My own muse went wandering off somewhere; which is why I delayed this post for so long. While I knew I will be writing about the muses, I somehow never was able to put pen down to paper (or rather fingers down to the keys). Anyways, the missing muse made her way back, and here is my way of sharing the wonderful muses of poetry that are a totally cool part of Greek mythology for me.
This post contains Amazon and other affiliate links, that at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission. Please see the full disclosure for more information. I only recommend products I would (or have already) use myself.
Those Wonderful Muses of Poetry
To muse is to become absorbed in thought, to say something in a thoughtful (lost in thoughts) way; but as a noun, a Muse refers to any of the nine sister goddesses in Greek mythology who preside over song and poetry and the arts and sciences. A muse (n) also refers to any source of inspiration to creators (artists, writers, poets, et al)
The English word Muse derives from Old French Muse, from Latin Musa; and from the Greek mousa (which literally means “art” or “poetry”).
All of us have had a muse one time or the other, whether or not we consider ourselves artists or not. And for those who have had their muse wander off (like mine did these past couple of days), or are looking for one, maybe this breakdown of what each of the nine Muses do will help you reach out to the right one!
A Brief Introduction to the Muses
According to Hesiod’s* account (c. 600 BC), the Nine Muses were the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (the Greek goddess of Memory).
(* a Greek poet who lived around the same time as Homer)
Many earlier sources point to only three Muses(for “Practice”, “Memory”, and “Song”) at the beginning. However, as time progressed, the original triad tripled to the Nine Muses. These nine are now generally recognized as personifications of knowledge and the arts, especially poetry, literature, dance and music in Greek mythology.
The Nine Muses
Calliope (from Greek Kalliópē, lit. ‘beautiful-voiced’) is the Muse of eloquence and epic poetry; the protector of heroic poems and rhetoric art. She is often called the “Chief of all Muses.” Calliope sometimes has a writing tablet in her hand, and a roll of paper or a book at other times.
Given that Calliope is the Muse of epic poetry, she was sometimes believed to be Homer’s muse for the Iliad and the Odyssey; so she is certainly the one to reach out for when you plan to write something simply epic!
Clio (from Greek Kleiṓ, lit. ‘made famous’ or ‘to make famous’), is the Muse of history, and lyre/guitar playing. Her symbols are an open parchment scroll, a book, or a set of tablets in her hands; or a clarion in the right arm and a book in the left hand.
Looking for fame or making history through your writing? Then by all means, you should invoke Clio.
Cool Fact: The international Clio Awards, that recognizes innovation and excellence in the world of advertising, owes its name to the her. And they also have an online magazine (?) called Muse by Clio.
Euterpe (from Greek eu̯térpɛː lit. ‘rejoicing well’ or ‘delight’), is the Muse of music and lyric poetry. Euterpe often has a flute. She is also credited with discovering/inventing many musical instruments (like the double-flute for one).
With her musical and lyrical abilities as well as the meaning of her name, Euterpe is certainly the best Muse for when you want to ensure your words flow and delight your readers.
Thalia (from Greek thállein; “to flourish, to be verdant), is the protector of comedy, and of pastoral poetry. A theatrical – comedy mask very often, and a bugle and trumpet at other times are her emblems. Sometimes, it is a shepherd’s staff. In addition to comedy and idyllic poetry, Thalia is also credited with the discovery of geometry, the architectural sciences, as well as agriculture (pastoral poetry and this make sense together!)
Given all this, Thalia might be your right choice for a Muse for when you are looking for wit (and wisdom too, for she is also considered to be the protector of Symposiums, or conferences!)
Melpomene (from Greek Melpoménē, lit. ‘to sing’ or ‘the one that is melodious’), was originally known as the Muse of chorus, and eventually came to be associated with tragedy (the opposite of Thalia). She is often represented with a tragic mask. In addition with inventing tragedy, she is also credited for rhetoric speech and Melos (or the succession of musical tones constituting a melody)
So of course, the Muse to add some melancholy to your verses (or writing) is Melpomene!
Terpsichore (lit. “delight in dancing”) is the Muse of dance and chorus; and often seen holding a harp or lyre, while accompanying dancers to her music. She is also associated with the harp and with education.
If you are looking to set your words to feet tapping music, then of course, Terpsichore is the Muse for you…
Erato (from the same root as Eros, lit. “desired” or “lovely”) is the Muse of love and romantic poetry. She is often depicted holding a lyre, and with a wreath of myrtle and roses. Erato is also the Muse of marriage songs.
So if your theme is love, or you are composing a romantic ballad, Erato can inspire you to pour heart into your words!
Polyhymnia, or Polymnia ( lit. ‘the one of many hymns’) is the Muse of sacred poetry and hymns, as well as the Muse of geometry and meditation. She is often depicted as meditative and serious, and seen holding a finger to her mouth. Polymnia is also associated with eloquence, agriculture, and pantomime.
For lyrics that are almost a prayer or a plea, seek out Polymnia for your Muse.
Urania (from Ouranía, meaning “heavenly” or “of heaven” ) is the Muse of astronomy, and later came to be the Muse of Christian poetry as well. She is depicted holding a celestial globe and compass. Urania purportedly also has the ability to foretell the future by the arrangement of the stars (!!).
To bring that other-worldly or heavenly feel to your writing, you can appeal to Urania.
