In ancient Greek mythology, the Muses were the goddesses of the fine arts, music, and literature. In Roman times, they were associated with all intellectual pursuits, such as history, philosophy*, and astronomy. The Muses were extremely popular with poets, who dedicated works to them and invoked their names for inspiration.

The Muses were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, a Titan*. The Muses lived on Mt. Olympus with the other gods and goddesses. There were originally three Muses: Melete (Practice), Mneme (Memory), and Aoede (Song). In his work the Theogony, the Greek poet Hesiod increased their number to nine and assigned each a name. Their specialties or attributes were further developed during Roman times.

Each Muse presides over a particular science or art. They are Calliope (epic poetry), Clio (history), Euterpe (flute playing), Terpsichore (lyric poetry and choral dance), Erato (lyric poetry and songs), Melpomene (tragedy), Thalia (comedy), Polyhymnia (hymns and pantomime), and Urania (astronomy). Apollo, the god of music and prophecy, presided over the Muses. The ancient Greeks believed that they danced with him and other deities at festivals on Mt. Olympus.

The Muses are significant figures in the art, literature, and philosophy of Western civilization. The Greek philosopher Plato wrote that “possession by the Muses” was a form of “divine madness” and necessary for creative pursuits. The Muses often appear in ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, paintings, and mosaics. The word museum originally meant “a place of the Muses.” (See also Divinities; Poetry, Greek and Hellenistic.)

* philosophy study of ideas, including science

* Titan one of a family of giants who ruled the earth before the Olympian gods

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