Memory, Mother of the Muses

Zeus is still molesting women; in this installment, his target is Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. From her name we derive words like mnemonic, and the very word memory itself. She is the mother of all arts, and in typical Greek fashion, there is a lesson to be learned here: art starts in re-membering, going back to Egypt, and Isis re-membering Osiris. To create something new starts with rummaging through all of the pieces of the past; this requires the goddess Mnemosyne, and her nine daughters.

Who are her nine daughters, better known as the Muses?

  • Calliope (epic poetry)
  • Clio (history)
  • Euterpe (music)
  • Erato (lyric poetry)
  • Melpomene (tragedy)
  • Polyhymnia (hymns)
  • Terpsichore (dance)
  • Thalia (comedy)
  • Urania (astronomy)

Now, Plato added a tenth, a poet who should be required reading, especially for anyone considering a career in song writing: Plato’s tenth muse was the poetess Sappho, and her words are as moving today as they were over two thousand years ago.

Advice to the young: Read.

But, back to the point, how does memory birth art?

Or, to make the point explicit:

Can there be art without memory?

I happen to be a science-fiction junkie, and that’s the one genre that might be memory free.

But it’s not. And just in case  you need reminders:

George Lucas re-wrote Star Wars after reading Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces.

Star Trek II, the Wrath of Khan, arguably one of the best movies in that franchise, is a homage to Melville’s Moby Dick , down to direct quotations. This was explicitly restated in Star Trek: First Contact, in which Captain Picard delivers an angry, passionate and heartfelt condemnation of the Great Leviathan (be it Borg or Beast).

Battlestar Galactica reincorporated mythology through its run, invoking everything from Greek/Roman gods to the New World myths of Mormonism, which are flavored by all things from Egypt to Easter (and in fairness, a decent amount of goodwill as well).

And my beloved Dr. Who, the first and foremost guardian of the galaxy,  has always tangled with history. You can’t look forwards without looking back; our future is a function of our past(s). That is the narrative dilemma that all writers are bound in; we seek the unspeakable future, while we remain trapped in the coils of our poetic history.

So what, exactly, does memory, Mnemosyne, give us?

Epic poetry, history, music, lyric poetry, tragedy, hymns, dance, comedy, and astronomy. Memory, and her daughters, the Muses.

Which, if you’re going to be a writer, isn’t a bad place to start.

Remember that.

Or to quote Captain Spock:



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