This artwork, by the Austrian artist Franz von Matsch (c. 1861 – 1942), depicts an ancient scene of a young musician lounging with one of the Muses of Greek mythology. Franz von Matsch did not specify if the youth was anyone in particular, but the scene is similar to the backstory of the famous ancient Greek poet, Hesiod (c. 8th century BCE). He claimed to have met the Muses on Mount Helicon in Boeotia, Greece, where the 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).
Franz von Matsch depicts something close to Hesiod’s experience in the artwork above. Nevertheless, instead of following Hesiod on the path of poetry, the figure in Franz von Matsch’s scene excels at playing musical instruments. The youthful musician seems to be playing an ancient woodwind instrument called an aulos, which, per Hesiod’s example, may have been given to the musician by his patron Muse.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- Theogony and Works and Days by Hesiod, translated by M. L. West. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988, 1999, 2008.