By Larry Fyffe
This article follows from
Singer/songwriter/musician Bob Dylan messes with Greek and Roman mythology – rearranges their faces, and gives its gods and heroes (some good, some bad, but mostly they’re both) other names.
Greek King Pentheuse does not want his authority challenged by his subjects praying to a new god. He has Dionysus, and the Bacchantes, imprisoned. But nothing, not even iron doors, can hold back the God of the Vine or his female followers; they escape. The King pursues the cone-bearing women, and they, seeing him as a mountain lion, tear the King to pieces.
Earlier, Zeus’ wife Hera, jealous of princess Semele, Dionysus’ mother by the Thunder God, tricks her into being killed by his lightning bolts. However, Zeus saves his son.
In the song lyrics below, the Jungian template of the above mythological story, is followed to some degree. The Drifter is likened to Dionysus:
Just then a bolt of lightning Struck the courthouse out of shape And while everyone knelt to pray The drifter did escape (Bob Dylan: Drifter's Escape)
Zeus falls in love with Io, daughter of a river god; to hide her from Hera, the God of Thunder turns Io into a white heifer. No fool is Zeus’ wife, and she asks that the heifer be given to her as a present; she then puts her under the charge of Argus who has hundreds of eyes.
Zeus has his messenger Hermes (Mercury) put Argus to sleep, and kill him. Hera, not one to give up easily, sets the eyes of Argus in the tail of the peacock, and sends a gadfly to torment Io. When the heifer reaches the Nile, Zeus is finally able to return her to human form.
A motif found in the song lyrics below:
Don't ever take yourself away Don't ever take yourself to a place where I can't find you Don't ever take yourself away I will never leave you, I will never deceive you I'll be right there behind you (Nikki Jean: Steel And Feathers ~ Dylan/Jean)
Philomela, a Greek princess, is raped by King Tereus, and he cuts out her tongue; she embroiders the evil deed on a tapestry; her sister, married to Tereus, serves up their son to him for supper. After the meal, the sisters present the severed head of his son to him. Enraged, he chases after the sisters with an axe. Philomela is transformed into a nightingale by the gods, and her sister into a swallow; they both escape.
Only the male nightingale sings. The singer/songwriter, in double-edged diction, mixes mythologies together. The following song obliquely alludes to tale above:
A messenger arrived with a black nightingale I seen her on the stairs, and I couldn't help but follow (Bob Dylan: Changing Of The Guards)
Fathered by Zeus, Artemis (Diana), like her twin brother Apollo, protects the young. As well as deer, and cypress tree, Diana’s associated with scorpions because they renew themselves by shedding their skins. Needless to say, Hera is not happy that the twins are not hers. She and Achilles side with the Greeks in the Trojan War; Zeus’ twins with the Trojans; Apollo guides the arrow that kills Achilles:
Well, I rush into your hallway Lean against your velvet door I watch upon your scorpion Who crawls across your circus floor (Bob Dylan: Temporary Like Achilles)
Snakes shed their skins, and are also associated with Artemis. Make what you will of the
singer/songwriter’s renewed mythology in the song lyrics below:
Distant ships sailing into the mist You were born with with a snake in both of your fists ..... Shedding off one more layer of skin Keeping one step ahead of the persecutor within (Bob Dylan: Jokerman)
The only thing you can say for sure about Bob Dylan is that he’s no stranger to ancient mythologies.
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