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The Muses (Ancient Greek αἱ μοῦσαι, hai moũsai: perhaps from the o-grade of the Proto-Indo-European root *men- "think") in Greek mythology, poetry, and literature, are the goddesses who inspire the creation of literature and the arts. They were considered the source of the knowledge, related orally for centuries in the ancient culture, that was contained in poetic lyrics and myths. The compliment to a real woman who inspires creative endeavor is a later idea.
Writers similarly disagree also concerning the number of the Muses; for some say that there are three, and others that there are nine, but the number nine has prevailed since it rests upon the authority of the most distinguished men, such as Homer and Hesiod and others like them.
Three ancient Muses were also reported in Plutarch's Quaestiones Conviviviales (9.I4.2-4). The Roman scholar Varro relates that there are only three Muses: one who is born from the movement of water, another who makes sound by striking the air, and a third who is embodied only in the human voice. They were Melete or Practice, Mneme or Memory and Aoide or Song.
However the Classical understanding of the muses tripled their triad, set at nine goddesses, who embody the arts and inspire creation with their graces through remembered and improvised song and stage, writing, traditional music, and dance.
In one myth, King Pierus, king of Macedon, had nine daughters he named after the nine Muses, believing that their skills were a great match to the Muses. He thus challenged the Muses to a match, resulting in his daughters, the Pierides, being turned into chattering magpies for their presumption.
Sometimes they are referred to as water nymphs, associated with the springs of Helicon and with Pieris. It was said that the winged horse Pegasus touched his hooves to the ground on Helicon, causing four sacred springs to burst forth, from which the muses were born. Athena later tamed the horse and presented him to the muses.
The Olympian myths set Apollo as their leader, Apollon Mousagetēs. Not only are the Muses explicitly used in modern English to refer to an artistic inspiration, as when one cites one's own artistic muse, but they also are implicit in words and phrases such as "amuse", "museum" (Latinised from mouseion—a place where the muses were worshipped), "music", and "musing upon".
According to Hesiod's Theogony (7th century BC), they were daughters of Zeus, the second generation king of the gods, and the offspring of Mnemosyne, goddess of memory. For Alcman and Mimnermus, they were even more primordial, springing from the early deities, Uranus and Gaia. Gaia is Mother Earth, an early mother goddess who was worshipped at Delphi from prehistoric times, long before the site was rededicated to Apollo, possibly indicating a transfer to association with him after that time. Pausanias records a tradition of two generations of Muses; the first being daughters of Uranus and Gaia, the second of Zeus and Mnemosyne. Another, rarer genealogy is that they are daughters of Harmonia (the daughter of Aphrodite and Ares) which contradicts the myth in which they were dancing at the wedding of Harmonia and Cadmus. This later inconsistency is an example of how clues to the true dating, or chronology, of myths may be determined by the appearance of figures and concepts in Greek myths.
Muses in myth
According to Pausanias in the later 2nd century AD, there were three original Muses, worshiped on Mount Helicon in Boeotia: Aoidē ("song" or "tune"), Meletē ("practice" or "occasion"), and Mnēmē ("memory"). Together, these three form the complete picture of the preconditions of poetic art in cult practice. In Delphi three Muses were worshiped as well, but with other names: Nētē, Mesē, and Hypatē, which are assigned as the names of the three chords of the ancient musical instrument, the lyre. Alternatively they later were called Cēphisso, Apollonis, and Borysthenis, whose names characterize them as daughters of Apollo.
One of the persons frequently associated with the Muses was Pierus. By some he was called the father (by a Pimpleian nymph: called Antiope by Cicero) of a total of seven Muses, called Neilo (Νειλώ), Tritone (Τριτώνη), Asopo (Ἀσωπώ), Heptapora (Ἑπτάπορα), Achelois, Tipoplo (Τιποπλώ), and Rhodia (Ῥοδία).
In one myth, the Muses judged a contest between Apollo and Marsyas. They also gathered the pieces of the dead body of Orpheus, son of Calliope, and buried them. In a later myth, Thamyris challenged them to a singing contest. They won and punished Thamyris by blinding him and robbing him of his singing ability.
Though the Muses, when taken together, form a complete picture of the subjects proper to poetic art, the association of specific Muses with specific art forms is a later innovation. The Muses were not assigned standardized divisions of poetry with which they are now identified until late Hellenistic times.
