I have often wondered at all the pagan symbols and mythological references in “Christian” literature. This is most prevalent in medieval literature. Yet somehow medieval writes could incorporated pagan themes and ideas into Christian concepts without losing or breaking the integrity of their faith. To the modern Christian this seems strange and inconsistent, but to the medievalists it was simply how spiritual things were best explained. They saw that the pagans were searching for something greater than what this banal life could rationalize. They created stories of origin, full of mystery and deities to give meaning to life. C. S. Lewis calls this type of searching original myth. Original myths are ultimately seeking truth. However, in the searching, the pagans only found inferior forms and became confused by their own ignorance. So though they were seeking truth they did not find it. Lewis believed that True Myth, which is the story that tells the Truth, is incarnate in the Christian Myth. In other words, any truth that is disclosed in the original myths is found in the True Myth, Christianity. Christianity is the myth that all the pagan religions were trying to understand. Therefore, it does not seem so strange then that a Christian writer could and would use pagan deities to explain aspects of Christian faith.
You can see how with this understanding of myth, Dante or Milton’s use of the pagan deities or concepts in their writings makes sense. They are using the themes and values that are personified in the myths to strengthen in a tangible way the abstract concepts that are inherent in the Christian Myth. Dante’s use of the pagan deities gives greater understanding to the complexity of the human nature as it is seen from a divine perspective.
So the next you’re reading look for the myths and the references to classical literature and see how the pagan myths strengthen the argument and give definition to abstract ideas.