The Muses Of Greek Mythology Essay, Research Paper
The Muses are the Greek goddesses who preside over the arts
and sciences and inspire those who excel at these pursuits. Daughters
of Zeus and Mnemosyne (”memory”), they were born in Pieria on the
foot of Mount Olympus. Their nurse, Eupheme, raised them along with her son, Crotus the hunter , who was transported into the sky as
Sagittarius upon his death. Their name denotes ‘memory’ or ‘a reminder’, since in earlier times poets having no books to read from,
relied on their memories.
The original number of muses and their names vary. At first,
three muses were worshipped on Mount Helicon in Boeotia: Melete
(”meditation”), Mneme (”memory”), and Aoede (”song”). Another three were worshipped at Delphi and their names represented the names of the strings of a lyre: Nete, Mese, and Hypate. The Greeks believed there were nine muses, each providing over some form of literature, art, or science. There was Calliope, as well as Clio the muses of history, Euterpe of lyric poetry, Melpomene of tragedy, Terpsichore of choral dance and song, Erato of love poetry, Polyhymnia of sacred poetry, Urania of astronomy, and Thalia of comedy (Encyclopedia Mythica). The Muses had several titles which usually referred to places where they had settled. Ephialtes and Otus, who also founded Ascra, were the first to sacrifice on Helicon to the Muses and to call the mountain sacred to the Muses. Sacrifices to the Muses consisted of gifts of water, milk, or honey.
Their companions are the Charities, the Horae, Eros, Dionysus,
Apollo, Aphrodite, Harmonia, and Himerus (Desire). Apollo is the
leader of the choir of the Muses and consequently he has the surname
Musagetes. Athena caught and tamed the winged horse Pegasus and gave him to the Muses. Some of their disciples included the Sphinx who learned her riddle from the Muses, Aristaeus, who learned the arts of healing and prophecy from them, and Echo, who was taught by them to play music.
In Plato’s Phaedrus 259c, Socrates says that locusts were men
before the birth of the Muses. When the Muses were born, some men
were so overcome with delight that they sang constantly, forgetting to
eat or drink until they eventually died. These men became locusts with
a gift from the Muses allowing them to sing continuously from their
birth until death without the need of sustenance.
The Muses could also have been seen as vindictive. This was
seen in the story of the contest with Thamyris. Thamyris who excelled
in song challenged the Muses to a musical contest at Dorium in Messenia, the agreement being if he won he would take pleasure from
all of them. The Muses won the contest, and deprived Thamyris of his
eyes and melody(Pseudo 1.21).
In another story, the king of Emathia (Macedonia) and his wife
Euippe had nine daughters and named them after the Muses. The daughters entered a contest with the Muses, were defeated and were
transformed by the Muses into birds called Colymbas, Iynx, Cenchris,
Cissa, Chloris, Acalanthis, Nessa, Pipo, and Dracontis(Graves 170.q) .
These names were taken from actual names of birds such as the wryneck, hawk, jay, duck, goldfinch, and four others with no recognizable modern equivalents.
In yet another myth as told by Hathorn, it was said Hera, queen of the gods, persuaded the Sirens, who were described in early Greek mythology as having the bodies of birds and heads of beautiful women, to enter a singing contest with the Muses. The Muses won the
competition and then plucked out all of the Sirens’ feathers and made
crowns out of them(168).
Many places were dedicated to the Muses such as the famous
Valley of the Muses – Thespies on the eastern slopes of Mt. Helicon
began it’s “Mouseai” festivals in the 6th c. BC It was organized every 5 years by the Thespians. Poets and musicians from all over Greece also participated in various games (epic, poetry, rapsodia, kithara, aulos, satiric poetry, tragedy and comedy). It was common for ancient
schools to have a shrine to the Muses called mouseion, the source of
the modern word ‘museum.’ The famous Museum of Alexandria, founded by Ptolemy I, was a temple dedicated to the Muses. Before poets or storytellers recited their work, it was customary for them to invoke the inspiration and protection of the Muses(Hathorn169).