Mar 16, 2016

Etymology Expeditions: The Muses

Musas dançando com Apolo Baldassarre Peruzzi
Image from wikimedia commons

Okay, let's start with the basics: there are nine Muses in Greek mythology, and each of them symbolises a different art. They are the goddesses of inspiration, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (the personification of memory). Appropriate, isn't it?

Calliope, literally "beautiful-voiced" from Greek kalli + opos,  is the protector of epic poetry, and her symbol is a writing tablet.

Clio is associated with history and carries a scroll. Her name comes from the Greek kleios "proclaimer," from kleiein "to tell, celebrate, make famous," from kleos "rumour, report, news, fame glory."

Euterpe, literally "well-pleasing," from Greek eu "well"+ terpein "to please, delight," is the patron of lyric poetry, and her symbol is the aulos, a Greek flute.

Thalia, "the blooming one," from thallein "to bloom," is associated with pastoral poetry and comedy, and her symbol is a comic mask.

Her counterpart is Melpomene, "songstress," from melpein "to sing," the Muse of tragic poetry, whose symbol is a tragic mask.

Terpsichore, from terpein "to delight" + khoros "dance, chorus," is the Muse of dance, and carries a lyre.

Erato, "the lovely," from erastos "beloved, charming, lovely," the Muse of love poetry, carries a Greek lyre called a kithara (yup, that's the origin of the word "guitar," in case you were wondering).

Polyhymnia, from poly "many" + hymnos "festive song in praise of gods or heroes," the Muse of sacred poetry, wears a veil.

Last but not least, Urania, the Muse of astronomy, carries a globe and compass. Her name comes from Greek ouranios "heavenly."

Which Muse are you hoping to romance?

What's that? What about me?

Well, I already have one. My Muse looks a bit like David Bowie in his Thin White Duke days, all jagged teeth and icy charm. He is quite fickle; sometimes he disappears for weeks and then comes back smelling of fast cars, old magic, and white-chocolate-and-liquorice cookies. He likes weird books and weirder bars. Sometimes he hangs out at art shows, invisible, and draws moustaches on the faces of people who take themselves too seriously. He chats with the magpies (because they have the best gossip), stalks dark alleys at midnight with a cheeky cat that speaks only in riddles, and smokes pink clove cigarettes with strangers over absinthe. He takes me down strange paths, but we always end up someplace wonderful.

What's yours like?  


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