Athena and the MUSES. 0926: Minerva and the Muses. Detail of painting by Hans Rottenhammer 1564-1626. Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg.
"Thus the whole day long till the setting of the sun the gods feasted, nor did their heart lack anything of the equal feast, nor of the beauteous lyre, that Apollo held, nor yet of the Muses, who sang, replying one to the other with sweet voices." (Homer, Iliad 1.600).
"When two poets produce a hymn, the Muses are wont to work strife between them." (Maidens of Phthia. Euripides, Andromache 476).
"Never will I cease to link in one the Graces and the Muses, (675) sweetest union. Never may I live among uneducated boors, but ever may I find a place among the crowned!" (Theban Elders. Euripides, Heracles 675).
"I will begin with the Muses and Apollo and Zeus. For it is through the Muses and Apollo that there are singers upon the earth and players upon the lyre; but kings are from Zeus. Happy is he whom the Muses love: sweet flows speech from his lips." (Homeric Hymn to the Muses and Apollo, 1).
"Dead you shall lie, for ever, a name that none recall;
For never you gathered roses upon the Muses' tree.
Dim as you were in living, there too in Hades' hall
You shall drift where only phantoms faint and forgotten flee." (Sappho of Mytilene, born c. 610 BC; Diehl, I, p.354).
The violet-eyed MUSES delighted in feasts and
the pleasure of song, Peace being their
dearest friend. They discovered letters and the
combination of these we call poetry. Near the
topmost peak of Olympus, there are their
dancing-places, and beside them the CHARITES and Himerus
live in delight, but also Mount Helicon is known
for being their haunt. The MUSES usually sing for
the gods, but they are said to have sung on other
special occasions such as the funeral of Achilles, and the
weddings of both Peleus and Cadmus.
Birth of the MUSES
Before the times when Hera became Zeus' wife, the god, taking
the form of a shepherd, consorted with Mnemosyne, whose
domain is in the hills of Eleuther, lying with her
nine nights. And when time passed, Mnemosyne gave birth to nine daughters, the MUSES, who some say were born in this order: first Calliope, then Clio 1, Melpomene, Euterpe, Erato 3, Terpsichore 1, Urania 2, Thalia 2, and Polymnia.
Some affirm that Hypnos (Sleep) is the god
that is dearest to the MUSES, but Apollo is considered to
lead the MUSES, being for that reason called
Musegetes (leader of the MUSES) as an inscription
"This is Leto's son, prince Apollo, far-shooting; around him are the
Muses, a graceful choir, whom he is leading ..." (Inscription quoted by Pausanias, Description
of Greece 5.18.4).
And wherever they go they may go flying; for in
such way goddesses usually travel, as King Pyreneus
of Daulis, who attempted to rape them, too late
learned. For he perished when he leapt from the
pinnacle of a tower trying to follow the flying
MUSES who escaped him.
The number of the MUSES
The ALOADS said that the MUSES were three: Aoede, Melete, and Mneme; but, as it is told, Pierus the Macedonian, established nine MUSES and changed their names. It is not known if Pierus did these changes because they seemed to him wiser, or if he followed an oracle, or if he had learned so from the Thracians. Thus the MUSES are sometimes called PIERIDES, but otherwise this is the name of nine sisters, daughters of Pierus, who defied the MUSES in a contest of song and, having been defeated, were turned into magpies, greenfinches, goldfinches, ducks, and other birds (for the ALOADS see Zeus).
Inspired but blind
All tales and all songs, and all inspired knowledge come from the MUSES. This is the reason why no one could ever compete with them. Yet Thamyris 1, who was an excellent minstrel and the first man to become enamoured of males, engaged in a musical contest with them in Dorium (Messenia), agreeing
that if he should be vanquished the MUSES would
take from him what they wished. And when he lost
they took the eyes and the minstrelsy from him who
had already lost his mind. Others say that for his
boast against the MUSES, he is being punished in Hades. Also the SIRENS competed with the MUSES in singing and, having
lost, the MUSES plucked out the SIRENS feathers and made,
out of them, crowns for themselves. But it is also
told that the SIRENS,
were daughters of one of the MUSES.
