The Nine Muses in Greek Mythology were goddesses of inspiration, arts, science and all creative works. It was believed no one could create anything without help and inspiration from one of the nine muses.
Authors, politician, artists, and scholars of every sort in Ancient Greek all believed they were successful because one or more of the nine Muses had guided them.
Every learning institute with respect for itself had an altar to honor the Muses. The word “museum” actually comes from Greek and means “Temple of the Muses”.
“Mosaic” also comes from the Nine Muses and means “something that belongs to the Muses”. Of course you have guessed by now that the word “music” stems from the Muses.
Now we tend to call anyone who truly inspires an artist or author “a muse”. Originally the Nine Muses were goddesses of the Ancient Greek world.
Who were the Nine Muses?
The Nine Muses were daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne.
Zeus is the chief god. He ruled the sky and resided on Mount Olympus. Zeus was married to Hera, but he was not a faithful husband.
Mnemosyne was the goddess of memory. Zeus fell in love with her and disguised himself as a shepherd before he approached this beautiful woman goddess. As it turned out she did not turn him away.
Mnemosyne and Zeus had a love affair that lasted for nine nights of glory.
Mnemosyne gave birth to nine girls. The nine sisters became known as the “Nine Muses”.
The Nine Muses were often in company of Apollo, the god of music, poetry, healing and the oracle. He was considered the leader of the Nine Muses.
What were the names of the Nine Muses?
The Nine Muses were named:
- Calliope was the Muse of epic poetry.
- Clio was the Muse of History.
- Euterpe was the Muse music, melancholic poetry.
- Erato was the Muse of lyric poetry.
- Melpomene was the muse of tragedy.
- Polyhymnia was the Muse of sacred hymns and agriculture.
- Terpsichore was the Muse of dance.
- Thalia was the Muse of comedy.
- Urania was the Muse of astronomy.
Calliope – Muse of Epic Poetry
Calliope was the Muse of epic poetry and the first born of the Nine Muses. Her name means “beautiful voice”.
She could often be seen carrying a writing tablet. She could also be seen with a trumpet. She may wear a tiara or a laurel wreath.
One most famous author from Ancient Greece of epic poetry was Homer. It is believed he wrote The Iliad and The Odyssey. Homer gives the Muse credit for his work in the opening of each book:
“Tell me, O Muse, of that ingenious hero who traveled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy.” The Odyssey
“Declare, O Muse! In what ill-fated hour Sprung the fierce strife, from what offended Power?” The Iliad
He makes it known that the Muse is the one who gives him the ability to write these powerful stories.
Clio – Muse of History
Clio was the Muse of history and the second of the Nine Muses. Her name means “to make famous”.
Clio could often be seen carrying a scroll or a book of some kind. Clio could also be seen wearing a laurel wreath as some of her sisters also did from time to time.
In some myths Clio was the one who introduced the alphabet. She was very concerned about history. Historians would turn to Clio to make sure they got it right when they recorded history.
Documentation of history is certainly important so that future generations may understand the world as it was and how it became the way it is.
Clio was close to her sister Calliope. They were both passionate about writing.
Euterpe – Muse of music and melancholic poetry
Euterpe was the Muse of music, song and melancholic poetry. Euterpe was the third born of the Nine Muses. Her name means “delight”. She is easily recognizable as she often carries a double-flute called an aulos.
The double-flute was extremely popular among the shepherds and farmers in Ancient Greece. It was often used at sporting events and to accompany choirs.
The double-flute was the common instrument at festivals in honor of Dionysus, the wine god. At times these festivals could get pretty wild.
The upper class of Athens frowned on the double-flute as they associated it with scandals and immorality of the crazy Dionysus festivals.
The upper class preferred the harp, which they claimed was much more dignified. They also claimed anyone could make and learn to play the aulos.
None the less, Euterpe was the Muse of music. She made sure absolutely anyone who loved music would get inspiration to follow their passion.
Euterpe was definitely embraced by all music lovers, including those who preferred other instruments. They could turn their back on the double-flute, but no music lover dared turn their back on Euterpe.
Erato – Muse of lyric poetry
Erato was the Muse of lyric poetry, this included love and erotic poetry and songs. She was the fourth born of the Nine Muses. Her name means “desired”.
She is often shown wearing a wreath of myrtle and roses. She sometimes holds a lyre, or a small kithara. Other times she may be holding an arrow. This is because she is connected to Eros, a Greek god of love and passion.
Love and especially erotic love has been a favored theme of mankind for several thousand years. It is no wonder Erato was a favorite Muse of many poets. She was the one to turn to when they wanted to express all their hot and passionate feelings for a loved one.
Erato seemed to assist a man named Alcaeus (6th century BC) who came from the island of Lesbos. He was involved with politics, but he is remembered even more for his desire to write and sing love songs. His passion for the subject of love and wine was unstoppable.
