Sunday, 18 December 2016

The Muses

Now a very good friend the other day said I had been an inspiration when it came to a project we (and others) are currently working on. Never thought of myself as anyone's muse but after challenging myself to recall the names of the Muses from Greek mythology (no surprise to find I was not among them), my thoughts turned to the origins of these names.

Muse is itself worthy of a quick look. This comes from the Ancient Greek mousai likely from the Proto-Indo-European root men which is found to mean both 'to think' and 'mountain'. Just to clear a point here, remember Proto-Indo-European spelling is based solely on phonetics and many words have identical sounds and completely different meanings (these are called homonyms). Here both uses of men are appropriate, for not only are they held to help the creative think but also the centres for such cults were always atop high points such as hills or mountains.

Calliope is the muse of epic poetry, hence represented by the writing tablet or stylus. The name is also that of a steam-powered organ and comes from the Greek kalli and opos, quite literally 'beautiful voice'.

Clio is the muse of history and represented by scrolls and books.Again from the Greek, here kleiein meaning 'to tell, make famous'. Ultimately this is from the Proto-Indo-European root kleu 'to hear' and related to the name of Damocles which means literally 'fame of the people'.

Euterpe is represented by a flute-like instrument known as the aulos and the panpipes. Hence it comes as no surprise to find Euterpe the muse of music, song and lyric poetry. Another of Greek origin where eu terpein means 'well pleasing' and related to the following name.

Terpsichore, as the muse of dance, may be represented by a lyre or its plectrum. Here again we find the Greek element terpein, this from Proto-Indo-European terp 'to satisfy', and coupled with khoros means 'enjoyment of dance' - note this second elemt is also the origin of 'chorus', those singing and/or dancing in a production.

Melpomene, the muse of tragedy, is represented by a tragic mask, a blade, or a club. The name comes from the Greek melpein meaning 'to sing'.

Thalia uses a comic mask or a shepherd's crook, the act of pulling someone off the stage by means of such refers directly to this muse of comedy. This name comes from the Greek thallein 'to bloom' and related to thallos 'young shoot'.

Erato, as the muse of love poetry, is represented by a kind of lyre known as a cithara and comes from the Greek erastos 'loved, charming', itself from eran 'to love' and also the source of the Greek god Eros.

Polyhymnia is the muse of hymns, represented by a veil and a name derived from the Greek poly hymnos or 'the one with many veils'.

Urania uses the globe or a compass, this the muse of astronomy and from the Greek ouranios meaning literally 'heavenly' and a name related to the Greek god and the planet Uranus.

As I proved to be the inspiration for some work on the history of a local street, perhaps that makes me the muse of mews? And before you ask, this homonym has no relation to 'muse' but came to English in referring to stables grouped around an open yard and from the 16th century Mewes in Charing Cross, London where the royal hunting hawks were kept. Hence the name shares its origins with many birds in the sound they make, indeed the mew is an old name for the gull.

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