The Nine Muses in Antiquity

During our rehearsal on October 28, we were treated to a wonderful discussion about the nine Greek muses presented by Carolyn Laferrière!  Carolyn is a PhD candidate in the History of Art Department at Yale University, where she is working on a dissertation entitled “The Complex Sensations of Mousikē in Archaic and Classical Greek Art.”  Before Yale, Carolyn earned a B.A. magna cum laude in Art History, Classics, and Religious Studies from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, and an M.A. in Classical and Near Eastern Art and Archaeology at the University of British Columbia.


Carolyn Laferrière

The presentation she gave, “The Muses in Antiquity and Their Later Reception in Europe,” would have riveted Clio, Muse of History, herself.  Carolyn spoke of how the earliest known account of the muses, Hesiod’s Theogony, narrates the story of nine sisters, the Μοῦσα or muses, born of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the personification of memory.  Other legends declared them the daughters of Gaia, or Earth, instead.  And some believed there were only three or four muses instead of the nine most scholars recognize today.  With her captivating speech, Carolyn transported us from the ancient Greek Hellenic period through the Roman era and beyond the Renaissance to show how depictions of the muses have evolved over the years.  Whether the muses are illustrated as a single group or portrayed individually, one thing is clear.  Throughout the ages, these divine creatures have inspired artists to create masterpieces in art, literature, and music!


Muses Sarcophagus, from the 2nd century AD. Left to right: Clio (History), Thalia (Comedy), Erato (Love Poetry), Euterpe (Music), Polyhymnia (Hymns), Calliope (Epic Poetry), Terpsichore (Dance), Urania (Astronomy), Melpomene (Tragedy)

So what does that have to do with our upcoming season?  This winter, we will be debuting “The Nine Muses,” a piece written for Women’s Voices by our very own artistic director, Allan Friedman!  This piece allows the nine sisters to come together in harmony while also lifting up each individual muse in praise of her unique gifts.  As Calliope would promise, it’s going to be epic!


Apollo and the nine Muses on Mount Helicon, Jan van Balen, 17th century