So all this talk about Xena has made me realize that I know damn little about ancient Greece, and given that one of my friends actually teaches high school Latin and Greek (in 2015. I know.), I figure I should fix this grave lacuna in my knowledge. So I started messing about online, figuring that the interwebs would point me in the right direction. After getting sidetracked by a statue of Aphrodite having a bad hair day, I got down to business and found a translation of the The Theogony of Hesiod (Greek, ~700 BCE) translated by Hugh G. Evelyn White in 1914. And who do you think he starts out talking about?
(ll. 26-28) `Shepherds of the wilderness, wretched things of shame, mere bellies, we know how to speak many false things as though they were true; but we know, when we will, to utter true things.’
(ll. 29-35) So said the ready-voiced daughters of great Zeus, and they plucked and gave me a rod, a shoot of sturdy laurel, a marvellous thing, and breathed into me a divine voice to celebrate things that shall be and things there were aforetime; and they bade me sing of the race of the blessed gods that are eternally, but ever to sing of themselves both first and last. But why all this about oak or stone? (2)
(ll. 36-52) Come thou, let us begin with the Muses who gladden the great spirit of their father Zeus in Olympus with their songs, telling of things that are and that shall be and that were aforetime with consenting voice. Unwearying flows the sweet sound from their lips, and the house of their father Zeus the loud-thunderer is glad at the lily-like voice of the goddesses as it spread abroad, and the peaks of snowy Olympus resound, and the homes of the immortals. And they uttering their immortal voice, celebrate in song first of all the reverend race of the gods from the beginning, those whom Earth and wide Heaven begot, and the gods sprung of these, givers of good things. Then, next, the goddesses sing of Zeus, the father of gods and men, as they begin and end their strain, how much he is the most excellent among the gods and supreme in power. And again, they chant the race of men and strong giants, and gladden the heart of Zeus within Olympus, — the Olympian Muses, daughters of Zeus the aegis-holder.
Now aside from the fact that this is just awful darn pretty, it is still making out poets to be mouthpieces who just channel the Muses while the girls do the work. This old hat formula has, as I have asserted before, had a negative affect on wanna be poets who don’t get that writing is work.
Although, now that I think of it, this is the first hat…
“The Dance of the Muses at Mount Helicon” by Bertel Thorvaldsen (1807).