REDISCOVERING THE MUSE:
Finding Our Personal Sources of Inspiration
copyright 1989 by Tracy Marks
published in Women of Power magazine, winter 1989-90
continued from muses1.htm
Who are the nine Muses? Calliope, "she of the beautiful
considered to be head of the Muses, associated with the full moon.
known for heroic poetry and literature, as well as eloquence in writing
speech. Erato, "awakener of desire," plays the lyre, and is
the Muse of
romantic and erotic poetry and of mime - nonverbal communication.
"the giver of fame," rules history, and can be considered today to
source of inspiration for public and professional success.
Euterpe, "giver of joy," plays the flute, and is the Muse of
and music. Terpsichore, "she who enjoys dancing,"inspires all
creative movement. Polyhymnia, "she of the many hymns," is known
sacred songs, sacred poetry and storytelling. Of all the Muses, she is
most attuned to women's quest for transcendent experience.
Urania, "the heavenly" is the Muse of astronomy, which in ancient
encompassed astrology, and the various arts, sciences and religious
practices related to metaphysics, divination and psychology. Melpomene,
"the singer", acknowledges and respects the dark side of life, which
honors through her rulership of elegies and tragedies; she knows the
opening of the heart we experience when we willingly penetrate the
of sadness. Finally, Thalia, "the festive," originally bucolic
rules comedy, and awakens the spirit of playfulness, humor and celebration.
The advent of patriarchy did not fare well for the Muses, who lost power
when their numerous functions were divided and compartmentalized into
realms. Rather than goddesses in their own right, they were more frequently
portrayed as ladies-in-waiting to Apollo.
Yet according to Robert Graves, "Apollo, though the God of Poetry and
the leader of the Muses, did not, however, claim to inspire poems: the
inspiration was still held to come to the poet from the Muse or Muses."
Greek mythology still attests to the awe-inspiring power the Muses
the gods, as well as humankind. When they sang, everything stood still,
transfixed by their melodious voices. At such times, their winged horse
Pegasus struck the mountain with his hooves, fountains sprang forth,
Mt. Helicon rose even higher toward heaven.
Hesiod claimed that the Muses initiated him as a poet, and gave him
spray of laurel. "They are all of one mind, their hearts are set upon
and their spirit is free from care," he wrote of the Muses. " He (she)
happy whom the Muses love. For though man (woman) has sorrow and
grief in his soul, when the Muses sing, at once he forgets his dark
and remembers not his troubles. Such is the holy gift of the Muses."
Living atop Mt. Helicon in Boetia, the Muses only rarely descended
earth. Nevertheless, they were lovers and protectors of earth, particularly
of earth's waters. As goddesses of fountains and springs, they remain
patrons of numerous springs and sanctuaries throughout Greece, such
Aganippe, Hippocrene and Castalia, all reputed to provide creative
inspiration to those who drink their waters. The Muses were also associated
with milk and honey, with their sacred animal, the swan, and with the
willow and laurel trees.
Greek myths portray the Muses as singing, dancing and playing
and flutes at weddings, banquets and funerals. Their first song was
victory celebration of the Olympians over the Titans, the birth of
order. When the Maenads dismembered Orpheus, the Muses collected his
and buried him at the foot of Olympus, where nightingales would forever
The Muses discover Orpheus Drowned
Several stories tell of the ill fate of those who dared to compete
the Muses. The nine daughters of King Pierus of Macedonia were changed
magpies when they unsuccessfully challenged the Muses in poetry; the
then took their names. The Sirens lost their wings when they lost a
contest with the Muses.
In art, the original Muse or White Goddess is portrayed as a beautiful,
slender woman with red lips, blue eyes and long blonde hair, who transforms
herself into various animals. Greek art represents the nine Muses as
women wearing long flowing robes, and bearing musical instruments.
smiling; others have grave or reflective expressions.
The Muses were not virgin goddesses; the presence of Erato, and their
association with ecstasy attest to their sensuality. Calliope, loved
Apollo, bore his son Linus, inventor of melody and rhythm. When Linus
unwisely challenged his father to a singing contest, Apollo killed
Calliope later married Oeagrus, with whom she bore Orpheus.
Melpomene, who lay with the river god Achelous, gave birth to the Sirens.
Because Clio reproached Aphrodite for her passion for Adonis, Aphrodite
punished Clio by rousing in her an overpowering desire for King Pierus,
then fathered her son Hyacinthus. Patriarchal Greek mythology
sons of the Muses, but not their daughters.
Although the Muses are most often remembered for inspiring poets and
musicians, they are also known for sparking the genius and inventiveness
scientists, and for guiding politicians. They accompanied kings and
inspiring them with eloquence and imparting to them the gift of gentleness,
which enabled them to settle quarrels and maintain peace.