Muses are the most referenced daughters of Zeus. Artists and philosophers call upon Muses when lacking inspiration. They appear several times throughout history, usually when talking about the Arts. And they are, of course, a part of pop culture. However, Muses do not only play an important role for Arts and Philosophy. They also have a significant role in Science, for example, Astronomy, Maths, etc.
There is much information about the Muses that is taken for granted, even if it comes from just one source. I decided to dig deeper into historical archives as well as some interesting essays and plays. I found several ways to interpret who they are and what they do. There are several versions on the appearance of Muses and their contribution to humankind. Have you heard about Muses’ gift and how can you use it to achieve your own personal goals? How much do you think you know about the origin of the Muses? Do you know how they can inspire you throughout your daily life?
Let us delve into ancient songs —and modern pop culture— to find out!
The Muses’ Birth
There are many versions on how many Muses are or how they look. You can find differences depending on the plays you read. In some plays, their appearance and exactly how many muses are there isn’t distinctly clear. They are usually referred to as a compound of femme-presenting beings. Muses are Goddesses known as an embodiment of the most important aspects of the Arts and Wisdom known to humankind.
The earliest written record found about Muses is in Homer’s Iliad. In that play they are acknowledged as multiple individual voices. However, in some sections of this text, they are also portrayed as one individual Goddess. There is an example of this in The Mythology of Muses: Porter (2013) expounds that at the end of the Odyssey, during Achilles’ funeral, Muses work both as a chorus of nine and in the seemingly abstract singular.
Another important issue to address is what the Muses look like. That usually depends on the genre they are performing. In epic writings they are usually portrayed as genderless and impersonal, whereas in comedy they seem to have a more festive attitude. They can be associated with sadness in tragedies, or there are some works in which they can have a more enticing appearance.There is another notable work about Muses: Theogony by Hesiod. In his work, we are told the Muses are the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. Hesiod is the first one to name the Muses. He gave them names according to some qualities of the Arts.
In Hesiod’s work, the Muses are a group of nine, but they still perform as a chorus. The names and personalities of these specific nine muses are the most popular nowadays. This is so because it is these nine muses that are the most referenced in pop culture – like a famous movie about Heracle. And this information has a strong influence in folklore. So, what do they stand for?
Calliope, meaning beautiful voice
She is the one who resembles a royal figure more than any other. She married king Eagro and gave birth to Orpheus and Linus. Both of their children are famous because of their achievements in poetry and music. Orpheus was the legendary poet who descended into the Underworld of Hades. Linus was a master of eloquent speech and the first leader of lyric song.
Calliope is usually depicted wearing a golden crown and holding a trumpet and a scroll of parchment. Both are important icons for enunciation. She is the Muse of epic poetry and eloquence. Whether you are performing an important character on stage, or need to give an important announcement, Calliope is the name you should invoke.
Clio stands for celebrating
This rocking Muse is considered to be the creator of the guitar. She also carries a trumpet, yet her main domains have little to do with music. She is the Muse of History, and she carries a book written by Thucydides (an important historian) and is related to the figure of the terrestrial globe.
She is the representation of history through all time and space. When there is a need to speak about ancient facts, or you need to write about History, Clio is your rock star of choice. And do not forget you can always practice your guitar skills with her.
Erato is lovely
She rules over the huge realm of poetry, and her favorite topic is everything that has to do with love and the romantic. She enjoys the company of two turtle doves. Back in ancient times, there were pictures of her using a laurel wreath, but since the Renaissance, she decided to wear a crown with myrtle and roses instead. Erato holds a zither –something like a lyre, invented by Hermes. Erato can inspire the words that would fit better in your confession of love. Or she can help you sing the songs that would caress any broken heart.
Euterpe can be translated as delighting
She is the Muse of music, and her instrument of choice is the flute. Usually, she carries a double-piccolo which matches her sober outfit. She wears a crown made of flowers. Melody seems to follow her steps. She fills with music every place she walks in. If you are a musician —either you make music as a hobby or you are building your career as a professional— you could call her when you feel a lack of inspiration. Euterpe would help warm the hearts of whoever listens to your rhythms.
