Bob Dylan And More Mythology (Part II)

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)

What else is on the site?

We have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with over 3400 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 

You’ll find some notes about our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page of this site.  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 598 Dylan compositions and co-compositions that we have found on the A to Z page.

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, or indeed have an idea for a series of articles that the regular writers might want to have a go at, please do drop a line with details of your idea, or if you prefer, a whole article to Tony@schools.co.uk

And please do note our friends at  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, plus links back to our reviews (which we do appreciate).

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1 Response to Bob Dylan And More Mythology (Part II)

  1. Larry fyffe says:

    * he too fell into a rage

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