May 27, 2009

The Muses

Traditionally a poet...especially an epic poet...would invoke the aid of a muse to guide and assist him in his creative endeavor. This invocation to the muse became a literary convention in epic poetry... usually coming at or near the beginning of the poem as in the "Iliad," the "Odyssey," and "Paradise Lost" and in its earliest stages the invocation was essentially a prayer... a request that the goddess being invoked to inspire and quite literally "breathe into" the artist. The idea was that the artist did not himself "create" the work of art but merely served as a mortal channel through which the divine voice of the muse could speak.

The muses were believed to reside on Mt. Helicon, in Boeotia Greece, and in fact they were the center of a cult there. The muses as we know them today are of relatively recent origin, in their most ancient form they were probably not distinguished from each other or even named.... they were the patronesses of poets since poets were also musicians.... and accompanied themselves with instuments like the lyre. Over the centuries they became associated with all of the arts and sciences, which is why the word "museum" is used for a repository of works of art or of scientific collections.

The eighth century BC poet Hesiod provides a list of the muses with specific names for each... other lists from early times are not consistent with Hesiod's list but the names he gives the muses have become the standard. The association of specific muses with specific arts actually comes from Roman rather than Greek times.

*Calliope was the muse of epic poetry.

*Clio was the muse of history.

*Erato was the muse of love poetry.

*Euterpe was the muse of music.

*Melpomene was the muse of tragedy.

*Polyhymnia was the muse of sacred poetry.

*Terpsichore was the muse of dance.

*Thalia was the muse of comedy.

*Urania was the muse of astronomy.

The muses would entertain the gods on Mount Olympus together with the Graces and were said to have won against the Sirens in a song competition and got their feathers as a price. In art the muses were often depicted with these feathers in their hair.

1 comment:

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Very a-musing! (Sorry, just couldn't resist this terrible pun. It's a disease, you know.)