Polymnia - Muse of Hymns

Polymnia - Muse of Hymns

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Polyhymnia or Polymnia was among the nine Muses or Mousai in Greek mythology. The goddess was in charge of the sacred song, music, dance, pantomime, and agriculture in the old era. Mousai were to carry out specific literary and artistic spheres when she was given these roles. Her Greek names ‘poly’ means ‘many’ and ‘hymnos’ that means ‘praise’.

The supernatural human is depicted as pensive, serious, and meditative. She often dresses in a veil and a long cloak holds a finger to her mouth and rests her elbow on a stake. Polyhymnia is at times credited as the Muse of meditation and geometry.

Polyhymnia Greek goddess brings distinction to famous authors by her great praises according to Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica. She is referred in current fiction works like in Paradiso Canto XXIII, Dante’s Divine Comedy. Polyhymnia and the other Mousai had a spring on Mount Parnassus that was sacred. Pythia that is the priests and priestesses used the water for oracle purposes like divination and prayers.

Polyhymnia Family

Polyhymnia was the daughter of Zeus, king of the gods, and Mnemmosyne, goddess of memory. She presided over poems and was believed to have discovered the lyre. Polyhymnia and her siblings resided above the clouds above the sacred Mounts Olympus, Parnassus, Pindus, and Helicon. She became Orpheus mother by Oeagrus.

The Zeus family joined the Olympian gods for entertainment and feasts where they took milk, honey, and water but never wine. They extended their roles over time to include tragedy, comedy, history, sacred hymns, rhetoric, and harmony. Polyhymnia also had a prophesying gift.

Polyhymnia Roles

According to Ancient Greeks, beliefs and traditional, Polyhymnia took part in divine inspiration prayers. She could sketch and wave her arms in the air to signify a soundless voice and pass a message with her hands. In Astrology, there is a belt asteroid named after Polyhymnia as was revealed by J. Chacornac in 1854.

Polyhymnia Powers

Muses were a source of help and inspiration to mortals. They were also arrogant and vain and could resent any being that would question their art supremacy. Polyhymnia had considerable powers. The Mousai were immortal and used the grace of their songs and beauty of their dances to comfort the heartbroken and heal the ill. They could transform and they turned Pierides into chattering birds for challenging them in a contest.

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[1.1] ZEUS & MNEMOSYNE (Hesiod Theogony 1 & 915, Mimnermus Frag, Alcman Frag 8, Solon Frag 13, Apollodorus 1.13, Pausanias 1.2.5, Diodorus Siculus 4.7.1, Orphic Hymns 76 & 77, Antoninus Liberalis 9, Cicero De Natura Deorum 3.21, Arnobius 3.37)
[1.2] ZEUS (Homer Odyssey 8.457, Homeric Hymns 32, et al)
[1.3] MNEMOSYNE (Pindar Paean 7, Terpander Frag 4, Aristotle Frag 842, Plato Theaetetus 191c)
[2.1] OURANOS & GAIA (Alcman Frag 67, Mnaseas Frag, Diodorus Siculus 4.7.1, Scholiast on Pindar, Aronobius 3.37)
[2.2] OURANOS (Mimnermos Frag, Pausanias 9.29.1, Cicero De Natura Deorum 3.21)
[2.3] ZEUS & PLOUSIA (Tzetzes on Hesiod 35)
[3.1] APOLLON (Eumelus Frag 35, Tzetzes on Hesiod 35)
[4.1] PIEROS & ANTIOPE (Cicero De Natura Deorum 3.21, Tzetzes on Hesiod 35)


[1.1] KLEIO, EUTERPE, THALEIA, MELPOMENE, TERPSIKHORE, ERATO, POLYHYMNIA, OURANIA, KALLIOPE (Hesiod Theogony 75, Apollodorus 1.13, Diodorus Siculus 4.7.1, Orphic Hymn 76)
[1.3] POLYMATHEIA (Plutarch Symposium 9.14)
[2.1] MELETE, AOEDE, MNEME (Pausanias 9.39.3)
[2.2] MELETE, AODE, ARKHE, THELXINOE (Cicero De Natura Deorum 3.21, Tzetzes on Hes. 23)
[3.1] NETE, MESE, HYPATE (Plutarch Symposium 9.14)
[3.2] KEPHISO, APOLLONIS, BORYSTHENIS (Eumelus Frag 35, Tzetzes)

Polymnia: Muse of Sacred Song, Oratory, and Lyric Poetry

The Athenian Muse of sacred song, oratory, and lyric poetry is Polymnia. This elusive inspiratrice was tough to track down I found hints, rumors, dreams, suggestions, and visions — but few hard facts.

