Melpomene: A Tragic Mother of Sirens or a Misunderstood Muse?

Melpomene: A Tragic Mother of Sirens or a Misunderstood Muse?

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The term muse is now almost synonymous with inspiration. The Muses were daughters of Zeus who were responsible for telling the stories of gods and men through song. Each muse also had an assigned artistic domain, one muse in particular, Melpomene, was the muse of tragedy. She was also the mother of a few sirens. Her role as mother of sirens has even led to the suggestion that the sirens were originally counterparts to the heavenly Muses. Otherwise, not much is known about her.

Muses in Mythology

According to Greek mythology, the muses were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. After the muses were born, they lived in Pieria, a land at the foothills of Mount Olympus. They would go from Pieria to the slopes of Mount Olympus to sing stories of gods and heroes.

There were originally only three muses, but Plato and later authors added more muses so that there would be a muse for each artistic and literary domain. The nine muses known today are Urania, muse of astronomy, Clio, muse of history, Calliope, muse of epic poetry, Terpsichore, muse of choral song and of dancing, Erato, muse of love poetry, Thalia, muse of comedy, Polyhymnia, muse of hymns, Euterpe, muse of lyric poetry, and Melpomene, muse of tragedy. Thalia, the sister of Melpomene, is, in a way, a counterpoint to her sister as the muse of comedy.

Apollo and the Muses by Baldassare Peruzzi. ( Public Domain )

Depictions of Melpomene

In sculpture, Melpomene is depicted wearing the cothurnus, a type of boot worn by tragic actors, and holding a tragic mask. Melpomene was originally a goddess of song and dance but over time, she became associated with tragedy. One possible explanation for this is that when the muses first appeared in the Greek imagination as goddesses of song and dance, the tradition of theater had not yet been developed. Later in the Classical period of Greek history, every major area of art and literature known to the Greeks was assigned a muse and Melpomene was assigned to tragedy. In addition to being the muse of tragedy, Melpomene also served a possible connection between the muses and the sirens, another group known for producing songs of a superhuman nature.

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Mural depicting the muse Melpomene (Tragedy), by Edward Simmons. ( Public Domain )

Melpomene and the Gods

It is known that Melpomene was a daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne and that she had eight sisters. It is also known how she is depicted. Other than that, however, not much is known about her. For an unknown reason, Melpomene is also associated with Dionysus and they are often depicted in art together. It is possible that this predates her role as muse of tragedy since her domain was originally song and dance which both played an important role in the worship of Dionysus. In later traditions, she is also said to be the mother of several sirens.

The sirens were bird women who were able to sing hauntingly beautiful songs. They would use their voices to lure sailors to their deaths. According to some versions of the legend, sirens were handmaidens of Persephone. When Persephone was abducted by Hades, they were given the bodies of birds to go in search of her. Not being able to find her, they gave up and settled on a remote island. Later in the narrative, some of them went to the Greek underworld.

Melpomene in a painting ‘Hesiod and the Muse’ (1891) by Gustave Moreau.

Although in some legends they are assigned different parents, they are also described as being daughters of Melpomene and Achelous and associated with the underworld in later Greek tradition. Some scholars have even gone as far as to suggest that originally the sirens were simply the infernal counterparts to the heavenly muses. The sirens would gather in the underworld to sing their haunting songs just as the muses gathered on the mountain tops to sing of the divine realm. This has been suggested in spite of the fact that the sirens sung for a very different reason than the muses. The muses sang to tell stories of gods, men, and their deeds while the sirens used their songs to lure men to destruction.

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The Sirens by Wilhelm Kray. ( Public Domain )

Furthermore, although some sources say that some sirens had Melpomene as their mother, most sources do not. One source assigns one of the muses as mother of the sirens but makes it Terpsichore instead of Melpomene. The earliest sources assigned the sirens and muses completely separate lineages which implies that they have a separate, unrelated origin. Despite this, there is an apparent connection between Melpomene, sirens, and the Greek underworld.

Canvas Painting Oil Apollo And The Muses Museum. ( CC0)

An Enigmatic Greek Tragedy

Not much is known of Melpomene, but she is known to have been associated with several different aspects of Greek mythology. Her association with the underworld makes her a way of connecting the heavenly muses with the subterranean realms. The ancient Greeks classified their deities as Olympian and chthonic. The chthonic deities were mostly associated with the underworld. The Olympian deities were those who dwelled on Mount Olympus. The muses were not Olympian, but they were associated more with Olympus than with the Underworld. Melpomene is an exception in that she is associated with both Olympus and the chthonic realm.

“We are the Muses, Goddesses of the Arts and Proclaimers of Heroes!”

Anyone who has seen Disney’s Hercules will remember the sassy and delightfully talented narrators of the film, but the focus is not on the muses themselves so here are a few tidbits of information on each of the muses.

The nine muses were minor goddesses, possessing the gift of prophecy, and patrons of the arts and knowledge. They entertained the major divinities and inspired artists and poets to create beautiful works and make brilliant discoveries. They were the children of the God Zeus and the Titan Mnemosyne (memory).

Calliope – She of the Beautiful Voice

Calliope was the muse of epic poetry, often seen with a writing tablet, scroll, or golden crown. She is often considered the wisest of the muses, also having the ability to play any musical instrument, and it is said that Homer was directly inspired by her. She had two sons, Orpheus and Linus, the first a great musician and the latter was said to be a personification of lamentation.

Clio – To Celebrate

Clio was the muse of history often seen with an open scroll or next to a pile of books. Her name means to make famous or celebrate for she was the one that inspired historians to write about the great events and heroes of the past.

Erato – Beloved

Erato was the muse of erotic poetry and lyric usually portrayed holding a lyre (Cithara) with a wreath of roses resting upon her head, sometimes alongside the God Eros holding a torch. She also inspired marriage songs and was said to give grace to maidens.

Euterpe – Giver of Delight

Euterpe was the muse of Music. Music was a very important aspect of Greek life, it was played at wedding ceremonies, funerals, and great games. Euterpe was often seen holding an Aulos, which was an instrument resembling a double- ended flute, or pan pipes.

