Mnemosyne, the Mother of the Muses: Background information when reading Muse

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A novel

by Jonathan Galassi

Muse by Jonathan Galassi X
Muse by Jonathan Galassi
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2015, 272 pages

    Jun 2016, 272 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Darcie R.J. Abbene
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About this Book

Mnemosyne, the Mother of the Muses

This article relates to Muse

Print Review

The title of Jonathan Galassi's novel Muse, refers to the fictional poet that the story centers on, Ida Perkins, who provides inspiration to the literary world.

Mnemosyne A set of Ida's narrative poems is titled "Mnemosyne," whom Paul quickly recognizes as "the Titaness Mnemosyne, goddess of memory and mother of the Muses." The powerful goddess Mneymosyne (pronounced nee-mo-see-nee, source of the word mnemonic) is known as the creator of language and words, the goddess of time and memory, one of the three elder muses. The ability to remember was perhaps most important of all given that everything - all stories and lessons of life - had to be remembered before the advent of the written word.

The ancient Gnostics (in Ancient Greek the word means "learned") were a people who sought knowledge of the metaphysical and shunned the material world. Heavily reliant on myths, they referenced the importance of memory and Mnemosyne in one of their initiation rites. Prior to meeting with an oracle, the initiates drank from two pools. The first was the pool of Lethe, the goddess of forgetfulness, in order to forget all they had known before. The purpose of drinking from the second pool, the spring of Mnemosyne, was to be bestowed with the power of memory in order to recall all that they would be taught. The potential initiate would then be secluded and if deemed worthy, would receive the lessons. This was an important mechanism by which to transmit knowledge and the secrets of the world as, with the help of Mnemosyne, the Gnostics were subsequently able to share what they had learned from the oracle.

Mnemosyne was also the mother of the nine younger muses. The story goes that Zeus came to lay with Mnemosyne for nine nights and later when she gave birth, she labored for nine days giving birth to nine daughters who each had a special power relating to art and storytelling. These were: Calliope (muse of poetry), Clio (history), Erato (love and erotic poetry), Euterpe (music), Melponeme (tragedy), Polyhymnia (sacred hymns), Terpsichore (dancing), Thalia (comedy) and Urania (astronomy).

A pre-Raphaelite impression of Mnemosyne by Dante Gabriel Rossetti from Rossetti Archives

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

This "beyond the book article" relates to Muse. It originally ran in July 2015 and has been updated for the June 2016 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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