Just in case you’ve forgotten, in Greek and Roman mythology each of Zeus’ and Mnemosyne’s nine daughters were the original Muses destined to preside over the arts and sciences. Here are their names and their Muse domains …
- Calliope (epic poetry)
- Clio (history)
- Euterpe (music)
- Erato (lyric poetry)
- Melpomene (tragedy)
- Polyhymnia (hymns)
- Terpsichore (dance)
- Thalia (comedy)
- Urania (astronomy)
They were children of incest, actually, since Zeus was Mnemosyne’s nephew. But, hey, when Greek Gods and Goddesses incest, humanity gets delivered inspiration. Or so we would hope. Here are some of the reasons however, that you might be better off looking elsewhere for inspiration.
Muses tend to be fickle. Most have little clue about what it means to make an Irrational Commitment. Today you’re worthy of their full time and attention, similar to what they’re showering upon Apollo above, and tomorrow they’ll be off to Hermes or Hypnos or Hades.
For the above reason and more, which we will explore below, Muses can’t be trusted. They tend to be enormously self-centered. Take Calliope above. Not only is she reputed to be the Muse who inspired Homer to write The Illiad and The Odyssey, but she managed to end up with two of Apollo’s sons before marrying Oeagrus, King of Thrace. Who, but someone wholly self-centered – the so-called “chief of all Muses” – would abandon a God for a King?
Muses can take that self-centeredness to the point of narcissism, operating with their own overt or hidden agendas. They tend to suck all the air out of the room simply by showing up, forcing you to pay attention to them whether you want to or not. Often they trigger waves of frenzied activity they will convince you is in service to your own art. Mostly though, it is in service to their need to be the driving force behind what you are able to devote your time and energies to.
Muses generally want us to do all the heavy lifting. They operate like upper management. They do the easy work of tossing out all kinds of wild and crazy ideas and then leave implementation to us worker bees. They can’t really be bothered with things like doing the dishes, grocery shopping or doing the laundry – you know, the basics that keep hearth and home clean, organized and running smoothly.
Muses constantly tend to make us feel one-down. Without them our inspirational life would be wholly dispirited. Or so they would like us to believe. After all, look at how we come alive in their presence; and look at how we founder in their absence. What more proof do we need of our less-than-ness.
Muses provide, at best, a conditional answer to The Big Brain Question. By now most of you probably know what the Big Brain Question is and how important it is for helping each other regulate stress hormones. It’s epitomized best in Self-Psychology founder Heinz Kohut’s observation that the sign of a good relationship is when only one person goes crazy at a time. Muses tend to drive us crazy right along with them, mostly in ways that we find ourselves with little ability to put the brakes on.
Muses exploit our Vigilant Sentinel. Our Vigilant Sentinel hides out in our brain and constantly observes what we think, feel, say and do. It then goes about creating a narrative that matches what it observes. This often becomes the story of who we think we are, with all its pluses and minuses, strengths and weaknesses. When a Muse comes along and incites a flurry of activity that works to initiate us into creative endeavors, our Vigilant Sentinel pays attention. And then when the Muse leaves and the work remains unfinished, our internal Vigilant Sentinel has no choice but to identify us as someone who loves to start things but never finish them.
Muses come with Opportunity Cost. Whatever they’re enticing us to engage with, leaves us little time and energy for engaging with other important aspects of balanced living – things like deeply engaging with Creative Structural Tension. Muses often affect us like an addictive drug, requiring ever greater immersion in whatever it is that they are purportedly inspiring us to. Often it turns out to be Lasègue-Falret Syndrome.
Muses tend to trigger our baser instincts. Take the example of Sad Tad Cummins, a 50-year-old high school teacher who recently ran off with his 15-year-old student. What adult male in their Right Mind makes that kind of decision? Which is exactly the point: Muses tend to disorganize our Right Mind. They scramble our cognitive capacities in ways that make it almost impossible to see the Big Picture, to make well-reasoned decisions in the service of healthy creative efforts. It’s not for nothing that wisdom traditions teach moderation in most things.