Bob Dylan And More Mythology (Part III)

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.

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 599 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

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).


  1. Wonderful Temporary Like Achilles, this version I never heard, great video Drifter´s Escape. Thank you Larry for post the third part of Bob Dylan´s Mythology!

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