (" Holidays of August" and Dialogues with Leucò").
Fromthe brief historical accounts cited above, it clearly emerges, that for all the1900's right from the beginning; qualities have been assigned to the term andconcept of the symbol that have placed it in an advantageous position comparedto the allegory, to which instead has always been assigned, also on the basisofthe crocian-aesthetic opinion, a subordinate and negative role, denying insome cases the status of "form of expression".
In1928 Walter Benjamin published in Berlin his essay "On the origin of theGerman Baroque Drama" with which he tried to qualify as university lecturerat the University of Frankfurt on Main. The intentions of Benjamin's work, asGyorgy Lukàcs, one of his most convinced antagonist, has observed go wellbeyond the subject dealt with. The aim is to lay the basis of the most daringtheorization of artistic question of the 1900's: through the analysis of the useof allegory in German baroque, Benjamin gives a clear reading of the avant-gardetrends of 1900's, and in particular of the Expressionism.
Thiskind of research of Benjamin, sets himself within a context of work peculiar tothat of the thinker, still today of extreme originality: having grown up in awealthy family of Jewish origin, the young Benjamin approaches Marxismlinguistics and literary criticism in a critical way. His attempt is, as satatedrepeatedly by Gheorshom Scholem, his close friend and author of several essaysabout him, is to construct an articulated synthesis among cultural currents,including mystical of Hebraism (within which most remarkable, and in factcrucial, were the issues of language, of the symbol and allegory), the criticalthinking of Marxist origin, and some of the heritage which Marx has defined as"The classical German philosophy", in particular some German Romanticand Idealist elements.
Inopen conflict with Herbert Cysarz and the empty "aesthetic symbolism"theorized by Winckelmann, Creuzer was criticized by the group of Stefan George,Benjamin asserts that << allegory
-and the pages that follow will help to demonstrate it - is not a playfultechnique to create images, but expression, as is expression language and indeedwriting>> .
Here-establishes the relation between allegory and symbol stressing the differenceand contrast, so denying to allegory the role of the discarded symbol, poorrelative of the symbol.
Thespeech it is not defined from an exegetical and interpretative point of view,but both terms are analyzed as ways of expression and of construction of thetext. Thus what it is placed at the centre of the attention it is not whichcontext is from time to time represented, but what happens to the terms of therepresentation when they are asked to "say something else".
<<Theallegorical mode dealing with the elements of representation like words ofspeech, it empties them of the sensitive immediacy; the usual and intuitive linkbetween significative and significance is put aside by the hypothesis of a newmeaning, and a gap opens between the two levels; in this can be found thecritical attitude that does not take for granted the appearance of the world.The opposition to the symbol is strong: that promises to the implied elementsthe salvifical transfiguration and the realization, whereas the allegoryoperates in a double direction:" devaluates" the images endowed withvital representative plenitude, and "promotes their rank", restoringto them a significative function, those whose prestige has diminished in thecourse of history>> .
Theinterior essence that the symbol preserves within itself rendering invisible,hiding, is projected out of itself externalized, exposing it in things by theallegory; to the blending unity of the symbol, its mystic union (so dear toRomanticism), corresponds the fragmentariness, the irreparable dissolution ofthe reality achieved by the allegory that, being fragment and nine, leaves nolasting appearance, no illusion of regaining the totality: to the classicalharmony of the symbol is opposed the "unbalanced" and"rebellious" nature of the allegory that destroys any aura of magicand sense of the world totality.
Benjaminwho attributes to the symbol a function of preservation opposes the mysticcultural and mysterious moment of the symbol, the progressive dialecticism ofthe allegory (the allegory as a fragment knows no mysteries, but only enigmathat are waiting to be recomposed in a whole).
Adialecticism, that of the allegory which does not address itself only towardsthe external, but which is also internal and that manifests itself in antithesesand antinomies of a Hegelian nature. Such a dialecticism therefore, does notprovide for any mythical narrative or epic itinerary. On the contrary, the mythremains as an appanage of the symbol, being an event outside of history.
Historyis the element on which the allegory operates. In order to give them a meaning,the allegory detracts the single things from the vital flow and through"the contradiction" identifies their banal and obvious side.
