What is The Muse from The Odyssey?

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This text begins with an epic convention: an invocation of the Muse. Many epic poems begin with such an invocation.  There were nine Muses—goddesses of literature, the arts, and the sciences—and they were daughters of the most powerful god, Zeus, and Mnemosyne. They were associated with inspiration, and this is why a poet would want to call on a Muse to begin his work, like a prayer. Thus, The Odyssey begins, 

Tell of the storm-tossed man, O Muse, who wandered long after he sacked the sacred citadel of Troy . . . Of this, O goddess, daughter of Zeus, speak as thou wilt to us.

In other words, the narrator requests the presence of the Muse. This was a way of honoring them—especially Calliope, who was the Muse of epic poetry—and a request of sorts that they will inspire the poet as well as help him to tell the story well.

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The Muses in the Odyssey are the Daughters of Wit and Charm, the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (sister of Hyperion and Rheia). Their specific and individul names are:

  • Kleio, history
  • Euterpe, flute playing
  • Thaleia, comedy
  • Melpomene, tragedy
  • Terpsichore, dance
  • Erato, love poems
  • Polymnia, sacred music
  • Ourania, astrology
  • Kalliope, epic poetry (she holds the highest rank of the Muses)
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The muses were a group of goddesses (usually nine of them), each of whom were in charge of a specific art or related discipline. (Clio, for example, was the muse of history, which we don't usually consider an art today.) The muses were supposed to guide and inspire activity in their respective areas. In the opening lines of this poem, Homer is mostly likely calling on Calliope, the muse of epic poetry.

Greg

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