This article continues from Bob Dylan And More Mythology Part I
by Larry Fyffe
A number of song lyrics by Bob Dylan have their roots soaked in the mythology of Dionysus.
Dionysus (Bacchus) is known to be both kind and cruel. The son of Zeus, and the mortal princess Semele, he is thereby unique among the Olympian gods. The God of the Vine, he’s torn to pieces in the Autumn, and rejuvenates in the Spring; he always comes back again; from his barley and corn, his grapes and apples, alcohol is made; from his herbs, intoxicants. His daughter is Methe, the nymph-goddess of Drunkenness, given birth to by a mortal:
Well, they're stone you, and say that's it the end Then they'll stone you, then they'll come back again (Bob Dylan: Rainy Day Women, no. 12#35)
Noted it be:
The ‘Maenads’, or the ‘Bacchantes’, as they were also called, were woman frenzied with wine.
They rushed through woods, and over the mountains uttering sharp cries, waving cone-tipped wands, swept away in a fierce ecstasy (Edith Hamilton: Mythology).
Imagery that’s repeated in the song lyrics below:
All the early Roman kings In the early, early morn Coming down the mountain Distributing the corn Speeding through the forest Racing down the track You try to get away They drag you back (Bob Dylan: Early Roman Kings)
In another story, handsome young Bacchus is seized by pirates; he tangles their ship in vines; turns into a lion; the pirates jump overboard, and are transformed into dolphins. Only the helmsman is saved because he recognizes that the young man be a god.
Below, a folk song with a similar motif. A supposed lover – for pieces of gold – smuggles a maiden aboard a ship heading for Canada; revealed she is, and the crew threatens to toss her into the sea:
Now, when the other sailors heard the news Well, they fell into a rage And with all the ship's company They were willing to engage Saying, "We'll tie her hands and feet, my boys Overboard we'll throw her She'll never see the seaport town Called Canadee-i-o" (Bob Dylan: Canadee-i-o ~ Dylan/traditional)
[There is no Dylan video of this song available freely on line so we’ve found an alternative]
The captain, angered by their evil intentions, saves her:
Now, when the captain he heard the news Well, he too feel in a rage And with the whole ship's company He was willing to engage Saying, "She'll stay in sailor's clothes Her colour shall be blue She'll see that seaport town Called Canadee-i-o" (Bob Dylan: Canadee-i-o ~ Dylan/traditional)
Dionysus is a symbol of regeneration – spring returns, and with it hope; in Christian mythology, Dionysus is replaced by Jesus; however, He’s slow in returning:
When the cities are on fire with the burning flesh of men Just remember that death is not the end And you search in vain to find just one law-abiding citizen Just remember death is not the end (Bob Dylan: Death Is Not The End)
[And again, no Dylan version freely available so an alternative…]
Alas, as far as the singer/songwriter is concerned, neither the positive thoughts of the Romantic Transcendentalist poets in regards to the return of Spring, nor the regenerative-themed mythology pertaining to Dionysus, be of little help in the depth of a cold, lonely winter:
Walking through the leaves, falling from the trees Feeling like a stranger nobody needs So many things that we never will undo I know that you're sorry, I'm sorry too (Bob Dylan: Mississippi)
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