Who Were the Nine Greek Muses?

The Muses have inspired art throughout the ages.

The Muses are the daughters of Zeus and the Titan and the Titan Mnemosyne (Memory). They were born after the pair lay together for nine nights in the row. Each of the Muses is lovely, graceful and alluring, and each is gifted with a particular artistic talent. The Muses delight the gods and human beings with their songs, dances, and poems and inspire human artists to greater artistic achievements.

In legend, the Muses were variously described as living on Mt. Olympus, Mt. Helicon (in Boeotia) or on Mt. Parnasus. While they were beautiful to behold and wonderfully gifted, their talents were not to be challenged. Myths regarding challenges to the Muses inevitably end in the challenger losing the challenge and suffering a terrible punishment. For example, according to one myth, King Pierus of Macedon named his nine daughters after the Muses, believing they were more beautiful and talented. The result: his daughter were turned into magpies.

The Muses appeared in paintings and sculptures throughout Greece and beyond, and were often the subject of the red and black pottery which was popular during the5th and 4th century BCE. They have appeared, each with her own particular symbol, in paintings, architecture, and sculpture, throughout the centuries.

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Calliope (or Kalliope)

The Muse Calliope. Clipart.com

Province: Muse of Epic Poetry, Music, Song, Dance, and Eloquence

Attribute: Wax Tablet or Scroll

Calliope was the eldest of the nine Muses. She had the gift of eloquence, which she was able to bestow upon statesmen and royalty. She was also the mother of Orpheus the bard.

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Clio (or Kleio)

The Muse Clio. Clipart.com

Province: Muse of History

Attribute: Scroll or Chest of Books

Clio's name comes from the Greek verb kleô, which means "to make famous."

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The Muse Euterpe. Clipart.com

Province: Muse of lyric song

Attribute: Double flute

Euterpe's name means "giver of much delight."

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The Muse Melpomene. Clipart.com

Province: Muse of Tragedy

Attribute: Tragic mask, ivy wreath

Originally the Muse of Chorus, Melpomene later became the Muse of Tragedy. She often carries both the tragic mask and a sword and wears cothurnus boots which were worn by tragic actors. Her name means "celebrate with song and dance."

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The Muse Terpsichore. Clipart.com

Province: Muse of Dance

Attribute: Lyre

Terpsichore's name means "delight in dancing." Despite her name, however, she is usually shown sitting down and playing the stringed instrument called the lyre.

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The Muse Erato. Clipart.com

Province: Muse of Erotic Poetry

Attribute: Smaller lyre

In addition to being the Muse of erotic and love poetry, Erato was also the patron of mime. Her name means "lovely," or "desirable."

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Polyhymnia (Polymnia)

The Muse Polyhymnia. Clipart.com

Province: Muse of Sacred Song

Attribute: Depicted veiled and pensive

Polyhymnia wears a long cloak and veil, and often rests her arm on a pillar. Some legends describe her as the mother of Triptolemus by Cheimarrhus, who was the son of Ares. Triptolemus was a priest of Demeter, goddess of the harvest, and is sometimes described as the inventor of farming.

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Urania (Ourania)

The Muse Urania. Clipart.com

Province: Muse of Astronomy

Attribute: Celestial Globe and Compass

Urania wears a cloak covered in stars, and looks upward toward the sky. Many observatories around the world bear her name. She is sometimes mentioned as the mother of the musician, Linus.

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The Muse Thalia. Clipart.com

Province: Muse of comedy and bucolic poetry

Attribute: Comic mask, ivy wreath, shepherd's staff

Thalia often carries a mask of comedy along with a bugle and trumpet which would have been used in Greek comedies. She is usually portrayed seated, sometimes in humorous or erotic poses. Her name means "joyous," or "flourishing."