Which of the Greek Muses actually inspires your writing?
“Find your muse.”
If you’re anything like me, you hate this kind of writing advice. Sure, it sounds inspirational, but it’s really just vague nonsense. And that makes it useless. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for “seeking inspiration.” I’m just saying that empty phrases like that aren’t going to make you a better writer. How do I know? Because it just happened again.
When someone tells you to “follow your passion” it doesn’t really mean anything—at least, not anything specific. And specificity is a writer’s life-blood. Platitudes aren’t actionable advice. They’re just fortune-telling disguised as wisdom. And that isn’t going to up your word count. So to help you out, I’ve decided to update this age-old advice by breaking down exactly what each of the nine Greek Muses actually does so you can see how each of their “domains” aligns with the kind of writer you aspire to be.
It shouldn’t be that hard. You only have nine Muses to choose from.
The names of the Nine Muses (in alphabetical order) are Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomeni, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia, and Urania.
Here’s what each one is all about.
Identifying symbol: Writing tablet
Undisputed “queen” of the Muses, Calliope’s domain is all things heroic. Back in the day that meant inspiring and recording the adventures and exploits of kings, princes, heroes, and the Gods themselves. Basically, Calliope is the boss of poetry and storytelling. Don’t be mislead by the word “poetry.” Poetry was a powerful and revered narrative tool in the ancient world. It’s how legends were born, culture was spread, morals were taught, and important events were commemorated for literally thousands of years. Homer even asked Calliope for inspiration when he wrote the Iliad and Odyssey so…yeah. She’s kind of a big deal.
If you’re the kind of writer who couldn’t shut up after reading the Robert Moses biography, Power Broker, or you dream about writing for The Atlantic and The New Yorker, Calliope is your girl.
Calliope writers: biographers, documentarians, anyone who wants to work at Vox
Identifying symbol: A stack of books or scrolls
Clio deals with the big picture stuff — specifically history. But not in the way you might think.
In Greek, Clio (“Kleio”) translates as “to celebrate” or “make famous,” and she’s the Muse responsible for recording and spreading the news about great deeds. While Clio might seem like a lesser version of her big sis, Calliope, she’s more about promoting the deeds of heroes than inspiring the actual events.
In short, she’s all about PR and marketing. Heck, there’s even an advertising award named after her (The Clio). Clio is usually shown with an open book in her left hand (samesies). And fun fact, Clio is credited with discovering the guitar.
I think Clio is my Muse. I’m painfully left-handed, start every morning with a cup of coffee and a good book, and I can’t get enough of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast. I even play a little guitar.
If you’re all about getting the word out, spreading the good news, and sharing that one cool thing you just read, you might be a Clio fan.
Clio writers: PR, marketers, copywriters, and first adopters
Identifying symbol: Lyre, love arrows, and sometimes even Cupid himself
Derived from the Greek word for love, “Eros”, Erato is one of the more narrowly focused Muses. She really just deals with love, relationships, and of course, erotic poetry. She’s usually pictured with a lyre and heart-shaped arrows (classic “Love” stuff), and sometimes she’s even accompanied by Cupid holding a literal flaming torch.
Erato is many things, but not typically subtle.
If you write about relationships, sex, romance, and all things love, Erato is your Muse.
Erato writers: poet, eroticist, Nora Ephron understudies
Identifying symbol: Double flute (that Y-shaped instrument Pan always has)
Euterpe is the goddess that puts the Muse in music (get it). Credited with discovering pretty much all of the musical instruments (except the guitar, I guess?), Euterpe spends most of her time literally entertaining the Gods with her sweet tunes.
If you can’t write without Spotify Lo-fi jams on in the background, pour one out for Euterpe to say thanks for the smooth steady flow of auditory inspiration.
Euterpe writers: musicians, slam poets, and writers who wear headphones all the dang time (you know who you are)
Identifying symbol: “Tragedy” mask and usually some kind of weapon
Originally the Muse of “Song,” Melpomene was downgraded to the Muse of Tragedy, and she has some feelings about it. Mother to the mythic sirens, she’s almost always pictured holding a tragedy mask and brandishing some kind of sword, knife, or club. She’s easily the most emo Muse.
If melancholy drips from the tip of your pen and tragedy walks in your wake, you are definitely a devotee of Melpomene.
Melpomene writers: angsty poets, playwrights, and My Chemical Romance cover bands
Identifying symbol: Grapes and shushing people
On the surface, being the “Muse of Hymns” sounds painfully dull. But once you dig a little deeper, Polyhymnia is absolutely fascinating. And confusing. Almost always depicted as silent and deadly serious, it’s no secret that Polyhymnia’s domain is religious hymns, meditation, and shushing people. No, really. She’s often pictured with her finger to her lips, signaling silence like an ancient Greek librarian.
She’s such a stickler for the rules that she also became the Muse of geometry, grammar, and even mimes.
She really loves silence.
Basically, picture the strictest person you’ve ever met, add a slide rule, an MLA and AP style guide, graphic calculator, and white gloves and you’re on your way.
If you spellcheck your article ten times, ride-or-die for the Oxford Comma, and can’t write in noisy coffee shops, Polyhymnia is the Muse for you.
Polymnia writers: perfectionists, grammar snobs, librarians, Hermione Granger, copyeditors, and Pictionary champions
Identifying symbol: Dancing with laurels on her head and a harp
Creation is kinetic for Terpsichore. I mean, she invented dancing, so she’s obviously she likes to “move it, move it.” And we need more writers like that. Devotees of Terpsichore have fun when they write. It’s an act of joy to create. They get a buzz from typing out their thoughts and jotting down a good line of prose or poetry.
If you get the jimmy legs when you’re writing, or constantly talk about your writing in terms of “flow” and “tempo” you’re a Terpsichorian (I made that word up, and I love it).
Honestly, if you just enjoy the physical act of writing (Terpo means “to be amused” in Greek) you’ve got Terpsichore to thank for your writing style.
Terpsichore writers: poets, dancers, satirists, and people that tap their pen on their coffee mug
Identifying symbol: “Comedy” mask and a shepherd staff
Thalia is the Muse of comedy, and she’s usually depicted that way—laughing and having fun. Similar to Terpsichore, Thalia is almost always light, airy, and youthful. Nothing affects Thalia or the writers who seek her patronage.
Fun fact: Thalia often carries a shepherd’s crook for purely comedic reasons, not agricultural ones. The shepherd’s crook is so she can yank people off stage when they’re bombing—a comedy trope we still use today.
If you’re just plain thrilled to be a writer because it gives you the platform to share your thoughts, and maybe laugh at yourself a little, Thalia is the Muse for you.
Thalia writers: humorists, comedians, playwrights, and people who don’t read the comments
Identifying symbol: Globe or compass
As the Muse of Astronomy, Urania might seem like an outlier on this list, but she plays a central role in the arts and sciences—literally. Goddess of stars and celestial bodies, she’s associated with universal truths and the search for answers; something most writers hope to find with their work.
She’s often dressed in a star-studded cloak looking up to the heavens—her mind fixated on the observable universe for truths that seem just out of reach.
If you analyze the data for answers or search the universe big and small for clues and hints to life’s big questions, Urania is your Muse. And we need your work now more than ever.
Ourania writers: stargazers, scientists, data analysts, and dreamers
The word “Muse” originally comes from the ancient Greek word “Moũsai” which means “to have in mind.”
And I absolutely love that.
Write with specific inspiration “in mind” and you will create better work. And if you’re lucky, your favorite Muse might even help you out a little.
Shawn Forno is a freelance travel writer, blogger, content manager, and poet. He enjoys writing about himself in the third-person.