Bob Dylan and Dante Part VI and VII

by Larry Fyffe

Part VI

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 to the Italian poet from the thirteenth century 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, artistic 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 devine 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)

Bob Dylan And Dante (Part VII)

Richard Thomas points out that Bob Dylan sources the poem below in his song “Crossing The Rubicon”.

Caesar marches on Rome:

The bright red river flows from a modest spring
Through the bottom of a valley
Valleys dividing Gaul from Italian lands
(Lucan: On The Civil War, Book I)

Dante crosses the River Styx, and enters Hades; to the right there is a path that leads to the blissful Elysium Fields:

Here comes the place where cleaves our way
The road to the right to Pluto's dwelling place goes
And leads to Elysium
But the one to the left leads to Tartarus
And speeds the souls of the cursed to doom
(Virgil: The Aeneid, Book I)

In the following song lyrics, Hades is placed above ground; the narrator therein takes on the role of the Trojan Aeneas:

Key West is 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
Key West, Key West is the land of light
(Bob Dylan: Key West)

In Seventh Heaven, Dante meets up with Beatrice in the Elysium Fields; he’s not yet been guided through the Sphere of the Fixed Stars, and onward to where they begin to rotate:

For in the smile that glowed in her eyes
I thought that I, with mine, had touched the height
Of both my blessedness and Paradise
(Dante: Paradise, Canto XV)

In the song lyrics  quoted beneath, like Dante on tour when he still throws a shadow, the narrator’s quite content to have gotten thus far.

Could be said that Dante Dylan decides to give himself to his beloved Beatrice once he passes from this Earth:

Well, my heart's like a river, a river that sings
Just takes me a while to realize things
I'll see you are sunrise, I'll see you at dawn
I'll lay down beside you when everyone's gone
(Bob Dylan: I've Made up My Mind To Give Myself to You)


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