THE MOUSAI (or Muses) were goddesses of music and dance. They were worshipped in a few locations around Greece, with two main cult centres--one on Mount Helikon in Boiotia and the other in Pieria, on the slopes of Mount Olympos.
In classical sculpture each of the nine Mousai was clearly defined with specific attributes: Melpomene as the Muse of tragedy held a tragic mask, Thaleia the Muse of Comedy a comedy mask, Terpsikhore Muse of Dance a lyre, Kalliope the Muse of Epic Poetry a lyre or writing pestle, Kleio the Muse of History a stylus and scroll, Polyhymnia the Muse of Religious Hymns conservative veil and pensive posture, Ourania the Muse of Astronomy a globe, Erato the Muse of Erotic Poetry a lyre and Euterpe the Muse of Lyric Poetry a flute.
GENERAL CULT OF THE MUSES
See also Invocations to the Mousai in Poetry and Writing (on the main Mousa page), which includes descriptions of the pouring of propitiatory libations to the goddesses at the beginning of a song.
Greek Lyric V Anonymous, Fragments 1027f (from Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On Literary Compositions) (trans. Campbell) (B.C.) :
"Phoibos [Apollon] and the Mousai who share your altar."
Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3. 36 (trans. Rackham) (Roman rhetorician C1st B.C.) :
"There is a story that Pythagoras [the mathematician] used to sacrifice an ox to the Musae when he had made anew discovery in geometry."
Suidas s.v. Athrenion (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Athrenion (Wasps-nest) : The place [shrine] of Mousai."
CULT IN ATTIKA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I) ATHENS Chief City of Attika
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 2. 5 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Here [in the shrine of Dionysos at Athens] there are images of Athena Paionia, of Zeus, of Mnemosyne and of the Mousai, an Apollon."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 19. 5 :
"The Athenians hold that the Ilisus is sacred to other deities as well [in addition to the god Boreas], on its bank [the Ilisos river of Athens] is an altar of the Mousai Ilisiades (of the Ilisos)."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 30. 2 :
"In the Akadameia [school outside Athens] there is an altar to the Mousai, and another to Hermes."
II) MT HYMETTOS Mountain in Attika
Aelian, Historical Miscellany 10. 21 (trans. Wilson) (Greek rhetorician C2nd to 3rd A.D.) :
"Note that Periktione was carrying Platon [i.e. the famous philosopher] in her arms, and while Ariston sacrificed on Hymettos to the Mousai or Nymphai, the rest of the family attended to the ceremony, and she laid Platon in the myrtles nearby, which were thick and bushy. As he slept a swarm of bees laid some Hymettos honey on his lips and buzzed around him, prophesying in this way Platon’s eloquence."
CULT IN KORINTHIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I) KORINTHOS Chief City of Korinthia
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 3. 1 :
"On the pedestal [of Aphrodite in the market-place of Korinthos] are wrought in relief figures of the Mousai."
CULT IN ARGOLIS (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I) TROIZENOS Town in Argolis
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 31. 3 :
"[In Troizenos, Argos] is a sanctuary of the Mousai, made, they told me, by Ardalos, son of Hephaistos. This Ardalos they hold to have invented the flute, and after him they name the Mousai Ardalides . . . Not far from the Mousai’s hall is an old altar, which also, according to report, was dedicated by Ardalos. Upon it they sacrifice to the Mousai and to Hypnos (Sleep), saying that Hypnos is the god that is dearest to the Mousai."
CULT IN LAKEDAIMONIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I) SPARTA Chief City of Lakedaimonia
Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 17. 5 :
"[At Sparta, Lakedaimon] they have set up a sanctuary of the Mousai, because the Lakedaimonians used to go out to fight, not to the sound of the trumpet, but to the music of the flute and the accompaniments of the lure and harp."
