29 September 2021

The Modern Muses

In ancient Greece the Muses were a collection of nine goddesses who stimulated the conception of literature and the arts.  What if the Muses were to reinvent themselves for the twenty first century?  Would their modern day guise be any different from the time of the ancients?  What objects might they adopt as their symbols?  Let’s have a little fun.  After all – if they were to return, they wouldn’t want to look as if they belong in a museum, even if the very word was inspired by them.

Perhaps the most famous of the muses, Calliope is the muse of heroic writing – it is said that she inspired Homer to write the Iliad and the Odyssey.  In art she has always been seen with a writing tablet in her hand.  That, of course, would have to go.  Were Calliope to descend from Olympus, she would soon discover that a laptop is the tool of choice for most writers in this day and age.

As the oldest of the muses she would no doubt need that processing power to keep her younger, more errant sisters organised.

Clio was the muse of history.  In ancient art she was often represented with a scroll of paper or a tablet.  Perhaps today she would record the passage of time using a camera.  She is seen variously as a researcher, one who ignites the need to record events but also to investigate and to ensure that events are accounted.  Clio’s aim was to record the past in order to inform the future – and what better modern platform for that than the art of photography?

Erato was the muse of erotic poetry and the name means lovely – but we get the modern word erotic with its contemporary meaning.  In antiquity Erato was often to be seen with a lyre and it was said that she had the power to turn the men who followed her in to those worth to be loved.  As the meaning of her name has changed over time, were Erato to come from up high to be with us mere mortals then perhaps she might adopt a contemporary attitude towards fashion.  So, perhaps she would appear in something many women want – a little black dress that fits perfectly?

The muse of music, Euterpe supposedly invented the double-flute.  However, her modern day counterpart would have to encompass music much more fully than a single instrument.  So, how would she go about discovering the music of the world, as it is now?  Her modern symbol might well be the iPod or similar a pocket-sized device which she could use to update her music knowledge quickly.

Melpomene began as the muse of singing but later transferred to being the muse of tragedy.  She was often portrayed in art with the tragic mask in her hand and wielding a weapon.  It would be quite likely, were she to beam down from Olympus, to become a professional protestor, railing against the evils of the world.  Instead of the theatrical mask of tragedy, she would don a helmet and scarf and traverse the globe protesting against man made tragedies.  Instead of the cothurnus, the boots worn by tragic actors, she would come complete with a pair of heavy duty Doctor Martens.

The word hymn comes from the name of this particular muse – and she is something of a solemn lady to boot.  More often than not she was pictured in very pensive poses, quite often in a cloak and veil.  Not really a shrinking wallflower but a serious thinker, perhaps her symbol today could be a cool set of shades – that way no one would be quite able to make out what she was thinking.

Literally meaning delight of dancing, Terpsichore ruled over dance.  However, in most of the antique pictures she is shown in a seated position, accompanying the dance with music.  That simply would not do in this day and age – she would be inclined to take part in the dance herself.  So not to distract from the essence of modern dance, perhaps her symbol could simply be a pair of jeans and a sleeveless vest.  Very modern.

The Muse for comedy, Thalia’s antiquarian symbol was a trumpet which was used to project the voices of actors in to the audience.  A fairly obvious choice here - if Thalia was to return among us she would no doubt choose a microphone to symbolise herself.

Urania was the muse for astronomy.  Traditionally she was depicted with a globe in her left hand.  Although that image would still be apt, let’s get with the century.  Recently there have been three women in space at the same time, so what more appropriate symbol for Urania’s renaissance than a space suit, here worn by US astronaut Joan Higginbotham.

The Tenth Muse?
Sappho of Lesbos was often referred to as the tenth muse. Indeed, this term has become something of a compliment to female poets over the centuries.  Taking that in to account, who do you think would make the ideal tenth muse in today?  It does not have to be a poet, but any woman you feel would fit in to the modern day muses seen above.  Please, make your suggestions below.