Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Nine Muses

When I was a little boy, I used to sing that verse of The Twelve Days of Christmas that had nine ladies dancing and wonder why such a heathen image was used in a Christmas carol. The ten lords a-leaping who followed were a mystery but, to me, the nine ladies were the nine Muses (Greek Μοῦσαι), the patron goddesses of the classical arts. To me, 'amusement' was what happened when you availed yourself of a Muse, and 'bemusement' what happened when she availed herself of you. 'Musings' of course were what a person did when thinking with (or of) one's Muse, and a 'museum' was where artifacts dedicated to the Muses were displayed. I always knew the Muses were the daughters of Thought and Memory.

Wrong, of course, very wrong, as far as some of my teachers taught. But here I shall speak of at least nine Muses, and you shall be my judges (or critics, as the Greeks would have said).

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Beautiful Voice is the first of the Muses, and she is goddess of the epic and the heroic. The sagas are hers, and the heroes therein. Quest and travail, enormous odds and fire and steel and the sinking of ships, the last stand and the first charge, these are the things of this Muse. To mortals she presents herself as an innocent, ever a girl, ever incorruptible. But a look into her eyes will tell you that she has seen all epics from beginning to end, and glory has a darker side. So has she.

Heavenly Lady is the second of the Muses, and she is goddess of the astronomical and astrological. The music of the spheres and the inspiration of the stars are hers. The far look which goes beyond the immediate material of reality, the philosophical inquisition which man deploys against the universe, these are the things of this Muse. To mortals she is ethereal, someone not quite with us, but always supportive of our outward-going endeavours into the unknown.

Recounter of Tales is the third of the Muses, and she is goddess of the stories of our lives. The daily journal and the common affairs of humanity are hers. History and reportage, cold wars and hot tempers, the deeds of the man in the street and the demagogue in the assembly, these are the things of this Muse. To mortals she is a child, ever young, but severe. She brooks no sloppiness, for the account must always be as true as it can be, whether it is a tale of the powerful or of the poor.

Flourishing Stem is the fourth of the Muses, and she is goddess of the happy and comic. The bawdy ballad and the rustic joke, the funny song and limerick are hers. For her, the feast-hall is always full; it is full with the abundance of warmth and hospitality, of humour and irrelevance, which are the things of this Muse. To mortals she is a farmgirl, a wild sweet thing with a hefty clout. She carries the mask of the laugher, the wreath of the drunkard, the staff of the shepherd, and little else.

Inspiring Loveliness is the fifth of the Muses, and she is goddess of love-songs and poetic lovers. The urge to celebrate beauty (in words, music, dance – and more!) is hers. The breaking of hearts and the winning of them, the line which speaks affection and the one which speaks of affliction, these are the things of this Muse. To mortals she is beautiful, slightly teasing, mature; she is not obviously experienced, but she is a deep one. Experience her works at your peril!

Delightful Dancer is the sixth of the Muses, and she is goddess of the dance and the chorus. The dance-hall and the grand ballet, the lyrical strivings of bodies and voices, are hers. Gatherings in which movement of sound and of body are exchanged, and all who see are swept up in it, these are the things of this Muse. To mortals she appears driven, her long hair windswept without being wild. She is alive in the little stirrings and the broad movements, always in motion.

Pleasantly Delighting is the seventh of the Muses, and she is goddess of music and the orchestra. The concert and the instruments are hers, as are all those who dedicate themselves to music. Scoring and melody, rhythm and beat, counterpoint and technique, these are the things of this Muse. To mortals she appears a little whimsical, a little too interested in mechanisms and techniques, a difficult and intelligent woman to court; yet, she can be passionate as well.

Many Songs is the eighth of the Muses, and she is goddess of the sacred and the unusual. Geometry and mime are hers, and yet so are the oratorio and the rite of agriculture. It is hard to tell what the things of this Muse are, but where you will find hidden structure, intricacy and a love of invention, so too you will find her. To mortals she dresses plainly, and appears unremarkable. Yet she is lovely, with a terrible beauty which can be seen only out of the corner of the eye.

Sweet Singer is the ninth of the Muses, and she is goddess of melodious invention and tragedy. Those plays that end with everyone dead, those songs which will not leave your mind, are hers. A moment that is bittersweet, two lovers parting forever, young hopes crushed, these are the things of this Muse. To mortals she appears tall and elegant, soft of voice but sharp of tongue. She seems approachable, and even willing to chat; but she will never be yours, nor anybody else's.

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I know people who resemble these. I know that these resemble people. But one should remember that girls are girls, and goddesses are goddesses. We respect what we do not understand, and welcome (very cautiously) that which we do. And for all good things that these archetypes represent, we give thanks.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous mrfourcows said...

so where are you going next year?

Thursday, September 06, 2007 3:00:00 am  
Blogger Albrecht Morningblade said...

Now what was that riddle again? The one that Dhonal was asked so long ago? I would hunt it up in my archives, but I would prefer to hear it from the source once again.

Saturday, September 08, 2007 6:08:00 am  

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