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The Muses were the daughters of Zeus, king of gods, and Mnemosyne, goddess of memory. They were born after the pair lay together for nine nights in a row. Each of the Muses is lovely, graceful and alluring, and 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 Mt. Parnassus. 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 daughters 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 the 5th and 4th century BCE. They have appeared, each with her own particular symbol, in paintings, architecture, and sculpture throughout the centuries.
Calliope (or Kalliope)
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.02of 09
Clio (or Kleio)
Province: Muse of History
Attribute: Scroll or Chest of Books
Clio's name comes from the Greek verb kleô, which means "to make famous."03of 09
Matt From London/Flickr/CC BY 2.0
Province: Muse of lyric song
Attribute: Double flute
Euterpe's name means "giver of many delights" or "rejoicing well."04of 09
Irina/Flickr/CC BY 2.0
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."05of 09
Province: Muse of Dance
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, a symbol also associated with Apollo.06of 09
Christos Santos/Getty Images
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."07of 09
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.08of 09
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.09of 09
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."