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Homeric world (4)
Gods & demigods
The Muses, daughters of Zeus (Il. 2.491, Od. 1.10) by Memory (Mnemosyne), dwelt on Olympus, where they sang and entertained the gods (Il. 2.484), or on the Mt. Helicon, where they were worshipped. They were nine in number (Od. 24.60) and were considered godesses of arts: Calliope was the Muse of epic song, Clio of history, Polymnia of mimical art, Euterpe of lyric song, Terpsichore of choric poetry, Thalia of comedy and Urania of astronomy (Hesiod, Theogony 25).
In Greek mythology the Muses were originally the nymphs of springs,
whose waters gave inspiration, such as Hippocrene, Castalia, etc.; then goddesses
of song in general; and afterwards the representatives of the various kinds of
poetry, arts, and sciences. In Homer, who now speaks of one, and now of many Muses,
but without specifying their number or their names, they are considered goddesses
dwelling in Olympus, who at the meals of the gods sing sweetly to the lyre of
Apollo, inspire the poet and prompt his song. Hesiod calls them the nine daughters
of Zeus and Mnemosyne, born in Pieria, and mentions their names, to which we shall
at the same time add the province and the attributes afterwards assigned to each.
(1) Calliope (she of the fair voice), in Hesiod the noblest of all, the Muse of
epic song; among her attributes are a wax tablet and a pencil.
(2) Clio (she that extols), the Muse of history; with a scroll.
(3) Euterpe (she that gladdens), the Muse of lyric song; with the double flute.
(4) Thalia (she that flourishes), the Muse of comedy and bucolic poetry; with
the comic mask, the ivy wreath, and the shepherd's staff.
(5) Melpomene (she that sings), the Muse of tragedy; with tragic mask, ivy wreath,
and occasionally with attributes of individual heroes-- e. g. the club, the sword.
(6) Terpsichore (she that rejoices in the dance), the Muse of dancing; with the
(7) Erato (the lovely one), the Muse of erotic poetry; with a smaller lyre.
(8) Polymnia or Polyhymnia (she that is rich in hymns), the Muse of serious sacred
songs; usually represented as veiled and pensive.
(9) Urania (the heavenly), the Muse of astronomy; with the celestial globe. See
the separate articles on the Muses.
Three older Muses were sometimes distinguished from these.
Melete (Meditation), Mneme (Remembrance), Aoide (Song), whose worship was said
to have been introduced by the Aloadae, Otus and Ephialtes, near Mount Helicon.
Thracian settlers in the Pierian district at the foot of Olympus and of Helicon
in Boeotia are usually mentioned as the original founders of this worship. At
both these places were their oldest sanctuaries. According to the general belief,
the favourite haunts of the Muses were certain springs, near which temples and
statues had been erected in their honour: Castalia, at the foot of Mount Parnassus,
and Aganippe and Hippocrene, on Helicon, near the towns of Ascra and Thespiae.
After the decline of Ascra, the inhabitants of Thespiae attended to the worship
of the Muses and to the arrangements for the musical contests in their honour
that took place once in five years. They were also adored in many other places
in Greece. Thus the Athenians offered them sacrifices in the schools, while the
Spartans did so before battle. As the inspiring nymphs of springs they were early
connected with Dionysus; the god of poets, Apollo, is looked on as their leader
(Mousagetes), with whom they share the knowledge of past, present, and future.
As beings that gladden men and gods with their song, Hesiod describes them as
dwelling on Olympus along with the Charites and Himeros. They were represented
in art as virgin goddesses with long garments of many folds, and frequently with
a cloak besides; they were not distinguished by special attributes till comparatively
The Roman poets identified them with the Italian Camenae, prophetic
nymphs of springs and goddesses of birth, who had a grove at Rome outside the
Porta Capena. (See Egeria.) The Greeks gave the title of Muses to their nine most
distinguished poetesses: Praxilla, Moero , Anyte, Erinna, Telesilla, Corinna,
Nossis, Myrtis, and Sappho.
This text is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Dec 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Perseus: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
- Theoi Project, a guide to Greek Goods, Spirits & Monsters