art & artifice
We share more than etymology.


April 14, 2001

The muses were Greek goddesses who presided over the arts and sciences. They were believed to inspire all artists—especially poets, philosophers, and musicians. The Muses were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the patron goddess of memory. The number of Muses varies over time; initially there was but one. In later records, however, there is mention of three: Melete, Mneme, and Aoede. They were nymphs in Pieria, western Thrace, and their cult was brought to Helicon in Boeotia by the Aloadae.

Usually, though, there is mention of nine muses: Urania, Calliope, Clio, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia, and Erato.

Urania is the Greek Muse of astronomy and astrology. She is represented with a globe in her left hand and a peg in her right hand. She is usually depicted in a cloak embroidered with stars and she keeps her eyes towards the sky. Her name can be directly translated to “Queen of the Mountains.”

The eldest and most distinguished of the nine Muses is Calliope. She is the Muse of eloquence and epic or heroic poetry. Calliope can be directly translated to “Beautiful Voice.” She was the arbitress in the argument over Adonis between Persephone and Aphrodite. Her emblems are a stylus and wax tablets.

Clio is the Muse of historical and heroic poetry. She was credited for introducing the Phoenician alphabet into Greece. Her attribute is usually a parchment scroll or a set of tablets. Her name means “Proclaimer.”

Euterpe, “Delight,” is the Muse of music and lyric poetry. She is also the Muse of joy and pleasure and of flute playing and was thought to have invented the double flute, which is her attribute.

Melpomene is the Muse of tragedy. She is usually represented with a tragic mask and wearing the cothurnus—the boots traditionally worn by tragic actors. Sometimes she holds a knife in one hand, and the mask in the other. Her name stands for “Choir.”

Polyhymnia, whose name means “many songs,” is the muse of the sacred hymn, eloquence and dance. She is usually represented in a pensive or meditating position. She is a serious looking woman, dressed in a long cloak and resting with an elbow on a pillar.

Terpsichore is the Muse of dancing and the dramatic chorus, and later of lyric poetry. Her name means “Delight of Dancing,” hence the word terpsichorean, pertaining to dance. She is usually represented seated, and holding a lyre. According to some traditions, she is the mother of the Sirens.

Thalia is the muse who presided over comedy and pastoral poetry. Another name of hers is “Festivi.” She also favored rural pursuits and is represented holding a comic mask and a shepherd's crook, which is her attribute.

Erato was the Muse of lyric poetry, particularly love and erotic poetry, and mimicry. She is usually depicted with a lyre. Her name can be directly translatted to the word “Lovely.”

The Muses were worshiped throughout Greece, but more so in those areas with many wells and springs. The area of Boeotia, near Helicon, remained the favorite place of the Muses, and there they were more venerated than elsewhere. It is also the place of two wells that were sacred to them, Aganippe and Hippocrene. Delphi and the Parnassus were also some of their favorite places, as they were fond of the oracles.

The Muses sat near the throne of Zeus, king of the gods, for they were the creativity that kept both god and mortal alive. They were revered for their beauty and loved for the inspiration they brought all who came upon them.

<< >>