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The Muses

January 22, 2007

We often hear artists talk about inspiration coming to them from the Muses. The words music, and museum come from their name. So just who are these mythical benefactors of creativity that we hear so much about?

It turns out the Muses are nine sisters. Immortal goddesses, in fact. Born from the union of Zeus, king of the gods, and his consort, Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. They grew up as water nymphs, bathing in the springs at the base of Mt. Helius. Sacred springs formed by the hooves of Pegasus, the winged horse, whose name comes from the Greek "Pege", for spring. It is said it was from these sacred springs that the sisters derived their powers of artistic inspiration.

As the sisters grew and developed into the Muses, the great Apollo, god of the Sun, became their protector and their lover. The Muses are often depicted in art wearing gold or laurel crowns.

muses claude lorrain-b (170K)
Apollo and the Muses on Mount Helion (Parnassus) - Claude Lorrain, 1680

Calliope, whose name means beautiful voice, was the first born of the sisters, the wisest of the Muses, and their leader. She became the Muse of eloquence, and epic poetry, and is said to have inspired Homer to write the Iliad, and the Odyssey. She was the mother of the famous musician, Orpheus, who sang and played the lyre so sublimely even the rocks and trees purportedly moved and swayed to his music. Calliope is sometimes depicted with a lyre or horn, and holding a scroll, tablet, or book of poems.

muses Charles-Antoine_Coypel_-_La_Muse_Calliope-b (104K)
La Muse Calliope - Charles-Antoine Coypel (16941752)

Urania, the Muse of astronomy, with her globe and crown of stars.
Muses Calliope,_Urania_et_Terpsichore_by_Pierre_Mignard-b (63K)
Calliope, Urania and Terpsichore - Pierre Mignard (16121695)

Their sister, Clio, became the Muse of history. Her name means to make famous. Euterpe (you-TER-pee), whose name means to give great pleasure, became the Muse of music. Their sister Thalia became the Muse of comedy. The painting below of Clio, Euterpe, and Thalia is by Eustache le Sueur (1616 - 1655). (Click on image to enlarge)

muses eustache le sueurs (103K)

The sister Erato, which means lovely, became the Muse of love and erotic poetry. Polyhymnia became the Muse of sacred song, and Melpomene became the Muse of tragedy. The painting below of these three sisters is also by Eustache le Sueur. (Click on image to enlarge)

muses2 eustache le sueurs (105K)

Finally, we have a painting by Jean-Marc Nattier (1685-1766) of Terpsichore, the Muse of Dance. (Click on image to enlarge)

muses Terpsichore-Jean-Marc Nattier1739s (62K)

Below is a painting of Apollo surrounded by all his nine Muses, by Simon Vouet (1590 - 1649). (Click on image to enlarge)

muses simon vouets (114K)

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