CULT IN ELIS (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I) OLYMPIA Sanctuary in Elis
Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 14. 10 :
"By the sacred enclosure of Pelops [at Olympia] is an altar of Dionysos and the Kharites (Graces) in common; between them is an altar of the Mousai."
CULT IN ARKADIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I) MEGALOPOLIS Chief City of Arkadia
Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 31. 5 :
"Before the entrance [of the sanctuary of Aphrodite at Megalopolis, Arkadia] are old wooden images of Hera, Apollon and the Mousai."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 32. 2 :
"[At Megalopolis, Arkadia :] The sanctuary built in common for the Mousai, Apollon and Hermes had for me to record only a few foundations, but there was still one of the Mousai."
II) ITHOME Mountain in Arkadia
Pausanias, Description of Greece 4. 33. 2 :
"Eumelos in his processional hymn to Delos says : `For dear to the God of Ithome [Zeus] was the Moisa, whose lute is pure and free her sandals.’ I think that he wrote the lines because he knew that they held a musical contest [i.e. held in the sanctuary of Zeus on Mt Ithome in Messenia]."
III) TEGEA Town in Arkadia
Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 46. 3 :
"Represented on the altar [of Athene at Tegea, Arkadia] . . . are also images of the Mousai and Mnemosyne (Memory)."
CULT IN BOIOTIA (CENTRAL GREECE)
I) THESPIAE Town in Boiotia
Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 27. 5 :
"Not far from the marketplace [at Thespiae, Boiotia] is a Nike (Victory) of bronze and a small temple of the Mousai. In it are small images made of stone."
II) MT HELIKON Mountain in Boiotia
Hesiod, Theogony 1 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
"Of the Mousai Helikoniades (of Helikon) let us begin to sing, who hold the great and holy mount of Helikon, and dance on soft feet about the deep-blue spring and the altar of the almighty Kronion [Zeus], and, when they have washed their tender bodies in Permessos [stream of Helikon] or in the Hippokrene (Horse's Spring) or Olmeios [stream of Helikon], make their fair, lovely dances upon highest Helikon and move with vigorous feet."
The Origin of Homer & Hesiod & of their Contest Fragment 1 (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic B.C.) :
"[The bard] Homer, son of Meles, if indeed the Mousai, daughters of great Zeus the most high, honour you as it is said, tell me . . . Hesiod gained the victory and received a brazen tripod which he dedicated to the Mousai with this inscription : `Hesiod dedicated this tripod to the Mousai Helikonides after he had conquered divine Homer at Khalkis in a contest of song.' Hesiod, who is honoured by the deathless Mousai : surely his renown shall be as wide as the light of dawn is spread."
Strabo, Geography 9. 2. 25 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Helikon, not far distant from Parnassos, rivals it both in height and in circuit; for both are rocky and covered with snow, and their circuit comprises no large extent of territory. Here are the temple of the Mousai and Hippukrene and the cave of the Nymphai called the Leibethrides; and from this fact one might infer that those who consecrated Helikon to the Mousai were Thrakians, the same who dedicated Pieris and Leibethron and Pimpleia [in Pieria] to the same goddesses. The Thrakians used to be called Pieres, but, now that they have disappeared, the Makedonians hold these places."
Strabo, Geography 10. 3. 17 :
"Helikon was consecrated to the Mousai by the Thrakians who settled in Boiotia, the same who consecrated the cave of the Nymphai called Leibethrides."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 39. 1 - 7 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Helikon is one of the mountains of Greece with the most fertile soil and the greatest number of cultivated trees. The wild-strawberry bushes supply to the goats sweeter fruit than that growing anywhere else . . .
The first to sacrifice on Helikon to the Mousai and to call the mountain sacred to the Mousai were, they say, Ephialtes and Otos, who also founded Askra [i.e. the village of Hesiod which lies at the foot of the mountain] . . . Kallippos of Korinthos in his history of Orkhomenos uses the verses of Hegesinos as evidence in support of his own views . . . The sons of Aloeus held that the Mousai were three in number, and gave them the names of Melete (Practice), Mneme (Memory) and Aoede (Song).
