There were nine Muses in Classical Greek mythology: Calliope (epic poetry), Clio (history), Urania (astronomy), Polyhymnia (hymns, religious music), Euterpe (song and elegiac poetry), Terpsichore (dance and choral song), Melpomene (drama: tragedy), Thalia (drama: comedy), and Erato (erotic and/or love poetry).
It was not until late Hellenistic times, that the nine Muses above were assigned these standard divisions of the arts of learning and artistic performances. This list above is still what the nine Classical Muses are identified with.
In Neoclassical and Renaissance art, the nine Classical Muses were assigned the following emblems so that they could be iconically identified: Calliope (writing tablet), Clio (scrolls and books), Urania (astronomy globe and compass), Polyhymnia (veil), Euterpe (aulos, an ancient Greek musical instrument like a flute), Terpsichore (lyre), Melpomene (ancient Greek tragic theater mask), Thalia (ancient Greek comic theater mask), and Erato (cithara, an ancient Greek musical instrument in the lyre family and/or a crown of roses).
In Classical Greek myth, the leader of the Muses was Apollo, the God of music, poetry, the arts, truth, prophecy, the sun, and a number of other things. As Apollon Mousagetes, he was said to love all the muses equally, and was unable to ever choose one over the others.
In modern literature, the Muses are often associated with inspiration, breath, and the spoken word.
At different places and times in ancient Greece, there was disagreement on the names and the number of the Muses. Some said that there were three, and others said four, and others said were nine. Their orgins were murky, too.
Local Greek veneration of the Muses was frequently associated with springs or fountains. In this aspect, the Greek Muses are simliar to the Roman water nymphs of springs, the Camenae.
According to Hesiod's Theogony (7th century bce), the Muses were daughters of Mnemosyne, Goddess of memory, and Zeus, head of the Olympian Gods. Another tradition stated they were daughters of Gaia (earth) and Uranus (sky). Sometimes the Muses are referred to as water nymphs, particularly associated with the springs of Helicon. The white winged horse, Pegasus, caused the sacred springs of Mt. Helicon to bubble up by touching his hooves to the ground. From these sacred springs the muses were born.
Three muses were worshiped in Delphi, who were named: Nete, Mese, and Hypate (the three chords of the lyre). These same three were later called Apollonis, Cephisso, and Borysthenis, possibly they were daughters of Apollo. These three were sometimes described as the Mousai Apollonides.
Three Muses were worshiped on Mt. Helicon in Boeotia, but they had different names than those in Delphi. There was a temple built in their honor which contained the statues of three muses: Aoide (song/musical tune), Melete (practice/occasion), and Mneme (memory). The Muses of Boeotia were sometimes called the "Aganippides," because one of the sacred springs in Boeotia was named, "Aganippe." [The spring, Aganippe, was located at the base of Mt. Helicon. To confuse matters more, "Aganippe" was also the name of a water nymph (one of the crinaea) who lived in the "Aganippe" spring located at the base of Mt. Helicon.] These three were sometimes described as the Mousai Titaniddes indicating they were viewed as older deities, associated with the Titans.
A later tradition said these were actually four Muses: Arche (origin/first cause/power), Aoide (song), and Melete (ponder/contemplation), and Thelxinoe (mind charming), who were said to be daughters of Plusia and Zeus, or Uranus.
According to the Roman scholar Varro, there were three musae: Melete (practice), Mneme (memory), and Aoede (song). One who was born from the movement of water, another who was made in the sound of air, and the third who embodied in the human voice.
The muses were also honored within cities. The Greek mathematician/philosopher, Pythagoras of Samos, advised the inhabitants of Croton in Calabria, southern Italy, to build a shrine to the muses (mousaion) at the center of their city to promote both learning and civic harmony. Such mousaions were built else where.
The modern English words "museum," "music," "bemuse," "amuse," and "amusing" all derive from the ancient Greek mousa and Latin musa The modern English word "music" comes from Latin musica derived from the Greek mousike, which is from mousa. The terms "bemuse" and "amuse" related to someone "pondering" or "staring fixedly" at some object or idea which has totally diverted or captivated that person's attention. The modern adjective "amusing" relates to that which is "pleasantly entertaining."
copyright 2011 Myth Woodling
Aaron J. Atsma, Mousai, Theoi Project, 2000-2011, accessed 9/26/11.
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