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For other senses of this word, see Muse (disambiguation).
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In Greek mythology, the Muses (Greek Μουσαι, Mousai: from the Proto-Indo-European root *men- "think", from which mind and mental are also derived[1]) are nine goddesses who embody the right evocation of myth, inspired through remembered and improvised song and traditional music and dances (cf.apsara in the Hindu culture). They were water nymphs, associated with the springs of Helicon and Pieris; from the latter they are sometimes called Pierides. The Olympian system set Apollo as their leader, Apollon Mousagetes.

According to Hesiod's Theogony, they are the daughters of Zeus, king of the gods, and Mnemosyne, goddess of memory. For Alcman and Mimnermus, they were even more primordial, springing from Uranus and Gaia. Pausanias supports that there were two generations of Muses; the first being daughters of Uranus and Gaia, the second from Zeus and Mnemosyne. Another rarer belief is that they are daughters of Harmonia (the daughter of Aphrodite and Ares) which contradicts with the myth in which they were dancing in the marriage of Harmonia and Cadmus.

Compare the Roman inspiring nymphs of springs, the Camenae.


[edit] Muses in myth

Image:Eustache Le Sueur 002.jpg
The Muses Clio, Euterpe and Thalia, by Eustache Le Sueur

According to Pausanias there were three original Muses: Aoide ("song", "voice"), Melete ("practice" or "occasion") and Mneme ("memory") (Paus. 9.29.1). Together, they form the complete picture of the preconditions of poetic art in cult practice. In Delphi three Muses were worshipped as well but with other names: Nete, Mesi and Hypate which are the names of the three chords of the ancient musical instrument lyre.

In later tradition, the fourth Muse, Arche, was also considered.

The muses were not assigned standardized divisions of poetry with which they are now identified until late Hellenistic times. The canonical nine Muses, with their fields of patronage, are:

The Muses dancing with Apollo, by Baldassare Peruzzi

Together, they form a complete picture of the subjects proper to poetic art in the archaic period. However, the association of specific muses with specific art forms is a later innovation.

In Roman, Renaissance and Neoclassical art, Muses depicted in sculptures or paintings are often distinguished by certain props or poses, as emblems. Euterpe (music) carries a flute; Calliope (epic poetry) carries a writing tablet; Clio (history) carries a scroll and books; Erato (love poetry) is often seen with a lyre and a crown of roses; Melpomene (tragedy) is often seen with a tragic mask; Polyhymnia (sacred poetry) is often seen with a pensive expression; Terpsichore (dance) is often seen dancing and carrying a lyre; Thalia (comedy) is often seen with a comic mask; and Urania (astronomy) carries a staff pointed at a celestial globe.

The Muses judged the contest between Apollo and Marsyas. They also gathered the pieces of the dead body of Orpheus, son of Calliope, and buried them. They blinded Thamyris for his hubris in challenging them to a contest.

[edit] Function in society

Greek mousa is a common noun as well as a type of goddess: it literally means "song" or "poem". In Pindar, to "carry a mousa" is "to sing a song". The word is probably derived from the Indo-European root men-, which is also the source of Greek Mnemosyne, Latin Minerva, and English "mind", "mental" and "memory" (or alternatively from mont-, "mountain", due to their residence on Mount Helicon, which is less likely in meaning, but more likely linguistically).

The Muses were therefore both the embodiments and sponsors of performed metrical speech: mousike, whence "music"; was "the art of the Muses". In the archaic period, before the wide-spread availability of books, this included nearly all of learning: the first Greek book on astronomy, by Thales, was set in dactylic hexameter, as were many works of pre-Socratic philosophy; both Plato and the Pythagoreans explicitly included philosophy as a sub-species of mousike (Strabo 10.3.10). Herodotus, whose primary medium of delivery was public recitation, named each one of the nine books of his Histories after a different Muse.

For poet and "law-giver" Solon (fragment 13), the Muses were "the key to the good life"; since they brought both prosperity and friendship. Solon sought to perpetuate his political reforms by establishing recitations of his poetry—complete with invocations to his practical-minded Muses—by Athenian boys at festivals each year. It was believed that they would help inspire people to do their best.

[edit] Function in literature

The muses are typically invoked at or near the beginning of an epic poem or classical Greek story. They have served as aids to an author, or as the true speaker; for which an author is only a mouthpiece. Originally, the invocation of the Muse was an indication that the speaker was working inside the poetic tradition, according to the established formulas. Five classic examples :

Homer, in Book I of The Odyssey:
"Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy." (Robert Fagles translation, 1996)
Virgil, in Book I of the Aeneid:
O Muse! the causes and the crimes relate;
What goddess was provok'd, and whence her hate;
For what offense the Queen of Heav'n began
To persecute so brave, so just a man; [...]
(John Dryden translation, 1995)
Dante Alighieri, in Canto II of The Inferno:
O Muses, o high genius, aid me now!
O memory that engraved the things I saw,
Here shall your worth be manifest to all! (Anthony Esolen translation, 2002)
John Milton, opening of Book 1 of Paradise Lost:
Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
Brought death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing, Heavenly Muse, [...]
William Shakespeare, Act 1, Prologue of Henry V:
Chorus: O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!

[edit] Cults of the Muses

When Pythagoras arrived at Croton, his first advice to the Crotoniates was to build a shrine of the Muses at the center of the city, to promote civic harmony and learning.

Local cults of the Muses were often associated with springs or fountains. They were sometimes called Aganippids because of their association with a fountain called Aganippe. Other fountains, called Hippocrene and Pirene were also important to the Muses. The Muses were also occasionally referred to as "Corycides", or "Corycian nymphs" after a cave on Mount Parnassos, called the Corycian Cave.

The Muses were especially venerated in Boeotia, near Helicon, and in Delphi and the Parnassus, where Apollo became known as Mousagetes "Muse-leader".

Muse-worship was also often associated with the hero-cults of poets: the tombs of Archilochus on Thasos and Hesiod and Thamyris (whom they blinded) in Boeotia, all played host to festivals, in which poetic recitations were accompanied by sacrifices to the Muses.

The Library of Alexandria and its circle of scholars were formed around a mousaion ("museum" or shrine of the Muses) close by the tomb of Alexander the Great.

Many Enlightenment figures sought to re-establish a "Cult of the Muses" in the 18th century. A famous Masonic lodge in pre-Revolutionary Paris was called Neuf Sœurs,see also: Les Neuf Sœurs ("nine sisters", i.e. nine Muses), and was attended by Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, Danton and other influential Enlightenment figures. One side-effect of this movement was the use of the word "museum" (originally, "cult place of the Muses") to refer to a place for the public display of knowledge.

[edit] The concept of the Muse-poet

The British poet Robert Graves popularised the concept of the Muse-poet in modern times based on earlier traditions of the Celtic poets (pre 12th century), the medieval Troubadours who celebrated the concept of "courtly love" and the romantic poets.

"No Muse-poet grows conscious of the Muse except by experience of a woman in whom the Goddess is to some degree resident; just as no Apollonian poet can perform his proper function unless he lives under a monarchy or a quasi-monarchy. A Muse-poet falls in love, absolutely, and his true love is for him the embodiment of the Muse...

But the real, perpetually obsessed Muse-poet distinguishes between the Goddess as manifest in the supreme power, glory, wisdom and love of woman, and the individual woman whom the Goddess may make her instrument...

The Goddess abides; and perhaps he will again have knowledge of her through his experience of another woman...

Robert Graves (The White Goddess, a historical grammar of poetic myth.)

[edit] Miscellaneous

10th Muse references

Other references

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