The Mythologies that Inspire Bob Dylan: The Rastas and The Stabber Of Polyphemus


by Larry Fyffe

Bob Dylan And The Rastas

Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan takes on the persona of Odysseus more than once.

Thus speaks the Greek hero to Polyphemus:

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

Poseidon (Neptune), maker of earthquakes, is the father of the one-eyed Cyclops; it’s Poseidon’s son, Polyphemus, whom Odysseus blinds.

Quite understandable that Poseidon’s son, an eater-of-human-flesh, is angry at the Greek warrior Odysseus for shoving a burning stick in his eye which causes loss of sight; not surprising either that the father of Polyphemus is unhappy about that too.

Sorrowful Trojan Aeneas(according to poet Virgil) heads off to Rome, Italy, after the Greek victory over his beloved Troy.

Aeneas, so the story goes, splashes a royal blood line on the Italian boot.

In the song lyrics below, dark humour – again rhyming ~ ‘death’ with ~ ‘breath’:

I'll 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 one else that you'll want to see
(Bob Dylan: Early Roman Kings)

That is, readers thereof have to be aware of ancient Greek/Roman mythology to ‘get’ the joke.

Furthermore note that Greek/Roman mythology and the Hebrew/Christian religion (ie, King Solomon and Queen of Sheba) both tend to paint the dark-skinned peoples of Ethiopia into a Romantc dream-like, earth-bound, paradisal picture:

.... I wandered, and Egypt
And I came to the Ethiopians
(Homer: The Odyssey, Book IV)


Princes shall come out of Egypt
Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God
(Psalm 68: 31)

And in the epic poem of rebellion against etablished authority beneath (see also Samuel Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”):

Nor where Abassin kings their issue guard
Mount Amara, though this by some supposed
True paradise under the Ethiop line
(John Milton: Paradise Lost, Book IV)

Little wonder that Mr. Skeptic puts  his bleeding foot in the salted song bath below:

So let so not be enticed
On the way out of Egypt through Ethiopia
To the judgement hall of Christ
(Bob Dylan: Precious Angel)

Apparently, after Jah (Jehovah), the black God, finishes the battle between good and evil, Africans sold as slaves (to America – the New Babylon, giant Polyphemus personified) will be delivered back to their blissful home in Ethiopia.

The Stabber Of Polyphemus

In vain do some analysts of his song lyrics downplay the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to singer/songwriter/musician Bob Dylan.

For Dylan, mythological Polyphemus, the one-eyed Cyclopes, man-eater, son of earth-shaker Neptune (like the biblical Whore Of Babylon, like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein monster – even Mattel’s plastic blonde Barbie doll) represents America.

Apparently, Polyphemus has a number of Jungian friends:

He looks so truthful, is this how he feels
When he tries to peel the moon and expose it
With his businesslike anger, and his bloodhounds that kneel
If he needs a third eye, he just grows it
(Bob Dylan: Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window)

According to the English Gothic Romantic poet beneath, dark dragons and demons inhabit what initially seems a sunny Eden:

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover
A savage place! as holly and enchanted
As ever beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover
(Samuel Coleridge: Kubla Khan)

So beware, beware, one needs to be of symbolic Satan ~ no server intends he to be though all Hell breaks loose beneath:

And in the lowest deep, a lower deep
Still threatening to devour me opens wide
To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heaven
(John Milton: Paradise Lost, Part IV)

In the song lyrics beneath, the demon-narrator takes on the role of a cold-hearted lover:

The wind howls like a hammer
The night blows cold and raining
My love she's like some raven
At my window with a broken wing
(Bob Dylan: Love Minus Zero)

But the poetic lyrics below assert that it’s better to be like Trojan Aeneas ~ to show compassion, and avoid hubris:

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

Expressed in the following song lyrics:

I'm going to spare the defeated
I'm going to speak to the crowd
I'm going to spare the defeated
'Cause I'm going to speak to the crowd
I'm going to teach peace to the conquered
I'm going to tame the proud
(Bob Dylan: Lonesome Day Blues)

Virtues learned from the blowing wind when down in the now-modernized Underworld of Ancient Greece:

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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