Archetypical Helen and Menippean Satire


by Larry Fyffe

Archetypical Helen

Young Achilles, a demi-god (fresh out of ancient Greek and Roman mythology) is dressed up as a pretty girl in an effort to hide him away from military service.

However, just in case he does become a Greek warrior, his mom decides to provide him with protection from harm by dipping his body in a special river of the Underworld ~ alas, but for the heel that she holds him by.

Achilles grows up, and learns to do his manly duty. He battles the Trojans in an effort to rescue Helen, the Greek princess who’s been stolen away to Troy by Paris.

Things mess up. The Greek warrior ceases fighting the Trojans when he feels he’s been disrespected, his favorite slave girl snatched away from him by the Greek commander.

Achilles is by no means as devoted to his cause as Satan is to removing the Almighty One from His throne in Heaven:

Not less but more heroic than the wrath of Achilles
on his foe pursued

(John Milton: Paradise Lost, Book ix)

At least for the time being anyway, Prince Paris can keep the beautiful Helen as his captive.

Achilles, he’s no longer interested in supporting the Greeks.

Said it could be that in his the song lyrics beneath, singer/songwriter/musician Bob Dylan dresses himself up in the clothes of Paris.

Achilles, now upstairs and disguised in the Trojan’s robes, wants Helen for himself:

Achilles is in your alley way 
He don't want me here, he does brag
He's pointing to the sky
And he's hungry like a man in drag
How come you get someone like him to be your guard
You know I want your loving
Honey, but you're so hard

(Bob Dylan: Temporary Like Achilles)

What country  Helen’s actually from, or where her loyalty lies, is not at all made clear.

As indicated in the lines following, she’s put on trial, accused apparently of being the ebony-faced Ethiopian, right out of the biblical Song of Solomon.

Indeed, more interested she seems to be in the golden-haired Sun-God of Egypt than some foreign Jehovah or Jove:

They shaved her head
She was torn between Jupiter and Apollo
A messenger arrived with a black nightingale
I seen her on the staircase, and couldn't help but follow
Down past the fountain where they lifted her veil
(Bob  Dylan: Changing Of The Guards)

Ethiopia, not a perfect earthly paradise for sure, but blissful enough as far as Helen is concerned.

And for the guys, the gals are really “hot” too:

It was an Abyssinian maid
And on her dulcimer she played
Singing of Mount  Abora
(Samuel Coleridge: Kubla Khan)

Disputed though in the epic poem quoted beneath – Ethiopia’s no Heaven:

Nor where Abassin kings their issue guard
Mont Amara,  though this by some supposed
True Paradise under the Ethiop line
(John Milton: Paradise Lost, part iv)

Left unresolved – the ending of the drama’s hanging:

You're the lamp of my soul, girl
And you touch up the night
But there's violence in your eyes, girl
So let us not be enticed
On the way out of Egypt, though Ethiopia
To the judgement hall of Christ
(Bob Dylan: Precious Angel)

Menippean Satire

Ironical and moral judgemental in tone, be the burlesque cartoons of Walt Kelly, popular in newspapers at the time Bob Dylan comes of age.

George Washington, Dwight Eisenhower,  Franklin Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Robert Kennedy, Edgar Hoover, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Nikita Krushchev, Fidel Castro, Winston Churchill, George Romney, Spiro Agnew, John Mitchell, Joseph McCarthy, Eugene McCarthy, George Wallace, and Patrick McCarran – they’re all people associated with American politics who are satirized, to one extent or another, in “Pogo”.

All of  the above characters fit, directy or indirectly, into the historical context that surrounds the works of contempory singer/songwriter, musician Bob Dylan.

Kelly depicts a number of these political people in the shape of animals or birds ~ Joseph McCarthy, a wily cat; Richard Nixon, a long-nosed dog; John Mitchell, an eaglet-beaked lawyer; Edgar Hoover, a bulldog ‘chief of police’; Lyndon Johnson, a longhorn bull,  a silver-srarred Texas Range stallion; George Wallace, a racist rooster; Spiro Agnew, a hyena; Nikita Krushchev, a decorated pig; Pat McCarran, a glasses-wearing mole; George Washington, a hound dog.

Reminds of the following dark-humored song – one in which “Mother” Nature (unlike the “everyman” marsupial Pogo who cares about others) takes little interest in what happens to her offspring:

Mr. Frog went a-hopping up over the brook
A lily-white duck came and swallowed him up, uh-huh
(Bob Dylan: Froggie Went A-Courting ~ traditional/Dylan)

Of course, names specified for animals and birds can be flipped back on human beings to highlight some characteristics that they are supposed to possess:

He saw an animal that liked to snort
Horns on his head, and they weren't too short
It looked like there was nothing he couldn't pull
"Ah, I think I'll call it a bull"
(Bob Dylan: Man Gave Names To All The Animals)

President Lyndon Johnson gets depicted as a long-horned bull by Walt Kelly.

Also, as a half-horse,  and half-Texas Ranger.

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