Bob Dylan And Medea

by Larry Fyffe

Before Odysseus makes his sea voyage, Jason makes his.

Jason’s uncle usurps the Greek throne that belongs to Jason’s father. To protect him from the usurper, Jason is hidden away by his mother. Because the usurper doesn’t honour goddess Hera, she enlists Aphrodite to help Jason regain his royal rights.  Aphrodite is said by some to be the daughter of the Olympian Zeus and the Titan goddess Dione – the Titans being possessed of little compassion.

The usurper has tricks of his own up his sleeve, and tells Jason he’ll give up the throne, but first Jason has to embark on sea voyage in quest of the Golden Fleece, a symbol of royal power – the final guard thereof being a dragon – that is, if you make it that far without getting yourself killed.

As a countermove, on the daughter of the ruler of the realm where the Fleece is kept, Aphrodite has her son Cupid cast a spell that makes her fall madly in love with Jason. The daughter, Medea, is herself a possessor of magic powers – she’s a sorceress.

She causes the dragon to fall into a deep sleep; Jason grabs the royal emblem and agrees to take Medea back home with him. She even arranges the death of her own brother to help Jason escape, and then, lo and behold, she arranges the usurper’s death!

Jason fails to regain the throne immediately; he leaves Medea and their children; marries into other royalty; tells Medea to blame the whole mess on Aphrodite.

Needless to say, a bad idea all round … you don’t fool with an enchantress, nor with Aphrodite, let alone with the wife of Zeus. A lonely life of depression awaits Jason after Medea rides off in her dragon-drawn chariot. Who among us would say that he doesn’t deserve it?

A metonymical twist is given to the mythological tale in the poem below:

The fleece of this goat and even
That gold one which cost such pain
To Jason's not worth a 'sou' towards
The tresses which I take
(Guillaume Apollinaire: The Beastiary Of Orpheus' Procession)

Likewise, in the following song lyrics, there’s a sexual shift away from the golden fleece of the ram being a sacrifice to the God of Thunder; apparently, Johnny’s in the basement mixing up the mythologies:

First we wash our feet near the immortal shrine
And our shadows meet, and then we drink the wine
I see the hungry clouds up above your face
And then tears roll down, what a bitter taste
And then you drift away on a summer's day where the wildflowers bloom
With your golden loom
(Bob Dylan: Golden Loom)

Medea becomes the consort of a Greek king whose son Theseus had been a member of Jason’s crew; he marries Phaedra. Aphrodite casts a spell on Phaedra that causes her to fall in love with Theseus’ son by a previous union because the son rejects Aphrodite’s sexual advances.

Now there’s a story ripe for burlesque:

Well, Phaedra with her looking glass
Stretching out upon the grass
She gets all messed up, and she faints
That's 'cause she's so obvious, and you ain't
I wanna be your lover, baby, I wanna be your man
I wanna be you lover, baby, I don't wanna be hers
I wanna be yours
(Bob Dylan: I Wanna Be Your Lover)

In the lyrics below, the mythology of Medea is deconstructed – an enchantress she may be, but an aristocrat she ain’t:

With your sheets like metal, and your belt like lace
And your deck of cards missing the jack and the ace
And your basement clothes, and your hollow face
Who among them can think he could outguess you?
(Bob Dylan: Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands)

Jason and Medea – in one format or another, it’s a mythological story that never dies:

Was that the thunder that I heard?
My head is vibrating, I feel a sharp pain
Come sit by my side, don't say a word
Oh, can it be that I am slain?
(Bob Dylan: Romance In Durango ~ Dylan/Levy)

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 596 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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5 Responses to Bob Dylan And Medea

  1. Larry fyffe says:

    *And then our shadows meet ….

  2. Larry fyffe says:

    Another mythological figure we’ll deal with later is Cassandra …. note the Dylanesque ‘rhyme twist’ ~ ‘word’/’ heard’ ; ~ ‘heard’/’word’ below in regards to ‘Romance In Durango’ above…. gathered from coincidence….perhaps.

    Are you to pay for what you have
    With all you are? – No other word
    We caught, but with a laughing crowd
    Moved on. None heeded, and few heard
    (Edwin Robinson: Cassandra)

    Stay tuned to this same channel….there’s a lot more articles to come on the subject of Bob Dylan and Greek and Roman mythology!

  3. Larry fyffe says:

    Among the Dylan lyrics that Maria Muldaur varies in” Golden Loom”
    (unnoted in printed lyrics):

    ‘We feed the hungry crowd gathered ’round this place’

    instead of:

    ‘I see the hungry clouds up above your face”

  4. jastour 2010 says:

    Very nicely portrayed, Larry Fyffe, thank you very much for the article with context to Dylan. I will continue to follow posts.
    Greek mythology, perhaps the closest to me in terms of the gods, that they are like people … Thank you Larry for inspiring me to flip through it again, it seems that there will be enough reading time. Thank you for the post!

  5. Larry fyffe says:

    Glad that you enjoyed it as much as I did in putting the article together!

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