The four-lined verses we call “Alcaic stanza” is named after this great poet. He was a dear friend of Sappho. Plato, the great Greek philosopher proclaimed Sappho to be the tenth Muse. Read more about Sappho further down on this page.
Melpomene – Muse of Tragedy
Melpomene was the Muse of tragedy and the fifth of the Nine Muses. Her name means “singer”.
She was seen holder a sword, a dagger or a club. She may also hold a tragic mask. On her head she may wear a wreath of cypress or grape wines.
Cypress was a symbol of sorrow. Cypress trees were planted near graves to ward off evil spirits. Coffins were made from the wood of cypress.
The Ancient Greeks believe the cypress tree was the first tree they saw before entering the Underworld after death. They believed the cypress tree grew by the by Lethe’s river. Drinking water from this river made them forget everything in their past life.
The word “tragedy” comes from the Greek words “goat” and “song”.
Tragedies were often performed during the Dionysus festivals. Dionysus was the Greek god of wine. The Satyrs were associated with Dionysus and they were half man and half goat.
Polyhymnia – Muse of sacred Hymns, Geometry and Agriculture
Polyhymnia was the Muse of sacred hymns, geometry and agriculture. She was the sixth of the Nine Muses. Her name means “One of many hymns”.
Polyhymnia is presented as a beautiful and solemn Muse. She was often seen holding one finger up towards her mouth. She was learned and reflected.
Some also credit her to be the Muse of meditation. Sometimes she is shown wearing a veil.
Many citizens who wanted to make a difference in society would turn to Polyhymnia.
She could help people understand the meaning of life and get in touch with their religious side.
For those who wanted to develop a deeper understanding of geometry or agriculture, Polyhymnia was the one to turn to.
Hesiod was a famous Greek poet who among other works wrote “Works and Days” around year 700 BCE. This was a farmer’s almanac. In all his works Hesiod summons the Muses to speak. He makes it very clear that it is the Muses who inspire him.
Terpsichore – Muse of Dance
Terpsichore was the Muse of dance and the seventh born of the Nine Muses. Her name means “One who delights in dancing”.
The strange thing is that Terpsichore is most often shown sitting down, maybe resting after dancing? As some of her sisters she often wears a laurel wreath. Terpsichore is shown with a lyre.
To master the art of dancing was of extreme importance in Ancient Greece. As a general rule men and women did not dance together. They would often dance in circles, men forming one circle and women in another circle.
Wealthy families would often hire private dance instructors for their children. All military recruits were also trained in dancing.
The Greek philosopher Plato said that those who did not master the art of dancing were uneducated.
As dancing was such a huge part of the life of Greeks, it is easy to see that Terpsichore was popular with the majority of the citizens.
A word found in the English dictionary is “terpsichorean”, which means “someone who dances”.
Thalia – Muse of Comedy
Thalia was the Muse of comedy and the eighth of the Nine Muses. Her name means “the joyous, flourishing”.
Thalia can be recognized by the one carrying the comic mask. She would often wear an ivy wreath. She could also sometimes be seen holding a shepherd’s staff or a trumpet.
Comedies then as now were immensely popular. Because only men were allowed to act, the mask was of vital importance.
Ivy was a symbol of true friendship and love. Ivy was also associated with the joy of living.
The Muse Thalia was loved and truly made people happy. She was a cheerful and fun-loving Muse.
To this day Thalia remains a popular name.
Urania – Muse of astronomy
Urania was the Muse of astronomy and the youngest of the Nine Muses. Her name means “the heavenly”.
There is not a united view on who was actually the youngest Muse. Different authors give different information. Some have Urania as being the eldest of the Nine Muses. It really does not matter as it is the individual qualities of the Nine Muses which are interesting.
Urania wears a star crown. She holds a globe and sometimes also a compass or a pointing stick.
Urania is associated with the mystical side of life.
She was master of star interpretations and could predict the future. Urania was the one to turn when trying to figure out a person’s astrology chart.
Urania is also the expert on astronomy. She knows every position of the stars and planet.
Urania likewise is keen on philosophy and matters concerning the spirit.
Sappho – the Tenth Muse
Sappho is not one of the Nine Muses of Greek Mythology. Sappho (around 620- 570 BCE) was a very real person from the Greek island of Lesbos.
It was Plato, the famous philosopher who declared Sappho to be the Tenth Muse. That tells loads about his admiration of this woman.
Sappho was a great poet. She wrote tons of love poems to honor both men and women.
Her love poems became immensely popular. Sappho was quite famous. Statues representing Sappho have been discovered. Paintings of her have been found on pottery.
Sappho did show a profound love for other women through her poetry. Later the word “lesbian” entered our vocabulary as a tribute to the island of Lesbos were Sappho freely expressed her love for other women.