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Athena and the MUSES. 0926: Minerva and the Muses. Detail of painting by Hans Rottenhammer 1564-1626. Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg.

"Thus the whole day long till the setting of the sun the gods feasted, nor did their heart lack anything of the equal feast, nor of the beauteous lyre, that Apollo held, nor yet of the Muses, who sang, replying one to the other with sweet voices." (Homer, Iliad 1.600).

"When two poets produce a hymn, the Muses are wont to work strife between them." (Maidens of Phthia. Euripides, Andromache 476).

"Never will I cease to link in one the Graces and the Muses, (675) sweetest union. Never may I live among uneducated boors, but ever may I find a place among the crowned!" (Theban Elders. Euripides, Heracles 675).

"I will begin with the Muses and Apollo and Zeus. For it is through the Muses and Apollo that there are singers upon the earth and players upon the lyre; but kings are from Zeus. Happy is he whom the Muses love: sweet flows speech from his lips." (Homeric Hymn to the Muses and Apollo, 1).

"Dead you shall lie, for ever, a name that none recall;
For never you gathered roses upon the Muses' tree.
Dim as you were in living, there too in Hades' hall
You shall drift where only phantoms faint and forgotten flee."
(Sappho of Mytilene, born c. 610 BC; Diehl, I, p.354).

The violet-eyed MUSES delighted in feasts and the pleasure of song, Peace being their dearest friend. They discovered letters and the combination of these we call poetry. Near the topmost peak of Olympus, there are their dancing-places, and beside them the CHARITES and Himerus live in delight, but also Mount Helicon is known for being their haunt. The MUSES usually sing for the gods, but they are said to have sung on other special occasions such as the funeral of Achilles, and the weddings of both Peleus and Cadmus.

Birth of the MUSES

Before the times when Hera became Zeus' wife, the god, taking the form of a shepherd, consorted with Mnemosyne, whose domain is in the hills of Eleuther, lying with her nine nights. And when time passed, Mnemosyne gave birth to nine daughters, the MUSES, who some say were born in this order: first Calliope, then Clio 1, Melpomene, Euterpe, Erato 3, Terpsichore 1, Urania 2, Thalia 2, and Polymnia.

Dearest gods

Some affirm that Hypnos (Sleep) is the god that is dearest to the MUSES, but Apollo is considered to lead the MUSES, being for that reason called Musegetes (leader of the MUSES) as an inscription states:

"This is Leto's son, prince Apollo, far-shooting; around him are the Muses, a graceful choir, whom he is leading ..." (Inscription quoted by Pausanias, Description of Greece 5.18.4).

And wherever they go they may go flying; for in such way goddesses usually travel, as King Pyreneus of Daulis, who attempted to rape them, too late learned. For he perished when he leapt from the pinnacle of a tower trying to follow the flying MUSES who escaped him.

The number of the MUSES

The ALOADS said that the MUSES were three: Aoede, Melete, and Mneme; but, as it is told, Pierus the Macedonian, established nine MUSES and changed their names. It is not known if Pierus did these changes because they seemed to him wiser, or if he followed an oracle, or if he had learned so from the Thracians. Thus the MUSES are sometimes called PIERIDES, but otherwise this is the name of nine sisters, daughters of Pierus, who defied the MUSES in a contest of song and, having been defeated, were turned into magpies, greenfinches, goldfinches, ducks, and other birds (for the ALOADS see Zeus).

Inspired but blind

All tales and all songs, and all inspired knowledge come from the MUSES. This is the reason why no one could ever compete with them. Yet Thamyris 1, who was an excellent minstrel and the first man to become enamoured of males, engaged in a musical contest with them in Dorium (Messenia), agreeing that if he should be vanquished the MUSES would take from him what they wished. And when he lost they took the eyes and the minstrelsy from him who had already lost his mind. Others say that for his boast against the MUSES, he is being punished in Hades. Also the SIRENS competed with the MUSES in singing and, having lost, the MUSES plucked out the SIRENS feathers and made, out of them, crowns for themselves. But it is also told that the SIRENS, were daughters of one of the MUSES.

Blind but inspired

On the other hand Demodocus 1, a minstrel of the Phaeacians, who sang when Odysseus was among them, even though he was deprived of sight by the goddess, he received, at the same time, the gift of song from them.

Invention of the letters

The MUSES are credited with the invention of the letters and their poetic combination, but Prometheus 1, known for having claimed to be a benefactor of mankind, has mentioned that invention as his own; for he says:

"Yes, and numbers, too, chiefest of sciences, I invented for them, and the combining of letters, creative mother of the Muses' arts, with which to hold all things in memory." (Prometheus 1 to the OCEANIDS. Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 460).

And this could be a matter of dispute, had not the MUSES invented all tales, including that of Prometheus 1.

Some related to the MUSES

A companion of the MUSES is the hunter Crotus, whose mother Eupheme 1 was the nurse of the MUSES. Among the disciples of the MUSES is the Sphinx, who learned her riddle from them; Aristaeus, who learned from them the arts of healing and of prophecy; and the nymph Echo, who was taught to play music. Also Musaeus, perhaps Orpheus' son, was trained by the MUSES. And the Lacedaemonians could also be counted among their disciples. For they had a special sanctuary of the MUSES, and went to war following, not the sound of a trumpet, but the music of the flute, the lyre and the harp.

Importance of the Muses

All things originate in the myths, which are the cradle and preview both of those things that are, and of those that should be. But the myths, a Sacred All-embracing True Tale which depend on nothing except language, are told to men by the MUSES. This is why the standard procedure when telling a myth in the literate era is "Tell me Muse ..." or "Sing goddess ..." or other similar formulae, used by poets, who thus acknowledge the divine origin of the tale given to them through what may be called the gift of inspiration, although Plato called it poetical madness, a condition which must be given by the gods.

