Bob Dylan And Cupid (Part II)

by Larry Fyffe

According to ancient Greek/Roman mythology, Psyche, daughter of a king, attempts to get on the good side of the Olympian Goddess Venus. The mortal maiden is searching for Cupid, the winged son of the Goddess of Love and Beauty.

Up to her usual tricks, Venus sends princess Psyche down into the darkness of the Underworld to fetch her a beauty potion. She’s to pick up a box from Persephone, the Goddess of Grain and the Queen of the Underworld who was kidnapped by Hades. Zeus placates Persephone’s mother by allowing her daughter to return to the Upper World six months of the year; when she’s up, it’s spring and summer; when she’s down, it’s autumn and winter. The star constellation Virgo (Persephone) hangs close to Leo in the night sky.

On the return journey from the Underworld, Psyche lets curiosity get the better of her; she opens the box, and falls into a deep sleep. Cupid comes along, pricks the sleeping beauty with one of his arrows; she wakes up, and is told by Cupid to deliver the box to his mother.

‘Tempest’ is a song by Bob Dylan in which the singer/songwriter messes with the above mythology – the watchman has a dream that the Titanic is sinking into the Underworld:

There’s an artist on board the Titanic in the Poe-like dark-humoured dream within a dream:

Leo took his sketchbook
He was often so inclined
He closed his eyes, and painted
The scenery in his mind
Cupid struck his bosom
And broke it with a snap
The closest woman to him
He fell into her lap
(Bob Dylan: Tempest)

Leo, in mythology, is a tough-skinned, man-eating lion. Hercules (the son of Jupiter, he’s born of a mortal woman) snaps the back of the monster lion with his bare hands. According to Robert Graves, Venus is born of sea-form from the testicles of Saturn (Cronus), a Titan. They’re cut off by his son Jupiter (Zeus) who then becomes the Olympian God of the Sky; his brothers Neptune (Poseidon) and Pluto (Hades) get to be the rulers of the sea and of the world of minerals respectively.

As previously noted, Psyche is warned not to question the commands of Cupid (Eros) – don’t shine a light on the God of Love; she eventually becomes his wife, and Goddess of the Soul; she’s given butterfly wings:

Lo! In yonder window niche
How statue-like I see thee stand
The agate lamp within thy hand!
Ah, Psyche, from the regions which
Are holy land
(Edgar Allan Poe: To Helen)

The God of the Sea, a rider of dolphins, is mentioned in the song lyrics below:

Praise be to Nero's Neptune, the Titanic sails at dawn
Everybody's shouting, 'Which side are you on?'
(Bob Dylan: Desolation Row)

The Goddess of Agriculture is Persephone’s mother Ceres (Demeter). Apparently, she with Persephone and Poseidon are paid tributes at the temple of ‘Two Queens and A King’.

Double-edged the following lyrics be:

Backstage the girls were playing five-card stud by the stairs
Lily had two Queens, and was hoping for a third to match her pair
(Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)

Could Lily, like Psyche, actually be hoping that the dashingly handsome card of Love turns up rather than another Queen? ie, Cupid, the God of Love.  For sure, he’s not the desexualized chubby Cupid pictured on today’s Saint Valentine’s Day cards. The Jack of Hearts is described as  “looking like a saint”; Lily is called ‘a princess’, and ‘the butterfly”. Is there a parallel story to the Greek/Roman mythology lurking behind the curtains of the cabaret? Zephyr, the west wind (sent by Cupid to rescue Psyche) is the mildest of the four gods of the Wind:

Outside the streets were filling up, the windows were open wide
A gentle breeze was blowing, you could feel it from inside
Lily called another bet, and drew up the Jack Of Hearts
(Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)

It’s all mixed-up and confusing because, in the mythological narrative, Psyche’s two jealous sisters nearly convince her to stab the sleeping Cupid with a knife. Lily, the flower of Death, is a good candidate for knifing Big Diamond Jim to death:

The cabaret was empty now, a sign said, 'Closed for repair'
Lily had already taken all the dye out of her hair
She was thinking 'bout her father, who she very rarely saw
Thinking 'bout Rosemary, and thinking about the law
But most of all, she was thinking 'bout the Jack Of Hearts
(Bob Dyan: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)


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 And Cupid (Part II)

  1. Larry fyffe says:

    Correction:

    *….from the testicles of Uranus, a Titan; they’re cut off by his son Saturn; Zeus overthrows Saturn, and then becomes….

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