The Muses and Their Mother
And if you want to invoke all of them at one go, and get their blessings, then maybe you won’t go wrong by invoking their mother Mnemosyne. Seeking her blessings also grants the prayee(?) a stronger memory, a clarity of mind, and powerful speech. Considering Mnemosyne was the daughter of Ouranos (Uranus) and Gaia, whose names literally mean “Heaven” and “Earth”, her memory supposedly goes far back as time, to the beginning of creation.
So her blessings, along with those of her daughters, the Nine Muses, were definitely much sought after, and still sounds wonderful, right?
And last not but the least, the Muses have inspired so many words we use today; “museum” “music”, and “amuse.” I also loved reading that uptown New Orleans has 9 streets named after the Muses. City planner Barthelemy Lafon designed these streets in 1810; Ancient Greek style was all the rage then!
Some Last Words About Muses
For me, it was wonderful to note that there were so many (almost all) of them devoted to different types of poetry. And the Muses in general, as well as each one of them also had additional cool facts associated with them that I wanted to share with you.
Somehow, reading about the muses this reminded me of the Indian goddess of knowledge, Saraswathi, who we invoke in our prayers everyday to bestow us with wisdom, and destroy ignorance. She is the goddess of the arts as well.
So who is your favorite Muse? Who are you most likely to appeal to? Or do you have a muse of your own? Or maybe you are someone’s muse?!
h/t, References, and Further Reading
- The Wikipedia article on Muses
- Merriam Webster dictionary / Online Etymology Dictionary
- Calliope: The Muse of Poetry and Song
- Muse (World History Encyclopedia)
- Muses in Popular Culture (Wikipedia)
- The Nine Muses of Ancient Greece (Projeda)
- Nine Muses (Their Statues at Corfu, Greece)
Title: May B.
Author: Caroline Starr Rose
Length: 240 pages
Genre: Children’s Verse Novels (9 – 12 years)
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (January 10th 2012 )
Source: Library copy
Description: May is helping out on a neighbor’s Kansas prairie homestead—just until Christmas, says Pa. She wants to contribute, but it’s hard to be separated from her family by 15 long, unfamiliar miles. Then the unthinkable happens: May is abandoned. Trapped in a tiny snow-covered sod house, isolated from family and neighbors, May must prepare for the oncoming winter. While fighting to survive, May’s memories of her struggles with reading at school come back to haunt her. But she’s determined to find her way home again.
May B. is yet another reminder and reason for my love of novels in verse. With such novels, writers often have to trim down details, and say a lot with little. And Caroline Starr Rose knows how to do it! Though the narrative (sorry, verse) is concise and sparse, the words flow beautifully, as they should of course in a verse novel. And they convey so much: the emotions, the change of seasons, May’s character development, her emotions (and that of others around her, when they appear).
Rose weaves in themes of gender disparity, learning disabilities, of triumph against the elements, of family, and of course, about life in the 1870s on the Kansas homesteads. She takes readers through sheer despair, loneliness, fright, stark bleakness, and through it all, hope and strength and the will to survive.
A quick read that is beautiful, moving, and inspiring, that tells readers a story of survival against all odds. One that will appeal to even reluctant readers.
Get It Here
My Own True Name
Title: My Own True Name:
Author: Pat Mora (with drawings by Anthony Accardo)
Length: 81 pages
Genre: Teen and YA Poetry (14 years and up) (well, maybe even 11 and up)
Publisher: Arte Publico Press (January 28th 2003)
Source: Internet Archive copy
Description: More than sixty poems, some with Spanish translations, include such titles as The Young Sor Juana, Graduation Morning, Border Town 1938, Legal Alien, Abuelita Magic, and In the Blood.
“Another Pat Mora book,” I thought and realized as I started reading this. Or another book filled with poems that are beautiful, from the heart, and each one reaching out to and enveloping the reader in its own warm way.
I thought I would try to include a few that I marked as my favorites, but as I turned the pages, I found I was going to have way too many. But since I picked the reading order randomly, I am listing the first few I loved: Teenagers, Petals, Good-byes, Los ancianos, and on the list goes.
The very first poem, Secret, talks about what goes into the making of a poem, to finally be able to “..gently, gently / pulling out / a bloomin’ poem.” And the magic there, within 8 lines of verse, is amazing! Then there is Oral History, which tugged at my heart strings as she talks about hearing a lost loved one’s voice on the tape cassettes. It reminded me of listening to snippets of my dad’s voice as I hang on to the memories of his voice through recordings myself.
Peruvian Child, among many other powerful and emotional poems brings to the reader the stark realities of immigration, of borders, of peoples caught between cultures and countries. And while you recover from these poems, you chance upon something like Los ancianos where “They hold hands / as they walk with slow steps...” and later, she says that, “… I smell love / like dried flowers, old love /of holding hands .….”
Pat Mora writes for all those who are struggling between identities and languages; for those who are dealing with love and loss; also for those who want to read about family and immigration; and so much more. The book might only be 81 pages long, but it contains so many treasures within. I know I am going to be reading this over and over again, with my own copy of the book. Her letter to fellow writers at the start of the book is not to be skipped.
A great read for all; wonderful compilation of poems – read them out loud, learn from them, be inspired, and read them again!
Get It Here
And Now, the End of This Post
Dear reader, as always, and always, I welcome your thoughts and suggestions, as well as recommendations. Have you read the featured books or any similar reads?
The AtoZ Challenges
You can find all my A2Z Challenge Posts here.