My worst distraction, my rhythm and blues”
Sings John Legend in the ultra-romantic tune “All of Me”, famously dedicated to his wife Chrissy Teigen. Ever wondered what a muse is, or why some artists claim to have one? Well, according to the Cambridge Dictionary a muse is a “person, or an imaginary being or force who gives someone ideas and helps them to write, paint, or make music”. A source of inspiration, then, that gives artists the will to make art.
Gianni Versace had his sister Donatella; Salvador Dalì had his wife, and ten-year senior, Gala Diakonova; Gustav Klimt painted in gold Adele Bloch-Bauer; and the Medieval Italian poet Dante Alighieri dedicated his whole Divine Comedy to Beatrice, a Florentine noblewoman he was enamored of. We could go on and on, an infinite acknowledgment of how love is the one thing that really inspires, indeed like a muse, the best in human beings. But ever wondered where this commonplace took form? Who were the muses, really? We will have to dig, as always, in Ancient Greek culture.
We know that, in Ancient Greece, divinities were not above human affairs. On the contrary, read any myth and you can find them meddling with people, wooing or cursing them, bestowing fortunes or disgraces. Most gods protected a craft or profession, and possessing a predisposition toward a certain activity was considered to be a divine gift. For example, Hephaestus was the God of Volcanoes, of Carpenters and of Blacksmiths, Poseidon was the God of the Sea and of Sailors, Hermes was the God of Merchants and so on. Workers were to worship their God as a token of gratitude, or the divine wrath would have been inescapable. But there was one category in particular that was said to have truly won the divine favor: that of artists and poets.
Raffaello Sanzio, "Parnaso"
Art was seen as the supreme expression of human nature, the closest way to connect to the divine, a craft that was to be expressed for and thanks to the Gods. Artists were said to be protected by the powerful Apollo, God of Sun, Archery, Music, and Dance, but they were also warded and inspired also by a whole category of feminine divinities, the Muses.
The Muses were nine sisters, daughters of the King of Gods, Zeus, and the Titan of Memory, Mnemosyne. They lived with Apollo on Mount Parnassus or on Mount Helicon. Each of the nine were dedicated to a certain craft, and they blessed people with the forgetfulness of pain and human miseries. They were: Calliope, Muse of Epic Poetry; Clio, Muse of History; Euterpe Muse of Flutes and Lyric Poetry, Thalia, Muse of Comedy and Pastoral Poetry; Melpomene, Muse of Tragedy; Erato, Muse of Love Poetry; Polyhymnia, Muse of Sacred Poetry; Urania, Muse of Astronomy, and, finally; Terpsichore, Muse of Dance. The Muses were held in such consideration that, at the beginning of Greek mythology, they could be called with the epithet of “Olympians”, an honor only given to Zeus. Such was the importance of Art and its Goddesses in Ancient times.
Luckily, we have some testimonials left of their influence. It was customary for Classic authors to invoke them when writing, right at the beginning of the poem, pleading for a successful masterpiece. Some directly asked the Muses to sing through them, acting as mere means for the Goddesses. Homer, in the Iliad, says:
“Goddess, sing me the anger, of Achilles, Peleus’ son, that fatal anger that brought countless sorrows on the Greeks, and sent many valiant souls of warriors down to Hades (…).”
This tradition persisted through millennia down to us. The Latin poet Virgil in his Aeneid, the tale of how Rome was founded by Aphrodite’s son Aeneas, sings:
“Muse, tell me the cause: how was she offended in her divinity,
how was she grieved, the Queen of Heaven, to drive a man,
noted for virtue, to endure such dangers, to face so many
trials? Can there be such anger in the minds of the gods?”
Centuries later, William Shakespeare would excuse himself for a hiatus in his production with these words:“Where art thou Muse that thou forget'st so long,
To speak of that which gives thee all thy might?
Spend'st thou thy fury on some worthless song,
Darkening thy power to lend base subjects light?
Return forgetful Muse, and straight redeem,
In gentle numbers time so idly spent;
Sing to the ear that doth thy lays esteem
And gives thy pen both skill and argument.”
The Muses were so fundamental for culture that their name stands at the origin of the word “Museum” and “Amuse”. During history, the concept of muse would change from applying only to the nine divine figures to being bestowed to humans as well. The late fashion designer and persona, Karl Lagerfeld, was known for his numerous muses, many of whom rose to fame thanks to him, and is quoted to have said:
“I have my permanent muses and my muses of the moment.”
Well, now you know who the Muses were and what tremendous influence they had. For us, in Afrodite by MG, our Muses are the women who have the courage to be themselves. Romantic, full of life, strong women, always chasing new sunsets and dancing with the waves. Every Afrodite by MG jewel is for you.
And you? Do you have a muse in your life, someone who inspires you going on, who adds a bit of art to your daily routine? Let them know they are appreciated, and let us know in the comments.
If this ignited your curiosity, stay tuned, for one of our next cultural rendezvous’ will delve into the stories of famous artists and their favored muses.
Benedetta R Fanelli
Benedetta R. Fanelli 25, Milan. Art Historian graduated from Brera Academy of Fine Arts with a master degree in Management of Fashion from Bocconi. Benedetta has always been enamored with luxury and greek mythology, and she loves to tell the stories behind our jewels.