Even her name is confusing &mdash she is referred to in some texts as Polyhymnia in others, simply Polymnia. Credited with inventing the lyre, she is the inspiration of lyric poets everywhere.

Not everyone is familiar with lyric poetry. Simply put, lyric poetry is imagistic, highly personal, brief, and full of sensory detail. This is the link between Polymnia's two sides. I have found that experiences of the sacred are also imagistic, highly personal, brief, and full of sensory detail.

Describing the sacred is akin to trying to catch a butterfly made of light. The challenge here is not to write a Christian hymn or a Buddhist chant, but to find out where and how you connect to the Divine in your own life, and record the experience honestly. What gives you hope? Where do you find faith when times are tough?

What is important is not the path you choose to seek the Divine, but the act of seeking itself. In this spirit, I hope to challenge you to examine your beliefs, inspire you to create sacred poetry and songs, and introduce you to Polymnia.

She appears to me as a very young girl, with huge sad eyes &mdash wise and strange beyond her years. She is at turns joyful and frightened, old and young, wise and innocent. She ancient, but she still plays hopscotch like a little girl. She roller-skates and jumps rope — Double Dutch! — with the best of them.

As I sit struggling at my desk, Polymnia appears, giggling and reading over my shoulder. "I also invented the banjo," she whispers. "Everyone remembers the lyre, and forgets about the banjo. It was much more difficult to create, actually." I have three million questions I want to ask, but before I can open my mouth to form the words, she is gone again, with a loud "POP!"

Frustrated, I decide to go for a walk. As I cruise through my neighborhood, I spy a tiny fairy-door and window set into the trunk of a huge tree in front of a restored Victorian home. There's even a stone path for fairy-sized feet, and a little mailbox. Enchanted, I stop to gaze at this whimsical scene for a moment.

I hear Polymnia, giggling wildly. She peeks out from behind the tree, smiling. "Let's play," she says. She vanishes suddenly, with a "POP!" and instantly reappears on the sidewalk beside me. "Hopscotch?" she asks, snapping her fingers. The plain sidewalk is suddenly transformed into a huge, elaborate hopscotch game. Animals, flowering vines, and fairies caper amongst the squares. She hands me a small, flat white stone and the game begins.

Polymnia tosses her stone first, then disappears as she skips after it. I throw my stone and it lands in the fifth square. I begin to hop towards it, looking down at the hopscotch squares. The fifth one is a jungle, with a lioness prowling and monkeys swinging from the trees. When I look up again, I am inside the square somehow &mdash instead of a sidewalk, I find myself skipping down a path through the jungle. The path is covered with beautiful designs made of shiny, rounded stones. They are cool beneath my bare feet.

Polymnia is waiting for me, a little distance up the path. "Where are we?" I ask.

"This is the jungle, at the beginning of man's time on earth many years ago. I brought you here, so that you might learn more about the origins of the sacred, and the poetry and songs I inspire. Long before the banjo, and even before the lyre, the first musical instruments were the voice, and the body. Singing, clapping, whistling, and body-drums paved the way for simple flutes, drums, and rattles.

"Music is an important tool for connecting to the sacred. Prayers, trances, vision-quests, and celebrations of the holy all incorporate musical and poetic elements. Religious and spiritual practices throughout history have woven sacred songs into ceremonies, rituals, and celebrations." As she speaks, we begin to hear wild music in the distance. "Let's take a closer look," Polymnia grins, beckoning me further down the beautiful stone path.

