The Muses in Greek Mythology and Art

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The Muses in Greek Mythology and Art

The Muses were deities worshipped by the ancient Greeks. They were 9 women, sisters, whose sole purpose for being was that of the inspiration to mortal man, typically in an artistic capacity. The embodiment of the classical idea of the poetical faculty as a divine gift, these famous sisters dwelt on Mount Helicon, in Greece. The Muses were therefore both the embodiments and sponsors of performed metrical speech: mousike, whence "music", was the art of the Muses. (nationbuilder) They were the “personification of poetic inspiration, the divine afflatus or breath which supposedly wafted itself into the poet's inflamed mind”. The Muses of Greek mythology had one of the most important functions of all: to inspire poets and promote the arts and sciences. The fortunate person inspired by them was held in the highest esteem and considered sacred far beyond any priest. (mythman)

The nine Muses are the daughters of the Zeus and of Mnemosyne the goddess of memory. Mnemosyne slept with Zeus nine consecutive nights and gave birth to nine daughters. Interestingly, according to Pausanias , a Greek traveler, geographer, and writer of the 2nd century AD, there were only three original Muses: Aoide ("song", "voice"), Melete ("practice" or "occasion") and Mneme ("memory") . These 3 were thought to be fathered by Apollo. However, by classical times their number was set at nine, and Zeus was noted as their father. In this context the god dearest to them was Apollo and they were his faithful followers. The Muses revered him. For these reasons he is often called the Musegetes, which means "Leader of the Muses".

Pierus the Macedonian, from whom the mountain Macedonia is named came to Thesbia and ordered that the Muses be worshipped by the names they have at present: Euterpe; Calliope; Clio; Erato; Melpomene; Polyhymnia; Terpsichore; Thalia; and Urania. The muses themselves, as part of Greek mythology have many stories written about them.The poet Thamyris bragged about being able to remember all of his work without the help of the Muses, (poets then did not write their work down but remembered it by heart), and the Muses punished him by taking his memory and eyesight. (thinkquest).

In Roman, Renaissance and Neoclassical art, the Muses, depicted in sculptures or paintings are often distinguished by certain props or poses, as emblems. Statues of the Muses were a popular decoration in long galleries and similar places; naturally, sculptors did not make them all alike but gave each a different attribute Euterpe (music) carries a flute; Calliope (epic poetry) carries a writing tablet; Clio (history) carries a scroll and books; Erato (lyric 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 (dancing) 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. (nationbuilder). Some of these paintings are:

“Muses”, part from Mantega's Parnassus 1497, Louvre Paris “Dance of Apollo and the Muses”, Baldassare Peruzzi
“Sleeping Apollo, Muses and Fama”. Szepmuveseti Lorenzo Lotto c.1540

On display in the Lourve museum in Paris, France there is an ancient Greek vase depicting either Terpsichore or Eroato “Muse with lyre”, c.400 B.C.. Also, The Muses Urania and Calliope by Simon Vouet, in which she is holding a copy of Homer’s Odyssey. An extraordinary example of art depicting the Muses is the Archelaos Relief: “Apotheosis of Homer, a relief sculpture which some scholars have estimated to have been created around 250 B.C. depicts all the Muses, Zeus, Mnemosyne, Apollo, as well as the Greek author Homer.

In literature, the muses were typically invoked at or near the beginning of an epic poem or story. They have served as aid to an author, or as the true...
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