Bob Dylan And Mythology (Part IX) August de Villiers

By Larry Fyffe

Irony chain-bound, Auguste de Villiers de L’Isle-Adam be a French Symbolist writer, a latter-day Romantic, who finds artistic beauty in the Imagination; opposed he is to the materialistic-driven bourgeois ideology of his times.

Based on the ancient mythology of Pygmalion about an artist who creates an ivory statue of a perfect woman, Villiers’ proto-science fiction story “Tomorrow’s Eve” features a mad scientist, named Thomas Edison. For an aristocratic man who saves his life, Edison constructs a look-alike but perfected android of the noble’s beautiful but emotionally-flawed girlfriend named Miss Alicia Clary – “I have this one message. Since our gods are no longer anything but scientific, why shouldn’t our loves be so too?” Villiers be influenced by Charles Baudelaire’s translation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories; Canadian writer Marshall McLuhan’s later produces “The Mechanical Bride”.

In the play “Axel”, Villiers tells the story of a cousin who wants the protagonist to help search for treasure that is supposed to buried near the latter’s castle; the two men quarrel, and Axel kills his cousin in a duel. Axel declines to become a member of an occult organization. Sara, who flees from becoming a nun, comes in search of the treasure.  Quarrel they do, but Axel and Sara fall in love. They find the treasure. The couple decide to kill themselves because they find dreams are better than reality -“Living? Our servants will do that for us”.

Borrowing the title from another of Villiers’ stories, singer/songwriter Bob Dylan, with his co-writer,  re-arranges the characters in the above stories. The would-be tomb robber and his girlfriend settle their differences after he returns home:

I broke into the tomb, but the casket was empty
There was no jewels, no nothing, I felt I'd been had
When I saw that my partner was just being friendly
When I took up his offer, I must-a been mad ....
Then I rode back to find Isis just to tell her I love her

(Bob Dylan: Isis ~ Levy/Dylan)

Villier’s Alicia Clary appears with the last name of an actual person in the following song lyrics:

I was thinking about Alicia Keys, couldn't keep from crying
When she was born in Hell's Kitchen, I was living down the line
I'm wondering where in the world Alicia Keys could be
I've been looking for her even clear through Tennessee
(Bob Dylan: Thunder On The Mountain)

Minerva (Athena) whose sacred bird is the Owl that flies at dusk (Athena’s mother is consumed by Zeus in fear that their child, if born, will overpower him) springs from the head of the God of Thunder. She becomes the Goddess of City, and protector of civilization and children; she sides with the Greeks who attack Troy, night-time giving them repose.

In opposition to the Puritan dogma of original sin, poet Henry Longfellow takes on the persona of Orestes. Orestes avenges his father’s death, the leader of the Greeks in the Trojan War, who’s killed by his mother’s lover on returning home to Argos.  Orestes does his duty and kills his mother’s lover, but he kills his mother too, the latter deed considered the most heinous of crimes. Years later, he pleads before Athena’s court. The son takes responsibility for his actions instead of blaming it on Apollo who testifies it was done at his command. The judge and tribunal accept Orestes’ repentance and acquits:

Peace! Peace! Orestes-like, I breathe this prayer!
Descend with broad-winged flight
The welcome, the thrice-prayed for, the most fair
The best-beloved Night

(Henry Longfellow: Hymn To The Night)

In the following song lyrics,’ the Calvinist dogmas of original sin and predestination are burlesqued:

Shake the dust off of your feet, don't look back
Nothing now can hold you back
Temptation's not an easy thing, Adam given the devil reign
Because he sinned, I got no choice, it run in my vein
(Bob Dylan: Pressing On)

Likewise, in the black-humoured lyrics below, the supposition that hard work rewarded is a sign that an individual is one of God’s chosen few rather than fate being completely beyond any mortal’s control:

You know, it was raining the other day
I mean the other night
And Hugh Brown, he's so lazy that
He said to me, "Bob, it's raining on my bed"
And I says, "Oh", and he say, "Yeah", and I say, "Oh"
Hugh Brown never closed the window
(Bob Dylan: Hugh Brown)

On the recording below Hugh Brown starts at around the four minute mark.

Frederick Nietzsche criticizes Paul for his assertions which can be interpreted as proto-gnostic. That is, the prospect of happiness awaits most mortals, not in the darkness of the physical realm, but in the spiritual afterlife:

Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead, dieth no more
Death has no more dominion over him
(Romans 6:9)

A gnostic-like view is also advanced by a neoRomantic poet:

And death shall have no dominion
With the man in the wind, and the west moon

(Dylan Thomas: And Death Shall Have No Dominion)

What else is on the site?

We have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with over 3600 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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