It’s spring, the equinox has passed, and now the days are getting longer. I sacrificed a bar of chocolate upon the altar of Persephone to welcome the rebirth of a new year. Actually, I’ve been knee-deep in edits, on the phone with my incredible editor every day, debating on where to put commas (actually there is no debate, she says “put” and I put); finding typos (if she says “put” and I putt, I expect my readers will be confused); untangling complicated sentences (no one wants to spend five minutes figuring out who is saying what, about what); and generally smoothing out the books in the series. Let us sacrifice another bar of chocolate to the nine muses, who help us in our artistic creations. In ancient days, the muses were invoked by the artist to help him. For example:
Homer in The Iliad begins many of his stanzas by invoking the muses to help him tell the tale: ἔσπετε νῦν μοι Μοῦσαι Ὀλύμπια δώματ᾽ ἔχουσαι, (Tell me now, Muses who have homes on Olympus, …)
The first lines of The Iliad invokes the muses: “Sing, O goddess, the destructive wrath of Achilles, son of Peleus, which brought countless woes upon the Greeks, and hurled many valiant souls of heroes down to Hades…”
And in The Odyssey, “Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story of that man skilled in all ways of contending, the wanderer, harried for years on end, after he plundered the stronghold on the proud height of Troy.”
We say we’ve lost our muse when we can’t create, we muse, are amused, and are bemused and we go to museums ( museum “library, study,” from Greek mouseion “place of study, library or museum, school of art or poetry,” originally “a seat or shrine of the Muses,” from Mousa “Muse”.)
And here is an excerpt from The Road to Alexander, where Ashley starts learning about the muses – something Greek children were taught before they went school:
Callisthenes took a small harp out of his robes and proceeded to sing a very cute song about nine women called “muses” who lived on an island somewhere, and did all sorts of artistic things. Their names were lovely in themselves, and the song had three verses, with a chorus that went like this:
We are the muses, all standing in line, We sing, dance, tell stories and give you stimulation For all your artistic inspiration.
Well, it loses something in the translation. However, it was the first little song a child learned. It told him about the nine subjects he would study: epic poetry, history, lyric poetry and hymns, music, tragedy, mime, dance, comedy and astronomy. Those would be my lessons, and since each subject belonged to a muse, that’s where we started.I went around humming about Clio and Calliope, Urania and all the other sisters until my next lesson.
Evenings were spent learning, but days were spent walking. We marched around the shore, passing through many modest villages, all of which swore allegiance to Alexander. In each village he sacrificed a goat to the local gods, and met with the chieftain. It took us three days to reach the largest village on the shores of the sea, where we met the high chief of the Tapures, the tribe living in that region. The high chief laid down his arms without fighting, and Alexander rewarded him with the title of Satrap.
We traveled through his territory and then penetrated into the Hyrcania region, where we spent two weeks in Zadracarta, the capital. The people there, called the Madrians, submitted themselves to Alexander without a fight, and we were received with many banquets and feasts.
We stayed long for several reasons. Alexander was heading toward hostile territories. Bessus was still in front of us and was rallying the Bactrians against us. Alexander wanted to make sure of his allegiances, so he would never have to worry about being attacked from behind. It was his worst nightmare, the thing he worked the hardest to avoid. He would spend sleepless nights with his generals, working out the various things that could go wrong. He approached fighting exactly as if he were playing a gigantic chess game. He had to make sure he could plan every one of his opponent’s moves before he himself decided what to do. Afterwards, he would often sleep twenty hours to recuperate. He used up more energy planning than he did fighting. He told me fighting was a relief to him. Planning was torture.
I’m sure that most of the cities’ names have been changed since I was in Iran. My journalist instincts made me ask for names and explanations everywhere we went. Sometimes they were hard to understand. A place could be named after a tribe or the tribe’s chief, or it could be the name of the river it was on, or a landmark, or even something that had happened there, as the place called, “Orian’s Big Trip”. I inquired after that name. Orian was a man who’d stumbled on a rock, and fallen off the cliff overlooking the village. Nearly all the villages we passed were named after the Caspian Sea. We passed through (rough translations) three “Lake-views,” five “Lake-sides,” one “Saltwater Town,” a “Lots of Fish Place,” (I liked that one) and a “Deep Water, No Wading”. It seemed the smaller the village, the more picturesque the name.Plexis was bucked off his new horse, and his arm got worse. I was worried, but Usse wasn’t. He told me that two weeks’ rest would help put things right, and so when we got to Zadracarta I made Alexander forbid Plexis to ride.
Plexis took a great interest in my education, and he would often sit with Callisthenes while he gave me my lessons. He and Callisthenes would usually end up in a lively discussion about philosophy, literature or science. Alexander would join in if he had finished working, and I would take Callisthenes’s harp and try to play a few of the songs I knew on it.
They were all impressed by rock music; it sounded like great incantations to them, and they thought I was talking directly to the gods.
Callisthenes had a remarkable voice, so I taught him some of the songs I knew, and we would sing harmony for Alexander. He loved music; it brought tears to his eyes. He would insist on singing along, which brought tears to our eyes; I have never heard anyone with a worse singing voice.