|Title :||Goddesses of Inspiration, Learning, Arts and Culture|
|Roman Names :||Musae|
|Lineage :||Zeus (father) and Mnemosyne (mother)|
The Nine Muses are the Greek goddesses of inspiration, learning, the arts, and culture. According to Hesiod's Theogony, Zeus lay with Mnemosyne ("Memory") for nine days, and she gave birth to the Muses, who rejoice in their bright dancing places on Mount Helicon -- "nine voices united in one song." They were born at Pieria at the foot of Mount Olympus. Their nurse, Eupheme, raised them along with her son, Crotus the hunter, who was transported into the sky as Sagittarius upon his death.
Other traditions claimed that they were the daughters of Harmony, or the daughters of Uranus and Ge (Heaven and Earth) -- in other words, they represented the Greco-Roman emphasis on the primacy of music in the Universe.
There were not always nine Muses. Like so many ideas in Greek mythology, their numbers represented an evolution from earlier times. Originally three Muses were worshipped on Mount Helicon in Boeotia: Melete (meditation), Mneme (memory), and Aoede (song). Three Muses were worshipped also at Sicyon, but the name of only one of them is known, Polymatheia. Three Muses were also worshipped at Delphi, their names corresponding the three strings of the lyre: Nete, Mese, and Hypate. They were alternately called Cephisso, Apollonis, and Borysthenis. Four Muses were at one time recognized -- Thelxinoe, Aoede, Arche, and Melete -- two of the names having been used before. One of the persons associated with the Muses was Pierus. By some he was called the father of a total of seven Muses, called Neilo, Tritone, Asopo, Heptapora, Achelois, Tipoplo, and Rhodia. Greeks finally established the nine muses in mythology as: Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia, and Urania. The Muses had several epithets which usually referred to places where they had settled.
The Muses are often found on the Olympus; at the fountain Hippocrene; on the mount Helicon; and on Parnassos where they entertain the gods.
Their companions are the Charities, the Horae, Eros, Dionysus, Apollo, Aphrodite, Harmonia, and Himerus (Desire). Apollo is the leader of the choir of the Muses and consequently he has the surname Musagetes. Athena caught and tamed the winged horse Pegasus and gave him to the Muses.
The Muses were not only singers for Zeus and other gods; they also oversaw thought in all its forms: eloquence, persuasion, knowledge, history, mathematics, astronomy. Hesiod praises their services to humankind, claiming that they accompany kings and inspire them with the persuasive words necessary to settle argument and re-establish peace, and that they give monarchs the gift of gentleness which makes them popular. Humans prayed to them for a good voice. A singer (thought of as a servant of the Muses) has only to celebrate the deeds of men of long ago or to sing of the gods, and any one listening who is beset by troubles or sorrows will forget them instantly. The oldest song of the Muses is the one sung after the victory of the Olympians over the Titans to celebrate the birth of a new order.
The following list of Muses was accepted by those who lived during the classical period in Western history:
Calliope was the first and most respectable of all Muses. She was the Muse of Epic Poetry and Eloquence. Her symbols were the abacus and the pen. More often than not she was also pictured with a tablet or a scroll. She is represented as a stately young woman, whose brow is crowned with gold.
Clio was the Muse of History. She inspired those who spoke, wrote and sang history. Her symbols were the trumpet, the clepsydra (hour-glass) and most of all the manuscript that unfolds.
Erato also carried a Lyre and she was a deity of a different kind of poetry. She was the Muse of marriage and Love lyrics. She was a fine, merry girl crowned with roses.
In the beginning Euterpe was just an escort to Dionysus. However she later became the Muse of Lyric Poetry. Her symbol was the flute and she was pictured playing it, as all Muses were pictured along with their symbols.
Melpomene was the Muse of Tragedy. It is said that she was involved with Dionysus who was sometimes called Melpomenus. Her symbols were the tragic mask and club of Heracles. She often pictured wearing a garland of grapevine leaves, like Dionysus and she carried a sword. Another possibility was that her grave attitude led to her being the Muse of Tragedy.
At first it was said that Polymnia inspired hymns and songs for the Gods and the heroes. Later people said she was a deity of knowledge and memory and finally the Muse of "small art". She was presented in a thoughtful mood and sometimes talking with her fingers as though people could express their will with gestures, without speech.
Terpsihore was a young and lively fair maiden who prevailed in dances and drama at the beginning. Finally she became the Muse of Dancing and she is often represented in a dancing position with the Lyre and Plectrum (a kind of musical triangle).
At the beginning Thalia was an agricultural deity and was the Muse of Pastoral Poetry. She supervised outdoor feasts. She had a bright and playful look so it is not surprising that she finally became the Muse of Comedy. The comic mask she carried with her left hand and the shepherd crook she held with her right, were her symbols. She was crowned with grapevine or ivy leaves.
Urania is the Muse of Astronomy. A pair of compasses and a celestial globe were her symbols and with those she wanted to define the position of the stars upon the globe.
In Plato's Phaedrus, Socrates says the locusts used to be men before the birth of the Muses. When song appeared when the Muses were born, some men were so overcome with delight that they sang constantly, forgetting to eat and drink until they eventually died. These dead men became locusts with a gift from the Muses allowing them to sing continuously from their birth until death without the need of sustenance. When they die, the locust go to the Muses and report which men on earth honors each, endearing a worshipper to the Muse he follows.
One story says that a singer and poet named Thamyris challenged the Muses. He mocked them and made light of their skills. For his insolence, Thamyris was maimed and lost his memory. He could no longer remember his songs or his poems. The Muses can bestow the gift of talent and insight but they can also, viciously, revoke their blessings.
In another story, the king of Emathia (Macedonia) and his wife Euippe had nine daughters and named them after the Muses. The daughters entered a contest with the Muses, were defeated and were metamorphosed by the Muses into birds called Colymbas, Iynx, Cenchris, Cissa, Chloris, Acalanthis, Nessa, Pipo, and Dracontis. These names were taken from actual names of birds such as the wryneck, hawk, jay, duck, goldfinch, and four others with no recognizable modern equivalents.
In yet another myth, it was said Hera, queen of the gods, persuaded the Sirens, who were described in early Greek mythology as having the bodies of birds and heads of beautiful women, to enter a singing contest with the Muses. The Muses won the competition and then plucked out all of the Sirens' feathers and made crowns out of them.
Many places were dedicated to the Muses such as the famous Valley of the Muses - Thespies on the eastern slopes of Mt. Helikon began it's "Mouseai" festivals in the 6th c. B.C. It was organized every 5 years by the Thespians. Poets and musicians from all over Greece also participated in various games (epic, poetry, rapsodia, kithara, aulos, satyric poetry, tragedy and comedy). It was common for ancient schools to have a shrine to the Muses called mouseion, the source of the modern word 'museum.' The famous Museum of Alexandria, founded by Ptolemy I, was a temple dedicated to the Muses. When Plato founded the Academy, he dedicated a shrine to the goddesses of learning; and Aristotle's school, the Peripatos, also possessed a shrine which contained statues of the Muses. The famous Museum at Alexandria, founded by Ptolemy I, was a temple of learning dedicated to the Muses. Before poets or storytellers recited their work, it was customary for them to invoke the inspiration and protection of the Muses.