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Muse (myūz) pronunciation
  1. Greek Mythology. Any of the nine daughters of Mnemosyne and Zeus, each of whom presided over a different art or science.
  2. muse
    1. A guiding spirit.
    2. A source of inspiration.
  3. muse A poet.

[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin Mūsa, from Greek Mousa.]

WORD HISTORY   The Muse has inspired English poetry since Chaucer invoked her in 1374. Muse comes from Latin Mūsa, from Greek Mousa. There are Greek dialect forms mōsa and moisa, and all three come from an original *montya. As to the further origins of this form, a clue is provided by the name of Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory and mother of the Muses. Her name is the Greek noun mnēmosunē “memory,” which comes from *mnā–, an extended form of the Greek and Indo-European root *men–, “to think.” This is the root from which we derive amnesia (from Greek), mental (from Latin), and mind (from Germanic). The reconstructed form *montya that is the ancestor of Greek Mousa could then mean something like “having mental power.”

Muses, in Greek religion and mythology, patron goddesses of the arts, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. Originally only three, they were later considered as nine. Calliope was the Muse of epic poetry and eloquence; Euterpe, of music or of lyric poetry; Erato, of the poetry of love; Polyhymnia (or Polymnia), of oratory or sacred poetry; Clio, of history; Melpomene, of tragedy; Thalia, of comedy; Terpsichore, of choral song and dance; Urania, of astronomy. Some say that Apollo was their leader. Early places of their worship were the district of Pieria, in Thessaly, where they were often called Pierides, and Mt. Helicon, in Boeotia. The springs of Castalia, Aganippe, and Hippocrene were sacred to them.


Nine goddesses of classical mythology who presided over learning and the arts. They were especially associated with poetry. Ancient Greek or Roman writers would often begin their poems by asking for the aid of the Muses in their composition.

  • Writers and artists to this day speak of their “muse,” meaning their source of inspiration.


    A source of inspiration, a guiding genius.

    Note: click on a word meaning below to see its connections and related words.

    The noun Muse has one meaning:

    Meaning #1: in ancient Greek mythology any of 9 daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne; protector of an art or science


    For other uses see Muse (disambiguation).

    Greek deities
    Primordial deities
    Titans and Olympians
    Aquatic deities
    Chthonic deities
    Other deities
    Personified concepts

    In Greek mythology, the Muses (Greek Μουσαι, Mousai) are nine archaic goddesses who embody the right evocation of myth, inspired through remembered and improvised song and traditional music and dances. They were water nymphs, associated with the springs of Helicon and Pieris. The Olympian system set Apollo as their leader, Apollon Mousagetes.

    According to Hesiod's Theogony, they are the daughters of Zeus, king of the gods, and Mnemosyne, goddess of memory. For Alcman and Mimnermus, they were even more primordial, springing from Uranus and Gaia.

    Compare the Roman inspiring nymphs of springs, the Camenae.

    Muses in myth

    According to Pausanias there were three original Muses: Aoide ("song", "voice"), Melete ("practice" or "occasion") and Mneme ("memory") (Paus. 9.29.1). Together, they form the complete picture of the preconditions of poetic art in cult practice.

    The canonical nine Muses are:

    Together, they form a complete picture of the subjects proper to poetic art in the archaic period. However, the association of specific muses with specific art forms is a later innovation, and has been called pedantic.

    In Roman, Renaissance and Neoclassical art, Muses depicted in sculptures or paintings are often distinguished by certain props or poses, as emblems. Euterpe (music) carries a flute; Calliope (epic poetry) carries a writing tablet; Clio (history) carries a scroll and books; Erato (lyric poetry) is often seen with a lyre and a crown of roses; Melpomene (tragedy) is often seen with a tragic mask; Polyhymnia (sacred poetry) is often seen with a pensive expression; Terpsichore (dancing) is often seen dancing and carrying a lyre; Thalia (comedy) is often seen with a comic mask; and Urania (astronomy) carries a staff pointed at a celestial globe.

    Function in Society

    Greek mousa is a common noun as well as a type of goddess: it literally means "song" or "poem". In Pindar, to "carry a mousa" is "to sing a song". The word is probably derived from the Indo-European root *men-, which is also the source of Greek Mnemosyne, Latin Minerva, and English "mind", "mental" and "memory".