Melpomene stands for singing
She was once the Muse of singing and musical harmony. Nowadays she is known as the Muse of tragedy in Theater. Some legends have it that she has all anyone could ask for –love, money, and beauty– however, she is unhappy. Her entire life represents tragedy. Tragedy here is understood as not being able to enjoy life regardless of what one has in their favor.
In Greek Theater, Tragedy taught the values any hero(ine) should follow in their life, even if that caused them pain and suffering. This is so because what is most important is honor and the greater good. However, today you can rely on Melpomene when you need to find something that would inspire you to face life through the darkest of times.
Melpomene represents hope. She tells us stories in which legendary characters are always in the company of great people. The ones who became legends have their place in history. Their companions have a place in their hearts.
Whereas singers can rely on her earliest expertise, performers can take advantage of her drama skills.
Important note: If you are going through hard times, it is always good to find an expert to talk to. Look for the local helpline that can assist you the best. You can always find someone to walk beside you through any hard process you might be involved in. Professional advice and assistance are always advised when dealing with mental health issues.
Polymnia means many hymning
Her domains are as eclectic as her name implies: lyric poetry, dance, geometry, and rhetoric. She has also contributed to the creation of the lyre, harmony, and agriculture.
She is a leader, and you can see that in the way she is depicted. You can admire her sitting on a chair, leaning on her elbow like a wise empress. Her eyes pierce deep into your soul, and you can see her mind at work trying to find answers for what has yet to come.
She turns faith into music, and her hymns spread bravery throughout the battlefield. Times can be seen as dark and hazardous sometimes. Art is what can help us cope. Polymnia is also the one to call when you need your performance to inspire others.
Terpsichore means dancedelight
She dances over the wealthy field of light poetry. She goes with the flow, and nothing seems to worry her mind. Dancers and bohemian poets are always invited to party with her.
If you ever find yourself in front of her, just chill out and enjoy the moment. Show her your best moves, and speak to her with words from the heart. She would not judge your skills. Rather, she would encourage your passions. If you ever feel distressed, Terpsichore would accept to dance with you to ease your pain.
Thalia is festive
She is Melpomene’s counterpart. This is so because Thalia represents Comedy in Theatre. Her smile and mocking expression are the features that define her the most. Back in Ancient Greece, Comedy was a genre in which the most grotesque characters were displayed. Those were to show how nobody should act.
Ordinary folk had fun watching someone else doing what they should never do. In present times, clowns are the comparable figure. Comedy is a statement in a world where kings –or any patriarchal figure– rules.
Comedy is the way for people who are left outside civilization –the ones that are not taken into consideration by our laws and bureaucracy– to call out what is wrong in our system. Nowadays, Thalia is the most revolutionary icon that can be found in the Performing Arts from Greek culture. You can call Thalia when laughs are needed. You can trust her either when you need to deliver some shocking news or just because you want to have some fun.
Urania means heavenly
Her field of expertise is Astrology. This is why she is also great at Maths –because of all the calculations needed to be a good astrologer. She wears a crown with stars and a dress as blue as the sky. She uses a globe and a compass to trace celestial maps and measure planet positions.
Her most precious mathematical instruments are always within her reach. Urania can help you enlighten your path in seeking knowledge. She is always curious and willing to walk through the darkest nights. You can rely on her when in need of a guide. Urania explores the sky so she can point the direction of wherever you ask her. And if you are not sure how you would do on your Math test, you can call Urania to help consolidate your knowledge.
In the already mentioned Murray’s essay, she takes Thalmann’s explanation on how the transformation of verbs, nouns, and adjectives into proper names. She uses this knowledge to summon the goddesses into existence through language.
Actually, many of the names Hesiod gave the Muses are not unique in Greek Mythology, e.g, Some other creatures –such as Seasons and Nymphs– are named Thalia, Clio, Urania, and Erato. Even the titan Uranus shares the name with one of them. When Hesiod named the Muses, each of them got a specific virtue from those words, yet this does not mean they are defined as individuals. They always intercede as a chorus, you just reach deeper to grasp specific knowledge.
