Compiled by Peter Worman (with permission from William Wray)
In ancient times the poets evoked the muses to assist them with their composition. In fact, they believed that their contribution to the creative act was as a vehicle for the muses. If this were really the case you would think that their poetry would be rather impersonal. Far from it, for despite using established forms, their poetry was utterly individual, and the greater they were, the more their individual genius was stamped on their verse. They dedicated themselves to the muses, and in turn the muses enabled them to fulfil themselves as poets. The muses breathed into their verse divine inspiration.
So, who are these muses?
According to myth they are the daughters of Zeus, the ultimate god in the Hellenic pantheon, the personification of the bright sky, and his wife, Mnemosyne, memory. Although generally thought of as nine, originally there were only three muses: Melete, Mneme, Aoide. Translated they become Meditation, Remembrance and Song.
As such they sound more like activity than entity, indeed they sound very much like the creative process. Firstly, through inner reflection or meditation, our memory is aroused. This memory is deep intuitive knowledge of something that lies within us rather than anything that may appear to lie outside. From this intuitive knowledge, by the aid of art, arises song – the forms of artistic endeavour.
When Shakespeare came to describe the creative act, it was a matter of ‘airy nothing’ finding a ‘local habitation and a name’. Airy nothing in these terms is Zeus, the bright sky – space suffused by light – and out of this limitlessness arises created forms.
How is this done?
Mnemosyne, the wife of Zeus, gives us an indication. As Memory, she provides a way of arousing the knowledge we all possess. According to these ancient thinkers and all those that followed after them, those that were encouraged to make their own connection, it wasn’t memories of what we were doing last night, or where we’d left the car keys that’s important. Instead it’s the memory of those divine principles which are lodged in every individual soul.
In this process of remembering, we are not attempting to live in some nostalgic past time, where all great things were to be discovered in their pristine perfection. No, whether we like it or not, the only time for these memories to be aroused is now, and it is only now when they can be applied in a way that is ripe for the times. In our inspired moments we are living in the light of those perfect principles in order to serve the immediate need regardless of how imperfect the present may appear or indeed how imperfect may be our attempts.