The Muses: Nine Goddesses From Greek Mythology
Table of Contents
- Who Are the Muses?
- The Muses' Domains and Emblems
- The Muses' Attributes
- The Muses' Origins
- The Role of the Muses in Mythology and the Arts
- The Muses' Power of Inspiration
Who Are the Muses?
Poets are often known to say, "My Muse inspired me to pick up my pen." People with other artistic talents will make similar statements. What does it mean when people credit a Muse for their creative inspiration? What is a Muse, and how do they inspire artists?
The Muses are minor goddesses of the Greek pantheon. They are the personifications of literary arts, music, visual arts, and science. The Nine Muses in Greek mythology have been an inspiration to artists since antiquity. Each Muse was assigned expertise in a particular domain of the arts. They are (in alphabetical order):
The Muses' Domains and Emblems
Calliope's emblem is a writing tablet.
Clio's emblem is a scroll.
Erato's emblem is a Cithara (a musical instrument in the lyre family).
Song and Elegiac Poetry
Euterpe's emblem is the aulos (which is a Greek instrument that's similar to a flute).
Melpomene's emblem is a tragic mask.
Polyhymnia's emblem is a veil.
Terpsichore's emblem is a lyre.
Thalia's emblem is a comedic mask.
Urania's emblems are a globe and a compass.
The Muses' Attributes
- Calliope is the superior Muse. She inspired Homer as he wrote The Iliad and The Odyssey. She accompanied kings and princes to help them impose justice and serenity. Calliope is the protector of poetic works, the rhetoric arts, music, and writing. Calliope is usually depicted with laurels in one hand and two Homeric poems in the other.
- Clio is the protector of history. In ancient Greece, the word for "history" was "clio" (which is derived from "Kleos," the Greek word for the heroic arts). Depictions of Clio portray her holding a clarion in her right arm and a book in her left hand.
- Erato is the protector of lyrical and love poetry. She holds a lyre, love arrows, and a bow.
- Euterpe is the protector of songs and poetry of death, love, and war. She created several musical instruments and inspires the creation of beautiful music. She is often portrayed with a flute in her hands while her other instruments surround her.
- Melpomene is the protector of the tragedies. She created rhetoric speech and the melodies of tragedy. She is typically depicted holding a tragic theatrical mask.
- Polyhymnia is the protector of divine hymns. She created geometry and grammar. She is usually depicted wearing a veil and looking up to the heavens.
- Terpsichore is the creator and protector of dance. She also created the harp and education. She is usually depicted with a laurel wreath on her head while she holds her harp and dances.
- Thalia is the opposite of Melpomene. She is the protector of comedy, the sciences (including geometry, architecture, and agriculture,) and symposiums. She typically holds a comedic theatrical mask in her depictions.
- Urania is the protector of celestial bodies. She created astronomy, and she bears stars, a celestial sphere, and a compass.
The Muses' Origins
We're all familiar with the infamous Greek god, Zeus, and his frequent extramarital dalliances. Zeus never had to think about what he wanted. When it came to choosing a lover, Zeus always knew exactly who he wanted to consort with, and he did not hesitate to follow through on his desires. Zeus wanted to be with Mnemosyne, the Titan goddess of memory. Their union created the nine goddesses of the arts, literature, and science. This is how the Muses came into existence.
The Role of the Muses in Mythology and the Arts
Zeus brought the Muses to life to celebrate the victory of the Olympian gods over the Titans, and to forget the evils of the world. Their lovely voices and dancing helped to relieve the sorrows of the past. Each Muse had her own domain over a particular artistic discipline. Apollo, the god of music, art, and poetry, is their teacher. Apollo is a complex god, and a very important deity of the Olympian pantheon. Healing, light, the sun, oracles, truth, knowledge, and prophecy were Apollo's domain. He was an oracular god, the patron of Delphi, and the prophetic deity of the Delphi Oracle.
The Muses followed Apollo, sang, and danced joyfully as he wandered through the beauty of nature on Mount Helicon where they lived and worshiped. According to Pindar (c. 522 - 443 BC), a Greek lyric poet, to "carry a mousa " is "to excel in the arts." Mousa is a common Greek noun. It means "arts" or "poetry."
The Muses inspire creation. Many people believe that the inspiration they need to write literature, a poem, or create any artistic expression is beyond their control, and that creative impulses only come from the Muse they call upon.
The Muses' Power of Inspiration
Inspiration is not always there for us when we need it. It is defined as "the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something; especially to do something creative." A spiritual teacher may receive the inspiration to create sacred revelations. A poet is often struck with inspiration to write a poem out of nowhere, and he may be amazed when he reads what he ends up writing. When an author is asked how they developed great story ideas, their answer is usually, "It just came to me out of the blue," or "I had a dream about it."
Do we summon our own inner thoughts and creativity, or does the inspiration truly come from a mystical source like the Muses? Many believe that the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne are the ones who truly inspire us.
The ancient Greeks believed inspiration or enthusiasm only came from one of the Muses. The Greek poet, Hesiod (c. 750 - 650 BC), who was a simple shepherd, was inspired by the Muses to write Theogony, a famous epic poem that's still widely read and referred to today. Scholars regard Theogony as a major source of Greek mythology. It is said that Hesiod was inspired by the Muses.
Which Muse Do You Invoke Most Often?
Sources and References
- Muses. November 1st, 2018. Retrieved from Wikipedia.org/wiki/muses.
- Zeus. October 25th, 2018. Retrieved from Wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeus.
- Mnemosyne. September 24th, 2018. Retrieved from Wikipedia.org/wiki/mnemosyne.
- The Parnassus. January 18th, 2018. Retrieved from Wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Parnassus.
- The Mousai of Greek Mythology. November 5th, 2018. Theoi.com
- Cartwright, M. (December 14th, 2012). Muse. The Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved on November 6th, 2018.
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© 2015 Phyllis Doyle Burns