2/16/09

Goddess of the Week: Clio

On this gloomy President's Day, I bring you Clio, the Greek muse of History.  She and her eight sister muses are the patron goddesses of the arts and learning.  They are the children of Zeus and Mnemosyne (a Titan and the goddess of memory), who managed to spend nine nights together without Zeus's jealous wife Hera finding them.  For each night they spent together they produced one daughter.

It is interesting that while Clio and her sisters are famous for their ability to inspire artists and storytellers, there are not a lot of stories about the muses themselves.  They are sort of like the black holes of mythology.  Everything points to them, but you can't really ever see them for themselves.  

Did you know that in my former life I was a historian?  It's true.  Thus, I like Clio, even though I never feel like I can get a handle on her.  But that's history isn't it?  You can never really get a handle on it.  Just when you think you know the story, the characters change right out from under you.  Just when you think George Washington is about wooden teeth and cheery trees, you realize he's about slaves at Mount Vernon and inequality in the age of liberty.  Just when you think Lincoln is about stove-top hats and freeing the slaves you realize he's about biracialism in the twenty-first century and little African-American girls living in the White House.  

A Roman poet wrote, "Begin thou, unforgetting Clio, for all the ages are in thy keeping, and all the storied annals of the past."  History may be in Clio's keeping, but it is entrusted to us to tell.  And he who writes the stories gets to choose the cast.  So...write your story.  Don't trust it to another soul.  

13 comments:

altadenahiker said...

I always come back to the churchill quote.

Love the title of your book -- it begs to be read.

Desiree said...

Love this post, love it, love it, love it!

Petrea said...

Perhaps the muses are hard to see because it's their job to bring the work of others to light.

Margaret said...

AH: The book is very serious; no fun at all. It was supposed to get me tenure, but, like I said, that was a different life.

D: Thank you.

Petrea: My first thought was the old line feminist claim that it's all about patriarchy: men create; women inspire. But the more I thought about it when I was writing about Clio the more I wondered. There is something very powerful about denying anyone else the ability to tell your story. And that's what the muses do. They inspire others, while holding fast to themselves. What do you think?

Petrea said...

I like that thought. It sounds like they held their stories to themselves, too, never to share them.

Linda Dove said...

Reminds me of my favorite NYC subway poem (also a favorite poet):

Sir, you are tough, and I am tough;
But who will write whose epitaph?

(Joseph Brodsky)

He wrote it to a rival. Revenge of the pen can be sweet, I guess, if you have the muse whispering louder in your ear than the next guy.

Palm Axis said...

Over here at Pasadena Adjacent

I've never had a muse but I've met the rare bird who knows how to ask the right questions. For me thats as close as one can get to a muse. Someone who doesn't step on the sprout.

Paula L. Johnson said...

I've heard of the Clio Awards for advertising, and now I know where how they got the name.

pasadenapio said...

We need more historians in our lives. I'm glad you're out there among them!

barbra said...

Oh, goodness, you got me with those last couple of sentences.

I like your take on "he who writes the stories gets to choose the cast," but that also sums up why I am wary of history. I'm never sure I can trust the source.

Cafe Pasadena said...

How much are you selling suffrage in this tough economy?

Margaret said...

CO: Well, my book is a little old now, and it's mainly the kind of thing you'd read in a upper division college classroom. In fact, it's sort of written for academia. So mostly I'm guessing that used books are moving more than new ones.

J&D said...



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