The nine traditional muses as enumerated by Hesiod, “Cleio and Euterpe, Thaleia, Melpomene and Terpsichore, and Erato and Polyhymnia and Urania and Calliope,” are mythological figures of ancient Greece, the daughters of Zeus, the highest god and Mnemosyne, the personification of memory.
All of them were associated with a particular art or science, and were said to be the main source of inspiration in everything which involved the mind or the spirit, for both the immortals and the mortals. In his Theogony, Hesiod describes the role of the muses and particularly relates them to the art of rhetoric, by emphasizing the “lily-like voice of the goddesses”:“(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.”Thus, it can be seen that the muses were all personifications of what we would call today various talents and gifts, and that their chief function was to spread their inspiration and wisdom to the mortals. In the traditional view of the world, the muses were, in a way, the link between the divinities and the mortals, giving particular men almost god-like attributes and wisdom.
According to Hesiod, the mortal but virtuous and superior princes are inspired by the muses in their speech and conduct, and therefore can be considered as half-divine:“[…]Whomsoever of heaven-nourished princes the daughters of great Zeus honour, and behold him at his birth, they pour sweet dew upon his tongue, and from his lips flow gracious words. All the people look towards him while he settles causes with true judgments: and he, speaking surely, would soon make wise end even of a great quarrel; for therefore are there princes wise in heart, because when the people are being misguided in their assembly, they set right the matter again with ease, persuading them with gentle words. And when he passes through a gathering, they greet him as a god with gentle reverence, and he is conspicuous amongst the assembled: such is the holy gift of the Muses to men. For it is through the Muses and far-shooting Apollo that there are singers and harpers upon the earth; but princes are of Zeus, and happy is he whom the Muses love: sweet flows speech from his mouth.”The muse is thus a traditional trope for inspiration and wisdom, and this is why it had been gradually adopted by the ancient poets and made into a rhetorical device used to justify those themes of the poems which seemed too great for the mortal mind to tackle. The device is common with most of the ancient writers from Homer to Virgil, but has also been used in more recent times by Dante, for example, in his Divine Comedy, by Milton in Paradise Lost or by Shakespeare. As a rhetorical device, the muse technique was employed mostly at the beginning of a poem or an epic, or else, upon reaching a more difficult subject that required special assistance. Thus, The Odyssey for instance opens with the invocation of the muse, intimating that the poet is not alone at his task, but follows a divine voice that guides him and discovers him the truth: “Tell me, O muse, of that ingenious hero who traveled far and wideafter he had sacked the famous town of Troy[…]”John Milton’s masterpiece, Paradise Lost, begins apparently with a tribute to the muses and to the ancient masters implicitly.
However, although Milton is indebted in many ways to the works of Homer or Virgil, he does not bow to tradition and does not invoke the traditional muses for aid. On the contrary, it can be argued that his use of the muse technique has a great stylistic significance and is one of the greatest innovations that his work brings on the scene of writing. The seemingly traditional note of the beginning of Paradise Lost is in fact a trap: it is true that the initial invocation of the muse is a reminiscence of the traditional, ancient writing, but Milton’s particular use of the traditional device constitutes actually a break with tradition.The muse that Milton introduces at the beginning of his poem only keeps the traditional name that the ancient writers used to give to inspiration. For the rest, as Milton himself hints, his muse is a “Heav’nly Muse”, that is, the Holy Spirit, the Christian personification of spirit in general. In the context of Milton’s Christian allegory, the inspiration could not have come from the pagan nine muses of the ancient Greece, and this is why Milton suggests that his inspiration is coming directly from God. Although his muse is not clearly named in the poem, it is obvious that his implication is that his source of inspiration comes from the Christian God, and perhaps is an image of the Holy Trinity. The fact that Milton chose not to name his inspiration openly points to the fact that he writes under the influence of spirituality in general.
In any case, it is clear that the Milton uses the muse technique to distance himself from tradition rather than to pay a tribute to it. All the allusions to divine inspiration in Paradise Lost point to the fact that his purpose is actually to go beyond the empty rhetorical device of the muses, as it was used before him by the old writers. Milton places his muse at the beginning of the poem just as the other authors before him but his intention is to actually point to the fact that he is the truly inspired poet, who does not merely mechanically invoke the name of the muse but its spiritual significance.Milton takes the traditional, mythological muse and calls it heavenly and places it on the Holy mountains of Horeb or Oreb and Sinai, the places where the word of God has been heard by the prophets and the people of Israel:“Of Mans First Disobedience, and the FruitOf that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tasteBrought Death into the World, and all our woe,With loss of EDEN, till one greater ManRestore us, and regain the blissful Seat,Sing Heav’nly Muse, that on the secret topOf OREB, or of SINAI, didst inspireThat Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed,In the Beginning how the Heav’ns and EarthRose out of CHAOS[…]”It is plain that Milton felt that his great spiritual theme, relating “of Mans First Disobedience” and his fall from Heaven required a great source. His splendid Christian allegory requires a superior, divine voice. He does not find it necessary to give his muse a particular name precisely because he needs to emphasize the fact that his inspiration is of a spiritual nature and not simply a rhetorical device. He needs help to accomplish his spiritual task, that is not merely to relate the fall of angles and of that of men, or of the creation of the world and the beginning of the human race, but, more importantly, to transmit the spiritual content and meaning of these primordial events. He needs to recreate the Genesis, so his task resembles that of the Biblical prophets who listened to the word of God and transmitted to the rest of the world and to the future generations.
