Tell me, Muse


Long long ago, before I knew how long things actually take in life, I studied Homeric Greek. My teacher was an iconoclastic traditionalist who was busy compiling a concordance of Chaucer on a computer, one of the first such exploits ever to go down in the damp alleys of academia. The computer was as large as my living room and programming was done on punch cards which this man could actually read…


He’d been taught Greek and Latin by Jesuits in the back of beyond — eastern Washington — and his way of teaching us (I had one other classmate) was with his textbook from back in the day. He had the thing photocopied. “So what?” you say, you mid-century modern worshippers with your real and faux Danish modern furniture and your persistent belief that back then (1971) we all ate liver jell-o and wore pillbox hats. Well, photocopying was new and there was a lot of concern over whether the rare and expensive Xerox could handle two two-hundred page projects. And it was pricey.

ANY-who, the class was fun, and in that year I read Homer’s Odyssey. THAT is an achievement of which I’m proud. Though reading Homeric Greek in that way is more like de-coding Homeric Greek, I learned much more than I knew.

Recently, in the business of promoting my books (now an all consuming task if not a passion) I wrote an article about inspiration. I touched on the idea of “invoking the Muse,” something I learned about in high school. I thought it was kind of cool back then that these guys — Sophocles et al — didn’t start writing until they had subordinated themselves to the will of the appropriate goddess.

Lots of people don’t believe in inspiration, but I do. As for summoning the Muse? There’s a lot to be said for approaching inspiration with humility and gratitude — and hanging on because it can be a wild ride.

12 thoughts on “Tell me, Muse

  1. I do get inspired, but I have to think about it. I need inspiration, especially in the morning when I have to leave my bed. I actually read Homer’s Illiad at school, but do not remember very much, perhaps it did not inspire me. some guy took a 20 years to find his way home – or what that another story?

    • We read the Iliad in high school. I don’t remember it at all — but the Odyssey made a big impression on me and yeah, that’s the guy. 🙂 Got home and found his wife pursued by suitors.

  2. Ah, yes, “Sing goddess, the wrath of Achilles” and all that. Having been through scholastic Jesuitical education, I, too, did some Scripture, Plato, Homer, and some other Greek pieces. Where did all that get me? Well, it made me better understand your blog, helped me understand the aorist tense when I was doing some research on “The Dead” by James Joyce, AND Greek helped me say “ef-CAR-IS-TOE” when I was in Greece! (like Eucharist…) Here I now sit, remembering those great teachers, texts, and hours and hours of study. Ah, me. Thanks for sharing your beautiful memoriesofatime.

    • I still believe in a classical education, especially after having had students in my ultimate, final and last class insist that Greek is a dead language. One thing that prof had was discipline and the other thing he had was vision and the third thing he had was compassion and the fourth was a combination of cat hair and chicken feathers on his black Levis. 🙂

  3. P.S. You made me leave my comfortable recliner, and make my way to the book shelf. First Greek Book, with Xenephon’s Anabasis. I forgot that one. “LESSON ONE: THE ALPHABET”… So long ago, like. . .1956. Oh, Martha, what hath thou wroth? :o)

  4. Any muse who wants to drop by my place is always welcome. The visits are rare enough! Homeric Greek, eh? I made a brief, but really interesting foray into Biblical Hebrew — little resemblance to modern spoken Hebrew. I didn’t stick with it long enough to get “fluent” … if “fluent” is possible, but it changed the way I look at ancient texts. If you don’t read them in their original language, you haven’t read them.

    • Muses are elusive… I wish I could read Beowulf in Old English. That’s something I would love to be able to do since it’s is near the top of my list of favorite stories.

  5. When I taught high school English in a private school, we had a curriculum that required the students to read a large portion of Beowulf in Old English. Frankly, I hated it, but I’m glad to know you like it so well. Every piece of literature should be appreciated by someone. I’m just thankful — more often than not — that I don’t have to be the someone.

Comments are closed.