Bob Dylan On The Way Home

By Larry Fyffe

Part One

Sing in me, Muse, and though me tell the story
Of that man skilled in all ways of contention
The wanderer, harried for years on end
After he plundered the stronghold city of Troy
(Homer: The Odyssey, Book 1 ~ translated)

Lines echoed in the song lyrics quoted beneath:

Mothers of Muses, sing for me
Sing of the mountains, and the deep, dark sea .....
Got a mind to ramble, got a mind to roam
I'm travelling light, and I'm a-slow coming home
(Bob Dylan: Calliope)

In the epic poem is the story of  Odysseus, and how he  blinds the Cyclops; then he insults Zeus’ brother Neptune (Poseidon), the immortal god of the sea and of earthquakes, who’s also the father of the one-eyed giant.

‘Tis not a good idea to insult the gods:

Would to god I could strip you of life and breath
And ship you down to the house of death
As surely no one will ever heal your eye
Not even the earthquake god himself
(Homer: The Odyssey, Book 9 ~ translated)

The narrator in the song lyrics below takes on the role of Neptune himself – so you think you can build an ‘unsinkable’ ship do you…..you don’t know to whom you are talking, do you?!

I can strip you of life, strip you of breath
Ship you down to the house of death
One day, you will ask for me
There'll be no else that you'll wanna see
(Bob Dylan: Early Roman Kings)

The sea-god is mentioned in the lines quoted beneath:

Praise be to Nero's Neptune, the Titanic sails at dawn
Everybody's asking, "Which side are you on?"
(Bob Dylan: Desolation Row)

Our homeward hero makes it pass the sweet-singing Sirens by being tied to the mast, but Neptune’s brother then smashes the ship all to pieces, and only Captain Odysseus survives:

Then Zeus roared out his thunder
And with a bolt of lightning struck our ship
The blow from Zeus' lightning made our craft
Shutter from stem to stern
And filled it up with sulphur smoke
(Homer: The Odyssey, Book 12 ~ translated)

The narrator in the song below again takes on the role of Odysseus who’s trying bring it all back home – though now he’s not so self-assured:

Well, I sailed through the storm
Strapped to the mast
Oh, but our time has come
And I’m seeing the real you at last
(Bob Dylan: Seeing The Real You At Last)

Part Two

In Greek/Roman mythology, Poseidon (Neptune), the god of the sea, brother of Zeus(Jove), upset at Odysseus (Ulysses) for poking out the only eye of son Cyclopes tries to drown the hero of the Trojan War.

Due to the insistence of Athena (Minerva), the thunder god somewhat reluctantly, sees to it that the wandering seafarer eventually makes it back to his weaving wife Penelope.

In the following verse, the narrator takes on the persona of Pluto, ruler of the Underworld, and brother of Zeus and Neptune; Hermes (Mercury), his wing-footed guide to and from Hades – changed below to two female singers:

Hello, Mary Lou
Hello, Miss Pearl
My fleet-footed guides from the underworld
(Bob Dylan: False Prophet)

Hermes is depicted in the following lines:

They called him Hermes of the golden wand, the fleet-footed messenger
On his feet Hermes bound his golden sandals that never grew old
And bore him safely and swiftly over wet sea, and dry land
(Homer: Odyssey, Book 5 ~ translated)

So goes the story ~Trojan Paris, to gain Helen, judges Aphrodite (Venus) more beautiful than Athena, and Hera (Zeus’ wife). In the tangled story of the Trojan War that results, with his sister Artimis (Diana), Apollo, son of Zeus, along with Aphrodite, sides with the Trojans; Hera and Athena with the Greeks and Odysseus.

In the song lyrics quoted beneath, Aphrodite is portrayed as the protector of the Trojan leader:

And there you stayed
Temporarily lost at sea
The Madonna was yours for free
Yes, the girl from the half-shell
Could keep you from harm
(John Baez: Diamonds And Rust)

In the lines below, Aeneas is told a bigger destiny awaits him in Italy:

Roman, remember by your strength to rule
Earth's peoples - for your arts are to be these
To pacify, to impose the rule of law
To spare the conquered, battle down the proud
(Virgil: The Aeneid, Book VI)

The Trojan leader gets the good news when taken on a special trip to the Underworld; modernized in the song lyrics below:

Key West, under the sun, under the radar, under the gun
You stay to the left, and then you lean to the right
Feel the sun on your skin, and the healing virtues of the wind
(Bob Dylan: Key West)

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1 Response to Bob Dylan On The Way Home

  1. Larry Fyffe says:

    Says Gary Cooper, father of ‘Penny'(Penelope) payed by Shirley Temple, about the police:

    “They don’t look so bad close, not nearly as big as when you’re running away from them” (Now And Foever movie)

    As in:

    What looks large at a distance
    Close up ain’t never that big
    ((Bob Dylan: Tight Connection To My Heart)

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