But they say that afterwards Pieros, a Makedonian, after whom the mountain in Makedonia was named, came to Thespiae and established nine Mousai, changing their names to the present ones. Pieros was of this opinion either because it seemed to him wiser, or because an oracle so ordered, or having so learned from one of the Thrakians. For the Thrakians had the reputation of old of being more clever than the Makedonians, and in particular of being not so careless in religious matters.
There are some who say that Pieros himself had nine daughters [the Pierides], that their names were the same as those of the goddesses, and that those whom the Greeks called the children of the Mousai were sons of the daughters of Pieros.
Mimnermos, who composed elegiac verses about the battle between the Smyrnaians and the Lydians under Gyges, says in the preface that the elder Mousai are daughters of Ouranos (Sky), and that there are other and younger Mousai, children of Zeus.
On Helikon, on the left as you go [from Askra] to the grove of the Mousai, is the spring Aganippe; they say that Aganippe was a daughter of the Termessos, which flows round Helikon. As you go along the straight road to the grove is a portrait of Eupheme carved in relief on a stone. She was, they say, the nurse of the Mousai.
So her portrait is here, and after it is Linos on a small rock worked into the shape of a cave. To Linos every year they sacrifice as to a hero before they sacrifice to the Mousai. It is said that this Linos was a son of [the Mousa] Ourania and Amphimaros, a son of Poseidon, that he won a reputation for music greater than that of any contemporary or predecessor, and that Apollon killed him for being his rival in singing.
On the death of Linos, mourning for him spread, it seems, to all the foreign world, so that even among the Egyptians there came to be a Linos song [song of mourning] . . .
The first images of the Mousai are of them all, from the hand of Kephisodotos, while a little farther on are three, also from the hand of Kephisodotos, and three more by Strongylion, an excellent artist of oxen and horses. The remaining three were made by Olympiosthenes. There is also on Helikon a bronze Apollon fighting with Hermes for the lyre. There is also a Dionysos by Lysippos; the standing image, however, of Dionysos, that Sulla dedicated, is the most noteworthy of the works of Myron after the Erekhtheus at Athens. What he dedicated was not his own; he took it away from the Minyai of Orkhomenos. This is an illustration of the Greek proverb, `to worship the gods with other people's incense.'
Of poets or famous musicians they have set up likenesses of the following. There is Thamyris himself, when already blind, with a broken lyre in his hand, and Arion of Methymna upon a dolphin. The sculptor who made the statue of Sakadas of Argos, not understanding the prelude of Pindar about him, has made the flute-player with a body no bigger than his flute.
Hesiod too sits holding a harp upon his knees, a thing not at all appropriate for Hesiod to carry, for his own verses make it clear that he sang holding a laurel wand . . .
By the side of Orpheus the Thrakian stands a statue of Telete (Religious Rites), and around him are beasts of stone and bronze listening to his singing. There are many untruths believed by the Greeks, one of which is that Orpheus was a son of the Mousa Kalliope, and not of the daughter of Pieros, that the beasts followed him fascinated by his songs, and that he went down alive to Haides to ask for his wife from the gods below. In my opinion Orpheus excelled his predecessors in the beauty of his verse, and reached a high degree of power because he was believed to have discovered mysteries, purification from sins, cures of diseases and means of averting divine wrath . . .
The Makedonians who dwell in the district below Mount Pieria and the city of Dion say that it was here that Orpheus met his end at the hands of the women . . .There is also a river [in Pieria] called Helikon. After a course of seventy-five stades the stream hereupon disappears under the earth. After a gap of about twenty-two stades the water rises again, and under the name of Baphyra instead of Helicon flows into the sea as a navigable river. The people of Dion say that at first this river flowed on land throughout its course. But, they go on to say, the women who killed Orpheus wished to wash off in it the blood-stains, and thereat the river sank underground, so as not to lend its waters to cleanse manslaughter.
