This colorful painting, created by the French artist Gustave Moreau (c. 1826–1898), features the ancient Greek poet, Hesiod (c. 8th century BCE), and his muse. This muse of his is much more literal than the so-called muses of other artists. The muses of Hesiod, so the ancient poet claimed, were the divine Muses—goddesses of arts, sciences and creativity. He claimed to have met the Muses on Mount Helicon in Boeotia, Greece, where generous goddesses gave him wisdom about the gods and infused him with a great talent for poetry. Speaking of himself, Hesiod, poetically wrote:
“And once they taught Hesiod fine singing, as he tended his lambs below holy Helicon…and they gave me a branch of springing bay to pluck for a staff, a handsome one, and they breathed into me wondrous voice, so that I should celebrate things of the future and things that were aforetime. And they told me to sing of the family of blessed ones who are for ever, and first and last always to sing of themselves” (Theogony, approximately line 29).
So said Hesiod, depicted above in the painting as the figure precariously balanced at the edge of the cliff, dressed in red clothing and a green hood. At his side is one of the Muses he met, given an angelic form by Gustave Moreau. The scene painted by the artist apparently is set some time after Hesiod’s first encounter with the Muses, as the poet already has in his possession the gods-given staff, which he uses to support himself as he looks out over the seascape.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- Theogony and Works and Days by Hesiod, translated by M. L. West. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988, 1999, 2008.