Musae in Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology
（Μοῦσαι). The Muses, according to the earliest writers,
were the inspiring goddesses of song, and, according to
later noticus, divinities presiding over the different kinds
of poetry, and over the arts and sciences. They were
originally regarded as the nymphs of inspiring wells, near
which they were worshipped, and bore different names in
different places, until the Thraco-Boeotian worship of the
nine Muses spread from Boeotia over other parts of Greece,
and ultimately became generally established. (Respecting the
Muses conceived as nymphs see Schol. ad Theocrit. 7.92;
Hesych. s. v. Νύμφη; Steph. Byz. s. v. Τόρρηβος ; Serv. ad
Virg. Eclog. 7.21.)
The genealogy of the Muses is not the same in all writers.
The most common notion was, that they were the daughters of
Zeus and Mnemosyne, and born in Pieria, at the foot of Mount
Olympus (Hes. Th. 52, &c., 915; Hom. Il. 2.491, Od. 1.10;
Apollod. 1.3.1); but some call them the daughters of Uranus
and Gaea (Schol. ad Pind. Nem. 3.16; Paus. 9.29.2; Diod.
4.7; Arnob. ad v. Gent. 3.37), and others daughters of
Pierus and a Pimpleian nymph, whom Cicero (De Nat. Deor.
3.21) calls Antiope (Tzetz. ad Hes. Op. et D. p. 6; Paus.
l.c.), or of Apollo, or of Zeus and Plusia, or of Zeus and
Moneta, probably a mere translation of Mnemosyne or Mneme,
whence they are called Mnemonides (Ov. Met. 5.268), or of
Zeus and Minerva (Isid. Orig. 3.14), or lastly of Aether and
Gaea. (Hygin. Fab. Praef.) Eupheme is called the nurse of
the Muses, and at the foot of Mount Helicon her statue stood
beside that of Linus. (Paus. 9.29.3.)
With regard to the number of the Muses, we are informed that
originally three were worshipped on Mount Helicon in
Boeotia, namely, Melete (meditation), Mneme (memory), and
Aoede (song); and their worship and names are said to have
been first introduced by Ephialtes and Otus. (Paus. 9.29.1,
&c.) Three were also recognised at Sicyon, where one of them
bore the name of Polymatheia (Plut. Sympos. 9.14), and at
Delphi, where their names were identical with those of the
lowest, middle, and highest chord of the lyre, viz. Nete,
Mese, and Hypate (Plut. l.c.), or Cephisso, Apollonis, and
Borysthenis, which names characterise them as the daughters
of Apollo. (Tzetz. l.c. ; Arnob. 3.37; Serv. ad Virg. Eclog.
7.21; Diod. 4.7.) As daughters of Zeus and Plusia we find
mention of four Muses, viz. Thelxinoe (the heart
delighting), Aoede (song), Arche (beginning), and Melete.
(Cic., Arnob., Tzetz. ll. cc. ; Serv. ad Aen. 1.12.) Some
accounts, again, in which they are called daughters of
Pierus, mention seven Muses, viz. Neilo, Tritone, Asopo,
Heptapora, Achelois, Tipoplo, and Rhodia (Tzetz. Arnob. ll.
cc.), and others, lastly, mention eight, which is also said
to have been the number recognised at Athens. (Arnob. l.c.;
Serv. ad Aen. 1.12; Plat. De Re Publ. p. 116.) At length,
however, the number nine appears to have become established
in all Greece. Homer sometimes mentions Musa only in the
singular, and sometimes Musae in the plural, and once only
(Od. 24.60) he speaks of nine Muses, though without
mentioning any of their names. Hesiod (Hes. Th. 77. &c.) is
the first that states the names of all the nine, and these
nine names henceforth became established. They are Cleio,
Euterpe, Thaleia, Melpomene, Terpsichore, Erato, Polymnia,
Urania, and Calliope. Plutarch (l.c.) states that in some
places all nine were designated by the common name Mneiae,
i. e. Remembrances.
If we now inquire into the notions entertained about the
nature and character of the Muses, we find that, in the
Homeric poems, they are the goddesses of song and poetry,
and live in Olympus. (Il. 2.484.) There they sing the
festive songs at the repasts of the immortals (Il. 1.604,
Hymn. in Apoll. Pyth. 11), and at the funeral of Patroclus
they sing lamentations. (Od. 24.60; comp. Pind. Isthm.
8.126.) The power which we find most frequently assigned to
them, is that of bringing before the mind of the mortal poet
the events which he has to relate; and that of conferring
upon him the gift of song, and of giving gracefulness to
what he utters. (Il. 2.484, 491, 761, Od. 1.1, 8.63, &c.,
481, 488; Eustath. ad Hom. p. 259.) There seems to be no
reason for doubting that the earliest poets in their
invocation of the Muse or Muses were perfectly sincere, and
that they actually believed in their being inspired by the
goddesses; but in later times among the Greeks and the
Romans, as well as in our own days, the invocation of the
Muses is a mere formal imitation of the early poets.
Thamyris, who presumed to excel the Muses, was deprived by
them of the gift they had bestowed on him, and punished with
blindness. (Hom. Il. 2.594, &c.; Apollod. 1.3.3.) The
Seirens, who likewise ventured upon a contest with them,
were deprived of the feathers of their wings, and the Muses
themselves put them on as an ornament (Eustath. ad Hom. P.
85); and the nine daughters of Pierus, who presumed to rival
the Muses, were metamorphosed into birds. (Ant. Lib. 9; Ov.