Melpomene – Celebrate with Song and Dance

Melpomene was the muse of tragedy often seen wearing or holding a tragic mask with a sword in hand. She is sometimes seen wearing a wreath of ivy and the traditional boots worn by tragic actors, Cothurnus boots, which had thick soles to elevate themselves. Theatre was the Greeks primary form of entertainment and many of the Classical Greek tragedies have been retold and adapted through the ages, including the modern era.

Polyhymnia – She of the Many Hymns

Polyhymnia was the muse of sacred hymns, songs, and dances. She is typically portrayed in a pensive pose, sometimes leaning against a column and sometimes sitting down with a finger to her mouth. She is also associated with thought and her symbol was the veil often worn by maidens.

Terpischore – Delighting in Dance

Terpischore was the muse of dance and choral song, which was very important because in Greek theater it was the choir who told the story and not the actors. Her symbol was the lyre and some say that she was the mother of the Sirens, bewitching maidens who held the power to weave beautiful songs.

Thalia – Festivity

Thalia was the muse of comedy and pastoral poetry, and she is seen holding or wearing a comedic mask and wearing the typical shoes actors wore in comedies, which had thin soles as opposed to those worn in tragedies. She is often seen with Melpomene.

Urania – Heavenly One

Urania was the muse of astronomy, astronomical writing, and constellations. She is usually depicted wearing a gown made of stars and celestial bodies while pointing at a globe with a rod. She could read the future by looking at the stars and was thought to be the most philosophical muse.

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What are the 9 muses names?

Watch out a lot more about it. In respect to this, what do the 9 muses represent?

The nine muses in Greek mythology were goddesses of the arts and sciences, and were daughters of Zeus, the king of the gods, and Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. Thalia - Muse of comedy and idyllic poetry. She is usually shown holding a comic mask, a shepherd's crook, and a wreath of ivy.

  • Calliope.
  • Clio.
  • Erato.
  • Euterpe.
  • Melpomene.
  • Polyhymnia.
  • Terpsichore.
  • Thalia.

Furthermore, who are the Muses and what are their roles?

  • Calliope was the muse of epic poetry.
  • Clio was the muse of history.
  • Erato was the muse of love poetry.
  • Euterpe was the muse of music.
  • Melpomene was the muse of tragedy.
  • Polyhymnia was the muse of sacred poetry.
  • Terpsichore was the muse of dance.
  • Thalia was the muse of comedy.

According to Pausanias in the later second century AD, there were originally three Muses, worshipped on Mount Helicon in Boeotia: Aoide ("song" or "tune"), Melete ("practice" or "occasion"), and Mneme ("memory"). Together, these three form the complete picture of the preconditions of poetic art in cult practice.

Melpomene: A Tragic Mother of Sirens or a Misunderstood Muse? - History

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Muse, Greek Mousa or Moisa, Latin Musa, in Greco-Roman religion and mythology, any of a group of sister goddesses of obscure but ancient origin, the chief centre of whose cult was Mount Helicon in Boeotia, Greece. They were born in Pieria, at the foot of Mount Olympus. Very little is known of their cult, but they had a festival every four years at Thespiae, near Helicon, and a contest (Museia), presumably—or at least at first—in singing and playing. They probably were originally the patron goddesses of poets (who in early times were also musicians, providing their own accompaniments), although later their range was extended to include all liberal arts and sciences—hence, their connection with such institutions as the Museum (Mouseion, seat of the Muses) at Alexandria, Egypt. There were nine Muses as early as Homer’s Odyssey, and Homer invokes either a Muse or the Muses collectively from time to time. Probably, to begin with, the Muses were one of those vague collections of deities, undifferentiated within the group, which are characteristic of certain, probably early, strata of Greek religion.

Differentiation is a matter rather of mythological systematization than of cult and began with the 8th-century- bce poet Hesiod, who mentioned the names of Clio, Euterpe, Thalia, Melpomene, Terpsichore, Erato, Polymnia (Polyhymnia), Urania, and Calliope, who was their chief. Their father was Zeus, and their mother was Mnemosyne (“Memory”). Although Hesiod’s list became canonical in later times, it was not the only one at both Delphi and Sicyon there were but three Muses, one of whom in the latter place bore the fanciful name Polymatheia (“Much Learning”). All the Hesiodic names are significant thus Clio is approximately the “Proclaimer,” Euterpe the “Well Pleasing,” Thalia the “Blooming,” or “Luxuriant,” Melpomene the “Songstress,” Erato the “Lovely,” Polymnia “She of the Many Hymns,” Urania the “Heavenly,” and Calliope “She of the Beautiful Voice.” Because dancing was a regular accompaniment of song, it is not remarkable that Hesiod called one of his nine “Delighting in the Dance,” Terpsichore.

The Muses are often spoken of as unmarried, but they are repeatedly referred to as the mothers of famous sons, such as Orpheus, Rhesus, Eumolpus, and others connected somehow either with poetry and song or with Thrace and its neighbourhood, or both. In other words, all their myths are secondary, attached for one reason or another to the original vague and nameless group. Hence there is no consistency in these minor tales—Terpsichore, for example, is named as the mother of several different men by various authors and Orpheus generally is called the son of Calliope but occasionally of Polymnia.

Statues of the Muses were a popular decoration in long galleries and similar places naturally, sculptors did not make them all alike but gave each a different attribute, such as a lyre or scroll. This may have contributed to the fanciful distribution of individual Muses among the different arts and sciences, especially in Roman times. The lists that have come down are all late and disagree with one another. A common but by no means definitive list is the following:

Feral Flute

They are surrounded by flowers. They turn white as bone. They died when Orpheus helped the Argonauts pass them safely. They died when Odysseus took Circe’s advice to pass them tied to a mast. They sing like the Muses who wear their feathers. Hera introduced them to the Muses. They nest in Hera’s hands. They follow Artemis’s lead. Aphrodite gave them wings. Demeter took their wings. Demeter gave them wings. They serve Persephone. Their music causes obsession. Their music erases fear.

Like the Muses, the Sirens are singing bird women linked to water with changeable names, numbers, instruments and homes. They put secrets and unbreakable charms into song and they gathered flowers with Persephone. Three different Muses are called the Sirens’ mother: Terpsichore the dancing Muse, Melpomene the tragic Muse and Kalliope the epic Muse. The name of another Muse, Achelois, becomes the group title of the Sirens, the Acheloides, when they are daughters of the river God Achelous. One Siren and one Muse even have the same name, Thelxinoe “the enchantress” or “heart’s delight.”