Emblems of the Muses
Muse Domain Emblem Calliope Epic poetry Writing tablet Clio History Scrolls Erato Love poetry Cithara (an ancient Greek musical instrument in the lyre family) Euterpe Song and Elegiac poetry Aulos (an ancient Greek musical instrument like a flute) Melpomene Tragedy Tragic mask Polyhymnia Hymns Veil Terpsichore Dance Lyre Thalia Comedy Comic mask Urania Astronomy Globe and compass
In Renaissance and Neoclassical art, the dissemination of emblem books such as Cesare Ripa's Iconologia (1593 and many further editions) helped standardize the depiction of Muses in sculptures or paintings, who could be distinguished by certain props, together with which they became emblems readily identifiable by the viewer, enabling one immediately to recognize the art with which they had become bound. Calliope (epic poetry) carries a writing tablet; Clio (history) carries a scroll and books; Erato (love/erotic poetry) is often seen with a lyre and a crown of roses; Euterpe (lyric poetry) carries a flute, the aulos; Melpomene (tragedy) is often seen with a tragic mask; Polyhymnia (sacred poetry) is often seen with a pensive expression; Terpsichore (choral dance and song) is often seen dancing and carrying a lyre; Thalia (comedy) is often seen with a comic mask; and Urania (astronomy) carries a pair of compasses and the celestial globe.
Function in society
Greek mousa is a common noun as well as a type of goddess: it literally means "art" or "poetry". In Pindar, to "carry a mousa" is "to excel in the arts". The word probably is derived from the Indo-European root men-, which is also the source of Greek Mnemosyne, English "mind", "mental" and "memory" and Sanskrit "mantra".
The Muses, therefore, were both the embodiments and sponsors of performed metrical speech: mousike, whence we get our English term "music", was just "one of the arts of the Muses". Others included Science, Geography, Mathematics, Philosophy, and especially Art, Drama, and inspiration. In the archaic period, before the widespread availability of books (scrolls), this included nearly all of learning. The first Greek book on astronomy, by Thales, was set in dactylic hexameter, as were many works of pre-Socratic philosophy; both Plato and the Pythagoreans explicitly included philosophy as a sub-species of mousike. The Histories of Herodotus, whose primary medium of delivery was public recitation, were divided by Alexandrian editors into nine books, named after the nine Muses.
For poet and "law-giver" Solon, the Muses were "the key to the good life"; since they brought both prosperity and friendship. Solon sought to perpetuate his political reforms by establishing recitations of his poetry—complete with invocations to his practical-minded Muses—by Athenian boys at festivals each year. It was believed that the muses would help inspire people to do their best.
Function in literature
The Muses typically are invoked at or near the beginning of an ancient epic poem or classical Greek hymn. They have served as aids to an author of prose, too, sometimes represented as the true speaker, for whom an author is merely a mouthpiece. Originally, the invocation of the Muse was an indication that the speaker was working inside the poetic tradition, according to the established formulas. Seven classic examples are:
- Homer, in Book I of The Odyssey:
- "Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
- driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
- the hallowed heights of Troy." (Robert Fagles translation, 1996)
- Virgil, in Book I of the Aeneid:
- O Muse! the causes and the crimes relate;
- What goddess was provok'd, and whence her hate;
- For what offense the Queen of Heav'n began
- To persecute so brave, so just a man; [...]
- (John Dryden translation, 1697)
- Catullus, in Carmen I:
- "And so, have them for yourself, whatever kind of book it is,
- and whatever sort, oh patron Muse
- let it last for more than one generation, eternally."
- (Student translation, 2007)
- Dante Alighieri, in Canto II of The Inferno:
- O Muses, O high genius, aid me now!
- O memory that engraved the things I saw,
- Here shall your worth be manifest to all!
- (Anthony Esolen translation, 2002)
- John Milton, opening of Book 1 of Paradise Lost:
- Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
- Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
- Brought death into the World, and all our woe,
- With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
- Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
- Sing, Heavenly Muse, [...]
- William Shakespeare, Act 1, Prologue of Henry V:
- Chorus: O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
- The brightest heaven of invention,
- A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
- And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
- Geoffrey Chaucer, in Book II of Troilus and Criseyde:
- O lady myn, that called art Cleo,
- Thow be my speed fro this forth, and my Muse,
- To ryme wel this book til I haue do;
- Me nedeth here noon othere art to vse.
- ffor-whi to euery louere I me excuse
- That of no sentement I this endite,
- But out of Latyn in my tonge it write.
"How can my Muse want subject to invent,
While thou dost breathe, that pour'st into my verse
Thine own sweet argument?"
The poet asks, and in the opening of the sestet calls upon his muse:
"Be thou the tenth Muse, ten times more in worth
Than those old nine which rhymers invocate."
In modern English usage, muse (non capitalized but deriving from the classical Muses) can refer in general to a person who inspires an artist, writer, or musician.
From cults of the Muses to modern museums
Local cults of the Muses often became associated with springs or with fountains. The Muses themselves were sometimes called Aganippids because of their association with a fountain called Aganippe. Other fountains, Hippocrene and Pirene, were also important locations associated with the Muses. Some sources occasionally referred to the Muses as "Corycides" (or "Corycian nymphs") after a cave on Mount Parnassos, called the Corycian Cave.
The Muses were venerated especially in Boeotia, in the Valley of the Muses near Helicon, and in Delphi and the Parnassus, where Apollo became known as Mousagetes ("Muse-leader") after the sites were rededicated to his cult.
Often Muse-worship was associated with the hero-cults of poets: the tombs of Archilochus on Thasos and of Hesiod and Thamyris in Boeotia all played host to festivals in which poetic recitations accompanied sacrifices to the Muses.