The music grows louder, wilder as we approach a small clearing. Tiny, dark-skinned men and women are gathered around a fire, singing and beating on large hoop-drums. Their eyes are beautiful, innocent their smiles wide and trusting. We are welcomed into the circle, and given a strong, sweet liquid to drink.

Polymnia smiles, takes a large gulp of the frothy nectar, and then continues with her oratory. "Humans worship and fear what they do not understand. Early man found wonder and sacred magic in the simple plants and stones near his home. Rivers and mountains were worshipped and revered. Animals were seen as powerful spirits, protective totems, and guides through the spirit world. Later, as humans began to create their own gods and monsters, their kinship with the wild and the sacred changed. Science came along, and allowed humans to name and explain things, thus separating themselves from the web of life. Now most people only glimpse the sacred in brief, shining moments. Ancient people were surrounded by the Divine, and part of it. Modern man seeks that connection always, and is usually frustrated."

She eats a purple berry delicately, with the grace of a woman. She is much older than she first appears, and infinitely wiser than her childish laughter reveals. "When all life is a mystery, we no longer need to seek the Divine… for we realize then that the sacred is everywhere. Until then, drink deeply, dance hard, and sing your song as loudly as you can!"

The tiny people who have welcomed us so warmly seem to understand her words. They laugh loudly, toast her in their own tongue, and we all drink deeply together. I close my eyes, suddenly dizzy… the music fades… when I open them again, I am seated at my kitchen table, writing with a purple pen, these final words… The End?

The Muse and Pandemics

The Nine Muses were: Clio, Euterpe, Thalia, Melpomeni, Terpsichore, Erato, Polymnia, Ourania and Calliope.

All the ancient writers appeal to the Muses at the beginning of their work. Homer asks the Muses both in the Iliad and Odyssey to help him tell the story in the most proper way, and until today the Muses are symbols of inspiration and artistic creation.

According to the Greek Myths, God Zeus bewildered the young woman Mnemosyne (some say she was the goddess of memory) and slept with her for nine consecutive nights. The result of their encounter was the Nine Muses, who were similar to everything.

1. Clio: The Muse Clio discovered history and guitar. History was named Clio in the ancient years, because it refers to “kleos” the Greek word for the heroic acts. Clio was always represented with a clarion in the right arm and a book in the left hand.

2. Euterpe: Muse Euterpe discovered several musical instruments, courses and dialectic. She was always depicted holding a flute, while many instruments were always around her.

3. Thalia: Muse Thalia was the protector of comedy she discovered comedy, geometry, architectural science and agriculture. She was also protector of Symposiums. She was always depicted holding a theatrical – comedy mask.

4. Melpomene: Opposite from Thalia, Muse Melpomene was the protector of Tragedy she invented tragedy, rhetoric speech and Melos. She was depicted holding a tragedy mask and usually bearing a bat.

5. Terpsichore: Terpsichore was the protector of dance she invented dances, the harp and education. She was called Terpsichore because she was enjoying and having fun with dancing ( “Terpo” in Greek refers to be amused). She was depicted wearing laurels on her head, holding a harp and dancing.

6. Erato: Muse Erato was the protector of Love and Love Poetry – as well as wedding. Her name comes from the Greek word “Eros” that refers to the feeling of falling in love. She was depicted holding a lyre and love arrows and bows.

7. Polymnia: Muse Polymnia was the protector of the divine hymns and mimic art she invented geometry and grammar. She was depicted looking up to the Sky, holding a lyre.

8. Ourania: Muse Ourania was the protector of the celestial objects and stars she invented astronomy. She was always depicted bearing stars, a celestial sphere and a bow compass.

9. Calliope: Muse Calliope was the superior Muse. She was accompanying kings and princes in order to impose justice and serenity. She was the protector of heroic poems and rhetoric art. According to the myth, Homer asks from Calliope to inspire him while writing Iliad and Odyssey, and, thus, Calliope is depicted holding laurels in one hand and the two Homeric poems in the other hand.

This little bit of history was added because I love knowing obscure bits of history and mythology. It is one of the things that makes me love writing and reading fiction.