In Larisa [in Thessalia] I heard another story, how that on Olympos is a city Libethra, where the mountain faces, Makedonia, not far from which city is the tomb of Orpheus . . .
On Helicon there is also a statue of Arsinoe, who married Ptolemy her brother. She is being carried by a bronze ostrich . . . Here too is Telephos, the son of Herakles, represented as a baby being suckled by a deer. By his side is an ox, and an image of Priapos worth seeing . . .
On Helikon tripods have been dedicated, of which the oldest is the one which it is said Hesiod received for winning the prize for song at Khalkis on the Euripos. Men too live round about the grove, and here the Thespeians celebrate a festival, and also games called the Mouseia. They celebrate other games in honor of Eros (Love), offering prizes not only for music but also for athletic events.
Ascending about twenty stades from this grove [of the Mousai] is what is called the Hippokrene (Horse's Fountain). It was made, they say, by the horse of Bellerophon striking the ground with his hoof.
The Boiotians dwelling around Helikon hold the tradition that Hesiod wrote nothing but the Works, and even of this they reject the prelude to the Mousai, saying that the poem begins with the account of the Erites (Strifes). They showed me also a tablet of lead where the spring is, mostly defaced by time, on which is engraved the Works . . .
On the summit of Helikon is a small river called the Lamos."
Callistratus, Descriptions 7 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C4th A.D.) :
"On Helikon--the spot is a shaded precinct sacred to the Mousai (Muses)--near the torrent of the river Olmeios and the violet-dark spring of Pegasos, there stood beside the [statues of the] Mousai a statue of Orpheus, the son of Kalliope, a statue most beautiful to look upon. For the bronze joined with art to give birth to beauty, indicating by the splendour of the body the musical nature of the soul."
Propertius, Elegies 3. 3 (trans. Goold) (Roman elegy C1st B.C.) :
"Here [on Mount Helikon] was a green grotto lined with mosaics and from the hollow pumice timbrels hung, the mystic instruments of the Musae, a clay image of father Silenus, and the pipe of Arcadian Pan; and the birds of my lady Venus [Aphrodite], the doves that I love, dip their red bills in the Gorgon’s pool [the fountain Hippokrene sprung from the hoof of Pegasos], while the nine Maidens (Puellae), each allotted her own realm, busy their tender hands on their separate gifts."
Pliny the Elder, Natural History 4. 25 (trans. Rackham) (Roman encyclopedia C1st A.D.) :
"The Musae are assigned a birth-place in the grove of Helicon [in Boiotia]."
III) MOUNT LIBETHRION Mountain in Boiotia
Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 34. 4 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) ::
"Some forty stades from Koroneia is Mount Libethrios [in Boiotia] on which are images of the Mousai and Nymphai surnamed Libethrion."
CULT IN PHOKIS (CENTRAL GREECE)
I) DELPHOI Village & Sanctuary of Phokis
Simonides, Fragment 577 (from Plutarch) (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric III) (C6th to 5th B.C.) :
"For there was a shrine of the Mousai here [south of Apollon's temple at Delphoi] where the spring wells up, and that is why they used this water for libation and lustrations, as Simonides says : `where the holy water of the lovely-haired Moisai is drawn from below for lustration. Overseer of the holy lustration-water, golden Kleio, who give the water-drawers from the ambosial cave the fragrant lovely water sought with many prayers.'"
Pausanias, Description of Greece 10. 19. 4 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"The carvings in the pediments [of the temple of Apollon at Delphoi, Phokis] are: Artemis, Leto, Apollon, the Mousai, setting Helios (Sun)."
CULT IN MAKEDONIA (NORTHERN GREECE)
I) PIMPLEIA Town in Pieria, Makedonia
Callimachus, Hymn 4 to Delos 3 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"Delos would win the foremost guerdon from the Mousai, since she it was that bathed Apollon, the lord of minstrels, and swaddled him, and was the first to accept him for a god. Even as the Mousai abhor him who sings not of Pimpleia [a town in Pieria sacred to the Mousai] so Phoibos abhors him who forgets Delos."
