A colleague just sent me a link to Bob Dylan’s Nobel Lecture in Literature (recorded on 4 June 2017) in which he discusses three of his favourite works of literature, one of which is Homer’s Odyssey (alongside Moby Dick and All Quiet on the Western Front).
It warms a classicist’s heart to hear the great works of classical literature being referred to, loved dearly, and valued highly. There is something mesmerising too in Dylan’s lilting American tones, his poetic expression, his fervour for folk modes of speech, and his love of emphasis on certain words and syllables.
Dylan describes the Odyssey as a “great book, whose themes have worked its (sic) way into the ballads of a lot of songwriters”. But the highpoint for me is when Dylan, after describing just some of the many adventures and misadventures of Odysseus, says “In a lot of ways, some of these same things have happened to you…you too have rambled this country all around. And you’ve also felt that ill wind, that one that blows you no good”.
Surprising then that when Dylan later poses the question “what does it all mean?” he offers no firm answer. “They can mean a lot of different things”, he says. I think he hinted at the answer in comparing his own journey with that of Odysseus. Surely these great works of literature are about us, about our nature, about the journey of life, about our failings and our potential. This is the core of the humanities and the core of our humanity. Sure Bob, I don’t worry about what it all means, but it sure does interest me.
Header image: Odysseus consulting the shade of Tiresias.