This week has been one of strangeness. The world is in a world pandemic. People who are used to going out every day to a job, having there kids in schools, and going to the grocery store anytime they wanted are finding there lives at a complete standstill.

The world is in quarantine. Walmart isn’t even allowed to be open 24/7. Canada has closed it’s borders, and many international flights have been cancelled 100%

If you are expecting to fly internationally for business or leisure in March or April, we can safely tell you it’s not gonna happen.

Many countries, including Australia, Canada, and numerous European, South and Central American, Asian and Middle Eastern countries, have cancelled all flights from a long list of countries. Entire airports, such as Paris Orly, are closing, and this will continue as well. This list continues to grow by the day.

what about the fact that almost every 100 years a huge outbreak has happened?

A pandemic (from Greek πᾶν pan “all” and δῆμος demos “people”) is a disease epidemic that has spread across a large region, for instance multiple continents, or worldwide

The Black Death, also known as the Pestilence, Great Bubonic Plague, the Great Plague or the Plague, or less commonly the Great Mortality or the Black Plague, was the most devastating pandemic recorded in human history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia, peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351.

The Great Plague of Marseille was the last of the significant European outbreaks of bubonic plague. Arriving in Marseille, France in 1720, the disease killed a total of 100,000 people: 50,000 in the city during the next two years and another 50,000 to the north in surrounding provinces and towns.

The first cholera pandemic (1817–1824), also known as the first Asiatic cholera pandemic or Asiatic cholera, began near the city of Calcutta and spread throughout Southeast Asia to the Middle East, eastern Africa and the Mediterranean coast. While cholera had spread across India many times previously, this outbreak went further it reached as far as China and the Mediterranean Sea before subsiding. Hundreds of thousands of people died as a result of this pandemic, including many British soldiers, which attracted European attention.

The Spanish flu, also known as the 1918 flu pandemic, was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic. Lasting from January 1918 to December 1920, it infected 500 million people—about a quarter of the world’s population at the time. The death toll is estimated to have been anywhere from 17 million to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million, making it one of the deadliest epidemics in human history.

The 2019–2020 coronavirus pandemic is an ongoing pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). [3] The outbreak was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei, China, in December 2019, and was recognised as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on 11 March 2020. As of 26 March, more than 531,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in over 190 countries and territories, resulting in approximately 24,000 deaths and more than 123,000 recoveries.

The Muses, in Greek mythology, were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, that of cognition and memory. Their number, nine (9) is the end of the numbers and the square of the number three (3) number which in ancient years was regarded as the quintessential number and number of beauty, rate and fusion.

The Muses were born in Pieria (Iera Pyli), and Bride Euphemia raised them.

Mnemosyne gave them as a teacher, God Apollonas in order to find suitable place of residence for the heavenly and divine origin, came and lived in the most beautiful mountain in Boeotia, Helicon. From this mountain's name were called and Elikoniades.

The Muses were patrons of the sciences and pursuits, who grow and delight the soul and mind.

In detail, each of them was a patron of the following:

  • Clio, patron of history.
  • Efterpi, inventor of Flute and patron of music.
  • Thalia, protector of Comedy, Georgia, Geometry and Architecture.
  • Melpomeni, patron of tragedy, rhetoric and Ode.
  • Terpsichore, inventor and protector of Arpi, Dance and Education.
  • Erato, patron of love poetry, the Orchiseos and Dialectic.
  • POLYMNIA, patron of Hymns, Lyra and theater.
  • Ourania, patron of astronomy and astrology.
  • Calliope, patron of heroic (epic) Poetry.

Polymnia was the muse of hymns and songs in honor of the gods and heroes. She was identified with Mnemosyne, because the statues shown in meditation and remembrance attitude. In Roman times she was considered the protector of the mimic art.

