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The Reception of Myth and Mythology > Muses

Brills New Pauly Supplements I - Volume 4 : The Reception of

Myth and Mythology

(12,979 words)

( [Mosai]; Latin Musae; also [Pierdes];

Latin Pierides, Pieriae; Camenae) Article Table of Contents

A. Myth A. Myth
B. Reception
The etymology of the word mosa is unclear. In terms of Bibliography
the aesthetics of reception, Pl. Crat. 406a is the most
significant contribution, deriving it from (msthai,
seek after, covet). Isidore of Seville (Isid. Orig. 3,15,1 f.;
also 8,11,96), Giovanni Boccaccio (Genealogia deorum gentilium 11,2,3) and Giglio Gregorio
Giraldi (De deis gentium VII: Musarum syntagma, The Group of the M.) all follow this
etymology. Plutarch (Plut. De fraterno amore 6 = Plut. Mor. 480ef) suggests being at once
(, (h)omo), citing the shared soul of the M. Papias alphabetical glossary follows a tradition
very popular in the Middle Ages that derived the name from an Egyptian word mos
(supposedly water). Benjamin Hederich, in his Grndliches mythologisches Lexikon, asserts
that most people derive the name from the Hebrew maza, he has invented, or better yet
from musar [. . .], which means no less a thing than learning.

According to the most influential mythical tradition, the M. are the daughters of Zeus and
Mnemosyne (Hes. Theog. 53ff.; Apollod. 1,3,1). Apollo fathers Linus with Urania (cf. Hyg. Fab.
161) or Calliope, and Orpheus with the latter (Apollod. 1,3,2). The Leader of the M.
(mousagetes) is usually Apollo, but sometimes Dionysus or Heracles. Hesiod establishes the
number of nine M. and their names (Hes. Theog. 75ff.): Clio (, Kleio , Praiser), Euterpe
(E, Eutrp, Rejoicing Well), Thalia (, Thleia, Bounteous), Melpomene
(, Melpomn, Songstress, Melodious), Terpsichore (, Terpsichr,
Enjoying the Dance), Erato (, Ert, Lovely), Polyhymnia ((), Pol(yh)mnia,
Many-Hymned), Urania (, Ourana, Celestial) and Calliope (, Kallip,
Beautiful-Voiced); cf. on this list [2.63]. The scholion to this text (76, ed. Gaisford) makes the M.
the originators of individual human artistic accomplishments: Clio invented rhetoric (tradition
prefers to make her the Muse of history), Euterpe aulos music, Thalia comedy, Melpomene
tragedy, Terpsichore citharody, Erato (lyric) poetry (tradition narrows this to love poetry),
Polyhymnia geometry (traditionally also barbitos-playing and pantomime), Urania astronomy
and Calliope epic poetry [19.91f.]. Plato (Pl. Phdr. 259c) makes the last two, as the oldest of the
M., the M. of philosophy.

On the origins of the M., Hesiod reports that Zeus fathered them on nine successive nights, and
Mnemosyne gave birth to these daughters all of one mind, who then took their places to live,
sing and dance on Olympus (Hes. Theog. 3667). However, they appointed poets on mt.
Helicon, which (as Parnassus would soon also be) was regarded as their real home. Meanwhile,
(pseudo-)Aristid. Rhetorica 2,142 (ed. Dindorf) tells of a lost Hymn to Zeus by Pindar on the
origin of the M. After the world was made, it still lacked for its completion a voice in praise of it.
This myth seems to have been very influential in the attribution to the M. of the Music of the
Spheres (or to have emerged from that attribution). The well of the M. (Hippocrene) formed in
a hoofprint of Pegasus.

Myths also tell of song contests, all of which the M. win, with the Pierides (whom the M.
subsequently transform into magpies, Ov. Met. 5,294668), with Thamyris (whom the M. rob of
their eyesight and art of song, Apollod. l,3,3ff.) and Sirens (Ov. Met. 5,552563). The M.
function as judges in the contest of Apollo and Marsyas (Hyg. Fab. 165). As goddesses of the
harmonizing reconciliation of opposites, the M. also appear as musicians at weddings, esp. that
of Cadmus and Harmonia (Thgn. 1,1518). There is also a rival myth following Plutarch (Plut.
Symp. 9,14 = Plut. Mor. 744c), according to which there are only three M., each assigned to one
of the three genera of melody (diatonic, chromatic and enharmonic), and also named after
them. Pausanias gives other names (Paus. 9,29,2), which also bring three M. into association
with the work of poetry: Melete (, Care, Attention), Mneme (, Memory) and
Aoide (, Song).

The myth of the M. reveals its meaning much more efficiently on a pragmatic level than a
semantic one. This is already evident in the fact that the word mousa could from the earliest
times equally well mean simply song or (poetic) text. Most striking of all as a derivation of
mousa is music (the Greek word (mousike) was an abbreviation of the compound
expression mousike tchn, art of the M.). Pl. Alc. 108cd defines it more precisely as a
combination of song, measured dance and the accompaniment of a string instrument, so that
the art of the M. was understood as a trinity of logos, rhuthmos and harmony [19.10]. The
unity of music and language (and even writing, cf. Diod. Sic. 5,74,1), which might seem
surprising today, is plausible because Ancient Greek enabled a peculiar structure of
versification. The pitch accents of words necessarily and directly brought a melody, which
thus changed with the words, to the rhythm of long and short syllables (cf. Pl. Resp. 398d; the
technical term for the latter rhythm, metron (metre), derives from the ritual dance step). It
only became possible to compose songs with independent melodies in the 4th cent. BC, when
the expiratory accent emerged. Mousike thus proves to be a system inherent within language
itself, but suffusing almost all culture a transpersonal system [. . .], the validity of which is
guaranteed by the M. themselves [2.70].
A second, mathematical or scientific myth of the art of the M. also developed in the wake of
Pythagoras. Music ordered according to calculable harmonies made the M. into goddesses of
cosmic harmony and of the Music of the Spheres (cf. e.g. Pl. Resp. 617b; Aristot. Cael. 290b291a
takes polemical issue with this theory). This was also of great importance in medical discourse,
as the Pythagoreans believed the fluctuations of the soul (psyche) to be subject to the same law
of numbers as those of the cosmos, and therefore that an individual could be treated (cf. Iambl.
VP 64f; 110f; 114 and [6.128]), or restored to harmony with the cosmos and himself (cf. Pl. Tim.
47d), through music.

The biopolitical status of mousike can be read in the reactions to developments as the loss of
the musical accent and the cultural consolidation of the double aulos flute, both paving the
way for a new music (nea mousike). This provoked fears that the people would be made
effeminate or barbaric, that body and soul would suffer damage and the community would be
corroded (cf. e.g. Pl. Leg. 669f.; 81216; Pl. Resp. 39799; Pl. Gorg. 501 f. and, on this, Eric Csapo
in [25.20748]). Basic schooling, as enjoyed by every free Athenian citizen, was also conceived
in term of the M. Alongside the musal (i.e. of the M.) disciplines per se, i.e. grammar, stylistics,
rhetoric and music (as we understand it today), there were also the subjects of astronomy and
mathematics, which, according to Pythagorean doctrine, were also musal. Even the division,
valid until recent times, of the seven liberal arts (artes liberales) into the trivium (grammar,
rhetoric, dialectics) and quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music) still attests to
this history, although here the distinction is between subjects of the older art of the M. and the
Pythagorean musical disciplines (cf. Penelope Murray in [25. 36589]). As daughters of
Mnemosyne, the M. also stood for a kind of cultural memory. The very process of recollecting
the past occurs when the past attains a transtemporal dimension and hence becomes capable
of seeding culture (Murray in [25.366]). This occurs mostly in the form of divine and/or heroic
cult, but it is also just as plausible when Heraclitus names his books after the M. and Plato
likens anamnesis to musal memory (Pl. Leg. 653ef), or when Socrates calls philosophy the
highest of the arts of the M. (Pl. Phd. 61a).

