The Muses were not only singers for Zeus and other gods; they also oversaw thought in all its forms: eloquence, persuasion, knowledge, history, mathematics, astronomy.
Hesiod praises their services to humankind, claiming that they accompany kings and inspire them with the persuasive words necessary to settle argument and re-establish peace, and that they give monarchs the gift of gentleness which makes them popular.
A singer (thought of as a servant of the Muses) has only to celebrate the deeds of men of long ago or to sing of the gods, and anyone listening who is beset by troubles or sorrows will forget them instantly. The oldest song of the Muses is the one sung after the victory of the Olympians over the Titans to celebrate the birth of a new order.
The following list of Muses was accepted by those who lived during the classical period in Western history:
- Calliope--The first of the muses in dignity, is the muse of heroic or epic poetry, and is often depicted holding a writing tablet.
- Clio--The muse of history, represented with an open scroll of paper, a laurel wreath, and a trumpet.
- Erato--The muse of love poetry, from whom comes the term "erotic." She is often shown holding a lyre.
- Euterpe--Muse of music or flutes (often playing flutes).
- Melpomene--Represents tragedy. Most often depicted with a tragic mask and the cothurnus (a high shoe worn by tragic actors to increase their apparent stature).
- Polymnia--Muse of sacred poetry, ceremonial song or sublime hymn, or the mimic art.
- Terpsichore--Muse of dancing and choral song. She is often represented dancing with the lyre.
- Thaleia--Muse of comedy, often shown with a comic mask.
- Urania--The muse of astronomy, usually portrayed with a staff pointing to a celestial globe.
Classical era Greeks and Romans understood history differently than do people in the modern era. Whereas Greco-Romans considered history more literally, as something to be remembered and aspired to, we tend to think of history as something that explains present circumstances and can be a valuable guide to the future. In that sense, in some ways the nobler aspects of the past can and should be emulated.
Source: Texas A & M University
Women's History Magazine