Bob Dylan: Whose Side Is He On?

By Larry Fyffe

In the allegorical tale of love below, singer/songwriter Bob Dylan switches sides with regards to the drawn-out Trojan War of ancient Greek mythology. Therein, Zeus and his son Apollo decide to stand back somewhat and allow fate to take its course. On the other hand, Hera, the wife of Zeus, being angry at Paris, goes out of her way to help the Greeks attack the city where the beautiful Helen has been taken. She’s just a pawn in the game.

Dylan takes on the persona of the swift-footed Greek hero Achilles who battles Hector, the great warrior of the Trojans. According to the tale, or at least one variation thereof, Achilles’ favourite slave is seized by the Greek’s commander-in-chief just to show who’s the boss; regardless, Achilles gets invigorated in the effort to get Helen back. He slays Hector, and then drags his body behind a chariot around the walls of Troy:

I'm in no hurry
I'm not afraid of your fury
I've faced stronger walls than yours ....
They're lying and dying in their blood
Two-timing Slim
Who's ever heard of him?
I'm dragging his corpse through the mud
(Bob Dylan: Soon After Midnight)

Seems that there are at least two sides to every story involving love and war; Achilles and Hera are right from their side, Paris and Hector from theirs. In the song lyrics below, it’s Achilles, not Hector, who gets insulted. In a variation thereof, Achilles in the Greek myth dresses up as a girl:

Achilles is in your alleyway
He don't want me here, he does brag
He's pointing to the sky
And he's  hungry like a man in drag
How come you get someone like him to be your guard?
(Bob Dylan: Temporary Like Achilles)

The ancient story continues, stays alive into modern times – Achilles’ heel is not protected from mortality.  Play the card game of life to the fullest since the Ace of Spades always wins in the end, no matter what. And brag all you want while you’re alive, but the foot of pride sooner or later comes down. The Eternal Footman is at your service, and you are destined to sleep alone in the ground; there’s no escape be you Caesar, be you Achilles, or be you Two-timing Slim:

This is how I spend my days
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)

In the words of poet Robert Frost:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
(Robert Frost: Stopping By The Woods On A Snowy Evening)

Mother Earth awaits you, notwithstanding that there are those who believe, if you be good little boys and girls, you are literally going to live happily forever; variations of the Greek mythology multiply, and gloomy and black-humoured most be. Troilus be a young Trojan who’s slain in Apollo’s temple by the Greek Achilles. Taken aback by the sacrilege, Apollo guides the arrow shot by Paris to Archille’s heel. Troilus loves Cressida, but she’s sent to the Greek camp to be with her traitorous father; there she ignites the attention of a Greek prince, and is unfaithful to Troilus.

Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, and Thomas Hardy (in his ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’) draw water from the wailing-well of the tale, and Bob Dylan messes with the mythology too, creates it anew:

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?
(Bob Dylan: Workingman's Blues, no.2)

Yes, death awaits everybody, but that’s all the more reason to make the best of life though it has its ups and downs. An artist who writes about the bad side, by doing so, shines light on the good side – a work of art is a thing of beauty that lasts forever:

The evening sun's sinking low
The woods are dark, the town is too
They'll bring you down, they'll run the show
Ain't no telling what they'll do
Tell ol' Bill when he comes home
Anything is worth a try
Tell him that I'm not alone
That the hour has come to do or die
(Bob Dylan: Tell Ol' Bill)

It’s claimed by many that Bob Dylan is an artist of doom and gloom – tell’em it ain’t so.

What else is on the site

You’ll find some notes about our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

The index to all the 594 Dylan compositions and co-compositions that we have found on the A to Z page.

We also have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with over 2000 active members.  (Try imagining a place where it is always safe and warm).  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

If you are interested in Dylan’s work from a particular year or era, your best place to start is Bob Dylan year by year.

On the other hand if you would like to write for this website, please do drop me a line with details of your idea, or if you prefer, a whole article.  Email Tony@schools.co.uk

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, links back to our reviews

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1 Response to Bob Dylan: Whose Side Is He On?

  1. Larry fyffe says:

    *Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

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