Monday, June 6, 2011

All Greek to Me

Do you have trouble remembering the nine Muses?  For that matter, do you have trouble recalling the difference between the Muses and the Graces?  And what about the Fates—and the Furies? 

A previous blog dealt with mnemonics—phrases like Every Good Boy Does Fine to help you remember musical notes, or HOMES for the five Great Lakes. Well, I’m here to provide you with similar memory-jogging devices for those mythological Greek personages.

There are nine Muses, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who represent the arts and sciences.  They are: Calliope (epic poetry), Clio (history), Erato (lyric poetry), Euterpe (music), Melpomene (tragedy), Polyhymnia (sacred poetry), Terpsichore (dance), Thalia (comedy), and Urania (astronomy)

Now for a mnemonic (named for their mother, Mnemosyne) to help remember them: how about Caterpillars Capture Every Elephant Made Perfect Through Trade Unions?

But wouldn’t be more helpful if each word in the mnemonic not only had the initial letter, but maybe the first three letters, to jog your memory?  Okay, try this:

California’s Clinton Eradicates Euthanasia, Melting Political Terrors, Thawing Uranium.

There are three Graces, goddesses of joy, charm, and beauty. They are the daughters of the nymph Eurynome and Zeus—who apparently really got around. Their names are Aglaia (splendor, glory), Euphrosyne (merriment), and Thalia (feast).  And they should be easy to remember as Aglow, Euphoric, Thanks!

There are also three Fates, or Moirae (“apportioners”): Clotho (spinner of the thread of life), Lachesis (drawer of lots), Atropos (cutter of the thread of life). They were believed to appear after the birth of a child to determine the newborn’s destiny in life.  An easy mnemonic: Clothes Lachrymose, Atrocious!

Finally the Furies (Erinyes), sometimes known euphemistically as the Eumenides, or “kindly ones.”  Their origin was rather bloody: the Titan Cronus castrated his father Uranus and threw his genitals into the sea (naughty boy). The Furies arose from the drops of blood, and the goddess of love, Aphrodite, from the sea foam. Well, maybe so.   You know the Furies as Alecto (relentless pursuit), Megaera (jealousy), Tsiphone (blood vengeance) You can easily remember them as Alexander’s Megahit T-shirts.

On second thought, it might be easier to memorize the names of the goddesses than to remember these mnemonics.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou has never been inspired by any Muse, but despite all odds, he keeps plugging away:

                        Hickory, dickory,
                        Remember Terpsichore,
                        The Muse of the song and the dance.
                        And make this your motto:
                        It’s always Erato
                        Whose poetry speaks of romance.
                        Boil, bake, or fry a pea
                        To rhyme with Calliope,
                        Whose poems are noisy and epic.
                        And don’t forget Thalia,
                        Whose works never fail ya
                        With comedy Johnny Depp-ic.
                        And as for Melpomene,
                        She is my nominee
                        For tragical fear and pity,                       
                        And pitch-perfect Euterpe
                        Makes me chipper and chirpy
                        When she cranks out a musical ditty.           

                        Up on the chimney a
                        Grave Polyhymnia
                        Spouts poems both sacred and pious.
                        And it’s clear that Urania
                        Has some sort of mania
                        With an astronomical bias.

                        But my favorite Muse
                        From whom I take my cues
                        On the banks of Buffalo Bayou
                        Should be no special mystery,
                        She’s the great Muse of history,
                        Omniscient, omnipotent Clio.


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  2. That is a great article! I think the best way to memorize the names is reading all the great Greek myths. If you are lucky or the muses give you a hand, you'll recall them all, otherwise, your memory will only save the most memorable characters.