Nowadays, talking about the muse of an artist, we are referring to a person or a force that is the source of inspiration of the creative process. Sometimes it might be a lover, a relative, a friend or even a spiritual situation. However, according to 'Theogony' of Hesiod and the ancient Greek mythology, the word ‘Muses’ refers to the 9 daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the Titan goddess of memory and time.
According to Hesiod, the word ‘Muses’ comes from the ancient Greek word ‘mosis’, which refers to desire and wish. Its descendants are the words ‘museum’ and ‘music’ (you might find interesting this video by TED-Ed).
Zeus, transformed into a shepherd, slept with Mnemosyne for 9 nights. The result of their encounter was the birth of 9 goddesses. Raised by the nymph Eufime and Apollo, when they grew up they showed their tendency to the Αrts. Actually, they were not interested in anything else related to the human everyday life, except from the Arts. Being influenced by the learnings they were taught next to Apollo -who presided over music, songs, dance and poetry- they developed a strong relationship with him, recognising him as their leader and, at the same time, as their companion and mentor.
Finally, Apollo brought them to the big and beautiful Mount Helicon in Boeotia, where the older Temple of Zeus used to be located. Ever since, the Muses encouraged creation, stimulating imagination and divine inspiration of the artists.
The nine Muses
Calliope: She was the Muse of epic poetry. Her name means beautiful voice, so called by the divine harmony of her voice. According to some narratives, Calliope was the lover of god Ares -the god of war. At times, she was believed to be Homer's Muse for the Iliad and the Odyssey. Calliope was usually depicted with a writing tablet in her hand or carrying a roll of paper or a book.
Clio: Her name derives from the Greek word ‘kleos’ which means ‘glory’ and ‘fame’, and is connected to heroic acts. She is the Muse of history and guitar, and she was always represented with a book in the left hand and a clarion in the right arm. Clio introduced the Pheonican alphabet into Greece and she had a son, Hyacinthus, who was a lover of Apollo.
Erato: Her name comes from the Greek word ‘eros’ that refers to the feeling of falling in love. That’s why she was the protector of love and love poetry, as well as wedding. She was depicted holding a lyre and love arrows and bows, reminding of the god Eros who was at times the company of her.
Euterpe: She was the Muse of lyric poetry and music, as she discovered many musical instruments such as the aulos -which was her attribute- and she was always depicted holding a flute, while many other instruments were always around her. Her name means ‘well pleasing’, as it comes from the connection of the two words: ‘eu’ which means 'well', 'good', and ‘terpein’ which means 'to please', 'to delight'.
The Muses - credits: matintheworld/depositphotos
Melpomene: Contrary to Thalia, Muse Melpomene invented tragedy and rhetoric speech. Her name is derived from the Greek verb ‘melpo’ or ‘melpomai’, meaning ‘to celebrate with dance and song’. She was depicted holding a tragedy mask, and usually bearing a bat. Greek and Roman poets used to invoke the goddess Melpomene to help them get inspired and create beautiful lyrics.
Ourania: Muse Ourania, the last of the Muses to be born, was the Muse of astronomy and astrology and the protector of the celestial objects and stars. She was able to foretell the future by noticing the arrangement of the stars. She was always depicted to bear stars or a celestial sphere. Ourania’s name means ‘heavenly’, ‘of heaven’, and is often associated with universal love and the Holy Spirit.
Polymnia: She was the inventor of the divine hymns and sacred dance, something that is obvious from the origins of her name which comes from the words ‘poly’ which means ‘many’ and ‘hymnos’ which means ‘anthem’, ‘praise’. She also discovered the mimic art, the geometry and grammar, as well as meditation! Polymnia is mostly depicted looking up to the sky, holding a lyre.