by Larry Fyffe
Singer/songwriter/musician Bob Dylan claims that he has little knowledge regarding ancient Greek and Roman mythology, but ‘Untold’ has already shown examples of his song lyrics to our loyal readers that reveal that the Captain in the tower is not being truthful.
And there’s more evidence right here in an ‘Untold’ exclusive. ‘Belle Isle’ is a traditional song chosen by Bob Dylan which tells anew the mythological tale of Cupid and Psyche. In the song, the narrator thereof takes upon himself the role of the impish Cupid whose fired arrows of desire cause people, and the gods themselves, to fall in love. Psyche be a mortal whose looks rival those of Venus, the Goddess of Love and Beauty (See – ‘Mythology: Timeless Tales Of Gods And Heroes’ by Edith Hamilton).
The analogous song lyrics:
I spied a fair maiden at her labour Which caused me to stay for a while And I thought of a goddess to beauty Blooming bright star of Bright Isle (Bob Dylan: Belle Isle ~ traditional)
As the story goes in ancient mythology, bright and shiny Venus is jealous that anyone dares to compare Psyche to a goddess. Venus plays mean tricks on her, not being content that the poor girl is lonely because mortals are so much in awe of her that they do not consider her a prospect for a bride. Venus tells her winged son, the handsome Cupid, to make her rival fall in love with a horrible creature. But Cupid himself is smitten when he gazes upon her beauty. (Venus causes the Trojan War when she bribes the Trojan Paris by promising him the Greek beauty Helen).
The song lyrics continue onward with the Cupid/Psyche analogy:
I humbled myself to her beauty Fair maid, where do you belong Are you from heaven descended Abiding in Cupid's fair throne? (Bob Dylan: Belle Isle ~ traditional)
Love-befuddled Cupid pleads to Apollo for help, the son of great god Jupiter. Apollo’s oracle tells Psyche’s parents to send their daughter to a dark and rocky hill. There she’s to wait for a “winged serpent” who’s stronger than the Olympian gods themselves; he’s to be her long-awaited husband. Scared, yes she is, but she has faith, and obeys.
In the song, the maiden says to the narrator whom she does not know:
Young man, I will tell you a secret It's true that that I am a maid that is poor And to part from my vows, and my promise Is more than my heart can endure (Bob Dylan: Belle Isle ~ traditional)
Cupid sends a gentle breeze that lifts Psyche down to a green meadow. Upon the bank of a river stands a wondrous palace in which she is to abide. Cupid comes to visit her only when it’s dark in order that she won’t recognize him due to his supreme beauty; he wishes to keep his dirty little secret safe and sound from his mother. He tells Psyche that he loves her, but he’ll leave if she lights a lamp to have a look at him. He also warns her about her sisters. Her jealous sisters inform Psyche that they know her husband hides from her because he’s really a cruel and ugly serpent. To prove otherwise, she lights a lamp; Cupid awakes, and flies off after confirming to her who he is. Feeling guilty as hell because of her lack of trust, Psyche’s determined to search for her husband for as long as it takes though she has to endure a lot more obstacles thrown in her way by Venus.
So go the traditional song lyrics:
Therefore, I remain at my service And go through my handship and toil And wait for the lad that has left me All alone on the banks of Belle Isle (Bob Dylan: Belle Isle ~ traditional)
Time passes, things happen; still smitten by Psyche, Cupid finally appeals directly to Jupiter in the hope that the chief god can put an end to his anguish. Jupiter does so by turning Psyche into an immortal; Venus then has no qualms about accepting Psyche as her daughter-in-law. This is the ‘surprise’ proffered in the verse below – the solution that Jupiter comes up with to settle Cupid’s conundrum.
The narrator in the song reveals himself to the maiden – he’s Cupid, or so it can be interpreted:
Young maiden I wish not to banter It's true, I came here in disguise I came to fulfill our last promise And hope to give you a surprise (Bob Dylan: Belle Isle ~ traditional)
The maid of Belle Isle gets immortalized:
I've known you're a maid I love dearly And you've been in my heart all the while For me there is no other damsel Then my blooming, bright star of Belle Isle (Bob Dylan: Belle Isle ~ traditional)
Mythological Cupid is called upon in another song sung by Dylan:
Cupid, bend back your bow Let your arrow flow Straight away, to my love and me Cupid, don't ask why Let your arrow fly Straight away, to my love and me (Bob Dylan: Cupid ~ Dylan/Cooke)
The ‘why’ is that it’s a tribute to Sam Cooke:
Cupid, draw back your bow And let your arrow go Straight to my lover's heart for me, for me Cupid, please hear my cry And let your arrow fly Straight to my lover's heart for me (Sam Cooke: Cupid)
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.
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