Monday, June 5, 2017

Dylan and Homer

Bob Dylan, in his Nobel Prize lecture:

When Odysseus in The Odyssey visits the famed warrior Achilles in the underworld – Achilles, who traded a long life full of peace and contentment for a short one full of honor and glory – tells Odysseus it was all a mistake. “I just died, that’s all.” There was no honor. No immortality. And that if he could, he would choose to go back and be a lowly slave to a tenant farmer on Earth rather than be what he is – a king in the land of the dead – that whatever his struggles of life were, they were preferable to being here in this dead place.

That’s what songs are too. Our songs are alive in the land of the living. But songs are unlike literature. They're meant to be sung, not read. The words in Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be acted on the stage. Just as lyrics in songs are meant to be sung, not read on a page. And I hope some of you get the chance to listen to these lyrics the way they were intended to be heard: in concert or on record or however people are listening to songs these days. I return once again to Homer, who says, “Sing in me, oh Muse, and through me tell the story.”
I have to say: Dylan’s lecture makes me feel a lot happier about his Nobel Prize.


June 15: He plagiarized.

Related reading
All OCA Homer posts (Pinboard)
Positively Oslo

[Dylan quotes almost exactly the opening line of Robert Fitzgerald’s 1961 translation of The Odyssey: “Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story.” The phrase “tenant farmer” appears in Robert Fagles’s 1996 translation and, as I now know, in the CliffsNotes for the poem. “I just died, that’s all” is all Dylan.]

comments: 5

Chris said...

Fitzgerald's version has Achilles declare: "Better, I say, to break sod as a farm hand / for some poor country man, on iron rations, / than lord it over all the exhausted dead." Some of my favorite lines.

Michael Leddy said...

That might be the greatest moment in Homer: the canny survivor pitching death and the warrior who chose death now choosing life. I’m with you: Fitzgerald’s translation of these lines is especially great.

Frex said...

Wow! That's great! Thanks--now I must read Dylan's whole speech, which I wasn't going to bother to do otherwise.

I'm always quoting Kurosawa's Yojimbo: the old samurai tells the young hot head seeking a short life of excitement, “Go home. A long life eating porridge is best".

Frex said...

Now I've read it--it made me cry!
What a tribute to education, through songs and books:
"When I started writing my own songs, the folk lingo was the only vocabulary that I knew, and I used it.

"But I had something else as well. I had principals and sensibilities and an informed view of the world. And I had had that for a while. Learned it all in grammar school. Don Quixote, Ivanhoe, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, Tale of Two Cities, all the rest – typical grammar school reading that gave you a way of looking at life, an understanding of human nature, and a standard to measure things by."

Michael Leddy said...

I wish I’d known the Kurosawa line when I was teaching Homer. And I wish I’d had the grammar-school experience Dylan describes, though it’s hard for me to believe he read all those works in grammar school.