Monday, November 16, 2009

The Nine Muses

The beginning of the mythology of the Muses is somewhat confused and contradictory leading to a school of thought that the concept of inspiration for literature and the arts that the Muses stand for was originally embodied in several non-specific goddesses who were the patrons of poets. Later there is a suggestion that there was only one Muse but it is commonly believed that there were originally three Muses, who were the daughters of Gaia and Uranus. The three Muses were Melete (pronounced mel-uh-tee) who was the Muse of practice and meditation, Aoide (pronounced ay-ee-dee) who was the Muse of song or voice and Mneme (pronounced nee-mee), which is sometimes said to be the shortened form of the name Mnemosyne (pronounced nee-mos-uh-nee) although other sources indicate these are separate deities, who was the Muse of memory.

Of these original three Muses, Mneme was said to have had nine daughters by the God Zeus (in some stories this was a result of Zeus lying with Mneme over nine consecutive nights) and these daughters were known as the nine Muses. It is believed that the nine Muses did not originally have specific domains but provided inspiration for all poetic pursuits and it was as a result of artistic representations of the Muses, particularly in sculptures, where each was depicted with a different emblem in order to differentiate between one another and it was from these representations that their domains were later defined.

Calliope (pronounced kuh-lie-ah-pee) is the eldest and highest ranking or most superior of the nine Muses. Her name means “beautiful voice” or “fair voiced” and appears as a mediator in a story about an argument between Aphrodite and Persephone over possession of Adonis where she decided that time with Adonis would be shared between the two suitors as well as allowing Adonis some time to himself. She is the patron of epic (or heroic) poetry and is usually depicted with a writing tablet and stylus. Calliope has been partnered in different stories with the was God Ares, with whom she had four sons, Mygdon, Edonus, Biston, and Odomantus who were the founders of the Thracian tribes known as the Mygdones, Edones, Bistones and Odomantes respectively, and also had two other famous sons, Orpheus and Linus although it is not clear as to whether these were by Apollo or the King Oeagrus of Thrace and in some cases Linus is said to be the daughter of Calliope’s sister, Urania.

Clio (pronounced klee-oh) means “the proclaimer”. She is the Muse of history and is usually seen with a parchment scroll or a set of tablets. Clio is credited with introducing the Phoenician alphabet to Greece and had one son, Hyacinth, with Pierus, the King of Pieria.

Erato (pronounced eh-rah-toh) is the Muse of lyric or love poetry. Her name is derived from the Greek word eros and means desired or lovely. In art, she is depicted with a Kithara (which is a member of the lyre family and which Erato invented) but also sometimes with a wreath of roses or a love bow and arrow as is carried by Eros (Cupid).

Euterpe (pronounced yoo-tur-pee) means the “giver of delight” or “rejoicing well” and she is the Muse of music. Her symbol is the flute and she is credited as the inventor of the aulos (or double flute). According to Homer's Iliad, Euterpe became pregnant by the river god Strymon and bore a son, Rhesus.

Melpomene (pronounced mel-pom-ah-nee) is the Muse of tragedy and, as such, is typically shown with a theatrical tragedy mask although sometimes also carries a bat, club or sword and wearing cothurnus, which were boots traditionally worm by actors, and a garland or crown of cypress. Her name means “the songstress”.

Polyhymnia (pronounced pol-ee-him-nee-ah) means “the one of many hymns” and she is the Muse of sacred poetry or divine hymns and sometimes also of geometry, mime, agriculture and meditation. She is usually shown with a serious and pensive expression and often wears a veil.

Terpsichore (pronounced turp-sika-ree) is the Muse of dancing and is usually holding a lyre whilst either dancing herself or while sitting down with others dancing to the music from her lyre. She was mother to the Sirens by the river God Achelous.

Thalia (pronounced thuh-lie-ah) is the Muse of comedy and idyllic poetry and her name means “flourishing”. She usually carries a theatrical comedy mask although may also be shown with a shepherds staff or a wreath of ivy.

Urania (pronounced yoo-rey-nee-ah) or Ourania means “heavenly” She is the Muse of astrology and her symbols are a globe and a compass. She is sometimes listed as the mother of Linus from a union with Apollo.

As with most deities, the muses can be seen as archetypes however it is particularly interesting with their being descendants of Mneme, one of the three original Muses who was the Muse of memory. There are many references to the Muses being able to provide the gift of inspiration as well as being able to take it away and in this context the link to memory is frequently made but in an inverse sense as the Muses act to take away the memory of inspiration. While the connection to memory is logical given that they are the daughters of the Muse of memory, this rationalisation appears incomplete. If one applies the concept of the collective unconscious to the gifts bestows by the Muses, it can be seen that the gift that the Muses bestow on those they work with are not new gifts but are a connection to the memories held in the collective unconscious.