Obsolete as ‘oh Muse’ and similar incantations may sound today, we cannot help but marvel at the mythical sources from whence they sprang. In ancient Greek religion, there wasn’t merely one Muse. There were nine daughters of Zeus, the leading divinity, and Mnemosyne, goddess of Memory; they represented branches of both science and art, such as Music, History, Astronomy and Tragedy.
Speaking of Tragedy, it is telling that this dramatic genre was connected both to Apollo, the god of harmony, and to the darker forces redolent of Dionysus, the god of wine, revels, and transformation.
Not only have the Muses become quaint, they also acquired a reputation for being the house-keepers, washerwomen, models, or bed-fellows for many a male artist. But the only male who was originally served by the Muses was Apollo, a god associated with beauty, harmony, and temperance. We too believe temperance to be beneficial for any writer. However, Apollonian temperance tends to be intertwined with various forms of inspiration, rapture, madness even. Apollo wasn’t the only god who inspired art; he shared that role with Dionysus, who instilled ‘divine madness’ in his followers.
Below, we offer a list of the muses with their various assignments and emblems. According to the Greeks, the inspiration behind music, song, science, and literary genres are akin––and isn’t this true for writers today? Picture yourself as one who is invited to a party where the nine Muses make an appearance. With whom would you converse? Which one attracts you most, and for what reason?
|Calliope||Epic poetry||Writing tablet, Stylus, Lyre|
|Clio||History||Scrolls, Books, Cornet, Laurel wreath|
|Euterpe||Music, Song, and Lyric Poetry||Aulos (an ancient Greek musical instrument like a flute), Panpipes, Laurel wreath|
|Erato||Love poetry||Cithara (an ancient Greek musical instrument in the lyre family)|
|Melpomene||Tragedy||Tragic mask, Sword (or any kind of blade), Club, Kothornos (boots)|
|Polyhymnia||Hymns||Veil, Grapes (referring to her as an agricultural goddess)|
|Thalia||Comedy||Comic mask, Shepherd’s crook (the vaudeville act of pulling someone off the stage with a hook is a reference to Thalia’s crook), Ivy wreath|
|Urania||Astronomy||Globe and Compass|