The Names Of The Nine Muses

The nine Muses were daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, daughter of Gaia and Uranus, the personification of memory.  According to the myth, after his prevalence over the Titans, Zeus was united with Mnemosyne for nine consecutive nights on the mountain of Pieria.  One year later, Mnemosyne gave him nine daughters, the nine Muses that personify the inspiration for creation and protectresses of all the arts.  Their names were Calliope, Cleio, Euterpe, Thaleia, Melpomene, Terpsichore, Erato, Polyhymnia and Urania.  Leader of the muses’ chorus was Apollo, god of sun and music and for this he is often called “musagetis” (muses’ leader).  The oldest chant of the muses is supposed to be the one that they were singing when the Olympians defeated the Titans, to celebrate the birth of a new world.  The Muses were living in the mountain of Olympus, where they were entertaining the gods with their music – other locations that people believed as the Muses’ residences are either the mountains of Pieria or in Elikon or even around the fountains of Hippokrene and Aganippe, where many poets were going to find their inspiration.

According to a myth, Pieria’s king, Pieros had also nine daughters that are often mistaken for muses.  The Pierides dared to challenge the Muses on a contest, on which of course the Muses prevailed.  After this, Apollo, as a punishment, transformed  Pieros’ daughters into magpies.  Also the Sirens dared to challenge the Muses on a song contest – the Sirens were winged creatures that by bewitching sailors with their song, they were calling them to come to their shores and then they would eat them (we find them in the myths of the Argonauts and in Odyssey).   Naturally the Muses prevailed on this contest as well, they chopped their opponents’ wings and the Sirens were drowned in to the sea.

There is no specific myth about the Muses.  We mostly find them intervening as bards (singers) in the great feasts of the gods.  They appear at the wedding of Thetis and Peleus, parents of Achilles, or at the wedding of Cadmus, founder of Thebes, and Harmony, daughter of Ares and Aphrodite.  They also appear as judges in musical contests, such as the one between Apollo and Marsyas.  Marsyas was a Silenus, a kind of satyr (creatures with goat-legs and horns on their heads, as Panas was, that were usually Dionysus’ companions).  According to the myth, goddess Athena created the double-flute using deer bones and that she played the new instrument in a symposium of the gods.  But Hera and Aphrodite laughed at her as her cheeks inflated while she was blowing the flute.  Athena became so frustrated, that she threw the flute, which fell on the land of Phrygia, cursing at the same time anyone that would find it.  The flute was found by Marsyas – according to some myths Marsyas was actually the one that created the instrument – who was very proud of his discovery.  Thinking that this was the finest music in the world, Marsyas on his pride dared to challenge Apollo, god of music, into a music contest.  Apollo accepted the challenge and they agreed that the Muses were the most appropriate judges for this contest.  At first where was no result, as both the flute and the lyre produced divine melodies.  Then Apollo started playing his lyre by holding it upside down – of course Marsyas could not do the same with his flute.

The Muses ruled Apollo as winner and Marsyas’ punishment for challenging a god was terrible – Apollo hanged him from a tree (a pine or a platan tree) and skinned him.  After this punishment thought, Apollo regretted for his act and on his sorrow he crushed his lyre and transformed Marsyas into a river.

Who Are The Nine Muses

Calliope: Calliope was at the highest rank, the first and most prominent among the Muses.  Protector of all fine arts and particularly of Epic Poetry, she is the one that epic poets were invoking in order to gain her favour, to remember all their words and be inspired to praise the deeds of the heroes. “Tell me, o muse, about the ingenious man that travelled far for many years after he had conquered Troy’s sacred castle…” – this is how Homer’s Odyssey begins, with an invocation to the muse Calliope, to sing for him the deeds of Ulysses (Odysseus).  Also in Iliad, Homer asks Calliope’s help to sing about the wrath of the mighty Achilles: “sing, goddess, the destructive wrath of Peleus’ son, Achilles, which brought countless woes upon the Achaeans and sent to Hades many valiant souls of heroes made them spoil for dogs and birds…”.

Calliope is often depicted wearing a golden crown – which according to Hesiod indicates her superiority among the Muses – and she is also carrying quills and tablets and sometimes a trumpet.  Calliope, whose name means “she that has a beautiful face”, is considered to be the mother of the legendary musician Orpheus, by the god Apollo, and also mother of the famous musician Linos.

Cleio:  Cleio was the muse of History.  Her name derives from the word cleos (glory).  Herodotus, known as the father of history, named his first book after this muse.  Cleio is often depicted wearing a laurel garland and carrying parchments.  She is considered mother of Hyacinth by the king Pieros.

Terpsichore:  Terpsichore was initially the muse of Dance – her name means the one that likes to dance – and also the muse of Lyric Poetry.  She is depicted holding a lyre and she is considered to be mother of the Sirens.

Melpomene:  Melpomene was initially the muse of chants and lyric songs and then the muse of Tragedy (theatre).  She is often depicted wearing a cypress garland and holding a tragedy mask on her left hand and a bat on her right.  She also considered being the mother of the Sirens, by the river Achelous.

Thaleia: Thaleia was the muse of Comedy. She is often depicted holding a comedy mask and wearing an ivy garland.

Euterpe:  Euterpe was the muse of Music and the art of flute. She is considered to be the mother of Ressus by the river Strymonas, chief of the Thracians, who was killed in the war of Troy by Diomedes, king of Argos.  She is often depicted holding a flute and she was the one that gave the inspiration for the creation of Panas’ flute and Marsyas’ double flute – according to other myths Euterpe was the one that actually created the flute.

Polyhymnea: Polyhymnia, whose name means “many hymns”, was initially the muse that inspired the Hymns in honour of the gods and heroes and then she became the muse of Learning and Memorization.  In the Roman times she was considered as the muse of Mimetic Art.  She is always depicted pensive and sometimes she is mistaken for her mother, Mnemosyne.

Erato:  Erato is the muse of Hymns and Lyric and Love Poetry.  She is often depicted half-naked and she is the one that Apollonious from Rhodes invokes at his fourth book of Argonautica, in order to inspire him to sing about the love of Jason and Medea.

Urania:Urania was the muse of Astronomy.  She is depicted wearing a star crown, holding the celestial sphere on her left hand and a diabetes on her right.  She was also known for her prophetic abilities.

You may also interested in: Encyclopedia of  Mythology

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Author: Tessy Parker


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