Art Term Tuesday: Muse

One of the most popular questions when I lead an exhibition tour is, “What inspired the artist to make this?”. Sometimes we know the answer, through the title, description accompanying the artwork, or from literature about the artist and their works (like a catalogue raisonné) other times we don’t. It’s a question that is asked time and again, throughout history: What inspired this work of art? Or, more specifically, who or what was the artist’s muse? There are two definitions for muse: the first and oldest definition relates to each of the nine Greek Muses, while the contemporary definition is a person or personified force that acts as the source of inspiration. It is also important to note that a muse is different from an artist’s model. While a muse can model for an artist, models come and go artists use models to capture specific attributes or directly reference them for portraits, but these individuals may only be used for a few works of art. Models are typically paid. A muse, however, will stick around in an artist’s oeuvre, as they are a source of rich artistic and creative inspiration, rather than a source of compositional or anatomical reference.

The first known reference to the term muse can be attributed to the Greek word “mousa”, which loosely translates to music or song. This was used in reference to the nine Muses, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne: Calliope (epic poetry), Clio (history), Erato (love poetry/ lyric art), Euterpe (music), Melpomene (tragedy), Polymnia (hymns), Terpsichore (dance), Thalia (comedy), and Urania (astronomy). Note that most of the forms of creative expression have to do with theater or literature, which were held in the highest regard by the Greeks (they were the true representations of high art at the time, as opposed to painting or sculpture). Greek playwrights, poets, and musicians would send a prayer or offering to their patron goddess, asking for success and inspiration. We know this from literature like Homer’s Odyssey throughout the Odyssey Homer invokes one or more Muses, asking them for guidance as he relates his epic.

How, then, did pagan goddesses become associated with artists from Christianized Europe? It’s a great question, as the visual arts clearly weren’t their domain. Over time, as Christianity took hold in Europe, many pagan traditions were shifted and molded to meet the new cultural guidelines. This is what happened to the term muse it came to be understood as an inspiration or influence behind an artwork, be it literature, painting, or sculpture. Typically referring to a woman, she is an idealized, goddess-like figure captured by the artist and preserved as luscious and young in perpetuity. As a result, an artist’s muse is often held in high regard – after all, she inspired countless masterpieces, from the Renaissance to the Pre-Raphaelites.

Édouard Manet, French, 1832-1883. Berthe Morisot. Etching on paper, 1872. Purchase, 1958.16. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

There is a darker side to being an artist’s muse. We can see this in two of Édouard Manet’s most famous muses: Victorine Meurent and Berthe Morisot. Meurent is often described as Manet’s favorite model and first muse, as she shows up in famous paintings such as Olympia and Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe. She is remembered as a flame-haired vixen, immortalized on Manet’s canvas. This fame overshadowed the full extent of Meurent’s story, however, as she herself was a talented artist. Berthe Morisot has more of a reputation as an artist in her own right, but in any book or article you read about her, a significant chunk is devoted to her status as Manet’s muse. She is the dark, sultry figure gazing out of masterpieces such as The Balcony and FWMoA’s own 1872 etching Berthe Morisot. Her piercing eyes captivate viewers, yet the conversation always returns to her relationship with Manet and his tutelage. Morisot created some of the most captivating scenes of women and children, long after she ceased being Manet’s artistic inspiration and pupil despite this, her time as a muse often overshadows her career as an artist.

Today we see artists, like Chuck Sperry, combining both the Greek interpretation of a Muse and a traditional artistic female muse. Sperry often draws inspiration from Greek mythology, and one of his regular sources of inspiration is Semele, Princess of Thebes and mother of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine (Bacchus for you Romans). Sperry’s Semele, however, is transformed from Greek goddess into Rock ‘n Roll siren, as seen in his Widespread Panic poster from 2013. The only reference to her Greek roots is her name as the rest of her is retooled into an idealized personification of a luscious beauty she is here to enthrall the concertgoers, enticing them to attend. It is also interesting to note that Sperry’s Thalia is an imagined woman – she doesn’t come from a real-life model or muse, but is the personification of the spirit of music.

Chuck Sperry, American, b.1962. Widesperad Panic MSG, NYC (Regular Edition). Screenprint on paper, 2013. Gift of the Artist, CS.191. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

Additionally, the recent Me Too movement has questioned how we know that the muse (when she is a living human) in question agreed to have her image used by the artist. The simple answer is that we often don’t have a way of knowing whether or not a muse agreed to have her image represented in any manner. There are arguments that paintings or works of art depicting women or young girls in a risqué manner should be removed from museums because they were taken advantage of in the name of art. Many museums, in lieu of removing these works, have instead initiated conversations about the male gaze, the act of consent, and what it meant to be a muse hundreds of years ago compared to now.

