Bob Dylan And Plutarch

By Larry Fyffe

Bob Dylan modernizes and mingles the style and content  of the writings of Plutarch:

I'll strip you of life, strip you of breath
Ship you down to the house of death
One day you will ask for me
There'll be no one else you'll want to see
Bring down my my fiddle, tune up my strings
Gonna break it wide open like the early Roman Kings

(Bob Dylan: Early Roman Kings)

Lucius Plutarch be a priest in the temple of Apollo where the sun-god is worshipped. Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan alludes to the mythological master musician of the golden lyre in a line from another of his songs – Jupiter is the Roman name for Zeus, the chief Greek god, the slinger of lightning bolts, and the father of Apollo:

She was torn between Jupiter and Apollo

(Bob Dylan: Changing Of The Guards)

Plutarch (Greek inhabitant of the early Roman Empire), writes biographies that focus on the character and morals of historical Roman figures. A Platonist, Lucius believes a universal spiritual domain exists above and beyond the corrupt material world of appearances.

According to Plutarch, general Mark Anthony gives a speech at his commander’s funeral in which his initial praise for the actions of Caesar’s back-stabbers turns into a condemnation of them:

As Caesar’s body is being carried to the tomb, Anthony begins to mingle with his praise, language expressing pity for the victim and horror at what has happened to the Roman ruler; he takes the under-clothes of the dead man, holds them up, showing the stains of blood and holes of the many swords, calling those that did this bloody deed villains and bloody murderers

(Plutarch: The Life Of Anthony ~ translated and summarized)

Following the thrust of Plutarch’s depiction of the general’s oration, the Bard of Elizabethan times has Anthony employ the following words in the introduction of the funeral speech:

Friend, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him
The evil that men do lives after them
The good is often interred with their bones
So let it be with Caesar

(Shakespeare: Julius Caesar, Act III, sc.ii)

Likewise, Bob Dylan presents a character who takes out his rage rhetorically on those he considers  self-righteous hypocrites; it’s their blood that’s going to get spilled, not the blood of the narrator – the songwriter cuts the hypocrites into pieces with his words:

This is how I spend my day
I come to bury, not to praise
I'll drink my fill, and sleep alone
I pay in blood, but not my own

(Bob Dylan: Pay In Blood)

Those who have crossed the singer’s persona are going to get a good swift kick in the nuts:

I'll give you justice, I'll fatten your purse
Show me your moral virtues first
Hear me holler, hear me moan
I pay in blood, but not my own

(Bob Dylan: Pay In Blood)

Biographically speaking, Dylan seems to be lashing out at those who take advantage of his talent and ambition in order to advance their own vested interests; for example, members of political protest movements; of religious evangelical organizations.

And Dylan sends out a Plutarchian warning to any female he desires to have as a lover and a muse – don’t mess with Apollo:

Alberta, don't you treat me unkind
Oh my heart is so sad
'Cause I want you so bad
Alberta, don't you treat me unkind ...

Alberta, let your hair hang low
I'll give you more gold
Than your apron can hold
If you'll only let you hair hang low

(Bob Dylan: Alberta)

Mess around, and the golden boy is likely to turn into his father, the god of thunder:

Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth
You're an idiot, babe
It's a wonder that you still know how to breathe

(Bob Dylan: Idiot Wind)

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