18 September 2021

The Greeks have a word
for it (29) Muse

A momnent of inspiration between the mountains and the sea at Muses restaurant in Plakias (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Earlier this week, between spending time at the Palm Beach at Preveli and an afternoon visit to Preveli Monastery, I had lunch at Muses Restaurant, looking onto the beach at Plakias on the south coast of Crete and out to the Libyan Sea.

The mid-day sun was sparkling on the small bay below the mountains, small boats were arriving at or sailing out from the pier, there were few people in the water and the light wind was creating a cooling breeze in this small bay.

If I was tempted to be lyrical and to seek inspiration in the sea and the mountains, the menu in Muses reminded me that in Greek mythology the Muses were regarded as nine deities or nymphs of the water and the mountains.

In ancient Greek religion and mythology, the Muses (Μοῦσαι, Moûsai, or Μούσες, Múses) are the inspirational goddesses of literature, science, and the arts. They were considered the source of the knowledge embodied in the poetry, lyric songs, and myths that were related orally for centuries in ancient Greek culture.

The word has roots in phrases that refer to having things ‘in mind,’ but also to ‘mountain.’ So, the Muses were linked with creative ideas in the mind, while the centres of the cults of the Muses were found in the mountains or the hills.

The earliest known records of the Muses come from Boeotia, and the tradition persisted in Thrace that there were three original Muses. But classical writers from Homer and Hesiod to Diodorus Siculus disagreed about the number of Muses.

Some writers said there were three Muses, while others said there were nine.

Diodorus wrote that Osiris first recruited the nine Muses, along with the satyrs, while passing through Aethiopia, before embarking on a tour of all Asia and Europe, teaching the arts of cultivation wherever he went.

According to Hesiod, the Nine Muses were the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, or Memory personified. They became the personifications of knowledge and the arts, especially poetry, literature, dance and music.

The classical understanding of the Muses tripled their triad and established a set of nine goddesses, who embody the arts and inspire creation with their graces through remembered and improvised song and mime, writing, traditional music, and dance.

It was not until Hellenistic times that particular functions became associated with each Muse, but variation persisted in their names and in their attributes. They were regarded as the inspiration for every intellectual activity and were worshipped or reverenced in many places.

The menu in Muses reminded me of their names and their functions or attributes:

Euterpe: music and lyrical poetry

Erato: love or erotic poetry

Thalia: pastoral poetry and comedy

Calliope: epic poetry

Clio: history

Melpomene: Tragedy

Urania: astronomy

Polyhymnia: sacred poetry and hymns

Terpsichore: dance

I might have lingered a little longer by the shore, seeking lyrical inspiration. But my this time of intellectual amusement lasted for only a moment in my mind. The bus was waiting to take me back up into the mountains to Preveli Monastery.

A reminder of the Muses and their inspiration at Plakias on the south coast of Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Yesterday: School

Tomorrow: Monastery

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
112, Saint Augustine, Watling Street

Saint Augustine, Watling Street … Nicholas Hawksmoor’s tower is all that survives from Sir Christopher Wren’s church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Good morning from Dublin. In the early hours of today I arrived back in Ireland on a flight from Crete after staying for almost two weeks on the eastern fringes of Rethymnon.

I am planning on returning to Askeaton, Co Limerick, later this morning. But, before the day begins, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme for these few weeks is Wren churches in London, and my two photographs this morning (18 September 2021) are from Saint Augustine Watling Street.

Saint Augustine Watling Street, which stood to the east of Saint Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London, was rebuilt in the late 17th century by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London.

Saint Augustine stood on the north side of Watling Street, at the corner with Old Change. According to Richard Newcourt, the dedication of the church was to Saint Augustine of Canterbury, rather than Saint Augustine of Hippo.

The church is first mentioned in 1148. The mediaeval church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. After the fire, the parish was united with the parish of Saint Faith under Saint Paul’s, whose congregation had worshipped until then in the crypt of Saint Paul’s Cathedral.

The church was rebuilt to designs by Sir Christopher Wren in 1680-1684. The new church opened in September 1683, but the steeple was not finished until 1695-1696, with a spire designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor. The tall leaded spire that was modified in 1830, and the pulpit was modernised by Arthur Blomfield in 1878.

Wren’s church was destroyed by bombing during the World War II in 1941. The remains of the church were designated a Grade I listed building in 1950, but the church was not rebuilt. However, the tower was restored in 1954 and the spire was rebuilt in 1966 according to its original design by Paul Paget of Seely and Paget.

Although the body of Wren’s church is now lost, Saint Augustine Watling Street remains the closest of the City Churches to Wren’s Cathedral and its tower remains a special landmark in the City.

A glimpse of the tower of Saint Augustine Watling Street behind Saint Lawrence and Saint Mary Magdalene Fountain, designed by John Robinson and Joseph Durham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 8: 4-15 (NRSVA)

4 When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: 5 ‘A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. 6 Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. 7 Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. 8 Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.’ As he said this, he called out, ‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’

9 Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He said, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that
“looking they may not perceive,
and listening they may not understand.”

11 ‘Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away. 14 As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.’

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (18 September 2021) invites us to pray:

We pray for the people of Haiti and Russia as they gather to vote in their elections this week.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org