Bob Dylan And Pygmalion (Part II)

By Larry Fyffe

Bob Dylan and Pygamalion part 1 is published here.

In the song lyrics following be a ‘gnostic-like’ vision, a twisted version of a song from ‘My Fair Lady,’ a musical that harks back to the ancient Greek mythology of Pygmalion:

Hold on, I've been led in to some kind of trap
Where we ask no quarter, no quarter we give
We're right down the street from the street where you live
(Bob Dylan: Murder Most Foul)

The gloomy dark world in the song above contrasts with the the world of enchanted light in the song below:

Are there lilac trees in the heart of town
Can you hear the lark in any other part of town
Does enchantment pour out of every door?
No, it's just on the street where you live
(Vic Damone: On The Street Where You Live ~ Lerner/Loewe)

The reference to “murder most foul”:

Ghost: Murder most foul, as in the best it is
But this most foul, strange and unnatural
(William Shakespeare: Hamlet, Act I, sc, v)

In another tale of Greek mythology, the goddess Venus (Aphrodite), marries Vulcan, the god of Fire and Metalworking; he’s not good looking; makes himself machine-like handmaidens out of gold. Venus has an affair with Mars (Ares), the god of War, and sees to it that both her husband Vulcan, and her lover Mars side with the Trojans against the Greeks.

Trojan Paris, you see, judged Venus the winner in a beauty contest; needless to say, Vulcan is not content with being Venus’ obedient servant anymore; she’s an unfaithful wife.

So Vulcan plays a dirty trick. Venus and Mars have a daughter Harmonia. Cadmus, King of Thebes, marries Harmonia. Blacksmith Vulcan gives Cadmus a beautiful necklace to present to Harmonia as a wedding gift.

But it’s cursed so as to bring bad luck to the offspring of Cadmus and Harmonia, among them their daughter Semele, the mother of Dionysus, god of the Vine (The bluish-white metal “Cadmium” takes its name from the King Cadmus).

The song lyrics below mixes up mythologies:

I was thinking about turquoise, I was thinking about gold
I was thinking about diamonds, and the world's biggest necklace
(Bob Dylan: Isis ~ Levy/Dylan)

In Greek mythology, Pygmalion creates a statue of his vision of a perfect woman; Venus grants his wish that the statue come to life.

In the following song lyrics, that mythology is messed with. A Venus-like woman grants a man his wish not to become a non-communicative Pygmalion statue, nor a Vulcan machine:

The man in me will hide sometimes to keep from being seen
But that's because he doesn't want to turn into some machine
Took a woman like you to get through to the man in me
(Bob Dylan: The Man In Me)

Athena, the goddess of the City, is a wise protector who has dignity; her sacred bird is the owl; Mars, the god of War, and lover of Venus (despised by Vulcan he be) is rash, even cowardly; his sacred bird is the vulture.

In the lines below, the persona therein has dark-humoured fun at the expense of such mythological and religious tales:

I went down where the vultures feed
I would've gone deeper, but there wasn't any need
Heard the tongues of angels, and the tongues of men
Wasn't any difference to me
(Bob Dylan: Dignity)

No difference to the persona in the song just mentioned, but to the supposed Olympian gods, who were not devoid of compassion, there is. Athena is a favorite of Zeus, the god of Thunder. Gods and goddesses are immortal, but that doesn’t stop Athena from wounding Mars with a spear.

Below, a story is told in song that’s similar in kind to the mythological tale above (Dionysus, it’s noted, be not around in winter):

I'll be back in a month or two
When the frost is on the vine
I'll punch my sword right straight through
Half-ways down your spine
(Bob Dylan: Workingman's Blues, #2)

What else is on the site?

We have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with over 4200 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 603 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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