The Sirens have roots in the sky, the sea and the earth. In older genealogies, they are children of a river and the earth or another river and a sky woman. The story goes that Heracles and Achelous, a shape-shifting river God, once fought each other for days. They were fighting over who would marry Deianeira or for possession of the cornucopia, the horn of plenty that Amaltheia used to feed baby Zeus. Hercules tore off one of Achelous’s horns and the blood of the fish-tailed God fell onto the earth, Gaia. The Sirens sprang up from the blood-soaked ground, mirroring the birth of Aphrodite and the Furies. But others say their father is the Acheron river and their mother is Sterope, a name also used by one of the Pleiades and a daughter of the sun.
Later, they became daughters of the sea God Phorcus/Phorcys, “the hidden dangers of the deep.” They sit on islands named for flowers with rocky shores and rapid waters that rush musically, singing and calling. Sailors say if anyone hears them and survives, the Sirens will turn to stone or die, raising the question of how the sailors knew the Sirens existed in the first place. Others say when the Sirens lost their contest with the Muses, they fell into the sea and became islands of white rock covered in wild flowers.

Hera, the God of thunder and the Queen of heaven whose mane of hair stretches across the storm clouds. Closer to the ground are Dionysus and Coronis. Dionysus is a hidden earthly version of Zeus. Coronis is a nymph who may disguise Hera when mentioning the old Goddess by name would reveal far too many buried secrets. Hera once coaxed the Sirens into a song contest with the Muses. When the Sirens lost, they turned white, once again mirroring the Furies. The Muses took the Sirens’ wing feathers to weave into crowns for inspiration perhaps. Yet after all this, Hera still appears holding the Sirens in her hands, honoring her inspiring little song birds.

As pairs, the Sirens create harmonies with the aulos and the lyre. Their various names refer to glory or splendor and enchantment Aglaopheme of the “splendid voice,” Aglaophonos the “glorious sounding,” Thelxiope who is “persuasive,” Thelxiepeia of the “enchanting words” and Thelchtereia the “soothing watcher or enchantress.”
Siren trios play aulos and lyre and sing in a mixed consort of traditions. They are the daughters of the Muse Melpomene and the horned river God Achelous, but there are two different versions of these three. One set of triplets have names that Aphrodite would approve: Peisinoe the “seductive”, Aglaope the “glorious voice” and Thelxinoe the “enchanting voice.” The other three sisters have names that Artemis might claim: Ligeia the “bright voice,” Leucosia the “white Goddess/substance,” and Parthenope the “virginal/maiden voice.” It cannot be a coincidence that Aphrodite gave the Sirens wings when they said they wanted to be virgins, like Artemis, forever. Parthenope in particular seems to cross the boundary between these two differing Goddesses. At her tomb, torch races were held in her honor every year, a tradition of Artemis and Hecate. And she was a bird Goddess in her own right, sharing Aphrodite’s doves and swans.
The Sirens also gather in flocks, promising to tell all the stories in the world, if you will just stop your life for a moment or two. Some borrow the earlier names and others add yet more names to the list. Peisthoe the “seductive”, Pisinoe who “affects the mind,” Teles who is “perfection,” Raidne who “improves" or "sprinkles water,” Himerope whose “voice creates desire” and Molpe and her “song and dance” all spin round each other like feathers in a breeze.
And Plato tells us that there are eight Sirens, named for the scale tones, who each sing one note in perfect harmony with the spheres of the sky. The star loving Centaurs forgot to eat and starved when they heard these Sirens turning the secrets of the universe into music.

Persephone, the Muses and the Sirens grew up together. When Persephone was carried off by Hades, the Sirens asked Demeter for wings so they could search the world for their friend. But when the Sirens wouldn’t or couldn’t tell Demeter where her daughter had gone, she bound them to the earth Persephone had vanished into.
Yet after all this, the Sirens settled into places of honor in front of Persephone’s throne. They used their music to ease the fear and pain of death and guide underworld travelers through the maze of their own souls. Persephone even sent the Sirens flying back out into the world, their wings fuller than ever, carrying her blessings. And whispers began that their true mother was Chthonia, “the depths of the earth,” bringing us back round to the story of the Sirens springing out of Gaia, the earth itself.


The word "Muses" (Ancient Greek: Μοῦσαι , romanized: Moûsai) perhaps came from the o-grade of the Proto-Indo-European root *men- (the basic meaning of which is "put in mind" in verb formations with transitive function and "have in mind" in those with intransitive function), [2] or from root *men- ("to tower, mountain") since all the most important cult-centres of the Muses were on mountains or hills. [3] R. S. P. Beekes rejects the latter etymology and suggests that a Pre-Greek origin is also possible. [4]

The earliest known records of the Nine Muses come from Boeotia, the homeland of Hesiod. Some ancient authorities regarded the Nine Muses as of Thracian origin. [5] In Thrace, a tradition of three original Muses persisted. [6]

In the first century BC, Diodorus Siculus cited Homer and Hesiod to the contrary, observing:

Writers similarly disagree also concerning the number of the Muses for some say that there are three, and others that there are nine, but the number nine has prevailed since it rests upon the authority of the most distinguished men, such as Homer and Hesiod and others like them. [7]

Diodorus states (Book I.18) that Osiris first recruited the nine Muses, along with the satyrs, while passing through Aethiopia, before embarking on a tour of all Asia and Europe, teaching the arts of cultivation wherever he went.

According to Hesiod's account (c. 600 BC), generally followed by the writers of antiquity, the Nine Muses were the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (i.e., "Memory" personified), figuring as personifications of knowledge and the arts, especially poetry, literature, dance and music.

