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The Muses


In Greek mythology, goddesses of the different kinds of poetry and of the arts and sciences. In Homer, who says nothing definite as to their names or number, they are simply goddesses of song, who dwell among the gods on Olympus. According to Hesiod, who first gives the usually accepted names and number, they were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the personification of memory. Others made them children of Uranus and Gaea. Three older Muses -- Mneme, Melete, Aoide -- were sometimes distinguished, whose worship was said to have been introduced by the Aloidae on Mt. Helicon. It is probable that three was the original number of the Muses, which increased to nine owing to their arrangement in three groups of three in the sacred choruses. Around the altar of Zeus they sing of the origin of the world, of gods and men, of the glorious deeds of Zeus, and tales of the great heroes.

As goddesses of song they protect those who recognize their superiority, but punish the arrogant -- such as Thamyris, the Thracian bard, who for having boasted himself their equal was deprived of sight and the power of song. From their connection with Apollo and their original nature as inspiring nymphs of springs they also possess the gift of prophecy. They are closely related to Dionysus, to whose festivals dramatic poetry owed its origin and development.

The worship of the Muses had two chief seats -- on the northern slope of Mt. Olympus in Pieria, and on the slope of Mt. Helicon near Ascra and Thespiae in Boeotia. Their favorite haunts were the springs of Castalia, Aganippe and Hippocrene. From Boeotia their cult gradually spread over Greece. As the goddesses who presided over the nine principal departments of letters, their names and attributes were:

  • Calliope -- Epic poetry -- (wax tablet and pencil)
  • Clio -- History -- (scroll)
  • Erato -- Erotic poetry -- (small lyre)
  • Euterpe -- Lyric poetry -- (double flute)
  • Melpomene -- Tragedy -- (tragic mask and ivy wreath)
  • Polyhymnia -- Hymn -- (veiled)
  • Terpsichore -- Choral song and the dance -- (lyre)
  • Thalia -- Comedy -- (comic mask and ivy wreath)
  • Urania -- Astronomy -- (celestial globe)
To these Arethusa was added as the muse of pastoral poetry. The Roman poets identified the Greek Muses with the Italian Camenae, prophetic nymphs of springs and goddesses of birth, who possessed a grove near the Porta Capena at Rome. One of the most famous of these was Egeria, the counsellor of King Numa.

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