Thus, Milton’s intention in these lines is to emphasize the fact that his poem has a great Christian design, and as such, it must be inspired by God himself. The muse method he uses is thus justified in great part by the religious and spiritual content of the poem. Still, besides the fact that it serves the content properly, the technique of the muse has another very important function as well- its stylistic role.
In the following lines from the first book of Paradise Lost, Milton emphasizes the boldness of his own song, which “with no middle flight intends to soar”:“Or if SION HillDelight thee more, and SILOA’S Brook that flow’dFast by the Oracle of God; I thenceInvoke thy aid to my adventrous Song,That with no middle flight intends to soarAbove th’ AONIAN Mount, while it pursuesThings unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime.”Thus, we understand that beyond the boldness to tackle a Biblical theme in a poetic work, Milton also alludes to the stylistic innovations that the song brings, those “things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime”. It is obvious that the poet alludes here to his originality, which is again related to use of the muses.
Milton purposely distances himself from the traditional muses who were the daughters of Mnemosyne or memory and recognizes only the pure inspiration given by the spirit. This device has a great stylistic significance: by denying memory and historical inspiration which were the artistic sources for the ancient writers, Milton individuates his own poetry and advocates the use of original imagination and spiritual resources.He actually breaks with tradition and affirms that the “Daughters of Inspiration” must take the place of the “Daughters of Memory”, as William Blake noticed at the beginning of his poem entitled Milton. The target of Milton’s poem is somewhere higher than the mere Olympus of the Greeks: it is the Heaven and the fall from the perfect state into mortal life, and as such it necessitates higher means of composition as well if it is to fulfill its purpose.Therefore, Milton invokes a very different muse from the traditional figures: he does not require talent or rhetorical force for his task but rather spiritual force that can help him with his “great Argument” and that can illumine him, that is give him true knowledge:“What in me is darkIllumine, what is low raise and support;That to the highth of this great ArgumentI may assert th’ Eternal Providence,And justifie the wayes of God to men.”Thus, in the first place, Milton’s use of the muse is meant to delimitate the grand design he undertakes, but at the same time, it is very important because his intention is not only to deny the Olympian gods and replace them with the Christian God, but also to assert a new epoch of writing in which imagination and originality are the main tools for poetry.
He writes while using his own spiritual resources, which are obviously rooted in the Christian tradition. The poetry flows from Milton’s own spirit which is, in a way, an emanation of the divine spirit. This is again emphasized in the first lines of the poem, where he contends that his muse is not worshipped in a temple, but in the human heart:“And chiefly Thou O Spirit, that dost preferBefore all Temples th’ upright heart and pure,Instruct me, for Thou know’st; Thou from the firstWast present, and with mighty wings outspreadDove-like satst brooding on the vast AbyssAnd mad’st it pregnant[…]”It should be noticed that his muse is thus another name for the sprit itself, and that although Milton seems to address it as a force extraneous to himself, or as a muse, he implies actually that the locus of this force is his own mind, or the human mind in general, which is of course, the link between the divinity and man. The fact that his muse is actually the primordial force of creation, which made the abyss “pregnant”, suggests again that Milton alludes to God himself as the source of inspiration. God is the supreme creator of the world and therefore the first principle of creation in the universe, and this is why Milton considers that artistic creation should also have the same spiritual cause.In fact, Milton’s innovation of literary techniques is his recognition of the fact that the spirit and the human mind are the actual creators of any artistic work, and that they do not need any additional or external source of inspiration.