Accordingto Furio Jesi, Benjamin theorizes on << a linguistic mythology, based onthe belief in a fundamental and lost reality which can be revealed, even if eachtime insufficiently, by the strength of interpretation. The perfect originalcorrespondence between things and the divine word has vanished since men beganto denominate things in their language>> 
Thisis the role of the critic, that of pointing out, indicating throughhermeneutics, through <<the recoding of human approximation>> theway in order to compose or recompose a new network of approximations.
Inhis "Philosophical essay of history" (1940), Benjamin, in oppositionto the "intuitive" pretext of the "philosophy of life" ofDeithey and of "phenomenology" by Husserl and rather influenced by theneokantism, according to which concept and judgement are weapons ofknowledgewhose field of investigation is limited at the phenomenal and areunable to grasp the subject in its totality and truth, he affirms that thetotality and trough of things appear to the intellect through the artistic workin an enigmatic way and with these enigma philosophy has to measure itself.
Oncemore in his "Philosophical essay of history" Benjamin affirms that<< to speak in an allegorical manner in the modern world is to besubmitted to a continuous temptation of sacred speech, but at the same time tosubmit to the realization of that sad loss (given the unattainability of themirage) that prevents the illusion of being able to recompose that which isbroken>> 
Tothis theory of history subtends an underlying neoplatonism characterizedindirectly by a strongly Messianic note, as Gersham Scholem recalls, through thecabala. It is to this that must be traced the reference to the pure language ofprimitive names considered as a last unattached and untouchables code, set byBenjamin as a dialectical alternative with the linguistic of men and witch canbe by any chance object of technical-functional penetration.
Theterm Ursprung in the title of the work on the German baroque drama, does notsimply mean "genesis", "origins" or "source". Itindicates, instead, <<that primitive leap in the existence that, meantime,reveals and determins the structure unveiling itself and the central dynamics ofthe term in an organic or spiritual phenomenon>> Hence a dynamic tension by which the object and the inquirer maintain a constantrelationship with the truth that operates and materializes trough the ideas.
Theattempt, destined to irreparable failure of which the author is aware, is tosave the fragmentation of phenomena (in the case of that of German Trauerspiel).
GiulioSchiavoni underlines that << This" salvation of the phenomenon"is foreseen by Benjamin in the track of the platoman doctrine of ideas, ratherthan in that of the spirit of reductio ad unum characteristic of historism,which resolves the dialectical richness of history in what has been definitivelyconfirmed. The critic seems to be called to "represent"philosophically certain elements of truth, avoiding the obsession to accomplishthe synthesis of historical data typical of the traditional historical sciences.Formulating his own interrogation of truth, which represent the "death ofthe intention", he remains aware that knowledge cannot coincide with truthwithout destroying it (...). In this way he prepares himself to escape from themalediction of the concept and to his maniacal questioning in order to capture.Only in this light does it become possible to comprehend the insistence ofBenjamin on the display of ideas in the language without nevertheless agreeingwith it, without ending in comprehension, in the representation, and in theconcept>> .
Theideas however cannot be grasped either by intuition nor by a scientificinductive type of research of positivists. Benjamin on the one hand, detachinghimself from intuitionism and from vitalism (respectively of Dilthey andHusserl) and on the other hand from neopositivism, speaks of "vision",remaining with a cognitive experience in which the ideas are given , taken away,however, from the subjective-intentional sphere, deprived that is of anytheological element.
Inpursuit of a losted totality, Benjamin examines the fragment, the emblems, thehieroglyphics. With the German Baroque, he is convinced to find himself facedwith an era endowed with an interior coherence. His aim is to rediscover it inits most contradictory and extreme aspects:
againstany historistic triumphalism, he tries to bring out all that official historyhas denied and destroyed.
Linkinghimself to this line of thought Furio Jesi emphasises the political implicationof the denouncement by Benjamin at the optimistic progressivism of therelativistic historicism and positivism of the late 1800's and of the early1900's: a radical criticism orientated in an anti middle-class andanticapitalistic direction in opposition to this philosophy of history. Thepresumed rationality of history is, for the German philosopher, an apologia ofthe present inspired <<by mythology and law of a"winner"(...).
Historyappears to him as a phenomenology of the being of the world of supremacy: thecapitalistic middle-class has abolished the residues of apparent autonomy of thesubject and has transformed men into goods. The redemption of man can only beachieved by a radical break with the past characterized by dominion and by arecovery of the messianic tradition. But without elements of faith, as premisesin the absence of liberation-redemption are not given, so the liberatingsubjectivity waits to be established>> .