B. Reception

B.1. Antiquity

B.1.1. Literature and philosophy

So far, scholars have considered the influence of the M. in literature mostly as one of
inspiration from the M., an idea that has been very popular in modern times. But the
assumption that the M. bestowed (i.e. breathed in = inspired) some exalting pneuma [6.84ff.]
is a controversial one, because ancient literature offers no real evidence of such a concept [33].
On the contrary it can be shown that the Homeric and Hesiodic concept of the singer
envisaged no dictation from the M., but the authors own hard work to produce a text [33]; [30].
The influence of the M. and poetic virtuosity were thus interdependent in that the latter was
legitimized as an autonomous process by the former. Yet the apparently illuminating view of the
epic M. as simple embodiments of the cultural memory of an oral poet (cf. [13] and to some
extent also [26]) becomes less plausible on closer examina- tion. For instance, when the singer
of the Iliad prefaces his presentation of the catalogue of ships with an invocation of the M.
(Hom. Il. 2,48493), he accounts for this by saying we hear but rumours and know nothing
(, dmen, perhaps also translatable as have seen nothing). So the M. are to guarantee the
status of what is sung in the Aoide in spite of its mere oral transmission. Another approach
defines Homeric divine knowledge as a knowledge that brings the immediacy and pleasure
of sensory experience, and enables the knowing of a past object in a way that present objects
are known [20.13 and 21]. If we accept this idea, the influence of the M. should be felt far less in
the moment of composition than in the moment of performance [12]; [26]. This is also implicit
in the same Iliad passage, as the singer goes on to say that ten throats, ten tongues, one
inexhaustible voice (phone) and an iron heart would not suffice to tell, without the help of the
M., how many Greeks went to Troy. It is clear that the job of the M. is not so much to provide
information on the great number and splendour of the heroes, but to help make these things

Seen in this light, then, the seamless transitions between invocations of the M. and narrative in
Homeric epic can be understood neither as pleas for the M. to dictate text nor as shifts to a
second narrative voice in a narratological sense. Rather, they seem to be an acoustic,
performative superimposition of voices, as a second, divine presence emerges within the
manifest being of the narrator. Nonetheless, the idea that the Homeric singer was a kind of
priest [2.81] of the M. is inadmissible. On the contrary, the epic transforms heroic memory
(and the cult of the M.) into a (latently fictionalizing) play of amalgamation and differentiation,
which never entirely fuses or, indeed, is intended to fuse the singers physical presence with
the presence that is sung (the M.) or the presence that is sung of and evoked (the hero and the
recalled events). This, at all events, is the implication of the songs within the Odyssey: Odysseus
tears when the poet Demodocus, taught by the M., sings of the dead Achaeans (Hom. Od. 8,485
545 and 521534), and Penelopes reaction to the song of Phemius telling of the heroes sad
return from Troy (Hom. Od. 1,337344) frustrate the performance precisely because of the
listeners involvement in the reality of the performance material, which undermines such
aesthetic distance (and thus prevents enjoyment of the horrors: Hom. Od. 1,347).

In Hesiods Theogony, too, the effect of the M. is an ideal union of the transtemporal with sweet
forgetfulness of the present (Hes. Theog. 102f.): while the M. themselves pronounce what was,
is and shall be (Hes.Theog. 38), they commission the poet only to speak of the future and the
past and to praise the eternal gods. The earthly present is deliberately omitted [32]. But the
speech of the M. can also make much that is false seem to be true (cf. Hes. Theog. 2628),
making poetry something akin to a mirage. Perhaps it is appropriate to see this in the context of
the growth of literacy after all, it must be assumed that as people understood that different
variants were simultaneously available as texts, they would increasingly question which was,
semantically speaking, the true text (at the expense of truth in performance). The relevance
of this context is further supported by Hesiods emphasis on the aspect of textual production,
which is much greater than Homers. Although the essential ambiguity of the gift of the poet or
singer already observable in the Odyssey (although the singer is self-taught, a god planted his
ability N.B. not the texts themselves in him; cf. Hom. Od. 22,344353; on this [30.12]) is not
changed in Hesiod, the authors self-advertisement and the portrayal of his appointment by the
M. are clear signs of a new kind of self-awareness.
A Muse is in remarkably private attendance during Pindars process of writing his third
Olympian Ode, helping the poet find the right voice in the appropriate metre (Pind. Ol. 3,1,6
9). Fragment 150 (ed. Snell) even goes so far as to say Reveal [manteueo], Muse, but I will
speak the prophecy [or interpret it: prophateuso]. The poet here (self-)consciously strips the
influence of the M. of all performative aspects. But the theory of musal performance is seen in a
quite different way in Platos Ion, where the divine presence in a poetic performance is
described as a chain of M. (Pl. Ion 536ad). The audience is nolens volens captivated by the
singers exalted possession, which once more is a mere reflection of that of the poet (cf. here
also Pl. Apol. 22bf), who in turn is pervaded by the M. Although the question of the essential
value-as-truth of the possession remains unanswered, the possibility is raised here of a truth
that is lived through the senses, being based on blind faith and not method (techne). In the
Phaedrus, meanwhile, the inspiration of the M. is central to philosophy (Pl. Phdr. 249c), but
here it is a procedure of intellectual and not sensual-empirical presence.

Callimachus Aetia also attest to an intellectualization of the musal (12, esp. 1, fr. 2f.). The
poets encounter with the M. here takes place on a Helicon that is no more than a dream. A
dialogue between the poet and the Muse draws a sharp distinction between the two, and shifts
the latter from the creative plane to the plane of representation. The M. are now akin to an
allegory of intellectual creative power, esp. such power based in the literary tradition. The M.
summoning of the poet, in which Apollo also takes part, is clearly based on Hesiod [38.71f.].

The M. appear rarely in early Latin literature. Their identification in early texts is also
hampered by the fact that they were called Camenae after Livius Andronicus used this term for
Mousai in his translation of Homer but the cult of the original well-nymphs (nymphs) became
superimposed with that of the M. in Augustan poetry to such an extent that Camena and the
loanword Musa function de facto as synonyms [39]. Although cult sites have been found, the M.
seem largely only to have been of allegorical status in Latin poetry. This can be inferred, for
example, from the observation that M. were now assigned geographical names (Parnassus was
now the fount of heroic epic, while the Helicon was the mountain of the Muse of the middle
style [34], but the M. now also inhabited even more specific locales) or adjectives to specify
genre or stylistic level. Even Virgils invocation of individual M. is probably to be seen in the
light of such allegorical division of labour (Erato in Verg. Aen. 7,3740, Calliope in Verg. Aen.

Poets invocations above all now reveal how the musal memory was now becoming a kind of
archive of poetic texts. Even Ennius already directly follows up his invocation of the dancing
Olympian Muse with a dream in which the ghost of Homer reveals to the poet that he has
entered into him (Enn. Ann. 1,110; [38.49113]). So poetical metempsychosis supersedes rather
than accompanies the invocation of the Muse. Propertius invocation on Mount Helicon takes
place in a dream (Prop. 3,3) and leads into the fusion of literary tradition and memory
expressed in the allegory of the drink from the well of the M. (unknown in Greek antiquity),
which would subsequently prove very influential. The beginning of the same book shows how
little this had to do with the actual M. Propertius here invokes the shade of Callimachus as the
authority of Greek poetry (as Callimachus in turn had invoked Hesiod, see above) and drives in
on a triumphal car with a Muse born of [him]self (a me nata: 3,1,910). Creativity is a work of
imitatio and ingenium. Propertius thus urges Roman poets to follow, hard on his heels.
The invocation of the M. also underwent similar transformations. That by Lucretius, for
instance, is really addressed to Ennius and Homer (Lucr. 1,112126); he explicitly enlists the
goddesses of memory, by definition somewhat conservative, for the exploration of what has
never been explored before (Lucr. 1,92250). He places a particular accent on the renown
bestowed by the M., but renown less for the heroes in the sense of civilizatory memory than
for the productive and thus inspirational poet himself. The authority of truth as mediated by
the M., then, has been covertly or overtly undermined.

Consequently, the information imparted by the M. in

Ovids Fasti is always open to dispute (Ov. Fast. 5,1). In Ov.
Ars am. 2529, the poet explicitly does not derive his
visionary gift to the influence of the M., but to his own
experience alone; while in the Metamorphoses, Ovid even
Fig. 1: Sophilus Dinos, 6th cent.
invokes his own mind (animus, Ov. Met. 1,1), while the
BC, London, British Museum.
M. are relegated to the role of mere internal narrators of
Five Muses form part of an
their contest with the Pierides (Ov. Met. 5,294668) and
Olympian procession. bpk,
the attempt of the (mortal) Pyreneus to capture and rape
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them (Ov. Met. 5,268293) a fable which further
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impugns their divine authority. Ov. Am. 1,1, like Verg.
Catal. 5 before it, even abolishes the M. altogether, a
passage that would be just as important to the Christian Middle Ages as the steadfast rejection
of the M. in Persius choliambus (Pers. 17; [9.144]).

B.1.2. Fine arts

The same functions of musal influence (see above B.1.1) are also evident in ancient art. The
presence of sculptures of the M. in Greek educational establishments, and the designation of
those establishments as Mouseion (originally a term for sanctuaries of the M.; school festivals
with agons were also later termed mouseia), attest to the importance of the M. in education.
Their significance in cult can also be inferred from the fact that the M. were represented at
Delphi (a M. group from the 4th cent. BC is very fragmentarily preserved on the eastern front of
the Temple of Apollo [31.678]; Plut. De pyth. or. 17 = Plut.mor. 402c also attests to a sanctuary of
the M. there). The temenos which Plato is said to have dedicated to the M. in his Academy
[41.288], also bears witness to their affinity with philosophy.

