MAKERS AND MUSES
Thomas Russell Wingate
The ancient Greeks had no word for poet. To them, a poem was a thing that had been made. A poet’s inspiration, so the view was, would come to him from the gods through the muses; from that, the poet would make a poem as a potter makes a pot. They therefore referred to a poet as a maker.
This usage survives in English and I have used it often.
One does not write a poem; one does not compose a poem; one makes a poem.¹
In 2004 the Scottish Parliament named the Makar [sic] of Scotland, distinct from the Poet Laureate of England (selected by the monarch).
Wikipedia will help you to follow William Dunbar’s potent “Lament for the Makers” [i.e., poets (mostly Scottish)], dated by modern scholarship to 1505.
Richard Burton often read Dunbar’s “Lament” aloud to his wife Elizabeth Taylor. She reports that his reading of the Latin refrain always made her shiver.
In New Orleans streets are named for each of Hesiod’s muses. I know of no other city which pays the Nine any comparable honor.
Their home, Mount Parnassus near Delphi, has lent its name to elevated places of learning in Paris and in San Francisco.
To the Greeks, the Leader of the Muses was Apollo Musagetes (French: Apollon Musagète).
The earliest Muses: Aoede (Song, Voice), Melete (Practice, Occasion), Mneme (Memory).
All except Apollo are female.
The Muses identified by Hesiod (and classical to us) are daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (Goddess of Memory).
Euterpe Lyric Poetry
Thalia Comedy and Idyllic Poetry
Terpsichore Music and Dancing
Erato Erotic Poetry
Calliope* Epic Poetry and Rhetoric (Eloquence)
Polyhymnia Sacred Hymns and Harmony
*Most senior and important of the Nine Sisters.
The Muse of Chess, Caïssa, was presented to the world in 1763 by Sir William Jones, a philologist eminent even today. He used Latin hexameters and at least 160 English rhymed couplets. The middle syllable is emphasized.
Why restrict ourselves to the fancies of our ancestors?
As they say in New Orleans, laissez les bons temps rouler.²
Archimedea—the first and fourth syllables are emphasized—is the Muse of Electronic Communication. Television, radio, and the Internet³ are within her sphere of inspiration. I invented her en rêve on 4 April 2004. For ready acceptance, I have combined names from Greek story and science. Translation is easy: in French, she is Archimédée.
Our culture has not provided us a Muse of Mathematics. (Astronomy has Urania.) This omission, thousands of years in duration, is astounding. When I noticed it, I did much investigation on the Internet. On 17 May 2007, I invented Hexalia. Her name—four syllables, the second (with a short vowel) emphasized—is from the Greek word for six, the first perfect number.
Perfect numbers—those equal to the sum of their divisors—are rarer than any other sort. Before 10,000 there are exactly four.
In French she is Hexalie (silent H).
On 1 September 2007 I asked: Should there not be a Muse of Flight? Her domain would include birds, lepidoptera, flying fish, balloons, dirigibles, kites, airplanes, rockets, spacecraft, pilots, astronauts, satellites, space stations, etc. (Meteorology is not within her sphere.) She would need a name, but it need not be Greek. I looked into Sanskrit and came across parna (“having beautiful wings”). The Muse of Flight—I have felt her touch all my life—is Parnavia. Her name has four syllables, accented on the second (with a long vowel).
I am aware of the suggestion of the Latin avis (“bird”), which was not deliberate but is nevertheless befitting. There is also an unintended suggestion of Parnassus, but how does that hurt?
In French she is Parnavèse.
European Antiquity kept the Muses separate from the Fates, the Graces, and the Furies.
● Greek Moirae (plural of Moira: fate, share, portion)
● Latin Fortunae
Clotho spins the thread of life; Lachesis determines its length; Atropos cuts it off. To the Romans, they were Nona, Decuma, and Morta.
To the Greeks, the Graces had control over pleasure, charm, elegance, and beauty in human life and in nature.
The Furies should be avoided, but they crop up everywhere.
Add here the Sirens.
Draw your own conclusions from the fact that all these personages are female.
In Theogony 25, the Muses tell Hesiod: “We know enough to make up lies which are convincing, but we also have the skill, when we will, to speak the truth.”
In 1923 Walter Benjamin expressed the regret of the scholarly that there is no Muse of Translation.
Let UNESCO decide how any Muse(s) of Translation should be respectfully addressed.
It would be discourteous and unprofessional to leave Ireland’s femme inspiratrice out of this discourse.
