|Encounters with the Muses|
|The Gifts of the Muses|
|The Muses and Apollon|
The Muses are the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne [Memory]. Zeus came to Mnemosyne on nine consecutive nights and the nine daughters were the result of those nine unions. Mnemosyne gave birth to the nine girls near the topmost peaks of Mount Olympos (Olympus). All nine girls are of one mind … they are free spirited and have their hearts set upon song … they sing of the laws of the Immortals and the goodly ways of a life. Their homes and bright dancing places are on Mount Olympos but they may appear to anyone as long as the performer is paying tribute to the immortal gods with their art.
According to the poet Hesiod, the Muses frequent Mount Helikon (Helicon) in Boeotia and an area around Mount Olympos known as Pieria. They arise by night and shrouded in mist, walk the hills and bathe in springs. By calling upon and receiving the blessings of the Muses, a poet or dancer or musician can transcend the normal bounds of talent and rise to unimagined levels of creative insight.
The Muses are listed by name in the poem Theogony but the specific attributes of each goddess were added by later poets:
Euterpe - [Delightful], Flute Playing
The following quote from Library of History by Diodorus Siculus provides an excellent explanation of the way in which the Muses got their names but there is no agreement among modern scholars on the etymology of the word Muse:
"Men have given the Muses their name from the word muein, which signifies the teaching of those things which are noble and expedient and are not known by the uneducated. For the name of each Muse, they say, men have found a reason appropriate to her: Kleio (Cleio) is so named because the praise which poets sing in their encomia [song of praise] bestows great glory [kleos] upon those who are praised; Euterpe, because she gives to those who hear her sing delight [terpein] in the blessings which education bestows; Thaleia, because men whose praises have been sung in poems flourish [thallein] through long periods of time; Melpomene, from the chanting [melodia] by which she charms the souls of her listeners; Terpsichore, because she delights [terpein] her disciples with the good things which come from education; Erato [the Lovely], because she makes those who are instructed by her men who are desired and worthy to be loved; Polymnia (Polyhymnia), because by her great [polle] praises [humnesis] she bring distinction to writers whose works have won for them immortal fame; Ourania (Urania), because men who have been instructed of her she raises aloft to heaven [ouranos], for it is a fact that imagination and the power of thought lift men's souls to heavenly heights; Kalliope (Calliope), because of her beautiful [kale] voice [ops], that is, by reason of the exceeding beauty of her language she wins the approbation of her auditors."
Melpomene [Songstress], Tragedy
Kalliope holds the highest rank of the Muses and attends the birth of kingly nobles and gives [or withholds] the gifts of the Muses as the Immortals deem fit. Mere mortals who are blessed by the Muses, can use the beauty of their song, or the grace of their dance, to heal the sick and comfort the heartbroken.
The Muses can bestow the gift of talent and insight but they can also viciously revoke their blessings.
One story tells of a singer and poet named Thamyris who belittled 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 poems.
King Pierus boasted that his nine daughters rivaled the Muses in beauty and talent … all nine girls were turned into magpies for their father's impudence.
When the poet Hesiod encountered the Muses, they gave him a rod of laurel and said that they could say many false things as if they were true but when they wished, they could reveal the truth. They breathed a divine voice into him so that he could sing of things that will come to pass and things that came aforetime. Under the influence of their immortal guidance, Hesiod composed many poems but his crowning achievement might be considered Theogony, i.e. The Origins of the Gods. That poem demonstrates exactly what the Muses do best, sing the praises of the immortal gods and goddesses.
Even the author of The Battle of Mice and Frogs gave praise to the Muses in his comic poem satirizing The Iliad. After reading this poem, it is easy to see that comedy, like historical epics, requires the touch of divine genius that only the Muses can provide.
The gifts of the Muses are subtle yet obvious. If there are men or women who are blessed by the Muses, their divine influence begins at birth. The Muses will pour sweet dew on the tongues of those they choose to honor and gracious words will flow from the lips of the people they bless.
Princes and kings are created by the grace of Zeus but there are certain princes and kings who also have the blessings of the Muses. Those who have been blessed by the Muses will be conspicuous in their speech and the way they look. Great quarrels will be resolved with gentle words and disputes in assemblies will be set right by leaders who have been blessed by the Muses. Leaders empowered by the Muses will be treated with the reverence accorded the Immortals when they are in the company of ordinary men and women.
Without the blessings of the Muses and far-shooting Apollon, there would be no singers or lyre players upon the earth. The songs inspired by the Muses can act as a healing tonic for those with troubled minds and ailing bodies. The word Tonic, denoting the key of a musical composition, can also mean Remedy when music is inspired by the Muses.
The Muses attend the festivals on Mount Olympos and entertain and inspire the Immortals with their wit and charm. Apollon puts aside his bow and plays the lyre while the Muses sing of the unending gifts the Immortals enjoy and the plight of the mere mortals who must endure the pains of illness and the failings of old age. Hebe [goddess of Youth], the Graces, the Seasons, Harmonia, Artemis and Aphrodite [goddess of Love] hold hands as they join in the dance.
At the shrine for Apollon in Delphi, Artemis, the Muses and the Graces gather to dance and sing the praises of Leto for bringing her shining children into the world.
In the poem, The Contest of Homer and Hesiod, the author tells of how after Hesiod won the contest he dedicated the prize tripod to the Muses. He then went to Delphi to make a dedication to Apollon but as he was approaching the temple, the priestess had a divine revelation and warned Hesiod to avoid the precincts of Nemean Zeus. Hesiod misinterpreted the priestess and inadvertently went to live in the exact place the priestess told him to avoid … he was subsequently killed in a precinct sacred to Nemean Zeus.
A Muse holding a mask; possibly Melpomene [the Songstress], the Muse of Tragedy.
The Muses are ancient goddesses and there were many versions of their origins even though the consensus was that they were nine in number and daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. The poet Homer, writing circa 750 BCE, was quite specific about there being nine Muses and his contemporary Hesiod was the first poet to give the names of the individual Muses. It was suggested by later writers that the Greeks incorporated the Muses into their pantheon from a group of Egyptian goddesses with similar attributes. According to that line of reasoning, the Egyptian god Osiris took nine talented maidens with him on his travels because of his fondness for song and dance. The maidens eventually became Egyptian "goddesses" and were then adopted by the Greeks to become the Muses. That claim is further supported by the fact that the leader of Osiris's Egyptian maidens was called the "hegetes" which was said to be the basis for the name Musegetes, an alias for Apollon as Leader of the Muses.
The traveler and historian Pausanias reported that in Boeotia the sons of Aloeus believed that the Muses were three in number, and gave their names as Melete [Practice], Mneme [Memory] and Aoede [Song]. After the time of Aloeus, a Makedonian named Pierus introduced the idea that the Muses were actually nine in number … he either received this insight from an oracle or adapted it from the Thrakians (Thracians) because they had a reputation of being clever and very careful in their religious beliefs. The time frame of those events is not specific but it is best that we trust in the Muse inspired insights of Homer and Hesiod.
An ivory diptych with six Muses.
Of unknown origin and date.
The Louvre Museum