July 21, 2012

The Muses Return - Reweaving Tangled Myths

I have been working on a more poetic retelling of the fragments on the over 30 Muses we can name. This is a selection from that work in progress.

Lotus Water Garden
Inspiring Water Nymphs

The Earth and the Sky had many children who each brought a new level, a new consciousness to the world. Blurring one into the other: Time and Direction, Cycles and Constellations, Oceans and Light. A rainbow of concepts and abstractions that shimmer and shift with each new idea, a constant blossoming of revelations laid out plain to see in the spiraling fabric of the universe. Piling up over the millennia to create the bedrock of a new mythology.
The first thing Mnemosyne the Titan did after being born was to name everything in creation, past, present and future, so they could be remembered. She brought language into the world by giving us the memory for words, sentences, ideas, melodies, pictures and stories. She knows everything that has ever happened and because of this, she can predict what will happen in the future.
Mnemosyne is the first Muse, the first source of inspiration, the first to create for beauty’s sake. She teaches the secrets of music, poetry and art to anyone willing to learn how to remember, to practice and to create. She knows that there must be a start, a beginning, for anything to be created. She is that beginning but she is also what allows the beginning to be. She is the blank page, the sounding board, the hollow silence of a dreamless sleep. That is why there are two springs in the underworld, one named Mnemosyne or Memory and the other named Lethe or Forgetfulness. And both are hers.

Gaia the wide earth and Ouranos the boundless sky had three daughters who inspired poets and musicians and danced in a ring round their joined horizon. Mneme is named for the memory of all the songs and stories entertainers must know. Melete is practice, meditation, reflection and all the solitary activities needed to learn and remember. Aoede is the song and the performance itself. They leap and play in the waters of fountains and springs that are said to wake the creative impulses of those who will chance wading in. They only whisper indistinct murmurs by day but by night, their voices ring and echo through mist and starlight. They live with Desire, Eros’s mirror, and the Graces and together they chase away cares and sorrows with dance and song. And one, Mneme, looks so much like Mnemosyne that even they no longer know if they are mother and daughter, sisters or reflections on the surface of still water. These three, or was that four?, are the first Gods to be thanked by any singer of any song.

Plusia keeps to herself. There are no tales, no listings for her name. The only clue to be found is in the name of a moth, Plusia, named for the rich gold markings of its wings. Four Muses name her as their mother, though they giggle and change their story about their father. Perhaps he was Ouranus of the primeval sky, like the others, or perhaps he was Zeus wandering down in the dark wealthy worlds of Pluto, looking for something he had lost. These four singers won’t say. Melete sits nearby meditating on all the harmonies and rhythms she will inspire while Aoede’s songs weave about in complex nets of motives and counter-melodies. Thelxinoe brings so much joy, bliss and delight to the hearts of those who encounter her, they forget that she is also a siren of Persephone’s court. And Arche, the beginning, has always been here since before the Chaos that began the universe, the source that causes all things to exist. They alone can safely wake Hypnos from his unending sleep. They know how to lie and how to tell the truth and how to be believed either way.

Now ever since he was a little child, Apollo would watch his big sister lead the Muses in song. He found any excuse he could to follow them to their dancing rings and soaked the music in. They even let him play the reed-pipes, a gift of Athena’s, to their singing if he was lucky. Three Muses soon formed a group round him and taught him to play a new instrument, a lyre with strings that sounded sweet from high to low. Their rhymes and meters seemed to rise up out of the earth itself, whispering hints of what was to come, that Apollo the lucky sun child collected and spread to the world. Kephiso took her name from a river full of springs and little dreams. Borysthenis means strength like other old, old names used by Hecate, Aphrodite, Demeter and the Furies. And Apollonis shone like the sun and moon in the sky.

And then there is Polymatheia, the orphan, and her ghosts. Three Muses from Sicyon once, now only Polymatheia remembers her name. She loves “much learning” of all kinds; knowledge for its own sake makes her sing and dance. She haunts theaters and universities with their comedies and tragedies and laughingly calls Dionysus’s wine “light” compared to the intoxication of study and art. Though she would never miss a show of his and thrills in mixing words and notes, like water and honey, till they have become something other, something more, than they once were. And perhaps she is the Muse who kept the mighty flying Pegasus following tamely at her heels. Though that must have been after its hooves had created the four springs of the fountain where, some say, all the Muses were born.

One day Mnemosyne was out singing and naming things she found under the sky. Zeus of the wide stretching sky saw her, and saw her name him. And down to the earth he fell. What exactly they did neither ever would say but for nine days and nights they wandered the hills and pastures, and everyone living heard music coming from the leaves in all the trees.
Then a year or so later Mnemosyne gave birth to her nine daughters. Drunk from birth on song, they emerged into the world free of worries or cares. They were so alike that they had to be named and given symbols to tell one from the other. Though of course they promptly traded their baubles back and forth as if it was all the same to them. All learning was creation to them, all words became poetry in their minds. To walk was to dance and to speak was to sing. At celebrations, no one was more welcome, but between times, Artemis was the only God as mad for music as they. Linking arms, these ten danced all night under the stars, singing like a pack of wolves to the moon.

Antiope the nymph known as “the good mare” and Pierus the king of a spring on a mountain once had seven daughters, lovely as sirens, who sang for their supper. They leapt out into the world and let their voices fly through the sky, singing of rivers and seas, flowers and the moon. Inevitably, they met the nine daughters of Mnemosyne one day and the whole noisy bunch of them had to sing together. Soon the world was brought to a standstill by this full chorus and even the newly born wild Pegasus was caught by the layered sounds. The sky itself went dark with distraction and the springs all held their breath, in wonder. And then, in that silent moment at the end of all music and songs, half of these Muses bowed, sprouted feathers and took wing, traveling out into the myths as seven magpies, or perhaps it was nine different birds, that the Muses love to this day.
Bleu Mantle Rose
Roses and Birds are Linked to the Muses
Red Robin

My later post, The Muse Contest, has more detailed information on the traditional 9 Muses and the 7 Muses of Pieria.


  1. How about Cleo? Did I miss Cleo? BTW: I liked this. Milton

    1. Glad you like!
      Cleo (also spelled Kleio) is one of the nine daughters of Mnemosyne. The section where I talk about her and her sister's by name didn't make it into this post along with the names of the seven daughters of Pierus and Antiope. The earlier Muse post has their names, meanings and roles laid out. And the full version of whatever this will become has them all listed and given credit. But it was just to confusing for this version.
      If'n your curious, here are the nine by name;

      Kleio “the giver of fame” history
      Euterpe “the giver of joy” played the aulos (not flute)
      Thaleia “the festive” comedy
      Melpomene “the singer” tragedy
      Terpsichore “enjoys dancing” dance, lyre
      Erato “awakener of desire” wedding and erotic poetry
      Polymnia “of many hymns” story songs, hymns
      Ourania “heavenly one” astronomy
      Kalliope “beautiful voice” epic poetry

    2. Thanks for the upate. Very helpful. Milt