In Allegory #12 C.S. Lewis shows how in the first Millennium allegorical style shifted from a caricature of the moral struggle, to decoration and exoticism. He goes on to explain (on p. 78 ) that this relaxation of intent lead to a case against asceticism.
If the gods had not died into allegory, the Bishop (Claudian’s fifth-century successor, Sidonius Apollinaris p. 76) would not have dared to use them; conversely, if he had not had allegorical gods for his mouthpiece, he could scarcely have put the ‘case’ of Venus against asceticism so strongly. I do not mean that it was his intention to put it at all. He had probably in his allegory no purpose but to decorate an occasional copy of verses according to the best models. Yet in so doing he stumbles upon freedom. He is free to wander in fairyland, and he is also free to anticipate the eleventh-century reaction against asceticism. […] it is as if some mischievous spirit of prophesy took the pen out of his hand and wrote for us the history both of allegory and courtly love.
Lewis describes the next work, De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii by Martinanus Capella, which is,
a treatise on the seven liberal arts, set in the framework of an allegorical marriage between Eloquence (Mercury) and Learning (Philologia). But the author deceived himself if he thought that by this framework he was gilding the pill for the benefit of his pupils. On the contrary, it was for himself that the fable was a necessary outlet – a receptacle into which he could work every scrap of erudite lumber and every excruciating quirk of his euphuism which was left over from the seven arts.
Gods and virtues struggle to make the ascent up to heaven with much decorative clutter, like solar ships and exotic animals, along the way. This work,
“became a textbook in the Middle Ages. Its encyclopaedic character made it invaluable for men who aimed at a universality in knowledge without being able, or perhaps willing, to return to the higher authorities. The fantastical ‘babu’ ornaments of the style were admired. […] He established a disastrous precedent for endlessness and formlessness in literary work. […] The knick-knacks are very curious, very strange; and who will say at what point strangeness begins to turn into beauty? I must confess, too, that I am sufficiently of the author’s kidney to enjoy the faint smell of the secular dust that lies upon them. At every moment we are reminded of something in the far past or something still to come. What is at hand may be dull; but we never lose faith in the richness of the collection as a whole. Anything may come next. We are ‘pleased, like travellers, with seeing more’, and we are not always disappointed. Among all these figurative woods and streams […] some at any rate suffer us to forget their doctrinal purpose, and breathe the air of wonderland.
[…] In all (these writers) we see the beginnings of that free creation of the marvellous which first slips in under the cloak of allegory. It is difficult for the modern man of letters to value this quiet revolution as it deserves. We are apt to take it for granted that a poet has at his command, besides the actual world and the world of his own religion, a third world of myth and fancy. The probable, the marvellous-taken-as-fact, the marvellous-known-to-be-fiction – such is the triple equipment of the post-Renaissance poet. Such were the three worlds which Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton were born to. London and Warwick, Heaven and Hell, Fairyland and Prospero’s Island – each has its own laws and its appropriate poetry. But this triple heritage is a late conquest. Go back to the beginnings of any literature and you will not find it. At the beginning the only marvels are the marvels which are taken for fact. The poet has only two of these three worlds. In the fullness of time the third world crept in, but only by a sort of accident. The old gods, when they ceased to be taken as gods, might so easily have been suppressed as devils: that, we know, is what happened to our incalculable loss in the history of Anglo-Saxon poetry. Only their allegorical use, prepared by slow developments within paganism itself, saved them, as in a temporary tomb, for the day when they could wake again in the beauty of acknowledged myth and thus provide modern Europe with its ‘third world’ of romantic imagining. (p.83)
Lewis implies that the gods, once awoken in magical fantasy, are more powerful that they were when they were believed to be real. Then at least they inspired “aesthetic contemplation”. When they became fictitious, they even became more beautiful. Since studying this, I’m seeing it everywhere. We want to invent a dreamworld in which we would like to become accustomed. And we have become accustomed to it, in our heads at least, and some even appear to have made it come true. The dream of wealth, beauty, excitement, romantic fulfillment, power, fame, winning, and bliss consume us. We chase after them, but find them to be mirages. We have been so fed the dream, that we don’t know what to realisitically expect anymore. Even in prayer we expect to be transported to something selfishly pleasurable. Boredom, pain and disappointment are the kiss of death. But really, I’m becoming of a mind that they are the door to “the other side”. A mirror is what I see when I open it. But this world beyond is actually where I am now. Dirty laundry is in the pile behind me, and my kids, my dog, my garden, my work, and my neighbor are waiting for me, in prayer, to take a leap of faith and jump through. And when I do, something magical and superiorly satisfying happens, even if I don’t notice.