The Roman scholar Varro (116–27 BC) relates that there are only three Muses: one born from the movement of water, another who makes sound by striking the air, and a third who is embodied only in the human voice. They were called Melete or "Practice", Mneme or "Memory" and Aoide or "Song". The Quaestiones Convivales of Plutarch (46–120 AD) also report three ancient Muses (9.I4.2–4). [8] [9]

However, the classical understanding of the Muses tripled their triad and established a set of nine goddesses, who embody the arts and inspire creation with their graces through remembered and improvised song and mime, writing, traditional music, and dance. It was not until Hellenistic times that the following systematic set of functions became associated with them, and even then some variation persisted both in their names and in their attributes:

    (epic poetry) (history) (flutes and music) (comedy and pastoral poetry) (tragedy) (dance) (love poetry and lyric poetry) (sacred poetry) (astronomy)

According to Pausanias, who wrote in the later second century AD, [10] there were originally three Muses, worshipped on Mount Helicon in Boeotia: Aoide ("song" or "tune"), Melete ("practice" or "occasion"), and Mneme ("memory"). [11] Together, these three form the complete picture of the preconditions of poetic art in cult practice.

In Delphi too three Muses were worshiped, but with other names: Nete, Mese, and Hypate, which are assigned as the names of the three chords of the ancient musical instrument, the lyre. [12]

Alternatively, later they were called [ by whom? ] Cephisso, Apollonis, and Borysthenis - names which characterize them as daughters of Apollo. [13]

A later tradition recognized a set of four Muses: Thelxinoë, Aoide, Archē, and Melete, said to be daughters of Zeus and Plusia or of Ouranos. [14]

One of the people frequently associated with the Muses was Pierus. By some he was called the father (by a Pimpleian nymph, called Antiope by Cicero) of a total of seven Muses, called Neilṓ (Νειλώ), Tritṓnē (Τριτώνη), Asōpṓ (Ἀσωπώ), Heptápora (Ἑπτάπορα), Achelōís, Tipoplṓ (Τιποπλώ), and Rhodía (Ῥοδία). [15] [16]

According to Hesiod's Theogony (seventh century BC), they were daughters of Zeus, king of the gods, and Mnemosyne, Titan goddess of memory. Hesiod in Theogony narrates that the Muses brought to people forgetfulness, that is, the forgetfulness of pain and the cessation of obligations. [17]

For Alcman and Mimnermus, they were even more primordial, springing from the early deities Ouranos and Gaia. Gaia is Mother Earth, an early mother goddess who was worshipped at Delphi from prehistoric times, long before the site was rededicated to Apollo, possibly indicating a transfer to association with him after that time.

Sometimes the Muses are referred to as water nymphs, associated with the springs of Helicon and with Pieris. It was said that the winged horse Pegasus touched his hooves to the ground on Helicon, causing four sacred springs to burst forth, from which the Muses, also known as pegasides, were born. [18] [19] Athena later tamed the horse and presented him to the Muses (compare the Roman inspiring nymphs of springs, the Camenae, the Völva of Norse Mythology and also the apsaras in the mythology of classical India).

Classical writers set Apollo as their leader, Apollon Mousagetēs ("Apollo Muse-leader"). [20] In one myth, the Muses judged a contest between Apollo and Marsyas. They also gathered the pieces of the dead body of Orpheus, son of Calliope, and buried them in Leivithra. In a later myth, Thamyris challenged them to a singing contest. They won and punished Thamyris by blinding him and robbing him of his singing ability.

According to a myth from Ovid's Metamorphoses—alluding to the connection of Pieria with the Muses—Pierus, king of Macedon, had nine daughters he named after the nine Muses, believing that their skills were a great match to the Muses. He thus challenged the Muses to a match, resulting in his daughters, the Pierides, being turned into chattering jays (with κίσσα often erroneously translated as magpies) for their presumption. [21]

Pausanias records a tradition of two generations of Muses the first are the daughters of Ouranos and Gaia, the second of Zeus and Mnemosyne. Another, rarer genealogy is that they are daughters of Harmonia (the daughter of Aphrodite and Ares), which contradicts the myth in which they were dancing at the wedding of Harmonia and Cadmus.

Children Edit

Calliope had Ialemus and Orpheus with Apollo. But according to a variation, the father of Orpheus was actually Oeagrus, but Apollo adopted the boy and taught him the skill of lyre. Calliope trained him in singing.

Linus was said [ by whom? ] to have been the son of Apollo and one of the Muses, either Calliope or Terpsichore or Urania. Rhesus was the son of Strymon and Calliope or Euterpe.

The sirens were the children of Achelous and Melpomene or Terpsichore. Kleopheme was the daughter of Erato and Malos. Hyacinth was the son of Clio, according to an unpopular account.

Hymenaeus was assigned as Apollo's son by one of the muses, either Calliope, or Clio, or Terpsichore, or Urania. Corybantes were the children of Thalia and Apollo.

The Muses had several temples and shrines in ancient Greece, their two main cult centres being Mount Helikon in Boiotia and Pieria in Makedonia. Strabo wrote:

"Helikon, not far distant from Parnassos, rivals it both in height and in circuit for both are rocky and covered with snow, and their circuit comprises no large extent of territory. Here are the temple of the Mousai and Hippukrene and the cave of the Nymphai called the Leibethrides and from this fact one might infer that those who consecrated Helikon to the Mousai were Thrakians, the same who dedicated Pieris and Leibethron and Pimpleia [in Pieria] to the same goddesses. The Thrakians used to be called Pieres, but, now that they have disappeared, the Makedonians hold these places." [22]

The cult of the Muses was also commonly connected to that of Apollo.

Muse Domain Emblem
Calliope Epic poetry Writing tablet, Stylus, Lyre
Clio History Scrolls, Books, Cornett, Laurel wreath
Erato Love poetry Cithara (an ancient Greek musical instrument in the lyre family)
Euterpe Music, Song, and Lyric poetry Aulos (an ancient Greek musical instrument like a flute), panpipes, laurel wreath
Melpomene Tragedy Tragic mask, Sword (or any kind of blade), Club, Kothornos (boots)
Polyhymnia Hymns Veil, Grapes (referring to her as an agricultural goddess)
Terpsichore Dance Lyre, Plectrum
Thalia Comedy Comic mask, Shepherd's crook (the vaudeville act of pulling someone off the stage with a hook is a reference to Thalia's crook), Ivy wreath
Urania Astronomy (Christian poetry in later times) Globe and compass

Some Greek writers give the names of the nine Muses as Kallichore, Helike, Eunike, Thelxinoë, Terpsichore, Euterpe, Eukelade, Dia, and Enope. [23]

In Renaissance and Neoclassical art, the dissemination of emblem books such as Cesare Ripa's Iconologia (1593 and many further editions) helped standardize the depiction of the Muses in sculpture and painting, so they could be distinguished by certain props. These props, or emblems, became readily identifiable by the viewer, enabling one immediately to recognize the Muse and the art with which she had become associated. Here again, Calliope (epic poetry) carries a writing tablet Clio (history) carries a scroll and books Euterpe (song and elegiac poetry) carries a flute, the aulos Erato (lyric poetry) is often seen with a lyre and a crown of roses Melpomene (tragedy) is often seen with a tragic mask Polyhymnia (sacred poetry) is often seen with a pensive expression Terpsichore (choral dance and song) is often seen dancing and carrying a lyre Thalia (comedy) is often seen with a comic mask and Urania (astronomy) carries a pair of compasses and the celestial globe.

