Jan 22, 2013

The Muses

Muse is a word that gets bandied about quite a lot by some writers. Usually it refers in general to a person who inspires an artist, writer, or musician. Often writers claim that they need a 'muse' to inspire them. But what, or who, exactly are the muses?

According to Greek mythology, before Zeus married Hera, he lay for nine nights with Mnemosyne who gave birth to nine daughters a year later. Mnemosyne was the goddess of memory and her daughters became a source of inspiration for the arts and sciences in a society where memory was an important gift as there was no written word.

The Muses inspired all artists, especially poets, philosophers, and musicians. They were favourites of the Olympian Gods, Apollo most especially. They were honoured throughout Greece, mainly in areas where there were wells and springs. Their home was Mount Helicon, although they could often be found near the throne of Zeus, singing of his greatness or of the glorious deeds of great heroes.

At one time they were involved in a musical battle with the Sirens, which they won, making victory crowns from Siren feathers. They are said to have gathered the pieces of the dead body of Orpheus, son of Calliope, and buried them. Another myth has it that Pierus, king of Macedon, pitted his nine daughters to a match against the Muses, believing his daughters to had greater skills. This resulted in his daughters being turned into chattering magpies.

Though the Muses as a whole embody the arts and inspire creation through song, music, dance, and writing, each of the nine is associated with a specific art form.

Calliope is the Muse of epic and lyric poetry. She was the favourite of the Greek poet Homer and is often depicted holding a volume of Homer's the Odyssey in her hand. She was the mother of Orpheus, also a famous Greek poet as well as musician.

Clio is the Muse of history, and she is also credited for the invention of the guitar. She was in love with the king of Macedon and bore him a child, Hyacinth, who became the lover of Apollo. Clio is usually depicted weary purple, with laurels in her hair, one hand holding a scroll.

Erato is the Muse of lyric love poetry, hymns and wedding songs. She was the defender of love affairs and is said to have invented the art of dancing. She's usually shown holding a lyre in her hands.

Eurerpe is the Muse of music and lyric poetry. She once lay with the river Strymon and as a result had a son named Rhesus. Rhesus was one of the heroes in Homer's Iliad. Eurerpe is usually shown holding an aulos, which is a type of ancient Greek flute.

Melpomene is the Muse of tragedy and she was often invoked when a poet wished to create beautiful lyrical phrases. She was usually represented by a tragic mask, and is often shown wearing cothurnus (boots worn by tragic actors) and holding a knife or club in one hand.

Polyhymnia is the Muse of sacred poetry or divine hymns. She also invented the science of geometry. She is most often shown looking up to the sky, a severe look on her face, as she plays a lyre.

Terpsichore is the Muse of dance and the dramatic chorus. Some consider her to be the mother of the Sirens. She is usually depicted playing either a lyre, flute, or triangle.

Thalia is the Muse of comedy and pastoral poetry. Some claim she is also the Muse of vegetation because the origin of her name "thalo" means bloom. She is most often shown holding a comic mask.

Urania is the Muse of Astronomy and Astrology. It was believed she was also the Muse of Mathematics. She is often depicted holding a globe in her hands.

I'll be exploring a different Muse each week for the next nine weeks and it'll will be up to you to decide which Muse was meant for you.

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