Moi ennepe, Mousa…
Sing to me, Muse…Homer, The Odyssey
We updated our website in March 2017. Then one of our Grove wrote something interesting about Spring Equinox, which I threw into a post. I then wrote something every month and voila! After a year I had The High Day Project. But then I ran out of steam. What to write about next?
The inspiration came the other day from the Muses to write about…the Muses. Later on that same day I went to my favorite Hellenic blog, Baring the Aegis, and found that she was inspired by them at the same time and wrote a blog. I felt that was a good sign. So here we go with the overview!
There were originally three muses, Melete (Practice), Mneme (Memory), and Aoide (Song), but by the time of Hesiod and Homer (8th-7th century BC) there were nine. It was not until Hellenistic times (323 BC- 31 AD) that the muses had different functions. It is Hesiod who tells us they are the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (nə-MOS-si-nay) “memory.”
For nine nights, the counselor Zeus was mingling with her
apart from the immortals, going up into her sacred bed.
But when it had been a year, and the seasons of the withering
months turned, and the many days were fulfilled,
she bore nine maidens, alike in mind, who care for song
in their breasts and whose spirits are free of pain,
down a little from the highest peak of snow-covered Olympus.Hesiod, Theogony 56-62
They are led by Apollo who plays the lyre while they dance.
You are a wild, light-bringing and lovable god, O glorious youth.
You shoot your arrows from afar, you lead the Muses into dance.Orphic Hymn To Apollon
The Muses and their attributes:
- Calliope or Kalliope (kə-LY-ə-pee), “beautiful voiced” muse of epic poetry. Hesiod and Ovid called her the “Chief of all Muses.” Calliope is usually shown with a scroll in her hand. At times, she is depicted carrying a writing tablet or a book or wearing a gold crown.
- Clio or Kleio (KLEE-o), “to make famous” muse of history, holding writing tablets.
- Erato (ɛ-ROT-oh) “erotic poetry,” possibly “desired, lovely,” the muse of lyric poetry, holding a lyre. According to the Orphic Hymns, she charms the sight.
- Euterpe (eu̯-TÉR-pay) “rejoicing well” or “delight,” muse of flutes and music; she has been called the “giver of delight.” Usually shown with an aulos, the double flute.
- Melpomene (mɛl-PɒM-in-ee) “to sing” or “the one that is melodious,” the muse of tragedy. She is usually seen with the mask of tragedy or wearing the boots traditionally worn by tragic actors. She also may hold a knife or club in her other hand.
- Polyhymnia (poli-HIM-niə/; “of many hymns,” the muse of sacred poetry, hymn and dance.
- Thalia (thə-LIE-ə) “the joyous, the flourishing” muse of comedy and pastoral poetry
- Terpsichore (tərp-SIK-ər-ee) “delight in dancing,” the muse of dance.
- Urania (you-RANE-iə) “heavenly,” the muse of astronomy. Seen with a globe and a little staff. She can foretell the future from the stars.
The Greco-Roman gods are still with us. My school system taught about them in 8th grade, though I already knew about them from a book I bought a year earlier (remembering that is what clinched the Hellenic pantheon as my hearth culture). From books, movies, and Broadway (check out the Best Musical of 2019, Hadestown) to advertisements and government buildings, they are with us. Among those who are called and recalled often are the Muses. These are just a few examples.
So, welcome to The Muse Project. As Mnemosyne took a year to birth the Muses, I plan to take a year to explore them. This time is the overview and then I will try to tie in each muse or muses to the nearest High Day, noting deities in other pantheons with similar functions or attributes.
May they inspire you over the next year.
Daughters of Mnemosyne and thundering Zeus, …
You nourish the soul and set thought aright,
A you become leaders and mistresses of the mind’s power.
Sacred and mystic rites you taught to mortals, …
Do come to the initiates, O goddesses, in your manifold holiness,
And bring glory and emulation that is lovely and sung by many.Orphic Hymn To the Muses