“Euterpe, because she gives to those who hear her sing delight (terpein) in the blessings which education bestows.”Diodorus Siculus
As the Muse over music, Euterpe has been called “giver of delight” by ancient poets as the historian Diodorus Siculus (90-30 BC) tells us. She is usually shown with an aulos, the double flute. The name Euterpe comes from the Greek words meaning “to please well.” She was believed to have lived on Mt. Olympus with her sisters where they entertained their father Zeus with their many talents and dancing to Apollos’ lyre.
“Thence, swift as thought, he speeds from earth to Olympus, to the house of Zeus, to join the gathering of the other gods: then straightway the undying gods think only of the lyre and song, and all the Muses together, voice sweetly answering voice, hymn the unending gifts the gods enjoy.”Homeric Hymn to Pythian Apollo
By late Classical times, she was also the Muse of lyric poetry. A lyric poem is one with a songlike quality (root of lyric; the Greek lyrikos means “singing to the lyre.”) and in ancient times tales were sung, not spoken. Homeric Hymns tend to start with “I begin to sing…” and end with “And now I will remember you and another song also.”
“I will begin with the Muses and Apollo and Zeus. For it is through the Muses and Apollo that there are singers upon the earth and players upon the lyre; but kings are from Zeus. Happy is he whom the Muses love: sweet flows speech from his lips. Hail, children of Zeus! Give honor to my song! And now I will remember you and another song also.”Homeric Hymn 25 To the Muses and Apollo
The singing of tales has been true for bards across many cultures, including the Anglo-Saxons. Their most famous poem, Beowulf, may have sounded like this. In the Norse pantheon Bragi is the god of poetry and music who is very wise with runes carved on his tongue. His name is poetry itself, coming from the Old Norse word bragr (poem). A bard was a poet and a musician and in the Celtic pantheon Lugh is the great harp player.
“Let a harp be played for us,” said the hosts. Then the warrior played sleep music for the hosts and for the king on the first night, putting them to sleep from that hour to the same time the next day. He played sorrowful music so that they were crying and lamenting. He played joyful music so that they were merry and rejoicing.”The Second Battle of Mag Tuired
The stories tell us that Athena invented the aulos, Hermes invented the lyre, giving it to Apollo, and Pan invented the pan pipes. With Apollo known as the god of music and the other Deities involved in music, why is there a Muse for music? The Greeks and the Romans personified abstract concepts as feminine deities such as Victory, Liberty, Harmony, and Discord, and so having the Muses represent creativity in all its guises is not a stretch. Some compensation in our Neopagan world for the extreme patriarchy of the Greeks.
As we celebrate Lughnasadh and honor Lugh Samildánach (“equally skilled in many arts”) who hosted funeral games for his stepmother Tailitu, it is appropriate to talk about those who preside over the many arts, and especially “she who delights,” the Muse of music and lyric poetry, Euterpe.
Giver of delight, words of the heart are yours,
sonnets and ballads and poems of love;
Goddess, we see your hand in the songs of Sappho,
we hear you in the interplay of meter and rhyme.
By your art we hold open our souls to the world;
your touch gives voice to the truth within us.
Euterpe, goddess, child of Olympos, I honor you.To the Muses I by Hester Butler-Ehle