Depictions of the M. in vase-painting make clear how they fitted into heroic and mythologi-
cal contexts (and to some extent also emphasize the aesthetic dimension of the M.). The oldest
surviving portrayals of the M. are two groups of five and (probably) four M. on the Sophilus
Dinos (cf. fig. 1) and of eight M. (furnished with Hesiodic names) on the so-called Franois
Vase (Florence, Museo Archeologico), both dating from the early 6th cent. BC. Inscriptions are
often absent from vases of the second half of the 6th and early 5th cents., so that depictions of
the M. alone cannot always be safely attributed [31.659]. The number nine still occurs
extremely rarely.
The M. are often shown with Apollon Mousagetes (Apollo), and relatively frequently too at the
musical contest of Apollo and Marsyas [31.669 f.] the only type in which the M. take a purely
passive role. The linguistic dimension of their influence began, from the mid-5th cent. BC, to be
expressed by the inclusion of writing scrolls and tablets as attributes [5.16], and by portraying
the M. with a poet or singer who would either be listening to them or making music with them.

Probably the oldest surviving sculpture of the M. dates from the 4th cent. BC. The reliefs of the
Mantineia statue base show the Marsyas contest attended by seven M., equipped with
instruments and a writing scroll. Only the plinth survives of the M. group from Ambracia
(probably 3rd cent. BC [5.246ff.]); it attests that the M. appeared here with Heracles as the
Mousagetes. Recent research, however, has shown that the missing statues were probably
copied on surviving Roman vase-reliefs [5.247]. As these do not show Heracles in person, but
only an actor wearing his mask, this identification may equally imply an awareness of musal
performance and its increased aestheticization.

In the so-called Apotheosis of Homer (cf. fig. 2), the M. act as servants to the dying poet. They
take part in his coronation with other deities and
allegorical personifications. Each of the M. is marked by
an attribute. The familiar flutes and string instruments,
writing scrolls and tablets are joined by Uranias orb
[41.290]. The allegorical, genre-specific individualization
underlying such representations settled for the time being
into a fixed form in the Augustan period. It can be
reconstructed, for instance, from an annotated wall-
painting from Pompeii (AD 6279, Paris, Louvre): Calliope
(epic poetry) tends to be shown as a declaiming Muse,
with writing tablet or closed book scroll. Clio (history) has
an open book scroll, Erato (choral and erotic lyric) a lyre
or cithara, Terpsichore (monadic lyric) also a lyre, Euterpe
(aulody) the double aulos, Melpomene (tragedy) the
tragic mask and Hercules club, Thalia (comedy) the comic Fig. 2: Archelaus of Priene,
mask and shepherds staff, Urania (astronomical didactic Apotheosis of Homer, relief,
poetry) a pointing-stick and orb. Only Polyhymnia between 130 and 120 BC,
(artistic prose) was shown with no attribute (usually London, British Museum. By
leaning on a rock). virtue above all of the Muses
who serve him, the poet is in
B.2. Late antiquity and Middle Ages close association with the
celestial pantheon.
B.2.1. Literature and philosophy

Three pieces of late ancient writing above all dictated the status of the M. in the Middle Ages.
These are Martianus Capellas De nup- tiis Philologiae et Mercurii (On the Marriage of
Philologia and Mercury), Bothius De consolatione Philosophiae (The Consolation of Philosophy)
and Macrobius commentary on Ciceros Somnium Scipionis (Dream of Scipio; see below B.2.3).
The concept of the unification and unity of the gods, harmoniously overcoming oppositions,
pervades the whole of the first text (De nuptiis 1,111). In accordance with mythical tradition, the
M. are simultaneously presented as a Phoebean (Apollonian) wedding chorus (cf. also 2,117 and
9,908) and as mistresses of the music of the spheres (1,27f.) as an essential part of a world
praising its creator. But Martianus also admits the Roman tradition of the M. archive of texts:
after Philologia has vomited forth (evomebat) her knowledge in the form of heavy books, the
M. and the arts collect up these treasure troves of information. By contrast, the Consolatio
Philosophiae starts by banishing the M. When Bothius tries to console himself in captivity with
the elegiac song of his M., the enraged Philosophy appears, drives out these whores of the
stage (scenae meretriculae) and replaces them with new M. The distinction between poetic
and philosophical M., noted since Plato (see above B.1.1), is thus dramatically portrayed here.
But, as the M. of the latter category are not described as individual figures, the meaning of the
word changes, now falling somewhere between an allegory of manifestation and a mere name
for the philosophical songs. Nonetheless, the allegorical poetics of the philosophical M.
incarnation and the prosimetric structure of the text betray a Neoplatonist rehabilitation of
poetry for the purpose of depicting a divine truth that is per se unsayable [23]. But this
rehabilitation Christianizes the musal itself to the point where the M. disappear.

In fact, it was only secular literature that freely (if formulaically [9]) invoked the M. in the
Middle Ages. Their survival in a sacred context was meanwhile assured firstly ex negativo by the
persistent attempts to condemn the practice [9], and secondly by Christian allegoresis:
Fulgentius (Fulg. Myth. 1,15) interpreted the M. (probably following the tradition attested by
Pausanias, see above A.) as nine different procedures of revelation: the sequence proceeds from
Clio, rumour, to Calliope, the mellifluous utterance of the revelation. With Apollo, moreover
(and probably following the myth attested in Plutarch, see above, A), the M. symbolized the
modulamina of the human voice (four teeth, two lips, one tongue, one palate, one throat and
one lung), also expressed in the ten strings of Apollos harp, which Fulgentius in turn equates to
those of the psaltery (cf. Ps 91,4 und 143,9). Isidore of Seville follows this exegesis of the M. and
expands on it (see below B.2.3.). Amarcius (3,240251) in the 11th cent. even elevated the M. to
the status of meta-allegory: because God wanted the ancient texts to be useful for the
Christians at a later date, he gave the pagan authors the gift of always also saying something
else in their writings, the poets, sensing this, invented the M. and attributed their intuitions to
them (Amarc. 3,795797 [9.168f.]).

Among the Neoplatonists, Bernardus Silvestris made Urania the (Neoplatonist) queen of the
heavens/stars (siderum regina, Cosmographia 1 [summ.] 17; cf. also De universitate mundi
2,5,185ff.), who, with Phisis, was one of two forces subordinate in a kind of feudal relationship to
Natura. While only the four elements and theoria and practica were subject to Phisis, Urania,
born of the mind (nous), held sway over the fifth element and celestial intelligence (also over
astrological administration of Fortuna). Bernardus also designed the M. as allegories of the
celestial fire emanating from God in his Commentum super sex libros Eneidos (Commentary to
six books of the Aeneid: 6,580584), and here too Urania was the celestas intelligentia. In the
course of adapting Fulgentius ordering of the M. to an spiritual schedule of ascent for the soul,
revelation now culminated in Urania (cf. ibid. 6,9).

Residues of such ideas may still have underlain the Ovide moralis, in which the well of the M.
also acquires philosophical importance. It now serves to wash, allegorically speaking, the soul
(5,24602479). In this procedure, the M. in a sense become a single entity, expressing three
functions (recollecting the ventricular theory of the neurophysiology of the day) as
personifications of human perceptions (proprietez dapprendre, 5,2498): the cognizant
(aprehensive), rational or reasoning (judicative, raisonable) and memorative (remembrable,
cf. 5,253437). A century before Bernardus Neoplatonist allegory of the M., Alanus ab Insulis
Anticlaudianus already shows to what extent it furthered noetic concepts of poetry. Here, as
Phronesis advances to the citadel of God (PL 210, Sp. 534 B), it is followed by an invocation of
the Musa clestis, who will make the poets mere words (verba soli) into words of the
heavens (verba poli). The idea of poetry saying the unsayable, observed above in Bothius, is
thus retrieved and applied to the influence of the M.

Dante follows this development rather hesitantly in La Divina Commedia (Inf. 2,79, Purg. 1,712
and 29,3742, Par. 18,8287). Although he gives the M. the aura of sacred poetry, they play no
part in the theopoetic representation of the highest spheres (cf. Par. 23,5560). Giovanni
Boccaccio codifies the conception of the M. poetic influence on theological works in his
Genealogia deorum gentilium, asserting rather flatly that the author(s) of the Psalms, Isaiah, Job
and the other prophets wrote with the help of the M. (11,2,1012). Nor does he shy away from
parodying the very idea: in the introduction to the fourth day of his Decameron, he remarks
that the M. are women, and goes on to express a preference for real women. He has, he says,
already written many texts for the latter, but none for the former.

