The art of inspiration

The man for wisdom’s various arts renown’d,
Long exercised in woes, O Muse! resound;
Who, when his arms had wrought the destined fall
Of sacred Troy, and razed her heaven-built wall,
Wandering from clime to clime, observant stray’d,
Their manners noted, and their states survey’d,
On stormy seas unnumber’d toils he bore,
Safe with his friends to gain his natal shore:
Vain toils! their impious folly dared to prey
On herds devoted to the god of day;
The god vindictive doom’d them never more
(Ah, men unbless’d!) to touch that natal shore.
Oh, snatch some portion of these acts from fate,
Celestial Muse! and to our world relate.

Homer, beginning of The Odyssey.
Translation by Alexander Pope.
(Text from Project Gutenberg)

The Muses – in Greek mythology are the goddesses of the inspiration of literature, science, and the arts. They were considered the source of the knowledge embodied in the poetry, song-lyrics, and myths that were related orally for centuries in these ancient cultures. They were later adopted by the Romans as a part of their pantheon. (Wikipedia)

In current English usage, “muse” can refer in general to a person who inspires an artist, writer, or musician.

THE MOUSAI (Muses) were the goddesses of music, song and dance, and the source of inspiration to poets. They were also goddesses of knowledge, who remembered all things that had come to pass.
Later the Mousai were assigned specific artistic spheres: Kalliope, epic poetry; Kleio, history; Ourania, astronomy; Thaleia, comedy; Melpomene, tragedy; Polyhymnia, religious hymns; Erato, erotic poetry; Euterpe, lyric poetry; and Terpsikhore, choral song and dance.
(Cited from the Theoi Project, a site exploring Greek mythology and the gods in classical literature and art.)

The Nine Mousai – mosaic from Roman Imperial period
(Museum Collection: Archaeological Museum of Cos, Greece)

Dance of Apollo and the Muses. By Baldassare Peruzzi, c.1510. Image from Wikimedia

Apollo and the Muses on Mount Parnassus. By Simon Vouet, c.1640. Image fromWeb Gallery of Art

Apollo and the Muses. By John Singer Sargent, 1921. Image from Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

A 1947 replica of The Disquieting Muses (original 1916-1918), by Giorgio de Chirico
At the front are the two Muses, dressed in classical clothing. One is standing and the other sitting, and they are placed among various objects, including a red mask and staff, an allusion to Melpomene and Thalia, the Muses of tragedy and comedy.

Rita Heyworth as Muse Terpsichore, in 1947 film Down to Earth

Olivia Newton-John and other muses in the 1980 film Xanadu

Muses, from Disney film Hercules, 1997.

This entry was posted in fiction, literature, magical realism, movies, photos and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The art of inspiration

  1. Joseph Nebus says:

    Xanadu and Hercules are under appreciated efforts at bringing the classic muses into a modern movie context. It’s a shame both movies weren’t better; they could’ve had some greater pop culture influence in making great legends feel still immediate.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s