He can be considered in fact as one of the first founders of modern aesthetic, as other critics have noticed, because his work actually transmits his passion for the sublime and the spiritual as forms of expression. Thus, as Leslie E. Moore observes in her book Beautiful Sublime: The Making of Paradise Lost 1701-1734, Milton seems to be fond of the muses in the true sense of the word, that is he is fond of the spiritual and the sublime, as states of mind and means of expression as well: “no Quality of Mind is More Conspicuous in Him, not even Piety and the Love of Civil and Ecclesiastical Liberty, than his Passionate Fondness for the Muses.”As another critic, Catherine Gimelli Martin contends in her study The Ruins of Allegory: Paradise Lost and the Metamorphosis of Epic Convention, the Miltonian muse is not named precisely because its spiritual significance need not be a fixed one, it only has to be recognized as the symbol of spirituality which has the true potency for creation:“This perspective is by definition self-referential, for, unlike the muses of all previous epic poets, the identity of this presiding spirit is never clarified but instead deflected onto the ever-changing, although enduring, role of that great agent who, from first to last, from its pregnancy on the “vast Abyss” to its pregnancy at Pentecost, much like the poet himself mediates between God and creation.”As Martin terms it, in the light of the muse technique that he uses, Milton appears as the true “maker”, the creator who draws the resources for his writing from his own spiritual fountain:“In short, allegory is not a Pegasean horse that will throw the poet, for his language is possessed of a libertarian sense of invention that goes far beyond the abbreviated poetic license or “fancy” authorized by either the mainline Christian or the neoclassical tradition. In this respect, he has become even more a poetic “maker” than Sidney Defense of Poetry would authorize since Sidney’s theory merely grants poets the privilege of reflecting or recapitulating the role of the greater maker with whose spirit the narrative voice now actively participates.
By Dionysianly pitting himself against both the old enclosed space of hermetic correspondences and the literalistic tables of nominalist empiricism, the poet thus ultimately propels himself beyond their limits into the new imagistic trajectory whose ‘adven’trous Song, /…with no middle flight intends to soar / Above th’ Aonian Mount, while it pursues / Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhyme’ (1.13-16)“Martin also emphasizes Milton’s desire to be acknowledged as an original poet, who does not write on common or historical themes as his predecessors, and who has a true muse for his songs- his spiritual frame:“Milton here certainly shows his close familiarity with the earlier poems and his present and future use of them; but he also clearly indicates the independence and the novelty of his own poem. He is writing not a national epic but a poem about man and God; not of heroic events which occurred in one historical period but of the first events and of all time and eternity; not of pagan ‘fiction’ or even Christian ‘dream,’ but of biblical, historical, and prophetic ‘truth.
’”Thus, the spiritual force represented by Milton’s nameless muse is actually the marrow of the poem. Paradise Lost is a sacred history, telling of the relation between God and man, between the creator and his creation, and not merely relating a national or heroic episode. The only place in the poem where he does call the muse by a name is the seventh book, where he invokes Urania to come to his aid. Although Urania is one of the nine traditional muses, the muse of Astronomy namely, it is clear that Milton does not invoke the Greek mythological figure as a source of inspiration, but actually his own heavenly spirit again. Most likely he uses the name “Urania” because of its lexical root that coincides with his own purpose: “Urania” is a Greek term derived from “ouranos”, meaning “heaven”. This is perhaps why Milton chooses to name his muse thus, and he seems to answer in fact this question for us in the poem, where he emphasizes that he does not invoke merely a name, but its meaning:“Descend from Heav’n URANIA, by that nameIf rightly thou art call’d, whose Voice divineFollowing, above th’ OLYMPIAN Hill I soare,Above the flight of PEGASEAN wing.The meaning, not the Name I call: for thouNor of the Muses nine, nor on the topOf old OLYMPUS dwell’st, but Heav’nlie borne[…]”Certainly, Milton invokes the meaning rather than the name each time he asks for divine help, that is, he does not ask for mere rhetorical aid but invokes the true spiritual powers that will sustain his work.
It is very interesting that in the following lines, Milton seems to ask for this divine help and for spiritual knowledge so as to ward off the danger of his own fall from grace, which would parallel that of Adam and Eve, and that of Satan and his hoard of fallen angles:“[…]with like safetie guided downReturn me to my Native Element:Least from this flying Steed unrein’d, (as onceBELLEROPHON, though from a lower Clime)Dismounted, on th’ ALEIAN Field I fallErroneous, there to wander and forlorne.” The fall he dreads for himself is that fall into spiritual error, not necessarily into sin as such, but into error founded on false knowledge. The muse serves Milton therefore for something else as well: it is his way of preserving his spirituality intact. He seems to feel it is imperative for him to maintain the spiritual height not only for his poem, but for himself as a human being as well. The purport of these lines is very important, as Milton strategically places his invocation at the point of the poem in which he is supposed to take his story down to earth, and begin the account of the Creator’s great mercy to mankind after the fall, and the creation of the Earth. Thus, Milton advocates that he still needs the inspiration of the spiritual muse, even though he is to speak mainly about man and his world from that point on.