In society Edit

The Greek word mousa is a common noun as well as a type of goddess: it literally means "art" or "poetry". According to Pindar, to "carry a mousa" is "to excel in the arts". The word derives from the Indo-European root men-, which is also the source of Greek Mnemosyne and mania, English "mind", "mental" and "monitor", Sanskrit mantra and Avestan Mazda. [24]

The Muses, therefore, were both the embodiments and sponsors of performed metrical speech: mousike (whence the English term "music") was just "one of the arts of the Muses". Others included Science, Geography, Mathematics, Philosophy, and especially Art, Drama, and inspiration. In the archaic period, before the widespread availability of books (scrolls), this included nearly all of learning. The first Greek book on astronomy, by Thales, took the form of dactylic hexameters, as did many works of pre-Socratic philosophy. Both Plato and the Pythagoreans explicitly included philosophy as a sub-species of mousike. [25] The Histories of Herodotus, whose primary medium of delivery was public recitation, were divided by Alexandrian editors into nine books, named after the nine Muses.

For poet and "law-giver" Solon, [26] the Muses were "the key to the good life" since they brought both prosperity and friendship. Solon sought to perpetuate his political reforms by establishing recitations of his poetry—complete with invocations to his practical-minded Muses—by Athenian boys at festivals each year. He believed that the Muses would help inspire people to do their best.

In literature Edit

Ancient authors and their imitators invoke Muses when writing poetry, hymns or epic history. The invocation occurs near the beginning of their work. It asks for help or inspiration from the Muses, or simply invites the Muse to sing directly through the author.

Originally, the invocation of the Muse was an indication that the speaker was working inside the poetic tradition, according to the established formulas. For example:

These things declare to me from the beginning,

ye Muses who dwell in the house of Olympus,

and tell me which of them first came to be.

— Hesiod (c. 700 BCE), Theogony (Hugh G. Evelyn-White translation, 2015)

Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns

driven time and again off course, once he had plundered

the hallowed heights of Troy.

—Homer (c. 700 - 600 BCE), in Book I of The Odyssey (Robert Fagles translation, 1996)

O Muse! the causes and the crimes relate

What goddess was provok'd, and whence her hate

For what offense the Queen of Heav'n began

To persecute so brave, so just a man [. ]

—Virgil (c. 29 - 19 BCE), in Book I of the Aeneid (John Dryden translation, 1697)

Besides Homer and Virgil, other famous works that included an invocation of the Muse are the first of the carmina by Catullus, Ovid's Metamorphoses and Amores, Dante's Inferno (Canto II), Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde (Book II), Shakespeare's Henry V (Act 1, Prologue), his 38th sonnet, and Milton's Paradise Lost (openings of Books 1 and 7).

In cults and modern museums Edit

When Pythagoras arrived at Croton, his first advice to the Crotoniates was to build a shrine to the Muses at the center of the city, to promote civic harmony and learning. Local cults of the Muses often became associated with springs or with fountains. The Muses themselves were sometimes called Aganippids because of their association with a fountain called Aganippe. Other fountains, Hippocrene and Pirene, were also important locations associated with the Muses. Some sources occasionally referred to the Muses as "Corycides" (or "Corycian nymphs") after a cave on Mount Parnassos, called the Corycian Cave. Pausanias referred to the Muses by the surnames "Ardalides" or "Ardaliotides", because of a sanctuary to them at Troezen said to have been built by the mythical Ardalus.

The Muses were venerated especially in Boeotia, in the Valley of the Muses near Helicon, and in Delphi and the Parnassus, where Apollo became known as Mousagetes ("Muse-leader") after the sites were rededicated to his cult.

Often Muse-worship was associated with the hero-cults of poets: the tombs of Archilochus on Thasos and of Hesiod and Thamyris in Boeotia all played host to festivals in which poetic recitations accompanied sacrifices to the Muses. The Library of Alexandria and its circle of scholars formed around a mousaion (i.e., "museum" or shrine of the Muses) close to the tomb of Alexander the Great. Many Enlightenment figures sought to re-establish a "Cult of the Muses" in the 18th century. A famous Masonic lodge in pre-Revolutionary Paris was called Les Neuf Soeurs ("The Nine Sisters", that is, the Nine Muses) Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, Danton, and other influential Enlightenment figures attended it. As a side-effect of this movement the word "museum" (originally, "cult place of the Muses") came to refer to a place for the public display of knowledge.

In modern art, film, literature Edit

The Muses are explicitly used in modern English to refer to an artistic inspiration, as when one cites one's own artistic muse, and also implicit in words and phrases such as "amuse", "museum" (Latinised from mouseion—a place where the Muses were worshipped), "music", and "musing upon". [27] In current literature, the influential role that the Muse plays has been extended to the political sphere. [28]

Places named after the Muses Edit

In New Orleans, Louisiana, there are streets named for all nine Muses. It is commonly held that the local pronunciation of the names has been colorfully anglicized in an unusual manner by the "Yat" dialect. The pronunciations are actually in line with the French, Spanish and Creole roots of the city. [29]

Melpomene: A Tragic Mother of Sirens or a Misunderstood Muse? - History


"Sing to me, oh Muse. "

The Muses of Greek mythology had one of the most important functions of all: to inspire poets and promote the arts and sciences. The fortunate person inspired by them was held in the highest esteem and considered sacred far beyond any priest. The Muses were often described as the queens of song, and no Olympian banquet was complete without them.

According to the earliest writers the Muses were the inspiring goddesses of songs, and they eventually were portrayed as divinities presiding over the different kinds of poetry and over the arts and sciences. As patrons of the fine arts, the Muses promoted the more civilized aspects of human existence.