This is the problem with focusing on an artist’s muse as simply the object of (usually) his affection and inspiration – it negates women as artists and individuals, placing them as the object in art. This is not to say that a woman can’t be both. We know that women who are talented and successful can also serve as inspiration today, we see it often in fashion as celebrities perform the role of muse for designers. The negative aspect of the muse is twofold: women are represented in a voyeuristic manner, purely for the artist and viewer’s pleasure, and are being upheld as the epitome of beauty and inspiration. While the Muses were first viewed as powerful forces who bestowed inspiration and talent on writers and musicians, in the modern visual arts the muse is passive, an object to be viewed. What can artists do today to help muses regain their agency and ensure consent?

Polymnia, the Muse of Sacred Hymn

Palazzo Labia, Venice, possibly to 1898 [see note 1]. Leone Oreffice, Venice. With Julius Böhler, Munich, by 1904. Elkan Silbermann (1892–1952) and Abris Silbermann (1896–1968), Budapest sold to an unknown buyer. Purchased by E.A. Silberman Galleries, Inc. (Elkan and Abris Silberman, dealers), New York, 1930 [see note 2] sold to Louis M. Rabinowitz (1887–1957), Sands Point, Long Island, New York, 1937 (on loan to the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn., 1946) given to the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn., 1947
Note 1: According to Momenti (1911), the painting was displayed in the dining room of the Palazzo Labia.
Note 2: Established in 1928, E. and A. Silberman Galleries, New York, was formed by brothers Elkan and Abris Silberman (born Silbermann) as a branch of their family’s galleries in Vienna and Budapest. A letter from Abris Silberman to Mrs. Alice Wolf, research assistant at the Gallery, notes that Polymnia, the Muse of Sacred Hymn, and Thalia and Melpomene, the Muses of Comedy and Tragedy (YUAG acc. 1947.18), also by Tiepolo, had been with his and his brother’s collection in Budapest for many years and that the paintings were sold there and then re-acquired in 1930 in the United States. It is unknown whether the paintings had originally formed part of the Silbermann’s personal collection or gallery stock in Budapest. (Abris Silberman, letter to Mrs. Alice Wolf, June 12, 1946, curatorial object file)

Charles Seymour, “Louis Mayer Rabinowitz,” Bulletin of the Associates in Fine Arts at Yale University 23 (September 1957): 13, fig. 7.

Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri, Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972), 601.

Polymnia - Muse of Hymns - History

Polyhymnia (pron.: /pɒliˈhɪmniə/ Greek: Πολυύμνια, Πολύμνια "the one of many hymns"), was in Greek mythology the Muse of Hymn, muse of sacred poetry, sacred hymn and eloquence as well as agriculture and pantomime.

Polyhymnia is depicted as very serious, pensive and meditative, and often holding a finger to her mouth, dressed in a long cloak and veil and resting her elbow on a pillar. Polyhymnia is also sometimes credited as being the Muse of geometry and meditation.

In Bibliotheca historica, Diodorus Siculus wrote, "Polyhymnia, because by her great (polle) praises (humnesis) she brings distinction to writers whose works have won for them immortal fame. ". Polyhymnia appears in Dante's Divine Comedy: Paradiso. Canto XXIII, line 56, and is referenced in modern works of fiction.

Polyhymnia References

^ Diodorus Siculus Library of History (Books III - VIII). Translated by Oldfather, C. H. Loeb Classical Library Volumes 303 and 340. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1935.

The Greco-Roman Muses of the Library of Congress

National Poetry Month in the United States is surely presided over by the Muses, the Greco-Roman patron goddesses of poets. The Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress features many murals depicting poetry from the lyrical to the epic, but it is the mythical Muses who ultimately reign over the pathos and passion of that art form. Indeed, the circular mural in the ceremonial office of the Librarian of Congress, on the first floor of the building, displays the Latin statement “Dulce ante omnia Musae,” or “Muses, above all things, delightful.”