Many Enlightenment figures sought to re-establish a "Cult of the Muses" in the 18th century. A famous Masonic lodge in pre-Revolutionary Paris was called Les Neuf Soeurs ("the nine sisters", that is, the nine Muses) - Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, Danton, and other influential Enlightenment figures attended it. As a side-effect of this movement the word "museum" (originally, "cult place of the Muses") came to refer to a place for the public display of knowledge.
The British poet Robert Graves popularized the concept of the Muse-poet in modern times. His concept was based on pre-12th century traditions of the Celtic poets, the tradition of the medieval troubadours who celebrated the concept of courtly love, and the romantic poets.
"No Muse-poet grows conscious of the Muse except by experience of a woman in whom the Goddess is to some degree resident; just as no Apollonian poet can perform his proper function unless he lives under a monarchy or a quasi-monarchy. A Muse-poet falls in love, absolutely, and his true love is for him the embodiment of the Muse... But the real, perpetually obsessed Muse-poet distinguishes between the Goddess as manifest in the supreme power, glory, wisdom, and love of woman, and the individual woman whom the Goddess may make her instrument... The Goddess abides; and perhaps he will again have knowledge of her through his experience of another woman...
The "tenth Muse"
The archaic poet Sappho of Lesbos was given the compliment of being called "the tenth Muse" by Plato. The phrase has become a somewhat conventional compliment paid to female poets since. In Callimachus' "Aetia", the poet refers to Queen Berenike, wife of Ptolemy II, as a "Tenth Muse", dedicating both the 'Coma Berenikes' and the 'Victoria Berenikes' in Books III-IV. French critics have acclaimed a series of dixième Muses who were noted by William Rose Benet in The Reader's Encyclopedia (1948): Marie Lejars de Gournay (1566–1645), Antoinette Deshoulières (1633–1694), Madeleine de Scudéry (1607–1701), and Delphine Gay (1804–1855).
Anne Bradstreet, a Puritan poet of New England, was honored with this title after the publication of her poems in London in 1650, in a volume titled by the publisher as The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America. This also was the first volume of American poetry ever published.
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a Mexican poet, is well known in the Spanish literary world as the tenth Muse.
Gabriele d'Annunzio's 1920 Constitution for the Free State of Fiume was based on the nine Muses and invoked Energeia (energy) as "the tenth Muse". In 1924, Karol Irzykowski published a monograph on cinematography entitled "The Tenth Muse" ("Dziesiąta muza"). Analyzing silent film, he pronounced his definition of cinema: "It is the visibility of man's interaction with reality".
In The Tenth Muse: A historical study of the opera libretto Patrick J. Smith implicitly suggests that the libretto be considered as the tenth muse. The claim, if made explicit, is that the relation of word and music as constituted by the libretto is not only of significant import, but that the critical appreciation of that relation constitutes a crucial element in the understanding of opera.
The Muses were notably present in Disney's portrayal of 'Hercules', where they sang a number of songs about the love of Hercules' life (although there were only five of them).
In the movie 'Xanadu,' a young man is inspired by a Muse to build a dance hall. The Muse goes by the name of Kira in the movie. At one point in the movie she is about to tell the man her real name, but is interrupted in the middle. However, it sounds like she was about to say 'Terpsichore,' which would have been appropriate as the Muse of dance.
- ^ Modern Greek οι μούσες, i moúses.
- ^ from which mind and mental are also derived; so OED
- ^ Reported to Pausanias in the second century AD (noted in Karl Kerenyi, The Gods of the Greeks, 1951, p.104 and note 284. Kerenyi offers the suggestion, from Hesiod's own practice, that their names had been Melete, "practicing", Mneme, "remembering", and Aoide, "singing".
- ^ Diodorus Siculus, 4.7.1-2 (on-line text)
- ^ Diodorus, Plutarch and Pausanias are all noted by Susan Scheinberg, in reporting other Hellenic maiden triads, in "The Bee Maidens of the Homeric Hymn to Hermes" Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, 83 (1979:1-28) p. 2.
- ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 5.677-78: "Now their previous eloquence also remained in the birds, as well as their strident chattering and their great zeal for speaking." See also Antoninus Liberalis 9.
- ^ OED derives "amuse" from French a ("from") + muser, "to stare stupidly" or distractedly.
- ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece 9.29.1.
- ^ TheoiProject: Muses
- ^ Strabo 10.3.10.
- ^ Solon, fragment 13.
- ^ This is an ancient convention: the Mesopotamian epic Atra-Hasis is represented as dictated by the Goddess in a dream-vision.
- ^ Shakespeare, Sonnet 38.
- ^ "muse". The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved February 15, 2009.
- ^ Robert Graves, The White Goddess, a historical grammar of poetic myth."
- ^ Smith, Patrick J., (1970) The Tenth Muse: A historical study of the opera libretto, New York, Alfred. A. Knopf
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- Homer, in Book I of The Odyssey:
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