The Muses


 Apollo and the Muses. (after) Hendrick De Clerk.

1.  Introduction

2.  The Nine Muses of Antiquity

3.  The Muses Personified

4.  The Muses in Greek Mythology

References cited and sources.

1.  Introduction

Originally a triad of nymphs the Muses were the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne as ‘memory personified’. The original three originated in Boetia. Later four Muses, according to Pausanias (late 2nd century AD), were regarded as the daughters of Zeus and Plusia. Their names were: Thelexinoe; Aode meaning ‘song’ or ‘voice’; Arche; and Melete meaning ‘practice’ or ‘occasion’. Also included was Mneme meaning ‘memory’. The Muses at Delphi were worshipped as Nete, Mese, and Hypate. Credited as the daughters of Apollo they were called Cephisto. Apollonis, and Borythemis. The meaning of the name Mnemosyne in English is ‘mind’ memory’ or mental’, and similarly in Sanskrit it is ‘mantra’.

The muses presided over poetry, science, dance, art and music and therefore guided and inspired human intellectual and creative expression. As such they were seen as the personification and source of all knowledge, as well as embodying mousike or performed metrical speech.

The Muses were born at Pieria near Olympus, this was their favourite dwelling place, and is the reason they are sometimes called the Pierids. Originally regarded as water nymphs the Muses are thus associated with sacred springs and sites.


Apollo and the Muses on Mount Helicon (1680).  Claude Lorrain.

There are sites sacred to the Muses on Mount Parnassus, at Castalia, and Mount Helicon in Boetia, as well as the springs and fountains of Aganippe, Hippocrene, and Pirene. The muses, an original triad, were in fact mountain-goddesses representing the Triple Goddess in her ritualistic or Dionysiac guise. The in their form as the Triple Muse of Mount Parnassus they were also called the Thriae.

2.  The Nine Muses of Antiquity

The sisterhood of the nine Muses are also known as the Aganippides; the Castalides; the Corycian Nymphs, the Corycides, the Musae Pierides; the Tuneful Nine; the Camanae; and the Virgins of Helicon. The Aganippids were named because of their association with the fountain of Aganippe. The Corycian nymphs lived in a cave, the Corycian Cave, on Mount Parnassus.  The original three were Aode, Melete, and Mneme though another trio were named Hypate, Mese, and Nete. A later four were called Arche, Aoide, Malete, and Theixinoe. Hesiod preferred to refer to the Muses as the daughters of Air and Mother Earth.

Furthermore, Pierus was also credited of being the father, through the Pimpleian nymph called Antiope, of seven muses named Neilo, Tritone, Asapo, Heptapora, Achelois, Tipoplo, and Rhodia. Other Greek scholars names nine muses as Kallichore, Helike, Eunike, Thelxinoe, Terpsichore, Euterpe, Wukelade, Dia, and Enope. Many of the attributes and descriptions of the nine muses were assigned much later during Roman times. From Hellenistic


The Nine Muses on a Roman sarcophagus of 2nd century AD. Public domain.

times the muses were popular themes for sculptural portrayal in statues, mosaics and sarcophagi. The accepted nine Muses in mythology, literature and art today are Calliope muse of poetry; Clio the muse of history; Erato, the muse of love poetry; Euterpe, the muse of music and lyric poetry; Melponome, the muse of tragedy; Polyhymnia, the muse of sacred music; Terpsichore, the muse of dance; Thalia, the muse of comedy; and Urania, the muse of astronomy.

3.  The Muses Personified

It was during  the Renaissance and the period of Neo-Classical art that the images of the muses were standardised in painting and sculpture. In ancient Greek the noun ‘mousa’ also signifies a type of goddess having a literal meaning of ‘poetry’ or ‘art’.

Calliope, or Kaliope, or Kalliope, was the wisest and oldest of the muses, being the muse of epic and heroic poetry and portrayed or represented with a parchment or tablet and stylus, sometimes with a crown of gold. Her name means ‘beautiful voiced’ and she is regarded as being the inspiration for Homer’s epic the Iliad and the Odyssey. Daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne she was the mother of Orpheus by Apollo.  Her other son was named Linus whose father was either Apollo or Oeagrus the king of Thrace. The steam whistle musical instrument called the calliope is named after her.


Calliope (1789).  Charles Meynier.  Public domain.

Clio or Kleio, the ‘glorious one’, was the muse of history portrayed holding a partially open scroll or book as well as possessing a lyre. Her names means ‘to make famous’ or ‘to recount’ and she is therefore known as the ‘proclaimer. She was the mother of Hyacinth. A daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne she had a son called Hyacinth by the king of Macedonia, one Pierus. Also believed to be the mother of Hymenaios.

Clio - Apollo and the Muses - Helene Knoop 1979 - Norwegian Figurative painter - Tutt'Art@

Clio.  Helen Knoop. Public Domain.

Erato, the ‘amorous one’, was the muse of love poetry and is often portrayed with a small lyre. She is known for lyre playing as well as being the muse of hymns and pantomime.

Erato - Apollo and the Muses - Helene Knoop 1979 - Norwegian Figurative painter - Tutt'Art@

Erato.  Helene Knoop.  Public domain.

Euterpe, the ‘well pleasing’, is the muse of lyric poetry and music, symbolised by and credited with inventing the aulos or double flute. She was noted for her lyrical singing. Noted for her flute playing her name means ‘rejoicing well’ and ‘delight’ from the ancient Greek word ‘to please’. She has also been called ‘giver of delight’ by later poets. Her son Rhesus, by the river god Strymon,  was killed at Troy by Diomedes whilst leading a force of Thracians.

