The nine muses

25 01 2013

When I’m struggling with stifled creativity, I often refer to the ‘muse’ not visiting me. I use the term so often I thought it was time I learnt more about its classical origin.

In Greek mythology there are nine muses, “goddesses of the inspiration of literature, science and the arts“.

According to my favourite knowledge bank: “The Muses, the personification of knowledge and the arts, especially literature, dance and music, are the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (memory personified). … It was not until Roman times that the following functions were assigned to them, and even then there was some variation in both their names and their attributes.

They are below (though sometimes are different in various versions):

  • Clio – history – shown with scrolls
  • Thalia – comedy and pastoral poetry – shown with a comic mask
  • Erato – love poetry – shown with a cithara (like a lyre)
  • Euterpe – flutes and lyric poetry – shown with a aulos (like a flute)
  • Polyhymnia – hymns / sacred poetry – shown with a veil
  • Calliope – the most valued of all muses – epic poetry – shown with a writing tablet
  • Terpsichore – dance or games – shown with a lyre
  • Urania – astronomy / astrology – shown with globe and compass
  • Melpomene – tragedy – shown with a tragic mask
Roman sarcophagus (2nd century AD, from the Louvre); click on image for original source

Roman sarcophagus (2nd century AD, from the Louvre); click on image for original source

However the Romans believed there were only three muses: “The Roman scholar Varro relates that there are only three Muses: one who is born from the movement of water, another who makes sound by striking the air, and a third who is embodied only in the human voice. They were Melete or Practice, Mneme or Memory and Aoide or Song.

Lots of poetry muses it seems …. do poets need all this inspirational support?
Perhaps poetry was a broad term to include music?
As this site notes: “Dance, poetry, rite, and music seem inseparably associated in the early history of music in ancient Greece

I must say I’m super-excited to see a muse for astronomy.
Though none for painting? Perhaps it was seen simply as a ‘trade’ at the time?

I do enjoy mythology and such stories …



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