The Tarantula Tales: Oedipus and Agnes


by Larry Fyffe


“Tarantula” by Bob Dylan is a sludgy story that mixes fluid facts with flowing fictions.

Of possible interpretations, there are many.

Therein, for one example, be French Normans, led by William the Conqueror; their arrows a-flying, they defeat Harold, ruler of Anglo-Saxon England.

Fiendish William establishes feudalism.

The son of the Conqueror’s daughter – her name’s Matilda – becomes Henry II of England.

Harold dethroned – perhaps fated to be so because he can’t resist a pun:

We sat in a room where Harold, who called himself
'Lord of the dead animals", was climbing down from a ladder
& he said "friend or doe? friend or doe?"
(Bob Dylan: Tarantula)

Anyway, to make a long story short, actor Randolph Scott ends up giving Harold a big hug at President Eisenhower’s hometown saloon in Abilene, Kansas.

That is, after they sip a bit, and both reminisce about the good ole days they had fighting the Normans at the Battle of Hastings.

Randolf remarks, “Harold, I have the feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore”:

(A)nd says
it sure wasnt like this
in abilene
(Bob Dylan: Tarantula)

Of course, there are those who say that one’s Fate can be avoided ~ in Greek/Roman mythology, Laius, the father of Oedipus, gets rid of his son to prevent getting killed by Oedipus as foretold by Sun-God Apollo.

According to the  postmodernistic version below, Oedipus ends up once again unknowingly killing his own father – in this case, father be the young Bob Dylan, the creator and writer of “Tarantula”:

(B)ob dylan - killed by a 
discarded Oedipus
(Bob Dylan: Tarantula)

The careful reader might indeed conclude by the adages given beneath that it’s not a bad thing to sell one’s soul down the river during life’s journey.

And that for sure possessing a good memory is a good thing.

And that the answer to the riddle posed by the mythological man-eating she-sphinx is a good thing to know.

{The answer: mankind (as he or she grows older) has four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon, and one at night}

And seems we’re being told that it’s usually better not to tell the truth to those with the power to do us harm.

Thusly, albeit ambiguously, boasts the wise Tarantulaius:

(M)y mind is running down the river
- i'd sell my soul to the elephant
- i'd cheat the sphinx
- i'd lie to the conqueror
 (Bob Dylan: Tarantula)

Of course, too, it’s just dandy if you happen to possess a whole bunch of different lives as well.


The Almighty Tarantula is determined to out-devil the Devil; he considers himself the better Deceiver and Riddler ~ on the spider’s watch, nobody’s getting to know who tells the truth, and who tells a lie:

(T)he fact is this: we must be willing
to die for freedom (end of fact)
now what I wanna know about the fact 
is this: "could hitler have said it? degaulle?
pinnocchio? lincoln? agnes moorehead?"
(Bob Dylan: Tarantula)

The names above postmodernly metonymic.

For example ~

Agnes Moorehead plays Rebecca Prescott, the mother of two daughters –  Eve (Carroll Baker), and younger Lilith (Debbie Reynolds) ~ in the previously-mentioned movie: “How The West Was Won”.

In the epic film,  loyal wife Anges reluctantly leaves the comfort of their eastern farm behind; with her husband and daughters, Rebecca heads out West.

She and her husband drown along the way.

Moorehead also appears in movie titled ‘The Conqueror’ that stars John Wayne; he plays the slow-talking, hard-riding Mongol Genghis Khan.

The film’s considered by many critics to be the worst ever made.

“The Conqueror” is shot near a former nuclear test site; the location of the film is thusly thought by some to be the cause of cancer that develops among many of those involved in making the movie:

(A)lso, john wayne mightve kicked cancer, but you oughta see his foot
- forget about those hollywood people telling you what to do
- they're all gonna get killed by the indians
(Bob Dylan: Tarantula)

In a biblical story, Rebecca, wife of Isaac, has Jacob deceive his nearly-blind father into blessing him as the next leader of the clan instead of twin Esau:

And Jacob said unto his father, I am Esau thy firstborn
I have done according as thou badest me ....
That thy soul may bless me
(Genesis 27: 19)

And it’ll never be known who shoots US President John Kennedy:

(L)ook, you know I don't wanna come on ungrateful, but that warren
report, you know as well as me, just didn't make it
(Bob Dylan: Tarantula)

Not ever will you learn the truth:

What is the truth, and where did it go
Ask Oswald and Ruby, they oughta know
Shut your mouth, says the wise old owl
Business is business, and it's murder most foul
(Bob Dylan: Murder Most Foul)


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