The Nine Muses by Lodewijk Toeput c.1550- 1603/05
I fell to thinking the other day, as one does, about Muses – you know, those mythical beings who inspire poets, writers, musicians, in fact, artists of all hues. I suppose, actually, I was musing!
Are Muses always female, I pondered, or could they sometimes be male? I had always heard of them being referred to as female. So, I decided to look up ‘Muses’ and lo and behold I was slapped in the face by my lack of a classical education, for, had I studied Ancient Greek or Roman mythology I would have learnt (though probably not retained) the following.
The Muses were nine goddesses, the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who supervised the arts and sciences. Calliope presided over Epic Poetry, like The Aeneid or Beowulf, while her sister, Clio, managed History. Did she work backwards, I wonder, or did she foresee the future? I can’t quite understand how she carried out her duties.
Euterpe and Erato both undertook lyric poetry. This is a form of poetry that expresses personal emotions or feelings and is often spoken in the first person. William Shakespeare’s sonnets are examples of lyric poetry and in the 20th century (last century, for Heaven’s sake!) Walter de la Mare and A.E. Housman both used the lyric form. Erato, as you might infer from her name, governed erotic lyric poetry.
In Ancient Greece, the lyric was accompanied by a stringed instrument, commonly a lyre, and Erato oversaw this as well as lyric poetry, while her sister, Euterpe, managed flute playing in addition to lyric poetry.
Terpsichore presided over choral dancing and song, and people sometimes humorously refer to dancing as ‘a terpsichorean activity. It was first used in this context in 1825. A dancer may also be called a terpsichorean. Terpsichore also carried a lute and is often depicted singing.
Melpomene ruled over tragedy. She is frequently shown holding a tragic mask in one hand and a knife or club in the other.
Thalia, in direct contrast, was the goddess of comedy and light verse, and Polyhymnia governed hymns and later, mime.
I wonder if you can guess what Urania controlled? If you surmised astronomy, you were correct.