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Elements of the myth
GENEALOGY OF THE MUSESThe most widely-accepted tradition says the Muses were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, "memory". Zeus fathered them after nine nights of love.
See Hesiod, Theogony, v. 53-67
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They are also sometimes thought to be the daughters of Uranus and Gaia.
Less often, they are held to be the daughters of Harmony, herself the daughter of Ares and Aphrodite, which contradicts another legend in which they dance at the wedding of Harmony and Cadmos.
Pausanias maintains that there were two generations of Muses, the first the daughters of Uranus and Gaia, the second those of Zeus and Mnemosyne
Periegesis, 9, 29, 1
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THE NUMBER OF MUSES
Certain religious traditions refer to three Muses: the very ancient shrine of the Helicon in Boeotia mentions Melete, Mneme and Aoide : "Concentration", "Memory" and "Song", which correspond to three points in the act of poetic invention.
The tradition that prevailed is that of Hesiod, who speaks of nine Muses and gives them names. These nine Muses correspond to forms of creativity in all the arts connected with mousike, the art of the Muse : poetry, song, dance, theatre and also, because of the harmony implicit in the structure of the cosmos, astronomy.
Pausanias attributes this change from three to nine and the imposition of names to the Macedonian Pierus (Periegesis, 9, 29, 1).
THE FUNCTIONS OF THE MUSES
Their functions were gradually identified with literary or artistic genres, of which they became the patrons, to a certain extent :
Calliope ("who has a fair voice") is the first of the Muses, and has many roles: she is sometimes seen as the Muse of eloquence and of the epic.
Clio ("I celebrate or make famous") is the Muse of the epic, and thus of history.
Erato ("the lovely") is the Muse of lyric poetry and choral songs.
Euterpe ("of rejoicing") is the Muse of dance, to the sound of flute-playing or love poetry.
Melpomène ("the songstress") is the Muse of song and tragedy.
Polymnia ("of many songs") is the Muse of nuptial and funerary songs and mime..
Terpsichore ("of joy in the dance") is the Muse of lyric poetry and dance.
Thalia ("of abundance and good cheer") is the Muse of comedy.
Urania (" the heavenly") is the Muse of astronomy.
The Muses of the Helicon sang on the orders of Apollo, making a circle around the Hippocrene spring, which was created with a kick of Pegasus' hoof. See the allegoric painting of Andrea Mantegna : Mars and Venus, or Parnassus (1497).
They were the ones who sang at the feasts of the gods. See the painting of Henrich Van Balden.
In particular, they were present at :
- the wedding of Thetis and Peleus, parents of Achilles.
- the wedding of Harmony and Cadmos, founder of Thebes in Boeotia.
They indulged in certain love affairs : Calliope (or Polymnia) was supposed to have had a union with Oeagrus in Thrace and given birth to Orpheus. See the painting of Nicolas Poussin.
They also took revenge upon particular poets to punish their presumption: thus, they took away the voice of the poet Thamyris of Thrace because he had boasted that his power was greater than theirs.
On the other hand, they gave Demodokos, the blind bard of the Phaeacians, the gift of a perfect singing voice (Odyssey, book VIII, 492).