Strabo, Geography 9. 2. 25 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Thrakians . . . who dedicated Pieris and Leibethron and Pimpleia [in Pieria] to the same goddesses [the Mousai]."
Strabo, Geography 10. 3. 17 :
"The places where the Mousai have been worshipped, for Pieria and Olympos and Pimpleia and Leibethron were in ancient times Thrakian places and mountains."
II) PIERIS & LEIBETHRON Mountains in Pieria, Makedonia
Strabo, Geography 9. 2. 25 :
"One might infer that those who consecrated Helikon to the Mousai were Thrakians, the same who dedicated Pieris and Leibethron and Pimpleia [in Pieria] to the same goddesses. The Thrakians used to be called Pieres, but, now that they have disappeared, the Makedonians hold these places."
Strabo, Geography 10. 3. 17 :
"From its melody and rhythm and instruments, all Thrakian music has been considered to be Asiatic. And this is clear, first, from the places where the Mousai have been worshipped, for Pieria and Olympos and Pimpleia and Leibethron were in ancient times Thrakian places and mountains, though they are now held by the Makedonians; and again, Helikon was consecrated to the Mousai by the Thrakians who settled in Boiotia, the same who consecrated the cave of the Nymphai called Leibethrides. And again, those who devoted their attention to the music of early times are called Thrakians, I mean Orpheus, Musaios, and Thamyris; and Eumolpos, too, got his name from there."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 29. 3 - 4 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"They say that afterwards [the establishment of a shrine to three Mousai on Mount Helikon in Boiotia] Pieros, a Makedonian, after whom the mountain in Makedonia was named, came to Thespiae and established nine Mousai, changing their names to the present ones. Pieros was of this opinion either because it seemed to him wiser, or because an oracle so ordered, or having so learned from one of the Thrakians. For the Thrakians had the reputation of old of being more clever than the Makedonians, and in particular of being not so careless in religious matters.
There are some who say that Pieros himself had nine daughters [the Pierides], that their names were the same as those of the goddesses, and that those whom the Greeks called the children of the Mousai were sons of the daughters of Pieros."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 30. 7 - 9 :
"Orpheus was a son of the Mousa Kalliope . . . The Makedonians who dwell in the district below Mount Pieria and the city of Dion say that it was here that Orpheus met his end at the hands of the women. Going from Dion along the road to the mountain, and advancing twenty stades, you come to a pillar on the right surmounted by a stone urn, which according to the natives contains the bones of Orpheus.
There is also a river called Helikon. After a course of seventy-five stades the stream hereupon disappears under the earth. After a gap of about twenty-two stades the water rises again, and under the name of Baphyra instead of Helicon flows into the sea as a navigable river. The people of Dion say that at first this river flowed on land throughout its course. But, they go on to say, the women who killed Orpheus wished to wash off in it the blood-stains, and thereat the river sank underground, so as not to lend its waters to cleanse manslaughter.
In Larisa [town in Thessalia] I heard another story, how that on Olympos is a city Libethra, where the mountain faces, Makedonia, not far from which city is the tomb of Orpheus."
Suidas s.v. Pieria (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Pieria : A mountain in Makedonia. And Pierides [Pierides], the Mousai of Makedonia."
CULT TITLES OF THE MUSES
The Mousai had a few cult titles, mostly connected with their two main shrines on Mount Helikon and at Pieria. Several of these were also employed as poetic epithets for the goddesses.
||Of Mount Olympos
||Of Mount Helikon
||Of the river Ilissos
||Of Ardalos (hero)
||Maidens of Helikon
ENCYCLOPEDIA MOUSAI TITLES
AGANIPPIS, is used by Ovid (Fast. v. 7) as an epithet of Hippocrene; its meaning however is not quite clear. It is derived from Aganippe, the well or nymph, and as Aganippides is used to designate the Muses, Aganippis Hippocrene may mean nothing but "Hippocrene, sacred to the Muses."