The works of Petrarch show more clearly the recoding of medieval and ancient concepts of the
M. entailed in the Humanists revival of their myth. The poet of the epic Africa celebrates
himself as a new Ennius (2,443), and goes on to portray that authors metempsychotic
migration of Homer into Latin literature as an unfinished translatio musarum, which he would
be the one to complete (cf. 2,445450). In his third eclogue (Bucolicum Carmen 3), the shepherd
Stupeus, driven by Amor (Eros), learns music and poetry he achieves the task by means of the
first invocation of the M. by a singer since antiquity. However, the scene does not disregard
Christianized, medieval theories of the M.: the heavens respond with applause to the M.
offerings (v. 90f.), probably in allusion to the connection between the dance of the M. and the
circles of the spheres (vv. 112120). Moreover, the same lines draw attention to the modulamina
of the human voice and its mollifying effects, the schooling (studium) of the mind (ingenium)
and brain (cerebrum) and esp. an ethereal reasoning power. The ancient hallowing of poetry,
then, is so Christianized and medieval theopoetics thereby so aestheticized, that unresolved
tensions remain inherent in both.

B.2.2. Fine arts

The affinity of the M. for the cult of the dead, already attested in the Hellenistic period, enjoyed
a particular upsurge of popularity in late antiquity, with the influence of Neoplatonism (cf. also
Proclus Hymn to the M. for Neoplatonist doctrine on the M.), and this was reflected in the M.
more frequent appearances on sarcophagi (cf. fig. 3). From the 3rd cent., the M. were depicted
wearing the feathered crowns they had won from the Sirens in that contest, but this
simultaneously also emphasized their proximity to Neoplatonist concepts of the soul.
Christianization of the M. is only sporadically evident in art.
Depictions of the M. in the mostly sacred art of the Middle Ages are rather rare. Some
miniatures to Bothius De consolatione philosophiae (see above B.2.1) survive, and they retract
the individualization of the M. A new type is found in one manuscript of the Ovide moralis
(BNF ms. fr. 871, fol. 116v), depicting the allegorical washing of the mind as the bath of the M. in
the Hippocrene (with Pegasus above). This seems to
have particularly influenced Christine de Pizan, who
describes the M. as bathing naked in the clear water of
their well which in turn leads into the latent eroticism
of the portrayals of the M. in the manuscripts of her Fig. 3: Sarcophagus of the Muses
Chemin de long estude (cf. London, British Library MS (front), marble, c. AD 200,
Harley 4431, fol. 183r; Brussels, Bibl. Royale Albert Ier, MS Berlin, Pergamonmuseum. In a
10982, fol. 13v and MS 10983, fol. 13r). But the M. could also sepulchral context, the Muses
be shown as representatives of the resonances of the could be accompanied not only
spheres (e.g. in the MS 672, Bibl. Municipale de Reims, fol. by Apollo, but also Pallas,
1r in the context of a portrayal of Aer), or, elsewhere, be Athena or even Mercury,
assigned to the seven liberal arts. This is reflected firstly in attesting to incorporation in a
the mixing of iconographic models (e.g. in a 14th cent. MS philosophical/spiritual sphere,
of the Ovide moralis, Lyon, Bibl. Municipale 742, fol. 87), esp. where other mousagetes
and secondly in combined depictions or identifications. figures (e.g. Heracles or
The Hortus deliciarum of Herrad von Landsberg (c. 1170) Bacchus) are absent.
assigns M., chastely dressed like nuns, to the arts (fol. 31 v,
32r). A MS of Paolino Venetos Satyrica Historia (Bibl. Apost. Vat., MS vat. lat. 1960, 265r) even
allocates the arts to the M.

B.2.3. Music

Late ancient music theory adopted concepts of musics cosmological, pedagogical and
therapeutic effects, but the M. themselves at first played no great role in this. Their continued
career as Pythagorean guardians of the harmony of the spheres, to be imitated by earthly
music, is above all owed to Macrobius (see above B.2.1; cf. Macr. Somn. 2,3). He explains his
view in part with the help of the myth of Orpheus, which was so important to the Christian cult
of the dead, and he also illuminates musics relation to the world-soul. Isidore of Seville draws a
natural music of murmuring waters from the well of the M. in his Etymologia (Isid. Orig.
8,11,96) but the M. are daughters of Memoria precisely because of the transience of the sounds
inherent in this gift (Isid. Orig. 3,15,1f.). This influential causality forms the introduction to his
remarks on music, which Christianizes the M. and rehabilitates them in terms of music theory
(Isid. Orig. 3,1733). The occasional treatment of the M. in music as saints or angels (even in
some sacred or, like southern French sequence, quasi-sacred music) is probably also to be
understood in this context (cf. Analecta Hymnica, ed. G. M. Dreves, 7,221 and 19,367; on this
B.3. Early modern period

B.3.1. Literature and philosophy

The medieval affiliation of the M. with concepts of education (see above, B.2.2.) continued in
the early modern period. University students and pupils at (even Jesuit) schools were described
as musal choruses in the 16th cent., and their places of learning as houses or temples of the M.
The term Philomusus (for scholars) became current. The M. could also be used as a taxonomic
ordering system; this was done for the first time in poetry in the work begun by Francisco de
Quevedo and finished by his brother Pedro Aldrete, El Parnaso Espaol: monte en dos cumbres
divido con las nueve musas castellanas (1648/70).

It was in particular the appearance of Platos Phaedrus in the translation by Leonardo Bruni
(and esp. its exegesis by Marsilio Ficino [37.146214]) that boosted the importance of the M.
Ficino adopted the Platonic concept of four types of madness (giving the Latin furor for the
Greek mania), the poetic type being under the control of the M. as allegories of a mental,
animate and active truth (i.e. diaeretic allegories: [3]). On this basis, Ficino introduced Platos
anamnesis into the concept of the furor divinus in a new way: the divine madness now
reminded the soul of its former heavenly existence by helping to overcome the inner disunity
(arising from the body) through harmony and rhythm (In convivium Platonis 7,14). This is all
the more illuminating since the harmonies of worldly music are in turn conceived as offspring
of the resonances of the spheres. Ficino also redefined Platos chain of M. from the Ion (see
above B.1.1) as a cosmic chain of being (In Pl. Ion): as the individual is aligned to the divine
forms, a convergence occurs within the space of actual being (which is structured by affinities),
and spiritual substance thus flows into the servant of the M. The concept of the inspiration of
the M., which would be so influential, had been born.

In his De occulta philosophia 3,46 (15101533), however, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von
Nettesheim did more than merely convey these ideas to northern Europe. Even his description
of the M. as souls (animae) of the celestial spheres already points to the fluid nature of the
distinction between Ficinos diaeretic allegories and cosmic agents like angels or demons (esp.
in the context of natural philosophy). Agrippa insists on the incorporation of the theory of
exaltation into micro-macrocosmological and astrological considerations, ascribing
mineralogical and esp. mental aspects to the individual M. along with their allocation to the
planets, thus making possible an ascent to the celestial likenesses (effigies). As in Ficino, the
method is the alignment (conformitas) of the soul to the heavens through the M., an alignment
which, as the heavens are spatially structured in terms of affinities, brings about an influx
(influxus) of the divine.

A fundamentally new concept of the creative spirit and the M. came about through Giordano
Brunos Degli eroici furori (Of the Heroic Passions). Bruno brings the creative ingenium to the
centre of his concept of the M., thus redefining furor as an independent and innovative force
(cf. 1, Dial. 1). The M. themselves were now a product of the mind, identical both to its
passionate drive or furor, and to its higher intellect (emerging as a creative force). What to the
Neoplatonists was transcendent and anamnetic was now assigned to immanent creative
powers, in a kind of inverse Platonism [22].
The example of Pierre de Ronsard is the first warranting special discussion in regard to the
early modern tradition of the M. in poetry. For the singers invocation of the inspirational touch
of Euterpe in his Hymne dautomne (vv. 3186), he evokes the presentation of a laurel, the motif
of washing in the well of the M., and direct instruction. Although he seems to have taken note
of Ficinos theory, he subjects it to tradition (esp. Hesiod). In his ode on the M. (Odes 1,10)
dedicated to Michel de lHospital, Ronsard enlarges on this poetics. On the one hand, the M. are
given the full range of the fourfold sacred furor. On the other hand, they appear in entirely
concrete form, and even seem fragile and fearful. The Neoplatonist deployment of the aesthetic
for the purposes of intellectual truth yields here to a conflict between aesthetic immanence
and philosophical epiphany, in which the former clearly emancipates itself from the latter.

