George III c1770 Portland stone tondo of Clio muse of History from Plas Llangoedmor estate, Cardigan, Wales

“Kleio (Clio) is so named because the praise which poets sing in their accolades bestows great glory (kleos) upon those who are praised.”

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 7. 1 (Greek historian c1st B.C.)

Clio is the Muse of history and often depicted with a scroll or a chest of books. She lives with her sisters on either Mount Helicon or Mount Parnassus which are in the same region of Greece. On Mount Helicon is the Hippocrene (hippos, horse) spring, which is considered a source of poetic inspiration. It is here that Hesiod was presented with a laurel staff, giving him the gift of poetry.

From the Heliconian Muses let us begin to sing,

Who hold the great and holy mount of Helicon,

And dance on soft feet about the deep-blue spring

And the altar of the almighty son of Cronos, and,

When they have washed their tender bodies in Permessus

Or in the Horse’s Spring or Olmeius,

Make their fair, lovely dances upon highest Helicon

And move with vigorous feet. 

Hesiod, Theogony 1–8

History is the telling of the past, of remembering people and events. The greatest stories of the Greek world are those told by Homer in the Iliad and the Odyssey. These stories bring great glory indeed to men such as Achilles, Agamemnon, Ajax, and Odysseus. They were past events to the Ancient Greeks, but most people today label those stories as myth, using today’s usual interpretation of the word as being not “true.” The first major work that is labelled as history by scholars is by Herodotus. The word history comes from the Greek word historía,“learning or knowing by inquiry”; derivative of hístōr “one who knows or sees.”

“This is the display of the inquiry (historia) of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, so that things done by man not be forgotten in time, and that great and marvelous deeds, some displayed by the Hellenes, some by the barbarians, not lose their glory (kleos), including among others what was the cause of their waging war on each other.”

Herodotus, Histories 1.1

Pausanias (c. 110 – c. 180 AD) is another historian, often called the first travel writer or geographer, as he describes art, architecture, and natural features along with the history of locations.

“The most noteworthy sight in the Peiraeus is a precinct of Athena and Zeus. Both their images are of bronze; Zeus holds a staff and a Victory, Athena a spear. Here is a portrait of Leosthenes and of his sons, painted by Arcesilaus. This Leosthenes at the head of the Athenians and the united Greeks defeated the Macedonians in Boeotia and again outside Thermopylae forced them into Lamia over against Oeta and shut them up there (323 BC).”

Pausanias, Description of Greece 1.1.3

Another deity that serves a similar function as Clio is the Celtic Ogma, the inventor of the Ogham (also known as the tree alphabet) whose epithet is “Lord of Knowledge” and who slew the Fomorian king Indech to claim a magical sword that could recount his heroic deeds. He is equated with the Gaulish deity Ogmios.

Today we have movies “based on a true story,” docudramas, and ‘alternative facts,” but what exactly is truth and what is fact? What is history and what is myth? That is something that scientists, theologians, and philosophers have been debating for centuries. It is the Greeks who began that tradition in the Western world with Thales of Miletus considered the first scientific philosopher in the 6th century BC, who explored how the world worked through the actions of natural processes instead of through the Gods.

We are upon the time of year when the veil lifts between this world and the world of our ancestors, when they are near to us so we can learn of the past directly from them. So, what is Clio’s role in all this? How can she help us? It is said that history is written by the winners, that what we know of the past is biased and filtered and as the words history, truth, and facts are loaded with controversy, perhaps it is best if she helps us with accurate recollection of people and past events. I think that she does this; it is just our interpretations that cause the issues. Let us ask for her help in that area as well, for our past is important for our future. As William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

“History is not the past. History is the present. We carry our history with us. To think otherwise is criminal”.  — James Baldwin

What is remembered, lives.


mistress of history, holder of tales old and new,
you know of truths long-lost to time.
In days of old lay wisdom, goddess,
in the experience of our elders lie lessons more
                precious than gold.
Through you do we gain understanding,
through you do we discover the legacy of the past.
Clio, goddess, child of Olympos, I honor you.

To the Muses I by Hester Butler-Ehle
Muse Clio, Greco-Roman marble statue C2nd A.D., State Hermitage Museum

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *