Bob Dylan And Aeneas: The Greatest Troy Ever Sold

Bob Dylan And Aeneas: The Greatest Troy Ever Sold

By Larry Fyffe

Wily Ulysses, on the winning Greek side, after many adventures, makes it back home to his wife and son. Sorrowful Aeneas, on the losing side in the Trojan War, loses his wife. The Trojan hero gets a chance to redeem himself when the chief-god Zeus commands him to take along other survivors, and establish a city in Italy.

All does not go smoothly on the sea voyage. Aeneus’ mother Venus is on her son’s side, but Zeus’ wife hates Trojans because their prince Paris has previously awarded a beauty prize to Venus, not her (in exchange for the affections of Helen, the beautiful wife of the Greek king).

Before he gets to Italy, Aeneas is shipwrecked on the shores of Carthage where Queen Dido dotes on him. Zeus intervenes so that Aeneas will continue on his journey.

Soon after his arrival in Italy, a battle erupts, and Aeneas kills without mercy a jealous rival. The Trojan wins the daughter of the Italian king, but she dies in the war.

Aeneas does found the city, however.

In a number of his song lyrics, Bob Dylan depicts himself as the reincarnation of the rather pious Aeneas:

Oh, the hours, I’ve spent inside the Coliseum
Dodgin’ lions and wastin’ time
Oh, the mighty kings of the jungle
I could hardly stand to see’em
Yes, it sure has been a long hard climb
Train wheels runnin’ through the back of my mind
When I ran on the hilltop following a pact of wild geese
(Bob Dylan: When I Paint My Masterpiece)

Pointed out by other sources than me (though not the particular line), Dylan references the designs on the shield given to Aeneas by his mother:

And there the silvery goose flying through the gilded
Colonnades, cackled that the Gauls were at the gate
(Virgil: The Aeneid)

Modern day Bob Aeneas, like the one of ancient lore, remembers some fatherly advice:

I’m gonna spare the defeated, boys I’m going to speak to the crowd
I’m ģoin’ to teach to the conquered
I’m gonna tame the proud
(Dylan: Lonesome Days Blues)

Pointed out by others, the songwriter pays another tribute to the Roman poet of old:

To teach the ways of peace to those you conquer
To spare defeated people, tame the proud
(Virgil: The Aeneid)

Aeneas observes that the Greeks and Ulysses showed no pity to the Trojans, and that Zeus hadn’t intervened:

Here the Trojans treasures are gathered from every part
Ripped from the blazing shrines, tables of the gods
Solid gold bowls and plundered robes
(Virgil: The Aeneid)

Well, they burned my barn, they stole my horse
I can’t save a dime
I got to be careful, I don’t want to be forced
Into a life of continual crime
I can see for myself that the sun is sinking
How I wish you were here to see
Tell me now, am I wrong in thinking
That you have forgotten me
(Dylan: Workingman’s Blues)

The Band, associated with Bob Dylan, mentions the poet Virgil in their song about the defeat of the Confederate States:

Back with my wife in Tennessee
When one day she called to me
Virgil, quick come see
There goes the Robert E. Lee
Now I don’t mind choppin’ wood
And I don’t care if the money’s no good
Ya take what you need and ya leave the rest
But they should never have taken the very best
(The Band: The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down)

What is on the site

1: Over 400 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.

2: The Chronology.  We’ve taken all the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums.  The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site.  We have also recently started to produce overviews of Dylan’s work year by year.     The index to the chronologies is here.

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions.  There is an index here.  A second index lists the articles under the poets and poetic themes cited – you can find that here.

4:   The Discussion Group    We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.   We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further.  The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews.


  1. Jean Baez, playing the part of Queen Dido, recognizes Dylan disguised as Aeneas, and that Venus on the half-shell is there to mother him:

    Temporarily lost at sea
    The Madonna was yours for free
    Yes, the girl on the half-shell
    Would keep you from harm
    (Baez: Diamond And Rust)

  2. Yeah, what can you do? Have the autocorrect correct itself.
    Now that you moved from transcendent Romantics to the classics I am reminded of the days I sweated at school over the translations of Vergil, Ovid, Tacitus, Seneca, Horace, from Latin into Dutch, not to mention Homer and Herodotus from Greek. Looking back I realize I was privileged, but Gawd, did I hate it.
    When I paint my masterpiece is an old favorite. Great song, but I never heard or saw Vergil in it. For me it was really a song about being on tour in Italy (later landing in Brussels after a bumpy flight) and seeing the sites. The Spanish stairs, the Coliseum, where he walked around, as a tourist, and imagined how two thousand years ago lions and gladiators fought for their lives, while in the meantime – like Dylan – pleasing a roaring crowd.
    I love how you find these links. I do not often see what you see, but I love them all the same. Keep it up.

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