Luis de Gngora introduces a further twist to the poetics of the M. by linking their furor with
that of Amor (Eros). In accordance with the Ficinian association of the sense of sight with the
furor of love, the combined power of poetry and love is transferred to the sight of the angelic
Lady, the object of courtly love (sonnet no. 70 of 1583), who hence becomes visual competition
for the acoustic M. Finally, this prepares the way for the Beloved to be identified with the Muse,
precisely the project of William Shakespeare in his sonnets (1609). Sonnet 38/44 makes over
both the breath and the sight of poetic invention to the Lady herself, who is named the
tenth Muse excelling all the others. But Shakespeare (like Bruno in this respect) identifies his
regular private Muse so strongly with his own ingenium that her mythological origins become
all but unrecognizable. She insults (79/25) and is silent as an object of supplication, given an
aura of the unsayable (85/38). When the Muse, forgetful (evidently rejecting her mother),
sings again, she merely spends her fury on some worthless song, and the poet must call her to
order (100/98). But such secularization of the M. also stimulated opposing voices, such as that
of Guillaume de Salluste du Bartas, who in his poem LUranie (in La Muse chrestienne, 1573)
denouncesthe perversity of a poem which (in clear reference to Bothius whores of the stage)
makes of the Helicon a brothel (v. 110). Edmund Spensers The Teares of the Muses (1591) is in
the same spirit.

Torquato Tasso laid important foundations for the intensive dealings of early modern epic with
the M. in his La Gerusalemme liberata (1575). The poet invokes a Muse who is not one of the
merely Heliconian M. and is located among the choirs of the blessed in heaven, asking her to
inflame me with celestial fire (celesti ardori) (1,2). He here enacts a shift in tradition as he
pleads for forgiveness for the untruths contained in his poetry. No longer is it the aesthetic
dimension alone which is put into metapoetic service for the sake of higher truth, as in Ficino,
but also aesthetic dealings with illusion.

In Giambattista Marinos Adone (1623), the M. accompany Apollo, who injects sacred and
wonderful furor into the text (9,26) one wonderful too many to take the sacredness
seriously in theological terms. Venus (Aphrodite), moreover, prefers Erato, to whom all poetic
power of injection is ceded (20,109113). The autoreferential poetics of the text, therefore,
enacts an idiosyncratic self-sanctification, entirely founded on illusion.

English epic took a different route. Spensers The Faerie Queene (15901596) coins the musal
invocation of a holy virgin chiefe of nine, who will Lay forth out of [her] euerlasting scryne
the antique rolles (1,2). The concept of Platonic anamnesis thus merges here with the
Humanist theme of breathing new life into ancient culture. No furor in Ficinos sense is
admitted. John Milton, meanwhile, develops a theory of the mediation of divine revelation in
his Paradise Lost (1667). He calls on a Heavnly Muse (who will later prove to be a Urania, cf.
7,111) for help (1,126). The word muse here denotes the origin of a voice divine (7,2), and it
is the meaning, not the name that the poet invokes (7,5). Nevertheless, the poets aim is to
express Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime (1,16). Here again, then, a tension is staged
between the productive creative spirit and the merciful bestowal of unpremeditated verses by
the heavenly patroness, who, having been from the first [. . .] present (1,1920), is omniscient
(1,1922). The Muse is almost identical to the spirit, pervading creation, that overcame the
chaos of genesis and madst it pregnant. But, although the pneumatic-cosmic forces become
effective here in an inspirational way as in Ficino, the Heavnly Muse is now teaching an
unmanifest music which instead emerges from harmonious numbers moved by thought (3,19
40). Transcending the aesthetic constitution of poetry, she would also enjoy a revival of her
importance in reception history, her harmony now calculable rather than audible.

The fate of the M. in the tradition of the early modern novel was less rosy. The novels poetics of
transcendental homelessness, as Georg Lukcs put it, cannot be conveyed by any
Neoplatonist doctrine of poetry. Franois Rabelais invokes his Muse in Pantagruel (1532),
when the title hero has flooded a number of fields with urine and the three hundred giants
living there are not disposed to let the iniquity rest (28). Musal fury is also competing here with
a variant of Dionysian furor, namely the intoxication of the excellent wine the poet drinks
before continuing with his most truthful story. Henry Fieldings invocation of the M. in the
Homerican style also parodies the concept of a creative spirit dependent on them (Tom Jones,
1749, 4,8), and even Christoph Martin Wieland, who was dedicated to a much more serious
poetical and educative concept, allows the M. and their exaltation to become no more than
human trickery practised on the adolescent Agathon: education, here, comes from life, not the
M. (Agathon, 1766/67).

B.3.2. Fine arts

The M. played a vital role in early modern court culture. As allegories of Humanist education,
they were almost indispensable in decoration of the Renaissance study (studiolo), which soon
also came to be known as a musaeum in reference to the Greek temple of the M. this is the
origin of the modern use of the term. The cycle of the M. in the so-called Tarocchi del
Mantegna (before 1467) a card game that was neither by Andrea Mantegna nor a Tarot deck,
but served courtly didactic purposes is the oldest example of the musal emblemata that
would soon emerge. Portrayed with Hercules/Heracles (who naturally played a central role as
mousagetes in the courtly context), the M. stood for the happy union of deeds and renown. The
association of Mercury/Hermes with Bacchus/ Dionysus, the M. and the Graces/Charites, stood
for courtly sophistication and education, and the temple of the M. was the place in which true
renown came about, through true virtue.

The goddesses (in the Ficinian sense guarantors of the connection to the divine in the manifest
world) also lent themselves to the idealistic portrayal of rulers in palace architecture and
pageants particularly since their auxiliary role as ceremonial musicians (ancient, but still
present in the medieval tradition, cf. Herbort von Fritzlars Liet von Troye (Lay of Troy), vv. 17865
17876) was so ideally suited to the context. As early as 1475, a Helicon borne by allegories of
Grammatica and Astronomia and adorned with M. was presented at Pesaro in honour of the
princely wedding of Costanzo Sforza and Camilla of Aragon. Mobile or temporary mountains
of the M. also featured in representation at enthronements. Permanently-installed fountains of
the M. and mountains equipped with springs were an important part of the landscape gardens
of many palaces into the 18th cent. (though the mountain of the M. planned for Versailles by
Charles Le Brun, considered too monumental there, was only built in honour of Philip V at La
Granja in Spain). Parnassus also became a stage set, often with a flying Pegasus on ropes (one
famous example being the Musenberg of Ansbach). The goddesses were also ideally suited to
the permanent decoration of opera houses (cf. e.g. the ceiling fresco by Johann Benjamin
Mller for the Markgrfliches Opernhaus Bayreuth, c. 1736) and ballrooms (e.g. Francesco
Primaticcios M. in the palace of Fontainebleau, 15391542). The wealth of representations
ultimately led to an inflationary process: the M. also became a popular decorative motif in
porcelain painting.

M. portrayed in cycles had to be particularly individualized, but hardly any existing models
for this were available at the time, except for a few depictions on sarcophagi. This problem
occurred, for instance, in the creation of the influential portraits of the M. for the Studiolo di
Belfiore at Ferrara [8]. For their design, Leonello dEste approached Guarino Veronese for
advice in 1447, and Veroneses reply became, along with Giglio Gregorio Giraldis Musarum
syntagma (in: De deis gentium, Strasbourg 1511) and Cesare Ripas Iconologia (1591), an
important source for Renaissance M. iconography. Its influence is particularly evident in
Giovan Paolo Lomazzos treatise Della forma delle muse cavata dagli antichi autori greci e latini
(The form of the M. according to the ancient Greek and Latin authors) and the M. cycle of
Agostino di Duccio in the Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini. The influential attribution of the
craft of agriculture to Thalia and Polyhymnia seems to be among the elements taken from
Guarino, while Clio acquires a trumpet to go with her book, Erato is moralized as a
matchmaker and Melpomene reinterpreted as a songstress.

The M. tended from now on to turn their attentions to instruments of the day, and the idea of
portraying them as individuals soon reached a point where it becomes difficult to clarify which
is which: Terpsichore, for example, can be shown with organ, tambourine, triangle or harp, but
the last of these can also be associated with Calliope and the tambourine is sometimes Eratos,
who, for her part (as in the M. cycle by Eustache le Sueuer, 1640s, Paris, Louvre), also sometimes
plays the bass viol, although this is more often associated with Urania (in reference to the
iconography of Harmonia). The degree to which the M. could become overloaded with their
own functions is seen in the ceiling frescos of the Hall of the M. in the Villa Medici at Rome
(15841549): Jacopo Zucchi equips them with the animals of the zodiac, attributes of the liberal
arts (e.g. the staff of Aesculapius or dividers), contemporary instruments, ears of corn, chalices,
masks and books. He also introduces a tenth Muse, who is handing Apollo his laurel. In the
Paragone of the arts, she remedies the painful fact that there is no Muse of painting.