The ancient writer Hesiod said of them, "They are all of one mind, their hearts are set upon song and their spirit is free from care. He is happy whom the Muses love. For though a man has sorrow and grief in his soul, yet when the servant of the Muses sings, at once he forgets his dark thoughts and remembers not his troubles. Such is the holy gift of the Muses to men."

That was the reason that the Muses were frequently invoked over thousands of years of artistic expression and remain yet today reference points for artists, poets, writers and musicians.

They were said to be the daughters of Zeus, king of the Olympian gods, and Mnemosyne, the goddess of Memory, even though others claim that their parents were actually Uranus (Sky) and Gaea (Mother Earth). They were born in Pieria, at the foot of Mount Olympus.

After the Titans had been defeated and Zeus had consolidated his rule and established himself as the supreme Olympian, he lay with the Titaness Mnemosyne for nine nights because he needed to create someone to sing of his glory. The result was the Muses.

Seated on lofty Mount Olympus near the throne of Zeus, they sang of his greatness, about the marvelous deeds of the splendid Greek heroes and of the origin of the stars, the earth, and all its wonderful creatures. They also delighted in parties and feasts and took great pleasure in song and dance.

But they weren't just beautiful party animals. It was the Muses who discovered letters and thus created poetry and writing. They were brilliant.

(It was the Song of the Muse which inspired the Myth Man to create this web site for you.)

The Muses took joy in communication and gave birth to dialogue, in essence helping to create that which they sang about. By praising the gods, they completed their glory. By boasting of the glorious deeds of valiant warriors they forever etched those names in history - If the Muse didn't sing about you, you were forgotten. it was almost as if you had never existed.

The god dearest to them was Apollo and they were his faithful followers. For that reason he is often called the Musegetes, which means "Leader of the Muses". A few others claim that Hypnos, the god of Sleep, was their favorite. Beside them on Mount Olympus were seated the three Charites (Graces), who were the attendants of Aphrodite and personified charm and beauty, and next to the Graces sat Himerus (Desire).

After Pegasus the flying horse was born the young colt was taken in by the goddess Athena and carried to Mount Helicon where she entrusted the Muses with his care. In his excitement at meeting the sisters, young Pegasus struck the the side of the mountain with his hooves and caused the springs of Aganippe and Hippocrene to gush forth their bounty of inspiration.

These springs were sacred to the Muses as were all springs and wells.

Urania, the Muse of Astronomy and Universal Love (also an aspect of Aphrodite) showed the most interest in the rearing of Pegasus. Prophesying of his future heroic deeds and eventual celestial honor she grieved the most when Bellerophon, at Athena's beckoning, came to take Pegasus away from Mount Helicon. Urania rejoiced when Pegasus rejoined the Muses on Mount Olympus following the death of Bellerophon.

The Muses are sometimes called the Pierides, but others think that these were nine sisters, daughters of a man called Pierus, who dared challenge the Muses in a contest of song and, having been defeated, were turned into magpies, greenfinches, goldfinches, ducks and other birds.

The Pierides were not the only ones punished by the Muses for competing against them. A minstrel named Thamyris engaged in a musical contest with the Muses in a city called Dorium, but of course he lost and they took his eyes and minstrelsy. But others say that, for his foolish boast against the Muses, he was first punished in Hades. Demodocus was another man whom they deprived of his eyes, but at least he received the gift of song from them.

Even though the Sirens were supposed to be daughters of the Muse of dance Terpsichore and the river god Achelous, still they were prompted by Hera to compete in song with the Muses and naturally couldn't match them. As punishment the Muses plucked their feathers and made crowns out of them for themselves.

Another one of their victims was King Pyreneus of Daulis. He attempted to forcibly seduce the Muses but perished when he leapt from the pinnacle of a tower trying to follow them - The Muses could fly. the king couldn't.

The Muses taught Aristaeus the arts of prophecy and healing, and instructed the nymph Echo to play beautiful music. Their disciples also included the Sphinx, who learned her riddle from them, and Musaeus, whom some call a son of the great poet Orpheus, was trained by the Muses.

The Muses sing usually for the gods, but they are said to have sung in other special occasions such as the funeral of Achilles, the fallen hero of the Trojan War, and the weddings of Peleus, and of Cadmus & Harmonia. But it was rare indeed for the Muses to sing other than for the gods.

The sacrifices offered to the Muses, in return for divine inspiration, consisted of libations of water or milk, and of honey.

The number of Muses varies over time. At first only one Muse was spoken of but later poets mention three: Melete (Practice, Study), Mneme (Memory), and Aoede (Song). They were nymphs in Pieria, which is found in western Thrace, and their cult was brought to Mount Helicon in Boeotia by the Aloads.

(Mount Helicon was one of the Muses' sacred mountains, the others being Pierus in Pieria, where they were born, Mount Parnassus with its Castalian spring and, naturally, Mount Olympus. The worship of the Muses was introduced from Thrace and Pieria into Boeotia, particularly the aforementioned Mount Helicon and its sacred fountains of Aganippe and Hippocrene.)

Eventually it became accepted that there were nine muses: Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia, and Urania. Each had her own domain:

Calliope is the eldest and most distinguished of the nine Muses and initially identified with philosophy. She is the Muse of eloquence and epic or heroic poetry. Calliope, which means "beautiful voice", is the mother of the great poets and musicians Orpheus and Linus with Apollo.

When Persephone, goddess of the Underworld, argued with the goddess of love Aphrodite over the affections of handsome Adonis, Zeus sent wise Calliope to be the judge and arbitress. She decided that Adonis should spent part of the year with Persephone and the rest with Aphrodite. Her emblems are a stylus and wax tablets, and sometimes with a roll of paper or a book.

Clio is the Muse of historical and heroic poetry. With Pierus, the king of Macedonia, she is the mother of Hyacinth, who was accidentally killed by his beloved Apollo while practicing throwing the discus one day.

She was credited for introducing the Phoenician alphabet into Greece. Her attribute is usually a parchment scroll or a set of tablets. She is often also represented in a sitting or standing attitude, with an open roll of paper, or chest of books.

Her name means "Proclaimer" and she is so named because her songs and those of the poets bestow everlasting glory upon those praised by her.