Circular mural “Muses, above all things, delightful,” in the Librarian’s Ceremonial Office. Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C. Edward J. Holslag (1870-1924), artist Carol Highsmith (1946- ), photographer.

Although the origins of the Muse cult are obscure, these goddesses were venerated in ancient Greece as the protectors of poets, who in those days were also musicians. Later the Muses were also seen as protectors of the liberal arts and sciences, hence the word “museum,” or seat of the Muses. Tales vary regarding their relations to other mythical characters, and their spheres of influence are never clearly demarcated. The Greek poet Hesiod, ca. 700 BCE, is credited with naming and systematizing the functions of the Muses. Of the nine, only three are not directly associated with poetry but rather with the arts, humanities and sciences: Clio with history, Terpsichore with dance, and Urania with astronomy.

The other six Muses, with their Hesiodic attributes, may be categorized as follows:

Calliope is the Muse of epic poetry, and is known as the one with the “Beautiful Voice” whilst Erato, the Muse of lyric and love poetry, is known simply as “Lovely.” Euterpe and Melpomene are both Muses of tragedy, but whilst Euterpe plays the flute and is known as “Pleasing” Melpomene plays the lyre and is known as “Singing.” Polymnia, also called Polyhymnia, the Muse of sacred poetry, is known as “Many Hymns” and Thalia, Muse of comedy, is known as “Blooming.”

The Edward Simmons (1852-1931) tympanums, or semi-circular wall decorations, on the first floor Northwest Corridor of the Jefferson Building, depict the Muses surrounded by laurel wreaths and curving lines of smoke—symbolizing intellectual pursuits and the inspiration of art and poetry. Photographs by Carol Highsmith (1946- ).

Calliope, the Muse of epic, or heroic, poetry. The surrounding characters, the genii, hold a scroll on the left, and peacock feathers on the right. In European antiquity, peacocks symbolized immortality. Thus heroes of epic tales live forever in written accounts.

Erato, the Muse of lyric and love poetry. The roses on the left signify love, and the lioness on the right reflects love’s universal power.

Euterpe, Muse of tragedy and flute playing. On the left are shown two flutes.

Melpomene, Muse of tragedy and lyre playing, with the mask of tragedy on the left.

Polymnia (Polyhymnia), Muse of sacred poetry, holds an open book. The text below, after “Two Choruses to the Tragedy of Brutus,” by Alexander Pope (1688-1744) reads:
“Say, will ye bless the bleak Atlantic shore,
And in the West bid Athens rise once more?”
“The Works of Alexander Pope, esq., with Notes and Illustrations, by Himself and Others. To which are added, a New Life of the Author, an Estimate of his Poetical Character and Writings, and Occasional Remarks by William Roscoe, esq.,” New ed. London: Longman, Brown, 1847.

Thalia, Muse of comedy and bucolic poetry. To the left is a faun with pan pipes, and to the right the mask of comedy. The text below, from Pope’s “Ode on St. Cecilia’s Day,” reads:
“Descend, ye Nine! Descend and sing
Wake into voice each silent string.”
“The Poetical Works of Alexander Pope, Esq. To which is Prefixed the Life of the Author, by Dr. Johnson.” New ed. Philadelphia: J.J. Woodward, 1839.

To all the poets during National Poetry Month and throughout the year, many thanks with these words from Hesiod’s “Theogony”:

“For it is through the Muses…that there are singers and harpers upon the earth…and happy is he whom the Muses love: sweet flows speech from his mouth.”
(“Hesiod, the Homeric Hymns, and Homerica, with an English translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White.” London: W. Heinemann New York, Macmillan, 1914.)

“Light of Poetry” (red) panel in the “Spectrum of Light” ceiling mural. Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.ꃊrl Gutherz (1844-1907), artist Carol Highsmith (1946- ), photographer.

One Comment

Thank you, Taru! These murals of the Nine Muses are beautiful & your commentaries are a delight to read!

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              Watch the video: Ode to Melpomene The Ancient Greek Muse of Tragedy (November 2022).

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