No one can say how Brigid started out. By the time Europe took notice of her, she was “the goddess of all things perceived to be of relatively high dimensions such as high-rising flames, highlands, hill-forts and upland areas; and of activities and states conceived as psychologically lofty and elevated, such as wisdom, excellence, perfection, high intelligence, poetic eloquence, craftsmanship (especially blacksmithing), healing ability, druidic knowledge and skill in warfare. In the living traditions, whether seen as goddess or saint, she is largely associated with the home and hearth and is a favorite of both Pagans and Catholics.”
Accounts of Brigid of Kildare assign her birth to the middle of the fifth century. Her father was a Pagan chieftain. Her mother was a Pict baptized by Patrick. (Remember: this was Celtic Christianity, not Roman Catholic Christianity.) Mother and daughter were slaves.
Her father gave her the most splendid name he knew.
Back to Wikipedia: “Saint Brigid is also the patron saint of studies and learning, just as the older Celtic goddess Brigid succoured the creative arts and poetry.”
The Irish like to have it so. No pope was involved.
Saint Brigid’s Cross is unmistakable. It continues to be popular in jewelry and home adornment.
Many constellations are named for birds—except the owl.
Wherever it lives, the nocturnal bird is emblematic of evils, deaths, and malevolent forces. In Mexico it is proverbial: “When the owl cries, the Indian dies.”
To educated Europeans and their cultural heirs, the owl is emblematic of wisdom. This goes back to the Greek goddess Athena and the Roman (ex-Etruscan) goddess Minerva, who are often depicted with an owl.
Pliny, Virgil, Ovid, and others whose works were lost condemned owls. For Hebraic aversion, see Job 30:29, Psalms 102:6, Isaiah 13:21, 34:11-15, 43:20, Jeremiah 50:39, and Micah 1:8. The Koran does not mention owls.
To the French, eared owls (hiboux) are symbolic of wisdom. Uneared owls (chouettes) are symbols of what we all dread. But in the dark, who can tell which type has just startled you?
Wherever learning is prized or said to be prized, you will find owls depicted. A great deal of midnight oil must have been burned to have produced so pronounced a cultural (not ornithological) victory.
How many scholars have ever seen owls in the wild, without sunlight and without moonlight? But who has not seen excellent depictions of them?
Bear in mind: wisdom, learning, intelligence, and creativity are not the same—and they are often at odds with one another.
When you are older, this will make sense to you.
By convention and expectation, writers have pet cats and symbolic owls. Being without them would be nakedness.
In 1973, in the gift shop at Muir Woods National Monument, I exchanged five dollars for a modernistic owl carved with a power tool from a fallen coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens). It would have been irresistible at a far greater price.
● Coastal redwoods live 1,200 to 1,800 years.
● The General Sherman Tree (Sequoiadendron giganteum),
by volume the largest single-stem tree in the world, has lived
2,300 to 2,700 years so far.
● The Greek poet Pindar, who died 2,455 years ago, is still being
read and admired (in translation) although few of his odes
● The Latin sempervirens (“always living”) fits Pindar.
Behold my Pindar, the size of a man’s hand.
● ● ●
Anne Wingate, Ph.D.
Bast (or Bastet), the tutelary deity of the city of Bubastis, was the best-known Egyptian cat-goddess, though there were others. Cats in general were treated as royalty; when a family cat died, the entire family went into mourning and shaved their eyebrows as a symbol of grief. If they could afford to, they would have the cat mummified and put in—no pun intended—a feline catacomb. A person who maltreated a cat might be beaten or even executed.
Around 1990 my husband surprised his favorite Egyptophile with a modern replica—imported from Egypt for thirty dollars—of Bast in glazed blue ceramic. Just now we were surprised to notice that she is the same size as Pindar (who has recently been glazed).
She is wearing a collar that must have been costly. She is standing upon a sarcophagus shaped (but not sized) for human use. All sides of the sarcophagus bear hieroglyphics I wish I could read.
Allergies prevent me from having a live cat. But Bast would be sure to understand. Her elevated presence on my bookshelf comforts a lady of letters.
My Bast has stripes on her tail.
● ● ●
Thomas Russell Wingate
Was Edward Lear reading Ourselves 1?
The Owl and the Pussycat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat.
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note. …
Pussy said to the Owl “You elegant fowl,
How charmingly sweet you sing.
O let us be married, too long we have tarried;
But what shall we do for a ring? …”
● ● ●
Anne Wingate, Ph.D.
Bast, in my lap, is purring. She adores the silken scarf from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The pattern is forty centuries old. The Chinese copied it expertly.
1 See Bits of Hebrew 7 on website.
2 See Bits of French 6, 11 on website.
3 See Apologetics 10 on website.