Friday, September 26, 2014

Muse on this.

The Muses were the nine goddesses of song, dance, and music in Greek mythology. They were considered the source of inspiration for writers, musicians, poets, and all that crowd. In fact, the word inspiration, like respiration, comes from breathing in, as if the divine spark of creativity were given to the poet with the breath of life, and made of the same substance. Anyone who has felt truly inspired knows that feeling of having something outside himself, greater than himself, using him to bring some brilliance to earth---like he is a mere instrument and some Other holds the bow. None of this explains Robin Thicke, but it doesn't have to.

Everyone likes the Muses, and they never got into weird trouble like some other gods I could name. The nine gals all have great and classic Greek names, but oddly, despite their popularity, their names have not spread much into wider popular use.

Calliope was the goddess of epic poetry, and yet her name was given to a kooky steam-powered musical instrument of the type we associate with carnival music and organ grinders. It's an understandable appropriation, as Calliope may be probably the prettiest name of the bunch; you wouldn't call your new instrument "the Melpomene" and expect people to show up. Since Calliope got something named after her, though, I suppose the others ought to as well. You don't want them getting jealous.

Erato was the goddess of erotic poetry, so I guess in a way she does have something named after her. Remember that in the old days there was no prose; everything was poetry. So erotic prose would be in her bailiwick today. All those paperbacks for women featuring shirtless guys on the cover---that's Erato. (Sorry, guys; there was no Muse named Porno.) If there were a G-rated (rather than G-string rated) object we would name the Erato, I'd suggest some kind of Liquid Paper; maybe a variety used on quality stationery to remove errors while composing steamy letters to loved ones. Neatness still counts, you know.

Euterpe was in charge of lyrical poetry and music, so that would be more the kind of la-di-da stuff we think of as poetry now. How unfair is that name, though? Try rhyming something with "You-TURRR-Pee." "Hail to thee, beneficent Euterpe / With your flute and bright gold derby." Nah. I think the Euterpe would wind up being some kind of surgical instrument rather than a musical one. Or maybe an old-fashioned digestive illness.

Terpsichore (Turp-SICK-or-EE) does sound like a kind of old-fashioned instrument, a bit similar to the harpsichord (Harp-SICK-cord); and she was the goddess of choral dance and song. She'd own a club in Vegas now. I'd say the Terpsichore would be some gizmo used by sound engineers, but I'm not sure what. Either a kind of rhythmic version of Auto-Tune to get everyone on beat or an electric prod to wake the talent up before the opening act finishes.

Thalia is about the only Muse name you hear given to girls, and a pretty and mellifluous name it is. Thalia is the Muse of comedy, and is usually seen with a comic mask or a shepherd's staff. Not sure I get the shepherd angle. Maybe the same reason we liked Li'l Abner and The Beverly Hillbillies and The Dukes of Hazzard: Bumpkins is funny! Regardless, the Thalia should be a kind of nail polish.

Sorry, Urania; it's totally unfair, you being the goddess of astronomy, but your name is going to a device that reminds little girls to wipe front-to-back. (Yes, your great-grandfather Uranus got a planet named for him, but it didn't help him either.)

Polyhymnia looks like a total Joykillnia is this picture. As the Muse of the Sublime Hymn, or religious music, I'm not surprised. For every Ode to Joy there are five thousand Michaels Rowing the Boat Ashore. That would make anyone look glum. Still, her name fits the hymnal, as the words have not drifted too far away from the names; the Polyhymnia would be a special hymnal for choir directors, with all the professional notes for his use ("Allegro" "Fortissimo" "Make sure they don't all hiss like snakes on the 'bless' line").

Well, I've already made fun of Melpomene's name, and as the Muse of tragedy I'm sure she knows how to get even. That's a mask she's holding, by the way, not the head of another writer that crossed her. But I'll be nice. Ish. The Melpomene sounds like one of those exotic fruits that pop up at the grocery store that you know were flown in from someplace where they have a lot of shooting and disease, but it is SO exotic looking and impressive sounding---only, maybe it's one of those things that you have to cook or peel, or else you'll be tooting like a Calliope for days. Better check online.
And finally we have Clio, the Muse of history, whose name was inappropriately stolen for use as the award for advertising. So here's the one Muse devoted to telling the story of how things actually were, whose name is being used to reward those who tell anything else. There's nothing I can do or say meaner than that, so I think I'll just leave the poor thing to her misery.

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