Muses was the name employed to designate in the classic mythology those divinities originally included among the Nymphs, but afterwards regarded as quite distinct from them. To them was ascribed the power of inspiring song, and poets and musicians were therefore regarded as their pupils and favorites. They were first honored among the Thracians, and as Pieria around Olympus was the original seat of that people, it came to be considered as the native country of the Muses, who were therefore called Pierides. In the earliest period their number was three, though Homer sometimes speaks of a single Muse, and once, at least, alludes to itne. This last is the number given by Hesiod in his Theogony, who also mentions their names: Clio, Euterpe, Thaleia, Melpomene, Terpsichore, Erato, Polyhymnia, Urania, and Calliope. Their origin is differently given, but the most widely-spread account represented them as the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. Homer speaks of them as the goddesses of song, and as dwelling on the summit of Olympus. They. are also often represented as the companions of Apollo, and as singing while he played upon the lyre at the banquets of the immortals. In the most ancient works of art we find only three Muses, and their attributes are musical instruments, such as the flute, the lyre, or the barbiton; it was not until the more modern ideal of Apoilo Musagetes, in the garb of the Pythian musicians, was developed that the number nine was established by several famous artists in regard to these virgins, who were in like manner clad for the most part in theatrical drapery, with fine intellectual countenances, distinguished from one another by expression, attributes, and sometimes also by attitudes.
1. Calliope, the Muse of epic poetry, is characterized by a tablet and stylus, and sometimes by a roll of papers.
2. Clio, the Muse of history, is represented either with an open roll of paper or an open chest of books.
3. Euterpe, the Muse of lyric poetry, is given a flute, and sometimes two flutes.
4. Melpomene, the Muse of tragedy, is characterized by a tragic mask, the club of Hercules, or a sword, her head is surrounded with vine-leaves, and she wears the cothurnus.
5. Terpsichore, the Muse of choral dance and song, appears with the lyre and the plectrum.
6. Erato, the Muse of erotic poetry and mimic imitation, is also characterized by a lyre.
7. Polymnia, the Muse of the sublime hymn, is usually represented leaning in a pensive or meditating attitude.
8. Urania, the Muse of astronomy, bears a globe in her hand.
9. Thalia, the Muse of comedy and idyllic poetry, is characterized by a comic mask, a shepherd's staff, and a wreath of ivy. Various legends ascribed to them victories in musical competitions, particularly over the Sirens (q.v.), and they are sometimes represented with plumes on their heads, supposed to typify such victory. In the later classic times, particular provinces were assigned to the Muses in connection with different departments of literature, science, and the fine arts; but the invocations addressed to them appear to have been, as in -the case of modern writers, merely formal imitations of the early poets. Their worship among the Romans was a mere imitation of the Greeks, and never became truly national or popular. Among the places sacred to them were the wells of Aganippe and Hippocrene on Mount Helicon, and the Castalian spring on Mount Parnassus. See Chambers's Cyclopcedia, s.v.; Smith, Dict. Greek and Roman Biogr. 2:1124 sq.; Westropp, Hand-book of Archceology, page 190 sq.