So, every so often (usually when Facebook won’t let me share posts to my author page), I poll the Misfits about the kind of posts they’d like to see me write about. One of the most popular ideas was mythology related to gods and spirits ruling over the domain of creativity. So, who better to start with than the actual Muses?
*sigh* Full disclosure, I’m not an ancient historian or a classicist. Yes, I have a degree in archaeology; yes, I’m a big nerd whose favourite hobby is research; and yes, I am a pagan who kinda-sorta works with one of the Muses. None of that makes me an expert in Greek mythology or history. There is so much, you guys. The problem with ancient stories and religion is that their history is long, complicated, and shifts wildly over time and region.
Just thinking about someday having to talk about Thoth (or, really, any Egyptian) makes my chest feel tight and my eyes moist. I mean, I’ll do it, but the dread is real.
So, with that in mind, let’s lower the expectations, and move forward.
The Muses, like a lot of figures in Greek mythology, likely predate Greek culture, and might come from the Thracian Empire, which recognised 3 Muse-like figures. It seems like we decided ultimately on 9, mostly because famous poets like Homer said there were 9.
HISTORY OF THE MUSES
The Nine Muses we know today are Calliope, Clio, Euterpe, Thalia, Melpomene, Terpsichore, Erato, Polyhymnia, and Urania. They are said to be children of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who is, yes, Zeus’ aunt. It’s fine, let’s move on.
There is way too much history and way too many myths to go into, so if this area interests you, please let me know, and I can set aside time to write a longer post. The important takeaway is that they are the personifications and patronesses of specific forms of art.
This post, I’m going to just focus on some general overview, how to appeal to them, and the Queen of the Muses, Calliope. There is a lot to say about all nine, and I don’t have the time or energy to devote to all of them in one post. Plus, Calliope is my fave, and I want to give her her own post.
Calliope is my very, very favourite. I have a print of her that I bought in Athens, above my writing chair.
Named Chief of the Muses by Hesiod and Ovid, Calliope is the Muse of eloquence and epic poetry. She is argued to be the muse that Homer invokes at the beginnings of the Iliad and Odyssey; Ovid’s Aeneid; and, one has to assume, the one Shakespeare meant at the beginning of Henry V.
Her name means, ‘beautiful voice,’ and her symbols are traditionally a lyre, and also a tablet and stylus, and she is often depicted wearing a red shawl. Sometimes, she has books or scrolls, like a nerd, or wearing a crown, and often posing with her children. She is said to be the wisest and most assertive of the Nine Muses.
She is the mother of Orpheus (yes, that Orpheus) and Linus (possibly by her half-brother, Apolo, or Oeagrus, a king of Thrace (though her sisters, Clio and Polyhymnia are also sometimes listed at the boys’ mothers by King Oeagrus. Confusing, right?)). She also apparently has a bunch of daughters by Oeagrus, called Oeagrides. Sometimes she is credited with bearing the Corybantes by Zeus (yes, her father). Some call her the mother of the sirens by Achelus, which I personally love, and possibly also Rhesus by Strymon. Both of these fathers are river gods.
She was prolific.
How to honour or invoke Calliope in modern life for your writing
If you are writing a book, an epic poem, or you need help choosing your words carefully and being assertive, call on Calliope. You can do this, as the classics did, by invoking her at the beginning of your piece. You can also make an offering of wine and honey, or by reading or writing an epic poem in her honour.