CASTA′LIDES (Kastalides), the Castalian nymphs, by which the Muses are sometimes designated, as the Castalian spring was sacred to them. (Theocrit. vii. 148; Martial, vii. 11.)
ILISSIADES (Ilissiades), a surname of the Muses, who had an altar on the Ilissus in Attica. (Paus. i. 19. § 6.)
LIBE′THRIDES (Leibêthrides), or nymphae Libethrides, a name of the Muses, which they derived from the well Libethra in Thrace; or, according to others, from the Thracian mountain Libethrus, where they had a grotto sacred to them. (Virg. Eclog. vii. 21; Mela, ii. 3; Strab. ix. p. 410, x. p. 471.) Servius (ad Eclog. l. c.) derives the name from a poet Libethrus, and Pausanias (ix. 34. § 4) connects it with mount Libethrius in Boeotia. (Comp. Lycoph. 275; Varro, de Ling. Lat. vii. 2.)
OLY′MPIUS (Olumpios), the Olympian, occurs as a surname of Zeus (Hornm. Il. i. 353), Heracles (Herod. ii. 44), the Muses (Olympiades, Il. ii. 491), and in general of all the gods that were believed to live in Olympus.
PE′GASIS (Pêgasis) i. e. descended from Pegasus or originating by him; hence it is applied to the well Hippocrene, which was called forth by the hoof of Pegasus (Mosch. iii. 78; Ov. Trist. iii. 7. 15). The Muses themselves also are sometimes called Pegasides, as well as other nymphs of wells and brooks. (Virg. Catal. 71. 2; Ov. Heroid. xv. 27; Propert. iii. 1. 19; Quint. Smyrn. iii. 301; comp. Heyne, ad Apollo. p. 301.)
PIE′RIDES (Pierides), and sometimes also in the singular, Pieris, a surname of the Muses, which they derived from Pieria, near Mount Olympus, where they were first worshipped among the Thracians (Hes. Theog. 53; Horat. Carm. iv. 3. 13; Pind. Pyth. vi. 49). Some derived the name from an ancient king Pierus, who is said to have emigrated from Thrace into Boeotia, and established their worship at Thespiae. (Paus. ix. 29. § 2; Eurip. Med. 831; Pind. Ol. xi. 100; Ov. Trist. v. 3. 10; Cic. De Nat. Deor. iii. 21.)
PIMPLE′IS (Pimplêis), or Pimplea, a surname of the Muses, derived from Mount Pimplias in Pieria, which was sacred to them. Some place this mountain in Boeotia, and call Mount Helicon Pimpleias kopê. (Strab. x. p. 471; Schol. ad Apollon. Rhod. i. 25; Lycoph. 275; Horat. Carm. i. 26. 9; Anthol. Palat. v. 206.)
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
- Hesiod, Theogony - Greek Epic C8th-7th B.C.
- Homerica, The Origin of Homer & Hesiod - Greek Epic B.C.
- Greek Lyric III Simonides, Fragments - Greek Lyric C6th-5th B.C.
- Greek Lyric V Anonymous, Fragments - Greek Lyric B.C.
- Callimachus, Hymns - Greek Poetry C3rd B.C.
- Strabo, Geography - Greek Geography C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Pausanias, Description of Greece - Greek Travelogue C2nd A.D.
- Aelian, Historical Miscellany - Greek Rhetoric C2nd-3rd A.D.
- Callistratus, Descriptions - Greek Rhetoric C4th A.D.
- Cicero, De Natura Deorum - Latin Rhetoric C1st B.C.
- Pliny the Elder, Natural History - Latin Encyclopedia C1st A.D.
- Suidas - Byzantine Greek Lexicon C10th A.D.