"And a third kind of possession and madness comes from the Muses. This takes hold upon a gentle and pure soul, arouses it and inspires it to songs and other poetry, and thus by adorning countless deeds of the ancients educates later generations. But he who without the divine madness comes to the doors of the Muses, confident that he will be a good poet by art, meets with no success, and the poetry of the sane man vanishes into nothingness before that of the inspired madmen." (Plato. Phaedrus 245a).

Story-telling achieves its greatest significance when it narrates the myths, since nothing else can be more memorable than an all-embracing tale, and for being memorable the myths are transmitted to mortal men by the MUSES, who are the daughters of Memory. The faculty to tell an all-embracing true tale is believed to be the privilege of the gods and not of men, for human beings are notorious for having an inborn difficulty in distinguishing between true and false since they "have only hearsay and not knowledge" (Homer, Iliad 2.484). The earthly authorities in regard to this tale, at the time when the myths passed from oral tradition into literature, were the poets; for the tale is given first to them so that they might tell it to other men. Prophets and priests are not authorities of the same high rank, since religious beliefs arise from the myths and they are not story-tellers. Besides, the religious system in the community in which the myths were first told lacked what is known as Church, ecclesiastical hierarchy, theologists and sacred scriptures. For these reasons the poet, himself dependent on the MUSES, is the highest authority in all that concerns the myths. Yet, in this tradition no work of poetry, or for that matter no other book either, has ever been considered as a sacred book. The truth of the MUSES' tales is not a truth of factual kind. This is why they say in the words of the poet:

"We know enough to make up lies which are convincing, but we also have the skill, when we will, to speak the truth." (The Muses to Hesiod. Hesiod, Theogony 25).

The tales then, however extraordinary, are neither to be believed nor disbelieved. Belief belongs to religion, magic and superstition, and Disbelief belongs to exhaustion, despair and emptiness. But the myths stand, by the power of Memory and the MUSES, on the golden thread that separates and blends both.


Parentage (four versions)


Pierus & unknown


Zeus & unknown


Pierus was king of Pella (Macedonia). He is son of Magnes 1 and a Naiad.

List of MUSES
There have never been complete agreement on their assignements

Aoede is Song.

Calliope is the eldest of the MUSES. She delights in philosophy, but has also been related to epic poetry. She married Oeagrus and had by him Orpheus, Marsyas, and Linus 4; yet the latter is also said to be her son by Apollo. By Strymon 1, one of the RIVER GODS, she gave birth to Rhesus 2, the Thracian who came to fight in the Trojan War and died the day after his arrival. By Zeus she had the CORYBANTES.
Apd.1.3.1; Dio.4.7.4; Hes.The.75-915; Hyg.Fab.14, 165; Pla.Phae.259D; Strab.10.3.19.

Clio 1, who is related to History, is so named because the songs of the poets bestow glory upon those who are praised by them. Clio 1 consorted with King Pierus of Pella (Macedonia), giving birth to Hyacinthus 1 and Polyboea 1, the girl who was carried to heaven.
Apd.1.3.1-3; Dio.4.7.4; Hes.The.75-915; Pau.3.19.4.

Erato 3, who is related to Lyric art, is so named because she makes those who are instructed by her men who are desired and worthy to be loved. The poets of love gain her favor.
Apd.1.3.1; Dio.4.7.4; Hes.The.75-915; Pla.Phae.259.

Euterpe is so called because she gives delight to those who hear her sing. The flute is her instrument. She is called mother of Rhesus 2 by Strymon 1 (but see Calliope above).
Apd.1.3.1-4; Dio.4.7.4; Hes.The.75-915.

Melete is Practice.

Melpomene, Muse of Tragedy, is so named from the chanting by which she charms her listeners. She is the mother of the SIRENS by Achelous, one of the RIVER GODS.
Apd.1.3.1; Apd.Ep.7.18; Dio.4.7.4; Hes.The.75-915.

Mneme is Memory.

Polymnia is so named because by her great praises she brings distinction to writers whose works have won for them immortal Fame. She is the mother of dance and mime.
Apd.1.3.1; Dio.4.7.4; Hes.The.75-915; Nonn.5.104; Ov.Fast.5.9.

Terpsichore 1, who is related to dance, is so named because she delights her disciples with the good things coming from education, and those who have honoured her in dances are dearer to her. Terpsichore 1 is mother of the SIRENS by Achelous, one of the RIVER GODS (but see Melpomene above).
Apd.1.3.1; Arg.4.893ff.; Dio.4.7.4; Hes.The.75-915; Pla.Phae.259c.

Thalia 2, the Muse of Comedy, is so named because men whose praises have been sung in poems flourish through long periods of time. She is the mother, by Apollo, of the CORYBANTES (but see Calliope above).
Apd.1.3.1-4; Dio.4.7.4; Hes.The.75-915.

Urania 2 is so named because she raises her disciples to heavenly heights, and those who are most concerned with philosophy and the heavens are dear to her. Being the Muse of Astronomy, she could foretell the future by the position of the stars. Urania 2 is mother of Linus 1, either by Apollo, or by Amphimarus. Linus 1, also called Oetolinus, won great reputation as a musician, being also a master of eloquent speech. This Muse is also mother of Hymenaeus 1, who always attends the wedding rites, being the playfellow of Eros and the god of Marriage.
Apd.1.3.1; Dio.4.7.4; Hes.The.75-915; Hyg.Fab.161; Nonn.24.87; Pau.9.29.6; Pla.Phae.259D; Stat.Theb.8.551.

Related sections

Apd.1.3.1-3; Bacchylides Odes 5; Dio.4.7.2, 5.74.1; Hes.The.75, 915; Nonn.12.152; Pau.3.19.4, 9.29.4.