Running counter to this individuation of the M. are the group depictions, such as paintings of
the contest with the Pierides based on Ovids Metamorphoses (e.g. that by Giovan Battista di
Jacopo [Rosso Fiorentino] c. 1525, Paris, Louvre -, where the M., naked to demonstrate their
truthfulness, defeat the clothed Pierides). Claude Lorrains Landscape with Apollo and the M.
(1652, Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland) allows the dance of by now unidentifiable M.,
observed by poets, almost to vanish into idyllic surroundings. The withdrawal of musal
attributes sometimes goes so far that it is extremely difficult to distinguish M. from women
playing music, e.g. in Jacopo Tintorettos painting of that very title at Dresden (Gemldegalerie,
before 1566; cf. also his Nine M., c. 1598, London, Hampton Court).

Artists engagement with Florentine Neoplatonism was also of great importance. A painting of
Parnassus by Mantegna (1497, Paris, Louvre) made for the studiolo of Isabella dEste at Mantua
is the first noteworthy example here; it shows M., not individually identifiable, dancing at the
wedding of Mars (Ares) and Venus (Aphrodite). The M. here are allegories of art as a whole (i.e.
not the arts), and more precisely of its civilizatory effect, reconciled with cosmic harmonies. In
15101511, Raphael produced his fresco cycle for the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican. Four
allegorical ceiling medallions give a motto to each of the walls. Above the depiction of
Parnassus (cf. fig. 4) is poetry, with the inscription: Numine Afflatur (Inspired by the Divine).
Although the image only hints at Neoplatonist inspiration, clearly this is what is meant. The
spatial arrangement itself accords poetry an intermediate position between revelation through
discourse (the School of Athens) and sacramental mystery (the Disputation of the Holy
Sacrament). This is also evident from a comparison of the centres of the frescos, all of which are
highlighted by the central perspective. While philosophy (in the form of Plato, pointing
upwards, beside Aristotle looking towards the earth) merely indicates the Highest, and the
sacrament directly receives the Spirit (shown as a dove), Apollo is enthroned in the portrayal of
Parnassus, gazing heavenwards, with his seven-stringed lyre (more exactly: the recently-
invented bowed lira di braccio): although poetry is earthly, it is suffused with divine numen.

Neoplatonist concepts of the M. can still be discerned in the art of later periods, e.g. Jacopo
Bertojas Apollo and the M. (c. 1564, Parma, Palazzo Sanvitale), where the Phoebean chorus sits
on a cloud playing music, the M. Driven from Parnassus by Giovanni da San Giovanni (before
1636, fresco in the Palazzo Pitti, Florence), who lifts the M. singly into the sky, the Dresden M.
(c. 15701580) attributed with some certainty to Tintoretto and destroyed in World War II it
showed the laurel-crowned Apollo appearing from a cloud to the M. similarly attired and Jan
Breughel the Elders Allegories of Air (early 17th cent., Lyon, Muse des Beaux-Arts; Marseille,
Muse des Beaux-Arts), in which Uranias sky is reconciled with science (esp. optics) and the
heavenly aether with the winds of the world. As already noted of the literary tradition, these
paintings too give different accents to their enactment of the aesthetically concrete dimension,
so that a tension sometimes arises between
Neoplatonist transcendence and aesthetic immanence.
Lorenzo Lottos Sleeping Apollo, M. and Fama (1540,
Budapest, Szpmuvszeti Mzeum), however, sets up a
distinctly critical counterpoint to this tradition. The
mousagetes dozes before the abandoned attributes of the Fig. 4: Raphael, Parnassus, detail
M., and is evidently dreaming of Fama hovering above of fresco cycle, c. 1510/1511, Rome,
him, while the naked M. live out in a wild dance a Vatican Museums, Stanza della
(Dionysian?) furor that is no longer accessible to any Segnatura. As agents of the
divine order. Jan Vermeer, meanwhile, makes a model divine numen, Apollo, the
dressed as Clio pose in front of a mappa mundi in his
Allegory of Painting (between 1652 and 1665, Vienna, Muses stand to the side. Only
Kunsthistorisches Museum), thereby shifting the musal modestly arrayed with all the
function into the internal pragmatics of the painting (and more eloquent attributes (the
hence to the plane of painterly representation). trumpet of poetic renown and
the cithara of planetary
The motif of the individual poet with his Muse was also harmony), they and the poets
strikingly taken up anew in the early modern period. who surround them are located
Nicolas Poussins Inspiration of the Poet (c. 1630, Paris, in a space that conveys
Louvre) depicts a Muse equipped only with a shepherds allegorical affinities and
crook, standing behind an Apollo with his laurel crown perspective depth.
and lyre, dictating to a poet who is in turn being crowned
by a putto. The process of inspiration is thus more or less a
direct one, without the diversion of the Muse, who has become a somewhat functionless figure.
Poussin, moreover, retains this arrangement in his so-called Inspiration of Anacreon (c. 1635,
Hanover, Niederschsisches Landesmuseum), although the arrangement befits the title even
less: Apollo is pouring a drink for the poet, aligning the poetic gift either to the Roman-
medieval tradition or the Dionysian prin- ciple. Again, in a draft sketch for the frontispiece of
an edition of the works of Horace (1642), Poussin has a Muse placing a satyrs mask on the
poets face. Musal exaltation here is portrayed as a kind of roleplay under divine direction.

A sensualising incarnation of the M. soon began to develop in this tradition. Noble ladies or
actresses in individual portraits (cf. e.g. Sir Joshua Reynolds portrait of Sarah Siddons, 1784,
Huntington Art Gallery, San Marino, California) were often portrayed as M., and the daughters
and wives of poets and painters presented as their Muse [14]. William Hogarth twisted the
latter motif into a misogynistic satire on marriage: his portrait of David Garrick and wife (1757,
London, National Portrait Gallery) has the Muse surreptitiously stealing her protgs pen. In
a self-portrait (17571758, ibid.), meanwhile, Hogarth self-consciously portrays himself painting
Thalia, the Muse of comedy.

B.3.3. Music

Neoplatonist and astronomical or natural philosophical concepts of the Music of the Spheres
also remained central to music theory until the 17th cent. Bartolomeo Ramis de Pareja, in
Chapter 3 of his Musica practica (1482), follows Martianus Capella in assigning the M. to the
planets, associating this system with a doctrine of harmony based on the hierarchy of being.
The M. are portrayed in the same sequence on the frontispiece of Franchino Gaforis Practica
musicae (1496), and are equipped with the Greek string names of the eight-step ladder that also
determined the church modes, and which led up to a god, Apollo (shown with the seven-
stringed lira di braccio). The text (Practica musicae 4,12) expands further on this system: The
zodiac too was incorporated into the ladder of the M. This model is also found with slight
amendments in Chapter 14 of Heinrich Glareans Dodecacordeon (The Twelve Keys; c. 1540).

Subsequently, however, the M. seem to have lost their function. In spite of Pythagorean
influences, there are no such attributions in Robert Fludds Utriusque Cosmi Historia (1617),
Johannes Keplers Harmonice Mundi (1619), Marin Mersennes Harmonie Universelle (16361637)
or Athanasius Kirchers Musurgia universalis (1650). When Fludd, for instance, refers to the M.
(2,2: De Templo Musicae), they have abdicated all authority over the mathematical axioms of
cosmic harmony that make the concordances between the spiritual and material worlds
mathematically or geometrically calculable. This is more apparent still in Kircher, who sees
God as the organ-builder of creation: the complicated harmonic structure of the register
exceeds the relatively simple lyre of Apollo, and justifies the shift of metaphor away from the
M. by its technical superiority.

In music too, the names and titles of M. were suitable for establishing taxonomical order (cf.
e.g. the Musae Sioniae of Michael Praetorius; also worthy of mention are the novels of Johann
Georg Ahle, which incorporated music and bore titles such as Unstrutische Clio, Unstrutische
Calliope etc.). But in balletic and dance practice in particular, Neoplatonist concepts of the M.
also suggest a connection with the ceremonial culture of the Renaissance, for instance
associating the choreographic order with that of the cosmos. Emilio de Cavalieris
Rappresentazione di Anima et di Corpo (Rome, 1600), staging micro-macrocosmological
relations, is a special case here: it uses dance and song to instruct the human race in the
rudiments of Marsilio Ficinos theory of the M. In the musical theatre, however, the M. seem to
have found a home somewhere between the pragmatic and the semantic level in drama. They
sometimes occur as dramatis personae, sometimes as allegories of musical principles. Stefano
Landi, for instance, attempted in his Morte dOrfeo (probably Veneto c. 1619) to revive Greek
mousike through the unity of text and music, composing like a Muse. Barbara Strozzi united
the language of the heart and instruments of the soul [. . .] like a Siren in her collection of
cantatas and arias Diporti di Euterpe (Venice 1659). Meanwhile, Domenico Belli in his Orfeo
dolente (Florence 1616, performed as an intermezzo in Tassos Aminta) had Orpheus mother
Calliope join her sons lament for Eurydice.