    The Muses were therefore both the embodiments and sponsors of performed metrical speech: mousike, whence "music", was the art of the Muses. In the archaic period, before the widespread availability of books, this included nearly all of learning: the first Greek book on astronomy, by Thales, was set in dactylic hexameter, as were many works of pre-Socratic philosophy; both Plato and the Pythagoreans explicitly included philosophy as a sub-species of mousike (Strabo 10.3.10). Herodotus, whose primary medium of delivery was public recitation, named each one of the nine books of his Histories after a different Muse.

    For poet and lawgiver Solon (fragment 13), the Muses were the key to the good life, since they brought both prosperity and friendship. Solon sought to perpetuate his political reforms by establishing recitations of his poetry—complete with invocations to his practical-minded Muses—by Athenian boys at festivals every year.

    The Muses judged the contest between Apollo and Marsyas. They also gathered the pieces of the dead body of Orpheus, son of Calliope, and buried them. They blinded Thamyris for his hubris in challenging them to a contest.

    Function in literature

    The muses are typically invoked at or near the beginning of an epic poem or story. They have served as aid to an author, or as the true speaker, for which an author is only a mouthpiece. Originally the invocation of the Muse was an indication that the speaker was working inside the poetic tradition, according to the established formulae. Two classic examples :

    Homer, in Book I of "The Odyssey":
    "Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
    driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
    the hallowed heights of Troy." (Robert Fagles translation, 1996)
    Dante Alighieri, in Canto II of The Inferno:
    O Muses, o high genius, aid me now!
    O memory that noted what I saw,
    Now shall your true nobility be seen!

    Cults of the Muses

    When Pythagoras arrived at Croton, his first advice to the Crotoniates was to build a shrine of the Muses at the center of the city, to promote civic harmony and learning.

    Local cults of the Muses were often associated with springs or fountains. They were sometimes called Aganippids because of their association with a fountain called Aganippe. Other fountains, called Hippocrene and Pirene were also important to the Muses. The Muses were also occasionally referred to as Corycides or Corycian nymphs after a cave on Mount Parnassos called the Corycian Cave.

    The Muses were especially venerated in Boeotia, near Helicon, and in Delphi and the Parnassus, where Apollo became known as Mousagetes "Muse-leader".

    Muse-worship was also often associated with the hero-cults of poets: the tombs of Archilochus on Thasos and Hesiod and Thamyris (whom they blinded) in Boeotia all played host to festivals in which poetic recitations were accompanied by sacrifices to the Muses.

    The Library of Alexandria and its circle of scholars were formed around a mousaion ("museum" or shrine of the Muses) close by the tomb of Alexander the Great.

    Many Enlightenment figures sought to re-establish a "Cult of the Muses" in the 18th century. A popular Masonic lodge in pre-Revolutionary Paris was called Neuf Soeurs ("nine sisters", i.e. nine Muses), and was attended by Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin. One side-effect of this movement was the use of the word "museum" (originally, "cult place of the Muses") to refer to a place for the public display of knowledge.

    The classical tradition

    The poet Sappho of Lesbos was also paid the very great compliment of being called "the tenth Muse".

    The word muse is used figuratively to denote someone who inspires an artist.

    In New Orleans the city has named nine streets after the muses.

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    Best of the Web

    Some good "Muse" pages on the web:

    Greek Mythology
    Mentioned In
    Muse is mentioned in the following topics:
    10th MuseEuterpe (Muse of lyric poetry and music)
    MusEmuse (disambiguation)
    Erato (Muse of lyric poetry and mime)Polyhymnia (Muse)
    Thalia (Muse of comedy and pastoral poetry)Aoide
    antithalianAlien of Darkness


    Dictionary definition of Muse
    The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2004, 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.  More from Dictionary
    Encyclopedia information about Muse
    The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition Copyright © 2003, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.  More from Encyclopedia
    Mythology information about Muse
    The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Edited by E.D. Hirsch, Jr., Joseph F. Kett, and James Trefil. Copyright © 2002 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.  More from Mythology
    Poetry Glossary information about Muse
    Copyright © 2005, ILOVEPOETRY, Inc, All Rights Reserved.  More from Poetry Glossary
    WordNet information about Muse
    WordNet 1.7.1 Copyright © 2001 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.  More from WordNet
    Wikipedia information about Muse
    This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Muse".  More from Wikipedia

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