Expository critical essays in literary, political, historical, philosophical, and spiritual topics remain part of my literary toolkit.
Historical Overview: The Nine Muses
After a discussion about a concept has come into play, the first place thinkers turn is to that concept's place in history. They wonder if thinkers in the ancient world gave credence to that concept, and just how the concept might have evolved from its origin.
Because the Western literary tradition has its origins with ancient Greek and Roman texts, including the Greek and Roman versions of the Iliad and Odyssey, as well as Greek and Roman mythology, the first place to consult on an issue such as the "muse" has to be with an ancient Greek poet and his text.
The Greek epic poet, Hesiod, names and describes nine Muses in The Theogony:
- Thalia: Comedy, depicted with theatrical mask—Cheerful One
- Urania: Astronomy, holds a globe—Heavenly Persona
- Melpomene: Tragedy, in theatrical mask—One Who Sings
- Polyhymnia: sacred poetry, hymns, wearing a veil—Sacred Singer
- Erato: Lyric Poetry, playing a lyre—Loveliness
- Calliope: Epic Poetry, depicted with a writing tablet—Voice of Beauty
- Clio: History, depicted with a scroll—Proclaimer
- Euterpe: Flute-playing, depicted with a flute—Pleasing One
- Terpsichore: Dance, dancing, playing a lyre—Delighted by Dance
From these original creativity inspirers, writers, poets, musicians, dancers, actors, sculptors, and other artists have all built a veritable encyclopedia of "muses." Each artist who recognizes such an inspiration in his/her creative endeavor employs a unique muse. The importance of gaining information and knowledge about the notion of these historical and mythological presences merely assists the mind and heart in plumbing its depths for truth and beauty.
If the ancients had such concepts and took the time and effort to delineate them, then modern day, indeed, all current notions of "inspiration" are given a boost of authenticity. The act of creativity is not merely a technological event of mixing words, or paint, or clay, or music notes. The mixings must come from an important place in the soul, else it has little value for the creator or for the anticipated audience.
The Shakespearean Muse
The Shakespeare sonnet sequence consisting of 154 poems can be thematically sectioned into two or three groups. The more traditional grouping of three consists of the following:
- The Marriage Sonnets (1–17)
- The Muse Sonnets (traditionally, the "Fair Youth" sonnets (18–126)
- The Dark Lady Sonnets (127–154)
If one wishes to keep the label "Fair Youth" and argue that a young man is indeed depicted in sonnets 18–126, one might as well combine the "Marriage Sonnet" and the "Fair Youth Sonnets" because they would be considered to be addressed to a young man.
As I have argued many times, sonnets (18–126) do not feature a young man or any person at all. Those sonnets I have relabeled "The Muse Sonnets" because in all of these sonnets the speaker is addressing primarily his muse, his talent, his sonnets, or himself.
After studying the sonnets closely, I have discovered that it is quite likely that the writer was, in fact, composing all three sections simultaneously. Many of the "Muse" sonnets find the speaker decrying the fact that he spends too much time with people who do not enhance his main purpose which is to engage his muse and then write the best, most honest, most beautiful versus that he is capable of producing.
At times, the speaker will chastise himself for putting off his work in favor of carousing with minds not compatible with his goals. There is little doubt that the speaker would not consider the addressees in the "Marriage Sonnets" and the "Dark Lady Sonnets" to have developed to the level of understanding and creativity in the field of writing that the speaker has.
Other times, the speaker temporarily splits himself off from the muse in order to chastise her for his lackadaisical attitude. However, this split never endures for long because the speaker remains well aware that he cannot separate himself from his own soul.
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Muse, Soul, Divine Reality
The Shakespearean muse then remains one of the finest examples of the employment of that concept in Western literature. In Eastern literature such as that of Paramahansa Yogananda, or Rabindranath Tagore, the "muse" is more obviously understood to be Divine Reality or God, the Creator of all life, all souls, and all things. The Western concept is less obviously mystical, likely because of the Western emphasis on the physical, technical, practical level of being.
But the creative artist always relies on some kind of inspiration that comes for a place deep in the soul. And unless that artist acknowledges such a presence, his/her art will not rise to the level of "art" but will remain a mere piece of apathetic copywork, or will descend into the postmodern garbage pail of mere spew.
The heart and mind must engage in an honest dialogue with the soul in order to create living, lasting art. The nine muses thus form the basis for understanding the true significance of that creative concept. The efficacy of the concept has proven itself time and again through the ages. As poets have offered their own dialogue on their own poetics, they never fail to invoke some spirit within that serves them as force in their creative life. And as they attempt to live up to the standards of that "force," they become more and more aware of the Over-Soul that is the original Creator of all created things.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Linda Sue Grimes
Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on October 25, 2018:
Yes, I agree completely, Rinita. It is always interesting to learn about the various aspects of the Divine One, as implied by the names and descriptions of those aspects. Whether it's called "muse," "god," or simply inspiration, each individual's characterizations indicate something special and unique about each soul.
Rinita Sen on October 25, 2018:
Enlightening article, Linda. The nine muses will always be significant, whether the work is classic or contemporary. Divine guidance is a significant muse for all forms of art, I believe.
Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on October 21, 2018:
Thank you for your comment, Gypsy Rose Lee! Yes, my forebears, the ancient Greeks, had a muse for everything, it seems. Inspiration is a fascinating issue, fun to contemplate because it is so profound yet mysterious.
I am especially indebted to Euterpe, Polyhymnia, Erato, and Calliope, but Clio has much to offer my interests as well. And then there is Orpheus - God of Music & Poetry. With so many mythological, inspirational personages to bow to, one becomes virtually dizzy with euphoria and overcome with gratitude!
Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on October 21, 2018:
This was a very fascinating write. Never knew about all these muses. Thank you for sharing.