According to Hesiod's Theogony (seventh century BC), they are the daughters of Zeus, king of the gods, and Mnemosyne, goddess of memory. For Alcman and Mimnermus, they were even more primordial, springing from Uranus and Gaia. Pausanias records a tradition of two generations of Muses; the first being daughters of Uranus and Gaia, the second of Zeus and Mnemosyne. Another, rarer genealogy is that they are daughters of Harmonia (the daughter of Aphrodite and Ares) which contradicts the myth in which they were dancing at the wedding of Harmonia and Cadmus.
According to Pausanias in the later second century AD, there were three original Muses: Aoidē ("song" or "voice"), Meletē ("practice" or "occasion"), and Mnēmē ("memory"). Together, these three form the complete picture of the preconditions of poetic art in cult practice. In Delphi three Muses were worshipped as well, but with other names: Nētē, Mesē, and Hypatē, which are the names of the three chords of the ancient musical instrument, the lyre. Alternatively they were called Cēphisso, Apollonis, and Borysthenis, whose names characterise them as daughters of Apollo. In later tradition, four Muses were recognized: Thelxinoē, Aoedē, Arche, and Meletē, said to be daughters of Zeus and Plusia (or of Uranus). One of the persons associated with the Muses was Pierus. By some he was called the father (by a Pimpleian nymph: called Antiope by Cicero) of a total of seven Muses, called Neilo (Νειλώ), Tritone (Τριτώνη), Asopo (Ἀσωπώ), Heptapora (Ἑπτάπορα), Achelois, Tipoplo (Τιποπλώ), and Rhodia.
The Muses judged the contest between Apollo and Marsyas. They also gathered the pieces of the dead body of Orpheus, son of Calliope, and buried them. They blinded Thamyris for his hubris in challenging them to a contest.
Though the Muses, when taken together, form a complete picture of the subjects proper to poetic art, the association of specific muses with specific art forms is a later innovation. The Muses were not assigned standardized divisions of poetry with which they are now identified until late Hellenistic times. The canonical nine Muses, with their fields of patronage, as established since the Renaissance, are:
|Greek Name||Translation||Image||Goddess Of...|
|Calliope||the 'beautiful of speech'||chief of the muses and muse of epic or heroic poetry|
|Clio||the 'glorious one'||muse of history|
|Erato||the 'amorous one'||muse of love or erotic poetry, lyrics, and marriage songs|
|Euterpe||the 'well-pleasing'||muse of music and lyric poetry|
|Melpomene||the 'chanting one'||muse of tragedy|
|Polyhymnia or Polymnia||the '[singer] of many hymns'||muse of sacred song, oratory, lyric, singing and rhetoric|
|Terpsichore||the '[one who] delights in dance'||muse of choral song and dance|
|Thalia||the 'blossoming one'||muse of comedy and bucolic poetry|
|Urania||the 'celestial one'||muse of astronomy|
Greek mousa is a common noun as well as a type of goddess: it literally means "song" or "poem". In Pindar, to "carry a mousa" is "to sing a song". The word is probably derived from the Indo-European root men-, which is also the source of Greek Mnemosyne, and English "mind", "mental" and "memory" (or alternatively from mont-, "mountain", due to their residence on Mount Helicon, which is less likely in meaning, but somewhat more likely linguistically).
The Muses were therefore both the embodiments and sponsors of performed metrical speech: mousike, whence "music", was "the art of the Muses". In the archaic period, before the wide-spread availability of books, this included nearly all of learning: the first Greek book on astronomy, by Thales, was set in dactylic hexameter, as were many works of pre-Socratic philosophy; both Plato and the Pythagoreans explicitly included philosophy as a sub-species of mousike Herodotus, whose primary medium of delivery was public recitation, named each one of the nine books of his Histories after a different Muse, invoked at the outset.
For poet and "law-giver" Solon the Muses were "the key to the good life"; since they brought both prosperity and friendship. Solon sought to perpetuate his political reforms by establishing recitations of his poetry—complete with invocations to his practical-minded Muses—by Athenian boys at festivals each year. It was believed that they would help inspire people to do their best.