Blind but inspired
On the other hand Demodocus 1, a minstrel of the Phaeacians, who sang
when Odysseus was among
them, even though he was deprived of sight by the
goddess, he received, at the same time, the gift of
song from them.
Invention of the letters
The MUSES are credited with the invention of the
letters and their poetic combination, but Prometheus 1, known
for having claimed to be a benefactor of mankind,
has mentioned that invention as his own; for he
numbers, too, chiefest of sciences, I invented for
them, and the combining of letters, creative mother
of the Muses' arts, with which to hold all things
in memory." (Prometheus 1 to the OCEANIDS. Aeschylus, Prometheus
And this could be a matter of dispute, had not
the MUSES invented all tales, including that of Prometheus 1.
Some related to the MUSES
A companion of the MUSES is the hunter Crotus, whose mother Eupheme 1 was the nurse of the MUSES. Among the disciples of the MUSES is the Sphinx, who learned her
riddle from them; Aristaeus, who learned from them
the arts of healing and of prophecy; and the nymph Echo, who was taught to
play music. Also Musaeus, perhaps Orpheus' son, was
trained by the MUSES. And the Lacedaemonians could also be counted
among their disciples. For they had a special
sanctuary of the MUSES, and went to war following,
not the sound of a trumpet, but the music of the
flute, the lyre and the harp.
Importance of the
All things originate in the myths, which are the
cradle and preview both of those things that are,
and of those that should be. But the myths, a
Sacred All-embracing True Tale which depend on
nothing except language, are told to men by the
MUSES. This is why the standard procedure when
telling a myth in the literate era is "Tell me Muse ..." or "Sing goddess ..." or other
similar formulae, used by poets, who thus
acknowledge the divine origin of the tale given to
them through what may be called the gift of
inspiration, although Plato called it poetical
madness, a condition which must be given by the
"And a third kind of possession and
madness comes from the Muses. This takes hold upon
a gentle and pure soul, arouses it and inspires it
to songs and other poetry, and thus by adorning
countless deeds of the ancients educates later
generations. But he who without the divine madness
comes to the doors of the Muses, confident that he
will be a good poet by art, meets with no success,
and the poetry of the sane man vanishes into
nothingness before that of the inspired madmen." (Plato. Phaedrus 245a).
Story-telling achieves its greatest significance
when it narrates the myths, since nothing else can
be more memorable than an all-embracing tale, and
for being memorable the myths are transmitted to
mortal men by the MUSES, who are the daughters of Memory. The faculty to
tell an all-embracing true tale is believed to be
the privilege of the gods and not of men, for human
beings are notorious for having an inborn
difficulty in distinguishing between true and false
since they "have only hearsay
and not knowledge" (Homer, Iliad 2.484). The earthly authorities in regard to this tale, at the time when the myths passed from oral tradition into literature, were the poets; for the tale is given first to them so that they might tell it to other men. Prophets and priests are not authorities of the same high rank, since religious beliefs arise from the myths and they are not story-tellers. Besides, the religious system in the community in which the myths were first told lacked what is known as Church, ecclesiastical hierarchy, theologists and sacred scriptures. For these reasons the poet, himself dependent on the MUSES, is the highest authority in all that concerns the myths. Yet, in this tradition no work of poetry, or for that matter no other book either, has ever been considered as a sacred book. The truth of the MUSES' tales is not a truth of
factual kind. This is why they say in the words of
"We know enough to make up lies
which are convincing, but we also have the skill,
when we will, to speak the truth." (The Muses to Hesiod. Hesiod, Theogony 25).
The tales then, however extraordinary, are
neither to be believed nor disbelieved. Belief
belongs to religion, magic and superstition, and
Disbelief belongs to exhaustion, despair and
emptiness. But the myths stand, by the power of Memory and the MUSES,
on the golden thread that separates and blends