Almost three years after I started blogging, I still get the occasional query about the name I use here. Some assume it's just a fancy name I cooked up out of thin air but surprise, surprise, Calliopia isn't something I made up. Instead it's a very real name from the fascinating realm of Greek mythology which, incidentally, is something you can't escape from if you're a student of English lit. When I first decided to start up a blog, I thought it would make a great online scrapbook where I'd copy and paste all my treasured and favourite pieces of poetry and song lyrics. I figured I needed a name with poetic/songlike associations and that's where all the myth info overload came in.
Calliopia, also known as Calliope, was one of the nine Muses, and the Muse of epic and lyric poetry. And despite the fact that this is the internet and you can quickly google down every detail you never needed to know about Greek mythology, here's a quick summation.
The ancient Greeks, in the blissfully pagan times before the pre-Christian era, had a whole string of deities with a very clear cut hierachy. At the top of the table were the Olympian gods who were called so because they were believed to live at the top of Mount Olympus. There was Zeus, the El Supremo, god of the gods and ruler of mankind, the beloved Apollo, god of the sun and music, Hades the dark god of the underworld, Poseidon the stormy god of the seas, Aphrodite the original perfect 10, goddess of beauty, love and eternal youth, Hera the goddess of marriage and the family who also happened to be married to Zeus who regularly cheated on her and once famously seduced a mortal beauty in the guise of a swan, a union which led to the birth of the fabled Helen of Troy, etc etc. One great thing you can't help noticing about the pagan gods is that they didn't seem to have this much maligned distinction between male and female that plagues us today.
Next on the hierachy were the demi-gods and spirits. These included the Furies, who specialised in wreaking vengeance and retribution for crimes committed and relentlessly chased down the guilty, the Fates - the three sisters, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos who decided on the life span or destiny of every human being, the Graces or the Charities, the Nymphs, the Sirens, and the Muses. The Muses were nine sisters, daughters of a clandestine but passionate nine nighter between Zeus and Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. They lived on Mount Helicon and rode on the back of the winged Pegasus, gifted to them by Minerva. These beautiful and highly intelligent immortals were given the privilege of being the representatives of poetry, the arts and science, and divine sources of inspiration and guidance for poets, artists, thinkers etc, in other words, the intelligentsia.
Calliopia was the eldest and wisest of the Muses, and was reputed to have mothered Orpheus, the greatest musician and poet of Greek myth, whose songs were said to charm wild beasts and coax even rocks and trees into movement. As a child, I remember being entranced by the story of the death of his wife, Eurydice, and his attempt to bring her back from the kingdom of the underworld. When he failed, he became so inconsolable that he forever rejected female company, a situation which led to his killing by a group of furious, scorned women. They tore him to pieces and threw his severed head, still singing beautifully, into the river Hebrus, and it finally came to rest at the isle of Lesbos, home of the original Lesbian, Sappho.
Now you know why I call Greek mythology fascinating, and why I choose to use this pseudonym.