An interesting question, however, is how the best of these artists stack up against the greatest artists of antiquity. Dr. Richard Thomas, the George Martin Lane Professor of the Classics at Harvard University, makes a forceful case that at least one of these artists — Bob Dylan — is a worthy heir who has every right to be mentioned along side these giants.
Thomas is the author of a 2017 book entitled “Why Bob Dylan Matters.” Every four years, he teaches an undergraduate course of the same name.
In part one of a two-part conversation with TDMB, Professor Thomas makes a compelling case that Dylan is a genius who carries on in the tradition of Homer, Ovid and Virgil. And he proves that it was deliberate: Dylan’s lyrics contain direct quotes and close paraphrases from the works of these authors.
Professor Thomas doesn’t mince words when it comes to his opinion of Dylan’s stature. This is from the book’s introduction (Here it is at Amazon):
For the past forty years, as a classics professor, I have been living in the worlds of the Greeks and Roman poets, reading them, writing about them, and teaching them to students in their original languages and English translation. I have for even longer been living in the world of Bob Dylan’s songs, and in my mind Dylan long ago joined the company of those ancient poets. He is part of that classical stream whose spring starts out in Green and Rome and flows on down through the years, remaining relevant today, and incapable of being constrained by time or place.
In the first of a two-part conversation, Professor Thomas describes Dylan as a writer whose work “is engaged with what it means to be a human being at the deepest and most fundamental level.” He also says that, like the classic writers, his work is revisited time after time. Of course, whether he matches Ovid, Virgil and Homer in longevity regard remains to be seen.