This double status was most suitably fulfilled by the M. appearances in prologues, providing a
thematic or mythological framework to the plot proper or clarifying issues of genre, e.g. in
Jean-Baptiste Lullys Atys (St. Germain-en-Laye, 1676; libretto: Philippe Quinault), in the
Terpsichore Prologue to Georg Friedrich Hndels Pastor fido (added in 1734 for a performance
at Covent Garden, London) and Jean-Joseph Mourets Les ftes de Thalie (Paris, Palais Royal
1714; libretto: Joseph de la Font). The M. could also fulfil metapoetic functions in the main plots
of allegorical works, e.g. Georg Reutters Il parnasso accusato e diffeso (Vienna 1737, performed
at the court of Charles VI in honour of Empress Elizabeth; libretto: Pietro Metastasio), which
accomplishes an almost psychomachic justification of the Fine Arts: Apollo defends the M.
before Jupiter (Giove) against accusations (of shamelessness, evoking immoderate emotions
and lying) by Virtue, Truth and Merit (Merito). The pedagogical ideal expressed in this work is
pleasant learning, but not, it would seem, in the interests of any higher truth or virtue. On the
contrary, the allegorical accusers and their chorus of spirits (geni) must yield at the end to the
goals of the M. Jean-Jacques Rousseaus opera Les muses galantes (written 17451747, only
published posthumously; the music, apart from the prologue, is lost) is an even more unusual
approach to the myth, as it presents a triumph of Amor (Eros) over Apollo. The god of love rises
to become the mousagetes, and his sensitive M., in the realm of lilies [. . .] amid the fine arts,
bewitch the world.
B.4. Modern period

B.4.1. Literature and philosophy

The early modern flood of reception of the M. at first continued unabated in the modern period
too. Even the taxonomy of the M. was still present (cf. e.g. the divisions of Johann Wolfgang von
Goethes Herrmann und Dorothea), although traditional allocations (in spite of regular revision,
cf. e.g. the cycle Les neuf Muses, 1928, by various authors) forfeited their relevance in view of
new media and genres. Yet the tendency to treat the M. with irony, esp. pronounced in the
works of the Realists (cf. e.g. Honor de Balzacs La Muse du dpartement, in which a provincial
woman writer is ridiculed by this nickname, or Wilhelm Raabe, who invoked the M. in various
works including Der Hungerpastor, 1864, to indicate everyday inanities), indicates that the
poetics of the M. from earlier ages had become problematic.

This was probably already in the mind of William Blake in 1783, when in his poem To the M. he
complained that the goddesses had left all the realms they used to inhabit on earth and in
heaven. The ancient love that bards of old enjoyd from them was gone, leaving their music
sounding forced. This, then, is a polemic appropriation of the M. for a liberation of poetry in a
modern spirit (purporting to be a return to true and authentic antiquity). A similar return to
furor had also been announced shortly before in Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstocks Messias: an
immortal Muse (unsterbliche Muse), who has learned the justice of the divine gaze
(Gttlichen Blick), here leaves the soul of the poet surrounded by her faces (von ihren
Gesichten umgeben), inwardly quaking. This spiritual experience of the sublime must be
lightened by the heavenly light (himmlisches Licht) also sent by the M., and must be
transformed into musical praise of the creator. Rather than a universal reason above and
beyond the individal, then, the divine here becomes a form of higher reason within the

The implicit appropriation of the musal as something personal and immanent continued to be
formative. It is still found in emphatic form in Friedrich Hlderlins Hymne an die Gttin der
Harmonie (who is called Urania). Considering his work, the poetic narrator is Joyful enough to
gladden creations (Froh, als knnt ich Schpfungen beglcken). The creative kiss
(schpferische Ku: probably the first kiss of the M. occurs in the course of a post-natal poetic
invocation in Abraham Cowleys Davideis, 1656, but the kiss only becomes eroticized in
Goethes poem Erwhlter Fels) and Uranias exaltation (Begeisterung) and breath (Hauch)
enter into a poetry located in the individual creative spirit, in which world, spirits and poet are
united in a harmony sensed as divine magic (gttliche Magie). The hierarchy of inspiration
has here given way to a puzzle that abolishes the categories of activity and passivity. Sometimes
the soul nears the creatress (naht die Seele sich der Schpferin), sometimes it is Urania who
approaches the soul (sich der Seele naht), until it forgets itself in her (in ihr vergit), so
that the poet becomes the creator of [her] creations (Schpfer [ihrer] Schpfungen).

William Wordsworths sonnet Most sweet it is with unuplifted eyes (intertextually referring to
Petrarchs Solo e pensoso) also attempts a synthesis of autonomous creative powers and powers
bestowed by outside forces. The M. here are located in a Romantic correspondence of
inwardness and nature, and scarcely distinct from the poets mind. Percy Bysshe Shelleys epic
poem Adonais, written on the death of John Keats, brings Urania to mourn the poet, who is
declared a genius (and given a name that combines the mythical Adonis with the Biblical
Adonai). The Muse, seized by sorrow for her poet, falls to earth, where, like the Word incarnate,
she is exposed to earthly suffering and made sub- ject to time, even becoming mortal (cf.
strophe 26, v. 9). The poet himself, meanwhile, enters into immortal Nature, reveals himself in
her sounds and develops into a presence to be felt and known (strophe 42, v. 4): poetry
becomes sacred, as Christian redemption is turned into poetic immanence.

The eroticization of the Muse as wife or lover of the poet may be seen as a seismographic
indication of an ongoing process whereby the musal became immanent (a striking and ironic
example being that of Novalis and Sophia, as portrayed by Heinrich Heine in Die Romantische
Schule 2,4) and psychologized, as exemplified in the term Muse verte (also used by Arthur
Rimbaud) for absinthe. Charles Baudelaire pursues this development to a catastrophic
conclusion in Les Fleurs du Mal (1857). A sick Muse (La muse malade) is afflicted by the very
mal she would once have conquered in a Neoplatonist spirit: weak physis. The sonnet named
after her thus shifts the M. traditional liminal state between allegory and spiritual being into a
liminal state between allegory and woman. This bad incarnation is furthermore made even
worse by the transformation in this poem of the musal furor itself into a physical one, no longer
distinguishable from ordinary madness (folie). The problem of the poetics of the M. appears in
even more drastic form in the sonnet La Muse vnale. Marble shoulders (paules marbres)
reminiscent of ancient statues, and the gold of the blue, vaulted sky (lor des votes azures)
are the only elements that still recall the motifs of the M., but they do so no longer in the spirit
of a lived or inspiring musal influence, but as a representation repeated to meaninglessness.
The prostituted M. is reified as a commercial commodity, and at the same time irreversibly
forced back on anachronistic, false and cheap formulae in which [she] no longer believe[s]
(auxquels tu ne crois gure).

The treatment of musal memoria underwent a similar development. Alexander Pushkin linked
the form of inward experience with a poetics of memory. In his poem Muza (1821), the maternal
woman of the title gives her flute to the poetic narrator when he is still a child, and breathes
into it that exalted life that now inspires the poem. Victor Hugo, conversely, equates the Muse
with transpersonal history (cf. Les Chtiments 3, 1853). In another ode (Odes et ballades, 3,2,
1826), he also opposes the renown bestowed by the M. with earthly transience and the perils of
the world, and ascribes to the M. the ability to reveal the footsteps of God and to ensure
historical justice. The existence of the world is thus legitimized as a musal phenomenon. Paul
Verlaines Le pote et la muse (in Jadis et nagure, 1884) makes the very room in which a tryst
took place into a Muse in its function as a personal venue of memory but it is so called only
in the title, and is thus no more than a memory (no longer a personified allegory) of a poetic
function, which has found its basis in the empirical world.