Euterpe - Apollo and the Muses - Helene Knoop 1979 - Norwegian Figurative painter - Tutt'Art@

Euterpe.  Helene Knoop.  Public domain.

Melponome, the ‘chanting one’, was the muse of tragedy and often shown with a tragic mask. She was originally the muse of singing hence the meaning of her name ‘to sing’ or ‘the one that is melodious’. Her name was derived from the ancient Greek word ‘melpomai’ or ‘melpo’ meaning ‘to celebrate with dance and song’.Also noted for playing the lyre. She is often depicted with a knife or club in her hand with a tragic mask in the other.

Melpomene - Apollo and the Muses - Helene Knoop 1979 - Norwegian Figurative painter - Tutt'Art@

Melponeme. Helene Knoop.  Public domain.

Polyhymnia, the ‘singer of many hymns’, is the muse of sacred music, religious dance, eloquence, geometry, pantomime, hymns as well as agriculture, and is often portrayed as a thoughtful, meditative even pensive veiled figure. In appearance she is often shown wearing a long cloak, finger to her mouth and leaning on a pillar with her elbow.


Polyhymnia (1620). Giovanni Baglione.

Terpsichore was the muse, whose name means ‘delight in dancing’, of choral dancing, singing, flute who was often portrayed with a lyre. Her name come from the Greek for ‘dance’ and ‘delight’.As the muse of the chorus and the dance she lent her name to the term ‘terpsichorean’ which means ‘of or relating to the dance’. Representations of Terpsichore often show her seated holding her lyre while she accompanies ballerinas.

 Terpsichore - Apollo and the Muses - Helene Knoop 1979 - Norwegian Figurative painter - Tutt'Art@

 Terpsichore. Helene Knoop.  Public domain.

Thalia, the ‘blossoming one’, was the muse of comedy and the idyll being portrayed with a comic mask and crowned with ivy. She is often portrayed with a trumpet. Her name in ancient Greek means ‘to be verdant’ or ‘the flourishing’, the ‘joyous’. The eighth born of the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. One source credits her and Apollo with being the parents of the Corybantes.


 Thalia.  Helene Knoop.  Public domain.

Urania the ‘celestial one’ whose name means ‘heavenly’, was the muse of astronomy and astrology who is usually portrayed with a globe in her left hand and a peg or rod in the other. She was also the muse of cosmological poetry who appears with her foot resting on a turtle as the symbol of silence. Urania is also associated with universal love and is sometimes credited of being the mother of Linus by Apollo. When portrayed with her star embroidered cloak she is seen with her eyes towards the stars.


Urania.  Helene Knoop.  Public domain.

4.  The Muses in Greek Mythology

Apollo was designated the Apollon Mousagetes or ‘leader of the muses’ by the system of Olympian gods. In ancient Greek the term hoi mouses is derived from an Indo-European root ‘men’ meaning ‘think’. It was the classical Alexandrian scholars who assembled in the mousaion or ‘Shrine of the Muses’. It is an interesting point that the root of our word ‘museum’, or place for the public display of knowledge, was originally the ‘cult place of the muses’. The original trio of muses represent the total picture of poetic and cult practice and belief.

The muses have been associated with the bards of Thrace such as Orpheus and Thamyris. The muses of Helicon are associated with Hesiod and the gods of Olympia and Pieria in Macedonia. However it is Homer who opines that the muses tend to be hold humans and mortals in divine contempt thus. as goddesses, their attitudes mimic the attitude of the gods themselves.

It was Plato who complimented the first known archaic poetess Sappho of Lesbos (650-590 BC), with being the ‘Tenth Muse’. In classical times the muses were assigned their respective roles in respect of the various arts as well as their emblems. In contemporary usage and meaning the term ‘muse’ has


Sappho with her lyre.  Public domain.

become a modern reference to a woman who is the inspiration for a writer, poet, artist or musician. As inspirational muse the for the poet the “…goddess abides, and perhaps he will again have knowledge of her through his experience of another woman…” (Graves, 1981). The pictures of the muses by Helene Knoop were selected for their natural femininity as a reflection of the true meaning of the ‘muse’.

Sources consulted

Coleman, J. A.  (2007).  The Dictionary Of Mythology.  Arcturus Publishing Ltd, London.

Guerber, H. A.  (1908).  The Myths of Greece and Rome.  George Harrap, London.

Goodrich, N. L. (1989).  Priestesses.  Franklin Watts, New York.

Graves, R.  (1979).  The Greek Myths.  Vols 1 -2.  Penguin, Harmondsworth.

Graves, R.  (1981).  The Whie Goddess.  Faber and Faber, London.

Grimal. P.  (1996). The Dictionary of Classical Mythology.  Wiley-Blackwell,

Hesiod and Theognis.  (1981).  Theogony.  Works and Days.  Penguin Classics, Harmondsworth.

Jordan, M.  (1992).  Encyclopaedia of Gods.  Kyle Cathie Ltd, London.

Kerenyi, K.  (1980).  The Gods of the Greeks.  Thames and Hudson, London.

Leach, M. ed.  (1972).  Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend. Funk & Wagnalls, New York.

Leeming, D.  (2005).  The Oxford Companion to World Mythology. OUP, New York.

Lempriere, I.  (1994).  Classical Dictionary.  Bracken Books, London.

Murray, A.  (1988).  Who’s Who in Mythology.  Bonanza Books, London.

Pausanias.  (1979).  Guide of Greece.  Penguin Classics, Harmondsworth.

Price, S. & Kearns, E.  (2003). The Oxford Dictionary of Classical Myth and Religion.  OUP, Oxford.

Shapiro, M. S. & Hendricks, R. A.  (1981). A Dictionary of Mythologies.  Granada, London.

Smith, W.  (1873).  Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London.

To be continued



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