The Gift of the Muses
It is said that Muses live among the most powerful deities on Mount Olympus. There, they would please the deities and heroes with their talents for performance.
Muses did not mingle with mortals. How did humans get blessed by their presence? Well, the deities felt pity for humans’ mortality, and decided to share with humanity the gift of Muses. But what does this mean, exactly?
Muses provide humankind not only with their performance in various Arts and their knowledge in Science, but they contribute a lot to our society. Let us remember that in Ancient Greece’s ideological, political, and social affairs relied on the spoken word. Bards and minstrels were the ones who spread those words around the local common folk and other towns. Those delightful artistic performances held not only valuable information but all wisdom known at the time.
Do not forget that Hesoid’s Muses are daughters of Mnemosyne, a titaness and the goddess of Memory. Therefore, Muses come from memory and their interventions do not only tell a story. They can also unfold all the emotions and knowledge that those stories hold. They bring relief and inspiration not only to artists, but to every single person that decides to involve themselves in the Arts. Muses are not there to give you answers, but to share stories so you can make decisions based on History. It is up to you to choose which is the path that would lead you to a better place.
The gift of the Muses is not (only) about making a masterpiece or be the best guitar player who ever performed. Muses will grant you passion, ancient knowledge, popular wisdom, inspiration and other invaluable skills. Those are great tools needed when creating an Art piece.
But all of that can help you in your daily life, as well: They can help you with an essay you might be working on, or to make sure eloquence is on your side before giving a speech. Muses can also give you that little push you might need to face daily life.
Muses in —and beyond— life
Muses play an important role for the living. As I stated before, they take inspiration from past events to ignite motivation and spark curiosity. They have the power to make our lives a little bit easier.
But Muses can also bring back to life people we have lost, at least for a moment. If you think about it, in Theatre, the characters that are being portrayed are alive on stage. At very least, their essence is out there.
The same thing happens in literature, poetry, or any written work in which you can read names that otherwise might be forgotten. And, if not named or seen, people can be alive through music. Today, you can still hear a melody composed for the person that the composer loved the most. They are still alive in this way.
If you take it a step further, there are some songs that bring back feelings! Many songs talk about relationships, and this can apply to the feelings of the masses. Art – and Music, in particular – can personify an event and bring it back to life.
Muses have the power to ease the pain of mourning. Through Art, you can see the past in a different light. Muses can help you, not to forget or to forgive, but to make the past less heart-wrenching.
Muses are here to save humans from sorrow. They take the rustiest of past events and polish it so humanity can reflect on errors that have been made. Humans can also admire ancient stories in which changes helped evolve our society.
Muses tell stories in which common folk could be admired and renowned legends. The characters in the stories they tell can also be questioned by their actions and words.
Past events can be seen through the living eyes of the present. History is not about good or evil, but about shades of grey in which both the good and bad are ever present. History is about changes, decisions, and transformations.
There is not a single version of History, but plenty of histories. Muses bring back all those ancient records so anyone can know about the highest and lowest of all cultures. Muses are so powerful they disrupt human understanding of the effects of time: They preserve for the future what belongs to the past.
The final song
Muses have been present since ancient Greece. Their gift spread worldwide and they have evolved and expanded their domains. They had to adapt to new art styles and tools, and they survived. Artists and their art are constantly dealing with censorship, plagiarism, and so on. They survived as well.
As an important note: Lately visual and digital artists are struggling against AI art, and they are doing their best to survive. I find it is an important issue to address in this post, but please check further if you are interested in this and do not support this kind of technique.
Now you know, whether you are an artist, scientist, professor, or what have you, relying on Muses can help you in your daily life. Even if Muses contributed to the work of many artists, historians, and scientists, there is a lot of human effort in every work ever made. The best way to honor the muses is to acknowledge your local professionals! Whichever task they perform, their contribution goes far beyond whatever you can imagine.
Have you ever felt Muses nearby? Which one do you think would be the better fit for your needs? Tell us in the comments!