Erato is the Muse of lyric poetry, particularly love and erotic poetry, and mimicry. Her name means "Lovely" and she is usually depicted with a lyre. She is so named because she turns those who follow her into men who are desired and worthy to be loved. She is particularly fond of the poets of love.

Euterpe's name means "Delight" and indeed she brings delight and joy to all those who hear her sing. She was the Muse of lyric poetry and music, particularly the flute, which she invented. The double-flute is her attribute.

Melpomene is the Muse of tragedy. She is usually represented with a tragic mask, the club of Hercules or a sword, and wearing the cothurnus, which are the boots traditionally worn by tragic actors.

Sometimes she holds a knife or club in one hand, a mask in the other, and her head is surrounded with vine leaves. Her name loosely translates to "choir" and she is named because of her chanting which charms and inspires her listeners.

Polyhymnia is the Greek Muse of the sublime and sacred hymn, eloquence and dance. She is usually represented in a pensive or meditating position and appears without any attribute. She is a serious looking woman, dressed in a long cloak and resting with an elbow on a pillar. Sometimes she holds a finger to her mouth.

Her name means "many songs" and is sometimes spelled Polymnia. She is so named because by her great praises she brings honor and distinction to writers and poets whose works have won for them immortal fame.

Terpsichore is the Muse of dancing and the dramatic chorus, and later of lyric poetry. Hence the word terpsichorean, pertaining to dance. She is usually represented seated and holding a lyre or a plectrum. According to some traditions, she is the mother of the Sirens with the river-god Achelous. She is also occasionally mentioned as the mother of Linus by Apollo.

Terpsichore delights her disciples with the good things to be attained from education, choral dance and song. Those who have honored her in dances are dearest to her.

Thalia presided over comedy and pastoral, merry and idyllic poetry. She also favored rural pursuits and is represented holding a comic mask and a shepherd's staff, or a wreath of ivy, which are the attributes she is most often associated with. She is worshipped because the fame of those whose praises she sings flourishes and lasts for long periods of time.

Please note that Thalia is also the name of one of the three Graces (Charites).

Urania is the Greek Muse of astronomy, astrology and Universal love. Along with her sister Muse Terpsichore she is occasionally mentioned as the mother of Linus by Apollo. She is represented with a globe in her left hand and a peg in her right hand. Urania is dressed in a cloak embroidered with stars and she keeps her eyes towards the sky.

Her name means "Heavenly" and Urania is so named because she raises her disciples to heavenly heights. Among her other talents she could foretell the future by the position of the stars. Those who are most concerned with philosophy and the heavens are dearest to her.

Melpomene – Greek Mythological Muse of Tragedy

In Greek mythology, there was a muse who created the inspiration for every aspect of artistic and scientific thought. The Ancient Greeks believed that with the muses, they could achieve great things. Melpomene, the ancient muse responsible for tragedy, is one of these muses. Here’s more information about who Melpomene is and how she came to become the muse of tragedy:

What Melpomene Represents

The name “Melpomene” is actually derived from an Ancient Greek word meaning, “to celebrate with dance and song.” In the early days of her worship, she was considered to be the muse of singing. Over time, the way the people viewed her changed and she became the muse of tragedy. In some traditions, she remained the muse of both singing and tragedy, depending on which tradition you adhere to.

However, in most works of art depicting her, she is usually shown holding a mask, which is the Ancient Greek symbol for tragic theater. So how did it come to be that she changed? People don’t really know, but it is usually speculated that she represented tragedy after the Greeks invented theater and regularly performed tragic plays. When she first came into being, theater hadn’t been invented yet. She became the Muse of Tragedy during the classical period of Ancient Greece.

Life of Melpomene

Melpomene had eight other sisters and each one of them was a muse like herself. It is said that the nine muses came into being because they were the daughters of Zeus, the father of the gods, and Mnemosyne, the Titan goddess of memory. Zeus and Mnemosyne came together nine days in a row, and each of these days, one of the muses was conceived.

Her sisters include Caliope, Clio, Euterpe, Erato, Polyhymnia, Thalia, and Urania and they were born around the same time as she was. As a result of this, the muses were depicted as having a close relationship and were often depicted together. However, not much is known about her besides that, aside from the fact that she was thought to be the mother of some of the sirens.

How Melpomene Was Depicted

Much of the way she was depicted came about after she became the Muse of Tragedy. She was often associated with Dionysius and would often be depicted with them. In some images, she is shown wearing a wreath made out of grapevines. Dionysius himself was often shown with her. One thing that remained certain, however, is that she was always pictured with the mask, which represents tragedy. Dionysius was often pictured wandering through the forests, sometimes alone, and perhaps he encountered Melpomene along the way.

Melpomene is the Ancient Greek muse of tragedy, and she is invoked when a tragedy is either written or performed. However, aside from the story of her birth and the fact that she is often associated with Dionysius, not much is known about her.

The 9 Muses

Of all the Olympic deities, none occupy a more distinguished position than the Muses , the nine beautiful daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne.

In their original signification, they presided merely over music, song, and dance but with the progress of civilization the arts and sciences claimed their special presiding divinities, and we see these graceful creations, in later times, sharing among them various functions, such as poetry, astronomy.

Sarcophagus known as the “Muses Sarcophagus”, representing the nine Muses and their attributes. Marble, first half of the 2nd century AD, found by the Via Ostiense. (Louvre Museum, Paris, France)

The Muses were honored alike by mortals and immortals. In Olympus , where Apollo acted as their leader, no banquet or festivity was considered complete without their joy-inspiring presence, and on earth no social gathering was celebrated without libations being poured out to them nor was any task involving intellectual effort ever undertaken, without earnestly supplicating their assistance. They endowed their chosen favourites with knowledge, wisdom, and understanding they bestowed upon the orator the gift of eloquence, inspired the poet with his noblest thoughts, and the musician with his sweetest harmonies.

Like so many of the Greek divinities, however, the refined conception of the Muses is somewhat marred by the acerbity with which they punished any effort on the part [158]of mortals to rival them in their divine powers. An instance of this is seen in the case of Thamyris, a Thracian bard, who presumed to invite them to a trial of skill in music. Having vanquished him, they not only afflicted him with blindness, but deprived him also of the power of song.

