Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Juliet's Amused by the Muse

I was musing about this week's topic, and the Muses (fickle creatures that they are) deserted me. Just like that. Every last one of them.

I found I had nothing to say. I was bemused by this fact, but not at all amused.

(This is related to the fact that I have a deadline looming. Deadline: the kind of line in the sand that is, indeed, deadening to one's creativity.)

So the former academic in me kicked in: I looked up the word muse on an internet site dedicated to etymology, or the history of words.

(This is one of those sites no doubt created and maintained and patronized by word nerds like me. Other people start reading celebrity gossip on-line and lose an hour or two -- I stick my toe into the waters of word history and the whole afternoon's shot. One of my favorite books of all time is The Word Museum: The Most Remarkable English Words Ever Forgotten. Ever heard of "bumwush" or "fatherbetter" or "quank"?)

But I digress. Muse, as we use it in English, comes from the French amuser, which means to "divert, cause to muse." Which might help explain that when the muses fail to show up, it's not a lot of fun for anyone.

Of course the French got the word, at some point, from the Greek Mousa.

The Greek muses were the nine daughters of Mnemosyne. Together, they were supposed to provide not only the inspiration to their arts, but the perseverance to carry such projects through to completion.

The Muses are:
Calliope, epic or heroic poetry
Clio, history
Erato, love poetry and flute-playing
Euterpe, lyric poetry and lyre-playing
Melpomene, tragedy
Polyhymnia, sacred music and dance
Terpsichore, choral music and dance
Thalia, comedy and idyllic poetry
Urania, astronomy and cosmological poetry

(Notice that there's no specific muse for mystery writers, much less painters. Maybe that's my problem...)

According to the etymologists, bemuse maintains more of the original meaning of the French word, which refers to the ability to divert a person's attention, often to deceive or cheat, rather than with any sort of artistic inspiration.

Of course, if you're searching for inspiration you might consider wandering through a museum (a seat or shrine to the muses) or listening to some music, which is a series of coordinated sounds evocative of the human spirit, overseen by the Muses.

Amusing, isn't it?



Sophie Littlefield said...

oh heavens above, you *must* be in dire straits, you poor thing! I know for a fact there are muses all around you: a certain black cat who lives up the street, a vixen-like educator down the hall, a mysterious and stormy young interloper in the next room, a veritable stream of fascinating characters visiting - - take heart, inspiration is oozing up from the floors and down from the ceiling...

Anonymous said...

Sometimes i am totally amazed that I am related to you..........The puns in that blog were just staggering..........As mom would have said, "that was pun-ishment" or "upun my word" really need to get out more and get refreshed.........

Lisa Hughey said...

Love, love, love the idea that muses are supposed to give you the perseverance to carry through...i might have to start believing in muses after all :)

Gary Corby said...

We've both written about the original Muses, Juliet! We must be in psychic tune.

Luckily for me we went slightly different directions.

Best wishes with the deadline. I've noticed too how deadlines can suck the creativity from a writer. It's probably for the same reason deer stand still in a spotlight.