The muses are typically invoked at or near the beginning of an epic poem or classical Greek hymn. They have served as aids to an author of prose, too, sometimes represented as the true speaker, for whom an author is only a mouthpiece. Originally, the invocation of the Muse was an indication that the speaker was working inside the poetic tradition, according to the established formulas. Six classic examples :
Modern evocations of the muses have appeared in a variety of literary and media sources. The muses are travestied in the 1980 feature film Xanadu and its 2007 Broadway musical adaptation), which place Terpsichore and Clio, respectively, in the leading role under the pseudonym 'Kira'.
Local cults of the Muses were often associated with springs or fountains. They were sometimes called Aganippids because of their association with a fountain called Aganippe. Other fountains, Hippocrene and Pirene, were also important haunts of the Muses. The Muses were also occasionally referred to as "Corycides", or "Corycian nymphs" after a cave on Mount Parnassos, called the Corycian Cave.
Muse-worship was also often associated with the hero-cults of poets: the tombs of Archilochus on Thasos and Hesiod and Thamyris in Boeotia, all played host to festivals, in which poetic recitations were accompanied by sacrifices to the Muses.
Many Enlightenment figures sought to re-establish a "Cult of the Muses" in the eighteenth century. A famous Masonic lodge in pre-Revolutionary Paris was called Les Neuf Soeurs ("nine sisters", that is, the nine Muses), and was attended by Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, Danton and other influential Enlightenment figures. One side-effect of this movement was the use of the word "museum" (originally, "cult place of the Muses") to refer to a place for the public display of knowledge.
The British poet Robert Graves popularised the concept of the Muse-poet in modern times based on pre-twelfth century traditions of the Celtic poets, on the tradition of the medieval troubadours who celebrated the concept of courtly love and the romantic poets.
"No Muse-poet grows conscious of the Muse except by experience of a woman in whom the Goddess is to some degree resident; just as no Apollonian poet can perform his proper function unless he lives under a monarchy or a quasi-monarchy. A Muse-poet falls in love, absolutely, and his true love is for him the embodiment of the Muse...
But the real, perpetually obsessed Muse-poet distinguishes between the Goddess as manifest in the supreme power, glory, wisdom and love of woman, and the individual woman whom the Goddess may make her instrument...
The Goddess abides; and perhaps he will again have knowledge of her through his experience of another woman...
In Callimachus' "Aetia", the poet refers to Queen Berenike, wife of Ptolemy II, as a "Tenth Muse", dedicating both the 'Coma Berenikes' and the 'Victoria Berenikes' in Books III-IV.
French critics have acclaimed a series of dixième Muses who were noted by William Rose Benet in The Reader's Encyclopedia (1948): Marie Lejars de Gournay (1566-1645), Antoinette Deshoulières (1633-1694), Madeleine de Scudéry (1607-1701) and Delphine Gay (1804-1855).
Anne Bradstreet, a Puritan poet of New England, was honored in with this title with the publishing of her poems in London in 1650, in a volume titled by the publisher The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America.... This was also the first ever published volume of American poetry.
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a Mexican poet, is well known in the Spanish literary world as the tenth muse.
In 1924 Karol Irzykowski published a monograph on cinematography entitled "The Tenth Muse" ("Dziesiąta muza"). Analyzing silent film, he pronounced his definition of cinema: "It is the visibility of man's interaction with reality".
Gradiva 'the woman who walks through walls' is the muse of Surrealism. (Nadeau, Maurice, A History of Surrealism, orig.1965, various publishers)
Shakespeare's Sonnet 38 invokes the Tenth Muse:
"How can my Muse want subject to invent,
While thou dost breathe, that pour'st into my verse
Thine own sweet argument?"
the poet asks, and in the opening of the sestet calls upon his muse:
"Be thou the tenth Muse, ten times more in worth
Than those old nine which rhymers invocate."