The Muses of Greek Mythology
The Muses are the Greek goddesses who preside over the
arts and sciences and inspire those who excel at these pursuits.
These are the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne ("memory"), they were
born at Pieria at the foot of Mount Olympus.
The original number of muses and their names varies in
earlier times as their evolution blossomed in Greek mythology. At first, three
muses were worshipped on Mount Helicon in Boeotia: Melete
("meditation"), Mneme ("memory"), and Aoede
("song"). Another three were worshipped at Delphi and their names
represented the names of the strings of a lyre: Nete, Mese, and Hypate. Several
other versions were worshipped until the Greeks finally established the nine
muses in mythology as: Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia,
Terpsichore, Thalia, and Urania.
Sacrifices to the Muses
Ephialtes and Otus, who also founded Ascra, were the first
to sacrifice on Helicon to the Muses and to call the mountain sacred to the
Muses. Sacrifices to the Muses consisted of libations of water, milk, or honey.
Their companions are the Charities, the Horae, Eros,
Dionysus, Apollo, Aphrodite, Harmonia, and Himerus (Desire). Apollo (leader of
the choir of the Muses). Athena caught and tamed the winged horse Pegasus
and gave him to the Muses. Some of their disciples included the
Sphinx who learned her riddle from the Muses, Aristaeus, who learned the arts of
healing and prophecy from them, and Echo, who was taught by them to play music.
In Plato's Phaedrus 259c, Socrates says the locusts used
to be men before the birth of the Muses. When song appeared when the Muses were
born, some men were so overcome with delight that they sang constantly,
forgetting to eat and drink until they eventually died. These dead men became
locusts with a gift from the Muses allowing them to sing continuously from their
birth until death without the need of sustenance. When they die, the locust go
to the Muses and report which men on earth honors each, endearing a worshipper
to the Muse he follows.
The Muses could be vindictive like in the story of the contest with Thamyris.
Thamyris who excelled in minstrelsy challenged the Muses to a musical contest at
Dorium in Messenia, the agreement being if he won he would take pleasure from
all of them. The Muses won the contest, and bereft Thamyris of his eyes and
In another story, the king of Emathia (Macedonia) and his wife Euippe had nine
daughters and named them after the Muses. The daughters entered a contest with
the Muses, were defeated and were metamorphosed by the Muses into birds called
Colymbas, Iynx, Cenchris, Cissa, Chloris, Acalanthis, Nessa, Pipo, and Dracontis.
These names were taken from actual names of birds such as the wryneck, hawk,
jay, duck, goldfinch, and four others with no recognizable modern equivalents.
In yet another myth, it was said Hera, queen of the gods, persuaded the Sirens,
who were described in early Greek mythology as having the bodies of birds and
heads of beautiful women, to enter a singing contest with the Muses. The Muses
won the competition and then plucked out all of the Sirens' feathers and made
crowns out of them.
Many places were dedicated to the Muses such as the famous Valley of the Muses -
Thespies on the eastern slopes of Mt. Helikon began it's "Mouseai"
festivals in the 6th c. B.C. It was organized every 5 years by the Thespians.
Poets and musicians from all over Greece also participated in various games
(epic, poetry, rapsodia, kithara, aulos, satyric poetry, tragedy and comedy). It
was common for ancient schools to have a shrine to the Muses called mouseion,
the source of the modern word 'museum.' The famous Museum of Alexandria, founded
by Ptolemy I, was a temple dedicated to the Muses. Before poets or storytellers
recited their work, it was customary for them to invoke the inspiration and
protection of the Muses.