Morerarely, in the so-called post-modern period new attempts to absorb the allegoryinto the symbol and viceversa, can be seen. These attempts are always based onthe supposition of the linguistic equivocability. Thus Paul Ricoeur, fromexistentialist and phenomenologist of religions, detouching itself ibmlinguistics and semiotics, considers language not just as a function ofcommunication. In fact, besides the signs whose significance is univocal, heidentifies the symbols to which he attributes not only an immanent linguisticreference, but also a plurality of mythical religious and poetic references themeanings of which coincide with the anthological and transcendent meaning ofhuman existence. Making the symbol an object of interpretation and assigning toit the role of opening up the possibility of the meaning and, so, the status ofinexhaustible source of awareness that can never be codified, Ricoeur considersit the constitutive element of the human thought and will.
Inlight of the above, because the symbol (that according to Ricoeur is the holyword, the language of religion) is identified with all that represents aduplicity of meaning, its contrast to allegory can be placed only on aninterpretative plane. In this way therefore we are witnesses of the reassumptionon the part of allegory, of its previous negative role: that of representatingthe attempt to definitely closing the opening up of meanings offered by thesymbol.
AlsoPaul de Man seems to consider the symbol and allegory two forms of expression.But he separates them and places them in opposition schematically. In the firsthe recognizes the spatial simultaneity (of image and substance), in the secondthe temporal difference (temporal disjunction). Moreover, the "sayingsomething else" does not refer, according to de Man to something that isset outside the literary ritual. On the contrary, with nihilistic results, it isthe negation of the represented reality.
Inconclusion, we can affirm that the symbol and the allegory have to be consideredas ways of organization, that is to say the "tendency" that guides theentire work (artistic): in the symbol one finds a return of the melding andsalvifical element, in the allegory the lacerating dialectic which is life. Theone is inexplicable mystery, the other an enigma always ready to be reassembled.
Itshould be remembered that the symbol like all thought based on analogy isconsidered by a certain field of criticism (not only literary and not only thatwhich follows the interpretative line of Benjamin) to be negative, since beingself referencing and lacking the progressive element, it favorus theconservative and traditional .<< What is wrong with the symbol? The pretence to operate beyond the levelof the conscious, which confers a culturally "high" profile withovertones of the occult; The irrationalism of the intuititive suggestion thatinduces a reply that is passive and inevitably more predetermined andforeseeable, facilitated by the confusion of the meanings. The symbol can beconsidered inexhaustible inasmuch as each new recipient finds in it the meaningmost accessible on the horizon of his own culture: it is therefore not truly ofmultiple meanings, and it does not enrich the language and culture (nor does itleave its imprint), but tends to to reinforce and reconfirm the characteristics habitually accepted>> .
Umberto Eco, "The symbolic method", in "Semiotics and thephilosophy of language", Turin 1994
Walter Benjamin, "The Baroque German Drama", Turin 1971 "TheBaroque German Drama", new edition, Turin 1999
Giulio Raio, " Hermeneutics and theory of the symbol", Naples 1988
Hans Georg Gadamer, "Truth and method", Milan 1960
NorthorpFrye, "The symbol as a means of exchange" in "Mith, methaphor andsymbol", Rome 1999, quoted by Francesco Muzzioli, "Pascoli and thesymbol", Rome 1993
FrancescoMuzzioli, quoted work
I would like to thank Stefano Adami for advices, the suggestions and thefriendship of which he demonstrate me, not only in the occasion of the editingof this article.
FrancescoMuzzioli, quoted work
LudwigWittgenstein, "Notes on The Golden Bough", Milan 1975
Walter Benjamin, quoted work
FrancescoMuzzioli, quoted work
Furio Jesi, voice Benjamin Walter in "Encyclopedia of philosophy",Milan 1985
George Steiner, "Introduction to Walter Benjamin", London 1977 quotedby Giulio Schiavoni in "Out of the chorus"
Giulio Schiavone, quoted work
Furio Jesi, quoted work
Theasis which was confirmed by the intentions of certain authors (Baltrusaitis,Davy, Meslin, Schwaller de Lubicz) or editors.
FrancescoMuzzioli, quoted work
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