Main content

The Muses

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Muses in Greek mythology, goddesses who presided over the civilised arts and the life of the mind including poetry, song, music and dance.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Muses and their role in Greek mythology, when they were goddesses of poetry, song, music and dance: what the Greeks called mousike, 'the art of the Muses' from which we derive our word 'music.' While the number of Muses, their origin and their roles varied in different accounts and at different times, they were consistently linked with the nature of artistic inspiration. This raised a question for philosophers then and since: was a creative person an empty vessel into which the Muses poured their gifts, at their will, or could that person do something to make inspiration flow?


Paul Cartledge
Emeritus Professor of Greek Culture and AG Leventis Senior Research Fellow at Clare College, University of Cambridge

Angie Hobbs
Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy, University of Sheffield


Penelope Murray
Founder member and retired Senior Lecturer, Department of Classics, University of Warwick

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Image: 'Apollo and the Muses (Parnassus)', 1631-1632. Oil on canvas. Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665).

Available now

45 minutes

Last on

Thu 19 May 2016 21:30



Paul Cartledge at the University of Cambridge

Angie Hobbs at the University of Sheffield

Muse – Wikipedia

Museum - Wikipedia

History of Museums - Encyclopaedia Britannica

The Muses – The Theoi Project

The Library at Alexandria – In Our Time

Sappho – In Our Time



Kathleen Christian, Clare Guest and Claudia Wedepohl (eds.), The Muses and their Afterlife in Post-Classical Europe (Warburg Institute, 2014)

Pierre Destrée and Penelope Murray (eds.), A Companion to Ancient Aesthetics (Wiley Blackwell, 2015), especially ‘Poetic Inspiration’ by Penelope Murray

Hesiod (trans. M. L. West), Theogony (Penguin Classics, 2000), especially 1-115

Penelope Murray and Peter Wilson (eds.), Music and the Muses: The Culture of Mousike in the Classical Athenian City (Oxford University Press, 2004)

Homer (trans. E. V. Rieu), Iliad (Penguin Classics, 2014), especially 2.484-92

Homer (trans. E. V. Rieu), Odyssey (Penguin Classics, 2009), especially 8.62-4

Plato (trans. Chris Emlyn-Jones and Trevor Saunders), Early Socratic Dialogues (Penguin Classics, 2005), especially Ion

Plato (trans. C. J. Rowe), Phaedrus (Penguin Classics, 2005), especially 245a and 248d

Plato (trans. Trevor Saunders), Laws (Penguin Classics, 2005), especially 719c

Efrossini Spentzou and Don Fowler (eds.), Cultivating the Muse: Struggles for Power and Inspiration in Classical Literature (Oxford University Press, 2002)


Role Contributor
Presenter Melvyn Bragg
Interviewed Guest Paul Cartledge
Interviewed Guest Angie Hobbs
Interviewed Guest Penelope Murray
Producer Simon Tillotson


  • Thu 19 May 2016 09:00
  • Thu 19 May 2016 21:30

Featured in...

Could you be a muse?

Could you be a muse?

Read our musing on the modern muse.

In Our Time podcasts

In Our Time podcasts

Every episode of In Our Time is available to download.

The In Our Time Listeners' Top 10

The In Our Time Listeners' Top 10

If you’re new to In Our Time, this is a good place to start.

Arts and Ideas podcast

Arts and Ideas podcast

Download the best of Radio 3's Free Thinking programme.