By Dr. Lindy McMullin
According to Pausanias, (ix.19.2), the original three Muses were the Triple-goddess in her orgiastic aspect. They were the daughters of the Titans Uranus and Gaea (Mother/Father Heaven and Earth), which challenges us to investigate how the divine and earthly aspects of human nature, bring forth inspiration that comes from the heart and mind. They were believed to be Melete (study practice), Mneme (memory) and Aoide (song). In this article I also look at the significance of the Fates, who I believe are indirectly related to the Muses, whose mother was Mnemosyne.
The ancient Greeks believed that fate caused unusual events; the word moira means a portion and the personal, internalized aspect of this portion was the daimon. According to Plato’s tale of descent, as summarized by Hillman (1996), death brings reincarnation and all souls go to the mythical world where they receive a lot to fulfil. This ‘portion of fate’ represents the character of the soul. Once all souls have been given their lot, Lachesis, a representative of destiny, leads the soul with its genius (daimon) to Klotho, who gives the destiny its particular unique twist. Atropos then makes the web of destiny irreversible. The soul then passes under the throne of necessity, which weaves a pattern or image of the fate and passes through the plain of forgetfulness before birth. Necessity chooses the particular body, circumstances and parents, giving substance to experience and symbol to thought.
The Muses were the primordial goddesses who personified knowledge and art, music, science, geography, mathematics, art, and drama. There were nine muses according to Hesiod, who were usually invoked at the beginning of various lyrical poems, such as in the Homeric epics. Calliope was the protector of epic poems and was represented by the writing tablet. Clio was known as the protector of history and held a scroll. Erato was the protector of lyrical and love poetry, and was depicted as holding the cithara, a type of lyre. Euterpe was the protector of lyric poetry and held the aulos, a Greek flute. Melpomene was believed to be the protector of tragedies and rhetoric speech. She was represented as holding a theatrical tragedy mask. Terpsichore was the protector of dances and the lyre. Polyhymnia was the protector of sacred poetry and wore the veil, signifying that in sacred poetry much is hidden behind the words. Thalia was the protector of comedy and pastoral poetry. She held the comic theatrical mask. Urania was the protector of celestial bodies, who created astronomy and held the stars, a celestial sphere and a compass.
According to Pindar (c. 522 – 443 BC), the Greek lyric poet, to “carry a mousa” is “to excel in the arts“. The songs that emerge from the poets bring the experiential tradition of ancient Greek philosophy to life. It is not enough to only think with Mind (nous). The Heart must be stirred as well and then all Ideas as described by Plato shall be remembered. This is important for understanding the value of exploring ancient Greek tradition. We do not revision alone, but use myth and the gods and goddesses as archetypal figures, to gently awaken Mnemosyne (memory) the mother of our true nature and our potential within.
The Muses knew all things that had come to pass, and were believed to bring joy to humankind as they followed Apollo, the god of healing, light and the sun, oracles, truth, knowledge and prophecy. Their home was on Mount Hellikon; Pausanias, (9. 29. 1) tells us that:
“The first to sacrifice on Helikon to the Mousai (Muses) and to call the mountain sacred to the Mousai were, they say, Ephialtes and Otos [the Aloadai (Aloadae)], who also founded Askra (Ascra). The sons of Aloeus held that the Mousai were three in number, and gave them the names of Melete (Practice), Mneme (Memory) and Aoede (Song).But they say that afterwards Pieros (Pierus), a Makedonian (Macedonian), after whom the mountain in Makedonia was named, came to Thespiai (Thespiae) and established nine Mousai, changing their names to the present ones . . .”
Detail of a muse holding Barbiton from a painting depicting the musical contest of Apollo and the Satyr Marsyas Louvre Museum Paris
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