Apollo, Mnemosyne , and the Nine Muses, (by Anton Raphael Mengs, 1761)

Another example of the manner in which the gods punished presumption and vanity is seen in the story of the daughters of King Pierus. Proud of the perfection to which they had brought their skill in music, they presumed to challenge the Muses themselves in the art over which they specially presided. The contest took place on Mount Helicon, and it is said that when the mortal maidens commenced their song, the sky became dark and misty, whereas when the Muses raised their heavenly voices, all nature seemed to rejoice, and Mount Helicon itself moved with exultation. The Pierides were signally defeated, and were transformed by the Muses into singing birds, as a punishment for having dared to challenge comparison with the immortals.

Undeterred by the above example, the Sirens also entered into a similar contest. The songs of the Muses were loyal and true, whilst those of the Sirens were the false and deceptive strains with which so many unfortunate mariners had been lured to their death. The Sirens were defeated by the Muses, and as a mark of humiliation, were deprived of the feathers with which their bodies were adorned.

The oldest seat of the worship of the Muses was Pieria in Thrace , where they were supposed to have first seen the light of day. Pieria is a district on one of the sloping declivities of Mount Olympus, whence a number of rivulets, as they flow towards the plains beneath, produce those sweet, soothing sounds, which may possibly have suggested this spot as a fitting home for the presiding divinities of song.

They dwelt on the summits of Mounts Helicon, Parnassus, and Pindus, and loved to haunt the springs and fountains which gushed forth amidst these rocky [159]heights, all of which were sacred to them and to poetic inspiration. Aganippe and Hippocrene on Mount Helicon, and the Castalian spring on Mount Parnassus, were sacred to the Muses. The latter flowed between two lofty rocks above the city of Delphi , and in ancient times its waters were introduced into a square stone basin, where they were retained for the use of the Pythia and the priests of Apollo.

The libations to these divinities consisted of water, milk, and honey, but never of wine.

The NIne Muses (by Giulio Romano, 1499 – 1546)

Their names and functions are as follows:

CALLIOPE, the most honoured of the Muses, presided over heroic song and epic poetry, and is represented with a pencil in her hand, and a slate upon her knee.

CLIO, the muse of History, holds in her hand a roll of parchment, and wears a wreath of laurel.

MELPOMENE, the muse of Tragedy , bears a tragic mask.

THALIA, the muse of Comedy, carries in her right hand a shepherd’s crook, and has a comic mask beside her.

POLYHYMNIA, the muse of Sacred Hymns, is crowned with a wreath of laurel. She is always represented in a thoughtful attitude, and entirely enveloped in rich folds of drapery.

TERPSICHORE, the muse of Dance and Roundelay, is represented in the act of playing on a seven-stringed lyre.

URANIA, the muse of Astronomy, stands erect, and bears in her left hand a celestial globe.

EUTERPE, the muse of Harmony, is represented bearing a musical instrument, usually a flute.

ERATO, the muse of Love and hymeneal songs, wears a wreath of laurel, and is striking the chords of a lyre.

With regard to the origin of the Muses, it is said that they were created by Zeus in answer to a request on the part of the victorious deities, after the war with the Titans , that some special divinities should be called into existence, in order to commemorate in song the glorious deeds of the Olympian gods.

The Muses Gifts, Appearances, and Symbols

There were nine Muses, all with their own unique talents and attributes. Here are descriptions of each Muse, including what they represented, some of their physical descriptions, and symbolic items.


Calliope was the chief of the nine Muses and the patron of poetry. She was the mother or Orpheus. Her symbol was a writing tablet, which is included in almost all artistic representations of her. She was very mythically involved compared to her sisters. She is often called the goddess of marriage and the sad song god. She is known as the Beautiful Voice and typically lead the others in song.

Known as the Proclaimer, Clio was the patron of history. She invented heroic and historical poetry. She had one son named Hyacinthus, conceived with King Pierus. Hyacinthus was an attractive man but eventually killed by his lover, Apollo. His blood dripped onto the ground where a beautiful flower grew, which would be named after him. Clio is credited with introducing the Phoenician alphabet to Greece. Because of this, her symbol is a scroll, similar to Calliope.


Main descriptions of this goddess include passionate and lovely. While all the Muses were attractive, Erato had an appealing demeanor about her. She was the Muse of lyric poetry, specifically poems about love and eroticism. She was the Muse of mimicry as well and was associated with parrots and crows.


Euterpe was the most cheerful and joyful Muse. She was the Muse of lyric poetry and music. She was also responsible for pleasure and joy. While some mythologists credit Athena with the invention of the flute, many say it was actually Euterpe. Her symbol is the double flute.


Polyhymnia was the Muse of the Sacred Hymn and Eloquence. She was quite possibly the most beautiful Muse and had a somber personality. In artistic representations, she is usually shown with a serious facial expression and is either meditating or sitting with a finger to her mouth in thought. She is usually dressed in plain yet elegant long robes.


Melpomene was known as the Songstress and was the Muse of tragedy. Though associated with unwanted events, she was quite beautiful. She is normally shown wearing boots known as cothurnus and either wearing or carrying a tragic mask. Her symbols include a knife or a club.


Known simply as Whirling, Terpsichore was the Muse of dancing and choral singing. In artistic representations, she is almost always shown with a lyre in her hands and in the middle of a joyful dance. She did have at least one child but many of the stories contradict each other. In some, she is the mother of the Sirens with Achelous, the river god. Others say she is the mother of Linus with Apollo, though some texts say either Calliope or Urania have the title of Linus’ mother.


Thalia ruled over pastoral poetry and comedy. In artistic representations, she is shown holding a comic mask. She is also usually holding a shepherd’s crook, a symbolic tribute to her love of nature. She spent her free time exploring the meadows and forests.


Urania was the Muse of astrology and astronomy. Some variations of the Muses’ myths depict her as the mother of Linus. Linus’ father was Amphimarus, a son of Poseidon. He was such an incredible singer that Apollo became incredibly jealous. His jealousy eventually led him to murder Linus. Urania is usually shown with a globe in one hand and a pair of compasses in the opposite hand. In pictures, she is shown with her feet resting on a turtle, which is a symbol of retreat and silence.

Watch the video: MF In-Depth #2: The Muses Greek Mythology