Thursday, December 20, 2007

The muse is not always female

I believe very strongly in the concept of the muse, but my muses are many, and they are rarely female, unless I am writing something for a female singer, or setting a text that was written by a woman. I do find it odd that in Ancient Greek culture, a culture that had very little regard for women in actual life, the inspiration for creative work was so often assigned to women, and each imaginary woman had exclusive charge over a particular domain. You know them well.

Calliope is the muse of epic or heroic poetry
Clio is the muse of history
Erato is the muse of love and erotic poetry
Euterpe is the muse of music and lyric poetry
Melpomene is the muse of tragedy
Polyhymnia is the muse of sacred song and rhetoric
Terpsichore is the muse of choral song and dance
Thalia is the muse of comedy and bucolic poetry
Urania is the muse of astronomy (I have never quite understood the need for a muse of astronomy, but I guess back in Ancient Greece the study of the cosmos was more artistic than scientific)

Plato named Sappho the tenth muse, and several others have named tenth muses (why are they not eleventh or twelfth muses?).

Patrick J. Smith, the writer of The Tenth Muse: a Historical Study of the Opera Libretto has a far more modern take on the concept of the muse. He gives credit to the scores of men who wrote excellent opera librettos from the 17th century through the 20th century, and served as muses to their composers.

My current muse is a gift from my daughter who knows that I am making a musical setting of a Hans Christian Andersen story about a teapot. Working on the piece makes me want to drink tea, so the teapot, which holds and pours inspiration into my cup, acts as my muse.

My teapot, which doesn't have any gender, has the name "Chantal" stamped on its bottom. "Chantal" means "stone" and "singer," so I think that it is a highly appropriate muse.

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