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Introducing the Nine Muses - by Lucy Moore

Hesiod and the Muse, Gustave Moreau 1891. Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Hesiod and the Muse, Gustave Moreau 1891. Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Key terms:

  • Mnemosyne: Goddess of memory

  • Hesiod: Ancient Greek poet

  • Orpheus: Musician, poet, and prophet

  • Linus: Musician and master of eloquent speech

  • The Sirens: Dangerous, alluring sea creatures

  • Amyclae: City of ancient Laconia

  • Cliometrics: Interpretation of economic history

  • Cliodynamics: Research into cultural evolution, macrosociology, mathematics in history and analysis of historical databases

  • Marysas: Phrygian satyr

  • Apollodorus: Historian and grammarian

  • Aulos: Wind instrument

  • Cothurnus: A distinctive boot associated with tragic actors

The Muses are key figures within Ancient Greek religion and mythology. They were believed to be the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne and were celebrated for being influential goddesses of literature and the arts, such as poetry, song, and myth. The origin of The Muses is debated – some scholars believed they were from Boeotia, the homeland of Hesiod, and others believed they were of Thracian origin. The sisters are seen in a wealth of myths and epic poetry and are commonly used by playwrights to help bridge the gap between the mortals and immortals.


Calliope is known as the muse of eloquence and epic poetry. She is labelled by Hesiod and Ovid as the ‘Chief of all Muses’ and was also seen as the wisest. She is the mother of Orpheus and Linus, and the Sirens too (in the eyes of some scholars); her sons’ paternal genealogy is debated, but in many myths, their father is believed to be Apollo. Calliope is presented as the main muse within Homer’s epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is also invoked in Virgil’s Aeneid.


Clio is the muse of history and lyre playing. She is known as the ‘proclaimer and glorifier’ and commonly seen with a book or scroll on her travels. Like her sister, she too has a son, Hyacinth – a divine hero who was the leader of the cult at Amyclae; other sources also say she is the mother of Hymen, the god of marriage ceremonies. Her name has been utilised in modern society when dissecting branches of history: cliometrics and cliodynamics.


Euterpe is the muse of music and is also associated with lyric poetry. The Greek lyric poet Pindar argues that Euterpe is the mother of the Thracian king Rhesus. As she is commonly depicted holding a wind instrument, Euterpe finds herself at the centre of a scholarly debate when it comes to the invention of the aulos – even though some Classicists credit her with the creation, others attribute the idea to Marsyas or Athena. She was commonly invoked in prayer by the ancient Greeks in the hope she would guide them through their compositions.


Thalia is the muse associated with comedy and idyllic poetry. She is seen as the ‘flourishing’ muse and adorned with ivy, boots and a comic mask throughout her iconography. Once again, she is a muse whose maternity is debated; however, Apollodorus names her as the mother of the Corybantes – dancers who worshipped the goddess Cybele.


Melpomene was the muse of chorus and tragedy. Her depictions associate her with the cothurnus, while she holds a knife or club in one hand and a tragic mask in the other. From Horace onwards, it was auspicious to invoke Melpomene.


Terpsichore, who lends her name to the word terpsichorean (relating to dance), is the muse of dance and chorus. She is usually depicted as sitting down with a lyre, in the presence of dancers.


Erato is the muse of love poetry. She is a reoccurring figure throughout many myths and literature pieces, from the Orphic hymn, Simon Vouet’s representations, and Hesiod’s Theogony. She is also the muse who is invoked at the beginning of Book 7 of Virgil’s Aeneid – the invoking of the muses is a trope that Virgil adopted from Homer.


The muse of sacred poetry, sacred hymn, dance, eloquence, agriculture, and pantomime is Polyhymnia. She is often depicted in a meditative, pensive state but was praised by Siculus for bringing distinction to writers. She was the mother of Triptolemus – a mortal prince.


Urania is the muse of astronomy and, in later times, Christian poetry. She is associated with Universal Love and the Holy Spirit and was thought to be able to raise spirits to heaven. Her involvement within Christianity is made prominent in Milton’s Paradise Lost when the narrator invokes Urania for her aid in guiding the story. She is said to have adopted her father Zeus's greatness and the beauty of her mother Mnemosyne.

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