This ink and wash artwork, by the English artist Alfred Edward Chalon (c. 1780-1860), depicts an ancient scene of a young poet lounging with one of the Muses of ancient Greek mythology. Chalon 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).
Alfred Edward Chalon’s artwork displays a similar scene of a muse and an aspiring poet spending time together in a peaceful environment of nature. Unlike Hesiod, the poet in the illustration does not have on or around him any gifts from his patron muse, such as Hesiod’s staff. Otherwise, perhaps the poet and muse are still getting to know each other before any gifts are exchanged, or, contrastingly, maybe the two have known each for a long time and the poet chose to leave his muse-given gifts at home for this particular trip to the wilderness. Whatever the case, all the poet really needs is words and a 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.