Jellyfish illustrating DON'T LOOK BACK

Medusas in Cadaques – photo Clifford Thurlow

If someone shouts, ‘don’t look’ or ‘don’t look back,’ the natural instinct is to turn and have a good look.

When the Sea God Poseidon caught a glimpse of Medusa, it was a disaster. She was a beautiful young priestess with golden curls falling over her pretty shoulders and served in the temple of Athena in Athens. She had taken a vow of chastity.

Don't Look Back illustrated by Perseus with the head of Medusa

Bronze by Benvenuto Cellini

Poseidon watched Medusa passing through the marble columns of the Acropolis and couldn’t take his eyes off her. He rose from the waves with uncontrollable lust and took her in an embrace.

Did he rape her? Or was she willing? She was never given the chance to explain. Her chastity was broken and Athena in a fit of pique turned the girl’s golden curls to slithering snakes. Her features became so ugly that anyone who looked upon Medusa would turn to stone and Medusa’s gaze would turn others to stone.

Medusa’s curse was a warning to Greek men that to be enthralled by a beautiful young woman was, potentially, to condemn oneself to death, symbolised by turning to stone. The myth also warned Greek women that being tempted by the advances of a man, even a God, can lead – well, anywhere.

From Barbie to Snake Queen, after been ravaged by Poseidon, Medusa is decapitated by the Greek hero Perseus, who uses her head to turn his enemies to stone. Why did he slaughter Medusa? He had been sent to fetch her head by King Polydectes of Seriphus because the King wanted to marry Perseus’s mother. It’s a long story.

The mere act of ‘looking’ in myths and folk tales often leads to unfortunate circumstances. In Genesis, Lot’s wife famously looks back at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and turns into a pillar of salt. Orpheus, warned not to look back as he leads his beloved Eurydice from the Underworld, glances over his shoulder a second too early and is condemned to a lifetime in Purgatory.

Don’t Look Back Bob

Salvador Dali gives the don’t look back warning a surreal twist. He was voyeur who enjoyed watching others in the sexual act without wishing to participate except in the privacy of masturbation, something he projected on canvas in The Great Masturbator, a brilliant oil that when first hung in New York in 1930s inspired many viewers to ask: what does that mean?

In Bob Dylan’s She Belongs to Me we learn about a beautiful woman – probably his early sixties girlfriend Suze Rotolo – who appears to have everything, but there is a feeling in the subtext that she is heading for a fall – like Medusa.

She’s got everything she needs, she’s an artist
She don’t look back
She’s got everything she needs, she’s an artist
She don’t look back
She can take the dark out of the nighttime
And paint the daytime black

Dont Look Back is also the title of DA Pennebaker’s 1967 documentary on Dylan’s tour of England in 1965. The film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry and was voted joint 9th best documentary film of all time in Sight & Sound. See it on YouTube. It was during Dylan’s 1966 tour when Keith Butler,  distraught fan in the audience, screamed out ‘Judas’ when Dylan switched from acoustic to electric.*

Leave your stepping stones behind you. Nothing calls for you. Don’t look back. Look at the horizon and keep on keeping on.

*Thanks to Eric S. Weiss for chronology assistance.

READ – How Dylan Turns News Into History



Posted in Blog.


  1. It’s good advice keep looking froward but don’t forget the past as history has the nasty habit of repeating itself and those who forget are destine to be caught in the never-ending loop of human error.

  2. Once again, you’ve chosen a subject with as many facets as snakes upon Medusa’s head. “Don’t look back.” I would imagine philosophers could ponder the significance of such a sentence until the cows come home. To me, the phrase brings to mind Peter, Paul and Mary’s ballad, ‘Don’t Think Twice.’

    It ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
    It don’t matter, anyhow
    And it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
    If you don’t know by now
    When the rooster crows at the break of dawn
    Look out your window and I’ll be gone
    You’re the reason I’m travelin’ on
    Don’t think twice it’s all right

    It ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
    Light I never know’d
    It ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
    I’m on the dark side of the road
    Still I wish there was somethin’ you would do or say
    To try and make me change my mind and stay
    We never did too much talkin’ anyway
    So don’t think twice it’s all right

    I’m walkin’ down that long, lonesome road, babe
    Where I’m bound, I can’t tell
    But goodbye is too good a word gal
    So I’ll just say “fair-thee-well”
    I ain’t saying you treated me unkind
    You could have done better, but I don’t mind
    And you just sorta wasted my precious time
    But don’t think twice it’s all right

    It ain’t no use in callin’ out my name gal
    Like you never did before
    It ain’t no use in callin’ out my name gal
    I can’t hear you anymore
    I’m thinkin’ and wonderin’ all the way down the road
    I once loved a woman, a child I’m told
    I gave her my heart but she wanted my soul
    Don’t think twice it’s all right.

    So don’t think twice… and don’t look back, and lastly, “Don’t blink!

  3. I guess the moral is to keep ones passions in check when encountering beauty, but how boring is that ?…
    Great read, reminds me to read more Greek mythology and with the link to more blogs more to delve into.
    Thanks for taking the time.

  4. “Dont Look Back is also the title of DA Pennebaker’s 1967 documentary on Dylan’s tour of England in 1965 – the time when Keith Butler, a distraught fan in the audience, screamed out ‘Judas’ when Dylan switched from acoustic to electric.“

    It was during his 1966 tour when the Judas incident occurred. It’s in Scorsese’s No Direction Home, but it’s not in Dont Look Back.

  5. You now refer to Pennebaker’s Dont Look Back as being of Dylan’s 1966 Tour. The film (black & white) is of the *1965* Tour and does *not* have the “Judas” incident.

    Pennebaker filmed the 1966 Tour *in color* as Eat the Document, which Dylan produced and edited but never released. That’s how Scorsese got footage of the “Judas” incident for No Direction Home.

    Hope this clarifies things.

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