Met. 5.300, &c.) As poets and bards derived their power from
them, they are frequently called either their disciples or
sons. (Hom. Od. 8.481, Hymn. in Lun. 20 ; Hes. Th. 22; Pind.
Nem. iii.; Serv. ad Virg. Georg. 2.476.) Thus Linus is
called a son of Amphimarus and Urania (Paus. 9.29.3), or of
Apollo and Calliope, or Terpsichore (Apollod. 1.3.2);
Hyacinthus a son of Pierus and Cleio (Apollod. 1.3.3);
Orpheus a son of Calliope or Cleio, and Thamyris a son of
Erato. These and a few others are the cases in which the
Muses are described as mothers; but the more general idea
was, that, like other nymphs, they were virgin divinities.
Being goddesses of song, they are naturally connected with
Apollo, the god of the lyre, who like them instructs the
bards, and is mentioned along with them even by Homer. (Il.
1.603, Od. 8.488.) In later times Apollo is placed in very
close connection with the Muses, for he is described as the
leader of the choir of the Muses by the surname Μουσαγέτης.
(Diod. 1.18.) A further feature in the character of the
Muses is their prophetic power, which belongs to them,
partly because they were regarded as inspiring nymphs, and
partly because of their connection with the prophetic god of
Delphi. Hence, they instructed, for example, Aristaeus in
the art of prophecy. (Apollon. 2.512.) That dancing, too,
was one of the occupations of the Muses, may be inferred
from the close connection existing among the Greeks between
music, poetry, and dancing. As the inspiring nymphs loved to
dwell on Mount Helicon, they were naturally associated with
Dionysus and dramatic poetry, and hence they are described
as the companions, playmates, or nurses of Dionysus.
The worship of the Muses points originally to Thrace and
Pieria about mount Olympus, from whence it was introduced
into Boeotia, in such a manner that the names of mountains,
grottoes, and wells, connected with their worship, were
likewise transferred from the north to the south. Near mount
Helicon, Ephialtes and Otus are said to have offered the
first sacrifices to them; and in the same place there was a
sanctuary with their statues, the sacred wells Aganippe and
Hippocrene, and on mount Leibethrion, which is connected
with Helicon, there was a sacred grotto of the Muses. (Paus.
9.29.1, &c., 30.1, 31.3; Strab. pp. 410, 471; Serv. ad Virg.
Eclog. 10.11.) Pierus, a Macedonian, is said to have been
the first who introduced the worship of the nine Muses, from
Thrace to Thespiae, at the foot of mount Helicon. (Paus.
9.29.2.) There they had a temple and statues, and the
Thespians celebrated a solemn festival of the Muses on mount
Helicon, called Μουσεῖα (Paus. 9.27.4, 31.3; Pind. Fragm. p.
656, ed. Boeckh; Diod. 17.16.) Mount Parnassus was likewise
sacred to them, with the Castalian spring, near which they
had a temple. (Plut. De Pyth. Orac. 17.) From Boeotia, which
thus became the focus of the worship of the nine Muses, it
afterwards spread into the adjacent and more distant parts
of Greece. Thus we find at Athens a temple of the Muses in
the Academy (Paus. 1.30.2); at Sparta sacrifices were
offered to them before fighting a battle (3.17.5); at
Troezene, where their worship had been introduced by
Ardalus, sacrifices were offered to them conjointly with
Hypnos, the god of sleep (Paus. 3.31.4 , &c.); at Corinth,
Peirene, the spring of Pegasus, was sacred to them (Pers.
Sat. Prol. 4; Stat. Silv. 2.7. 1); at Rome they had an altar
in common with Hercules, who was also regarded as Musagetes,
and they possessed a temple at Ambracia adorned with their
statues. (Plut. Quaest. Rom. 59; Plin. Nat. 35.36.) The
sacrifices offered to them consisted of libations of water
or milk, and of honey. (Schol. ad Soph. Oed. Col. 100; Serv.
ad Virg. Eclog. 7.21.) The various surnames by which they
are designated by the poets are for the most part derived
from the places which were sacred to them or in which they
were worshipped, while some are descriptive of the sweetness
of their songs.
In the most ancient works of art we find only three Muses,
and their attributes are musical instruments, such as the
flute, the lyre, or the barbiton. Later artists gave to each
of the nine sisters different attributes as well as
different attitudes, of which we here add a brief account.
1. Calliope, the Muse of epic poetry, appears with a tablet
and stylus, and sometimes with a roll of paper; 2. Cleio,
the Muse of history, appears in a sitting attitude, with an
open roll of paper, or an open chest of books; 3. Euterpe,
the Muse of lyric poetry, with a flute; 4. Melpomene, the
Muse of tragedy, with a tragic mask, the club of Heracles,
or a sword, her head is surrounded with vine leaves, and she
wears the cothurnus; 5. Terpsichore, the Muse of choral
dance and song, appears with the lyre and the plectrum; 6.
Erato, the Muse of erotic poetry and mimic imitation,
sometimes, also, has the lyre; 7. Polymnia, or Polyhymnia,
the Muse of the sublime hymn, usually appears without any
attribute, in a pensive or meditating attitude; 8. Urania,
the Muse of astronomy, with a staff pointing to a globe; 9.
Thaleia, the Muse of comedy and of merry or idyllic poetry,
appears with the comic mask, a shepherd's staff, or a wreath
of ivy. In some representations the Muses are seen with
feathers on their heads, alluding to their contest with the
Seirens. (Hirt, Mythol. Bilderb. p. 203, &c.) - A Dictionary
of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, William Smith,