The muse is also called “the sister of Wisdom”, which points again to its spiritual nature, probably hinting at the duality between mind and spirit in any human being. In his dialogue with the muse, Milton asks her for knowledge, especially for spiritual knowledge, but he emphasizes that what he desires is “knowledge within bounds”, therefore a limited knowledge, and not a greedy one that should reenact the original sin of man, which was exactly eating of the forbidden tree:“[…] what thou canst attain, which best may serveTo glorifie the Maker, and inferrThee also happier, shall not be withheldThy hearing, such Commission from aboveI have receav’d, to answer thy desireOf knowledge within bounds; beyond abstainTo ask, nor let thine own inventions hopeThings not reveal’d, which th’ invisible King,Onely Omniscient, hath supprest in Night[…]”Thus, in a Christian manner, Milton asks for only limited knowledge and understanding from his omnipotent muse, and he seems to contradict his own affirmations at the beginning of the song, where he avowed that he intends to soar with his song to unimaginable heights. Nevertheless, his first contention and his new dialogue with the muse are not in contradiction: his poem is meant to outline perhaps the greatest events in the spiritual history of the world, and to lay open their truth for the eyes of the other readers. However, his task is at the same time limited to these spiritual events that have been already revealed to man, and do not attempt to extend this knowledge. In this sense, Milton tries to delimit his creation as purely Christian, with a task which is very similar to that of the greatest prophecies of mankind, like the Bible and other sacred writings, that is it tells the truth about God, and creation and man, without interpreting further or inventing new devices. Thus, as Martin observes, the use of the muses in Paradise Lost is indeed complex, as Milton seems to have alluded by his technique to the “multiplicity of God’s ways”, and therefore made the muse take various forms, all of which, however, being essentially spiritual:“Milton, believing in the unity of God to the point of trinitarian unorthodoxy, was fully conscious of the multiplicity of God’s ways. He invokes the Divine Muse as the inspirer of history, the inspirer of prophecy, and the Creator; he thus introduces us to the subject of the poem, helps define our relation to the poet, and dramatizes the task ahead.
”In this way, Milton stands out from the group of the other great poets who have employed a similar technique in their writings, or who have alluded to a divine source of inspiration for their works. His originality consists of using the muses in multiple ways, so as to hint at the many forms of inspiration, although it must be kept in mind that all these sources have a spiritual cause that first moves them. The muse he invokes partook of the primordial creation of the world and is therefore as symbol of the absolute form of spirituality and creativity.
A similar great spiritual task was that of the earlier masterpiece by Dante Alighieri, the Divine Comedy, which also alludes to the muses, but in a much more traditional way than Milton, as the invocation is not directed to the Holy Spirit as it is in Paradise Lost. The use of the muse technique in Paradise Lost is thus one of the most important tokens of its originality and innovative literary means.;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;Bibliography:ALIGHIERI, Dante. The Divine Comedy. New York, Penguin, 1960BLAKE, William.
The Complete Works of William Blake. London, Oxford University Press, 1972HESIOD. Theogony. http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/hesiod/theogony.htmHOMER. The Odyssey.
New York, Penguin, 1988MILTON, John. Paradise Lost. London, Oxford University Press, 1973MARTIN, Catherine Gimelli. The Ruins of Allegory: Paradise Lost and the Metamorphosis of Epic Convention.
Durham, Duke University Press, 1998MOORE, Leslie E. Beautiful Sublime: The Making of Paradise Lost 1701-1734.California, Stanford University Press, 1990SUMMERS, Joseph H. The Muse’s Method: An Introduction to Paradise Lost. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1962; Hesiod, Theogony, retrieved 23 February 2007, http://www.
sacred-texts.com/cla/hesiod/theogony.htm, Sacred Texts database.
 Hesiod ibid. Hesiod, Theogony, retrieved 23 February 2007, http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/hesiod/theogony.
htm, Sacred Texts. Homer, The Odyssey, New York, Penguin, 1988, p. 5 J. Milton, Paradise Lost, London, Oxford University Press, 1973, p.5 J.
Milton, ibid. W. Blake, The Complete Works of William Blake, London, Oxford University Press, 1972, p. 480 J.
Milton, Paradise Lost, London, Oxford University Press, 1973, p.5 J. Milton, Paradise Lost, London, Oxford University Press, 1973L. Moore, Beautiful Sublime, California, Stanford University Press, 1990, p 114 Martin,The Ruins of Allegory: Paradise Lost and the Metamorphosis of Epic Convention, Durham, Duke University Press, 1998,p 206 Martin, ibid .
p. 211 Martin, The Ruins of Allegory: Paradise Lost and the Metamorphosis of Epic Convention, Durham, Duke University Press, 1998 , p.215 J. Milton, Paradise Lost, London, Oxford University Press, 1973, p. 111 J.
Milton, Paradise Lost, London, Oxford University Press, 1973, p.111 J. Summers, The Muse’s Method: An Introduction to Paradise Lost, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1962 , p.138 J. Milton, Paradise Lost, London, Oxford University Press, 1973, p.
114 Martin,.The Ruins of Allegory: Paradise Lost and the Metamorphosis of Epic Convention, Durham, Duke University Press, 1998, p. 311;