Inspiration too followed the same path of materialization. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti makes a
propeller and its noise blow and dictate the project of an amimetic language of immanence,
unfettered by musal tradition, in his Manifesto tecnico della letteratura futurista. Another
modern definition of the musal, besides the dictation of the M. and musal memoria, can
admittedly be discerned, namely the assignation of the message that the poet takes up and
passes on in the medium of language [28,433], but here too, the tendency towards the
immanent continued on its way, until the modern M. dissolved in the poetry of a secularized
world to such an extent that they ultimately disappeared in it. Julio Cortzar draws the
conclusion in his short story El otro cielo (1966), making the M. themselves an archived object
(rather than a principle of memoria), and furnishing them with the adjective dusty

B.4.2. Fine arts

Early in the 19th cent., Neoclassicism in particular brought new form and function to the M.,
revisiting ancient or early modern formulae and incorporating them in new contexts; cf. e.g.
Antonio Canovas sculpture Polyhymnia (18121817, Vienna, Hofburg), who, although portrayed
in antiquizing garb, sits enthroned like the Muse in the studiolo of Belfiore, or Pierre-Paul
Prudhons Triumph of Bonaparte, or Peace (1801, Chantilly, Muse Cond), where, as on the
Franois Vase, the M. are part of a triumphal procession around a chariot, except that in this
case the chariot bears Napoleon as mousagetes; The Dwelling-Place of Immortality (1806, ibid.)
by the same artists shows strong affinities both with Raphaels School of Athens and his

A fundamental dissolution of functional attributions is observable in Neoclassical depictions of

M. in funerary and monumental decoration. M. could now represent any line of business.
However, the motif of musal inspiration remained rather more precisely defined. Eugne
Delacroix painted the fresco Hesiod and the Muse (second quarter of 19th cent., Paris, Palais
Bourbon, Bibliothque), in which the Muse is hovering over the sleeping poet. Although Jean-
Auguste-Dominique Ingres The composer Cherubini and the Muse of Poetry (cf. fig. 5) evokes a
high representational tradition of the M. with its ten-stringed lyre and antiquizing garb, this
now only causes the painting to separate into two layers: emphasized by the colouring,
Cherubinis characterful face is in sharp contrast to the
de-individualized ideal of the statuesque Muse. Finally,
when Arnold Bcklin portrayed his wife Angela Bcklin as
Muse in 1863, the title and the detailed portrait ensured a
troublesome concretization of the paintings inspiration,
now autoreferential, simultaneously confronted with its
own idealization.

Otto Dix pursued this tradition to another consequence in

his Self-Portrait with Muse (1925, Hagen, K.-E.-Osthaus-
Museum), showing him painting, within the same frame,
an amply-bosomed Muse with abundant head and pubic
hair, as she waves at him. The portrayal of the production Fig. 5: Jean-Auguste-Dominique
process locates the Muse of this startling depiction within Ingres, The composer Cheru bini
a process of autoinspiration, in which the Muse, the work and the Muse of Poetry, oil on
and the creative process merge. The symbolistic, canvas, 1842, Paris, Louvre. The
mythological paintings of Gustave Moreau pursue yet inspiration of the Muse comes
another direction. His The M. Leaving their Father Apollo from a hand that seems almost
to go and Enlighten the World (1868, Paris, Muse Gustave to be giving a blessing.
Moreau) has an almost programmatic value, an exuberant
work in which arabesques and (musal or Apollonian) symbols are so interwoven that it
scintillates unceasingly between allegorical portrayal and amimetic apparition. In Hesiod and
the Muse (1891, Paris, Muse dOrsay), Moreau has a winged Muse embracing the naked poet
from behind as, unaffected, he turns towards his lyre.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corots Muse in the Woods (third

quarter of 19th cent., Paris, Louvre) shows a Muse scene
disappearing into the landscape, but what seems truly
musal about it is the (Impressionistic) perception, which
is drawn to the fore by the mode of portrayal. This
becomes much clearer in the work of Odilon Redon,
whose Muse on Pegasus (between 1898 and 1902, private
collection) is flying through a sky that seems on the point
of separating into pure colour. However, Constantin
Brncuis Sleeping Muse (two versions, 1909 and 1911,
Washington, Hirshhorn Museum, and New York,
Metropolitan Museum of Art) returns the Muse to
minimalistic forms. Above all, the fact that the artist made
the two almost identical M., one in marble and one in
bronze, suggests that his intention was to accentuate as
musal not only the economy of the representation but Fig. 6: Giorgio de Chirico, The
also the material. Disquieting Muses, oil on canvas,
1917, private collection.
Finally, Giorgio de Chiricos painting The disquieting
Muses (cf. fig. 6) shows three M., one antiquizing statue,
one seated sculpture with an open belly and a third statue in background shadow. All have
teardrop-shaped heads sewn together. Incongruous things are combined, esp. dysfunctionally
placed objects of modern mass production with traditional forms. And this takes place, in the
literal sense, on a stage of interrupted space: a plank floor that achieves no continuum but cites
the system of central perspective as an evacuated surface. The element of time is also troubling.
Harsh shadows indicate a low but still bright sun but this is contradicted by the evening sky,
whose bright glow is against the supposed direction of the sun. These M., then, are not depicted
as mistresses of a unifying harmony, but indicate the simultaneity of non-simultaneous things,
irreconcilabilities and dissonances. Their disquieting inspiration follows the undiscerning laws
of an unleashed, fragmenting combinatorial system.

B.4.3. Music

In the 19th cent., the M. often did no more than lend their names to euphonious, non-binding
titles [11.187192]. However, Camille Saint-Sans gave a musical representation of the dialogue
of a poet and Muse in his double concerto for violin, cello and orchestra, La Muse et le pote
(1909). Gustave Charpentiers musal coronation appears more idiosyncratic, as a girl celebrated
as a Muse is honoured by artists and proletarians alike in the course of his Apothose Musicale
Although the M. appeared on the stage far less often in the 19th and 20th cents. than they did in
the early modern period, they did lend themselves to the treatment of issues of cultural theory.
Ludwig van Beethoven, in his ballet Die Geschpfe des Prometheus (The Creatures of Prometheus,
Vienna 1801), has initially lethargic human beings learn their true humanity among gods and M.
on Parnassus. In the final apotheosis of Franz Servais opera Apollonide (later Jn, first
performance Karlsruhe 1899, libretto: Leconte de Lisle) the M. appear to found Jn (Ion), a
cosmologically transfigured realm of poetry. George Balanchine and Igor Stravinskys ballet
Apollon musagte (Paris, 1928), meanwhile, aimed at non-discursive immanence. The god of the
title leads three M. up to Olympus: Calliope, Polyhymnia and Terpsichore Apollo cannot
warm to the first (designated the Muse of Poetry by a placard) or the second (Muse of
Pantomime). He chooses the dancing Terpsichore. Clearly, an experience beyond the
discursiveness of the truly musal is preferable, emancipating itself from the musal tradition.

The opera of the same date by Arthur Honegger and Paul Valry, Amphion (1929, premiere
Paris/London 1931) is quite different. This certainly also portrays an allegory of cultural history
in the sphere of the M. The M. are once more revived in their mythical dimension as founders
of culture, their meta-mythical status emphasized. But the allegorical plot as a whole here
seems to be borrowed from early modern practice. The calling of Amphion in a dream rec-
ollects Callimachus. The stage setting of a mountain divided in two, combining the Cithaeron
with the mountain of the M., suggests a double-peaked ancient and early-modern Parnassus,
but its design according to Romantic formulae of nobility points to modern conceptions of the
M. The fact that, as they enter and exit, the M. sing only Muse, Muse, Muse recalls on the one
hand the autoreferentiality of posie pure and, on the other, the avant-garde evacuation of the
significant. Lart pour lart is also addressed in a piece which, moreover, is designed as a
Gesamtkunstwerk: Amphion, initially introduced (with reference to Beethoven, see above) as a
troglodyte, builds with the sounds of his Apollonian harp not a city wall, but a temple of the M.

Honegger and Valry, then, are certainly not promoting any preference for the non-discursive
experience like Stravinsky and Balanchine, but are presenting a kind of summation of the
reception of the myth of the M. as cultural history. But, since no new view is offered of the myth
here, but older versions are presented as such alongside one another, musal memoria here falls
back upon itself. The processing of the metamyth becomes the process of exposing the
principles inherent in the processing of the myth: archiving in place of revision. The four M.
appear as allegories of a corresponding temporality: they are the one who sees what is not, the
one who knows what is no longer, the one who makes what will be and the one who can do
nothing but love. The void of the present in the musal temporality is marked here (unlike in
Hesiod, cf. above B.1.1) by the impotence of the M. at the end of the opera, which is designated
the present time. They abdicate, while Amphion is seduced by a woman embodying both Eros
and Thanatos and the temple of the Muses remains behind, abandoned, a relic of a lost time.

Apollo; Charites; Dionysus; Heracles; Marsyas; Nymphs; Orpheus; Sirens; Zeus

Jan Sffner (Berlin)

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Cite this page

Sffner, Jan, Muses, in: Brills New Pauly Supplements I - Volume 4 : The Reception of Myth and Mythology, Edited by: Maria Moog-Grnewald.
Consulted online on 21 September 2017 <>
First published online: 2011
First print edition: 9789004183308, 20101111