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Between Tradition and Innovation, by Tomasz Mojsik

Genealogy, Names and the Number of the Muses

Reviewed by Penelope Murray

This monograph is part of a larger project on the Muses in antiquity and deals specifically with questions relating to their genealogy, names and number in the Archaic and Classical periods. Mojsik’s central thesis is that the image of the Muses at this time was far more fluid than standard accounts would have us believe. We all know that there were nine Muses, Clio, Euterpe, Thaleia, Melpomene, Terpsichore, Erato, Polymnia, Urania and Calliope, born from the union of Zeus and Mnemosyne. Variations from this canonical Hesiodic version, of course, existed, details of which can be found in M. Mayer’s classic article in the Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft 16 (1933), pp. 687-91. But, as Mojsik points out, the obligatory reference to Mayer consigns alternative versions to a footnote and handily dispenses with the need to investigate the source material from a critical perspective for oneself. What is needed, he contends, is a shift from philological and historical approaches to an anthropological viewpoint so that we set aside what we think we know about the Muses from the later tradition and pay proper attention to the cultural conditions which pertained in the oral society of early Greece: we cannot evaluate their image according to the norms of subsequent historical eras. With this in mind, Mojsik sets out to re-examine the evidence, taking into account not only the usual major authors —Homer, Hesiod and Pindar —but also the testimony of lesser, often later, sources in order to understand the image of the Muse as a product of the Greek mentality of the Archaic age.

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