Bob Dylan And Dante (Part V)

Previously published:

By Larry Fyffe

Words matter.

“Angelina”, a song written by Bob Dyan, stirs up a great theological debate amongst Dylanologists interested in such matters.

Christian Dante Alighieri, in the epic lyrics beneath, refers to four animal-like angels that have six wings:

Four animals, each with fresh green leaves
Each with six wings, each feathered
Their plumage full of eyes
(Dante: Purgatory, Canto XXIX)

Akin to the four creatures depicted in the New Testament:

And the four beasts had each of them
Six wings about them
And they were full of eyes within
(Revelations 4:8)

In the Old Testament verse below, the referenced each have four wings:

And the wings were stretched upward
Two wings of every one were joined one to another
And two covered their bodies
(Ezekiel 1:11)

As mentioned before, figuratively burnt down is the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden as far as humans are concerned. But its greenery flourishes on for the Almighty One.

The question ~ In the song lyrics below, does the angel have six wings or four?

Beat a path of retreat up them spiral staircases
Pass the tree of smoke, pass the angel with four faces
(Bob Dylan: Angelina)

The debate centres on as to why the Christian angels have two extra wings: Is it so they can serve as messengers from God to all mankind; these angels are more than just the guardians of God’s earthy domain that consists of wild and tame animals, birds, and humans.

They’re analogous to wing-heeled Mercury of ancient Greek/Roman mythology.

“Angelina” allows the readers or listeners thereof to decide for themselves which side of the debate they are on:

In the valley of the giants where the stars and stripes explode
The peaches thet were sweet, and the milk and honey flowed
I was only following instructions when the judge sent me down the road
With your subpoena
(Bob Dylan: Angelina)

In ancient Greek/Roman mythology, King Minos, after his death, becomes a stern Judge of the Dead. In “The Divine Comedy” by Dante, Minos, at the entrance of Hell, issues a warning fo the Italian poet from thirteenth cenury for whom Beatrice has arranged a sightseeing tour of Hell, then of Purgatory, and finally of Heaven:

And eternal I endure
And  all hope abandon ye who enter here
(Dante: The Inferno, Canto Ill)

Akin to portraying himself as Dante crossing the River Styx to Hades, the narrator in the song lyrics below takes on the role of Julius Caesar who crosses the river that leads to Civil War, a hell-on-earth.

An imaginative, artistc mixing together of historical facts and fiction:

I've painted my red wagon, abandoned all hope
And I crossed the Rubicon
Well, the Rubicon is a red river
Going gently as she flows
Redder than your ruby lips
And the blood that flows from the rose
Three miles north of Purgatory
One step from the Great Beyond
(Bob Dylan: Crossing The Rubicon)

References Dante who’s climbed to the Seventh Sphere of Heaven, up to the fixed stars:

Says Beatrice, “Why does my face so entrance you
That you look not upon the lovely Garden below
That blooms the sun beams of Christ?
There the Rose in which the Divine Word is made flesh”
(Dante: Paradise, Canto XXIII)

Dante refers to Semele whom Zeus, disguised as an eagle, promises her anything she asks for. Cursed by Hera, Semele asks for a demonstration of his thunderbolts, and the flash of Zeus’ lightning kills her.

Dante below is in danger of being set afire, left smouldering like a tree stuck by a lightning bolt.

Filled with the divine light of Jesus, Beatrice speaks:

Says Beatice, "Were I to smile
You'd be like Semele
When she was turned into ashes"
(Dante: Paradise, Canto XXI)

The following more-down-to-earth song lyrics ponder Dante’s dire situation:

Whatever you wanted
Slipped out of my mind
Would you remind me again
If you'd be so kind
Has the record been breaking
Did the needle just skip
Is there somebody waiting
Was there a slip of the lip
(Bob Dylan: What Was It You Wanted)



  1. * BD and Dante Part V Part VI

    Part VI begins ~ in ancient Roman/ Greek mythology, King ….

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