Sunday, April 19, 2009

Calliopia who?

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.

The original Calliopia, painted by Simon Vouet, 1634.


  1. Now that is what I call interesting info. Great stories they have, these Greeks. But with so many gods and goddesses and many of them related in some way or the other I wonder if the Greeks themselves got confused as to who is which god/goddess and related to whom. One more thought is if there are so many gods and goddesses they can't help but intermarry/have flings with one another and create another bunch of blue blooded god-kids.

    Calliopia is indeed a great choice, it suits you to perfection, although the painting looks nowhere like you.

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  3. So true, ambs, when I was about 8 or 9, we had this abridged version book of Greek myths with pictures and I've loved all the stories since then. About the blue blooded god-kids thing, most of the demi-gods and spirits were actually fathered by Zeus. Guess his El Supremo status provided a great excuse for all the philandering!

    pica, so now you know. Maybe I should try taking a picture in the same pose as the Muse with the artfully exposed shoulders etc and see if I can look as goddess-y!

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  5. methinks you already look quite a lot like her. in the same pose, artfully exposed et al, you'd be a goddess :)

  6. All along, i'd been thinking that you do play the role of the muse in your own up to date way.

    As a child or teen ager, i used to be quite fascinated by Minerva or Athene. Wonder if this is idol worship?

  7. mesjay, awwww that's such a sweet thing to say, thank you! I've never thought of myself as any kind of muse though. Hmmm about your thing for Minerva, that sounds to me like a literal case of idol worship alright hehe.

    plats, thanks for the vote!

    zorami and pica, you'll be the first to know if I ever decide to get shot and framed :P

  8. Oh i did'nt khow this myth, so kind of you to explain the details. Goddess of mizo bloggers :)

  9. Calliopia indeed
    Mythologies always intrigued me....especially if there are comic versions and movies
    BTW its past 11...check ur prev entry

  10. i managed to get through eng lit without most of this, lol. thanks!

    you may want to read neil gaiman if you can-he resurrects the old gods, so to speak. especially the sandman series (orpheus plays a part) and american gods, which has a lot on the norse gods. fascinating stuff.

  11. My pleasure, vana :)

    Op, if you're really interested in mythologies, go beyond the comics and movies...that's a bit immature, if you ask me.

    fed, I should've clarified a lifelong student of Eng. lit. because I learned most of this stuff after I began teaching things like Milton's Lycidas. Don't know much about other cultural myths, I'm afraid, though I hear the Egyptian's pretty rich and I've read a thing or two about the Norse gods.

  12. Interesting post..! Hmmm...well... not even sure how i became Epistemology. Epistemology literally means the study of theories of knowledge.
    I simply desire to know the "Truth" and "Knowledge" and the relationship between the two. This is a question that's been bugging me for many years. That's all about "Mr EPIS".

  13. Movies are only a passing passion
    But il be a comic buff forever
    Books and I have parted ways for the time being....will resume our alliance after my studies are over
    Google and wikipedia are my current source of info.....yea i know-easy come (easy go)

  14. I couldn't access your blog a few days back, thank God you went public again :)

    It's nice that we non-lits come to learn about Greek mythology through you. Your recent posts are bringing home the fact that I haven't done much reading lately. Whatever I know of Greek myths are what I read way back in childhood. I was a big reader then, I guess life and studies took over :P Now I only read short stories and the newspaper. Keep posting!

  15. Pu epis, your nick suits you so well. I can't think of anyone else who loves the challenge of studying and conquering difficult theories as much as you. Good luck with the search for Truth and Knowledge.

    Op, good luck with your studies too. Me I've reached the age where google and wiki are the only sources of learning I can take too :P

    diary yeah, I shut off access a few hours the other day because I was so fed up of all the silent readers arghhhh. Btw I said a quick prayer for you and your bambino yesterday. Hope all's well on the home front :)

  16. Calliopia, a heartfelt thank you for praying for us. No wonder the bambino and I are doing so well:)

  17. Google has no age bar last time i checked!
    Its actually a new generation concept...that google has the answer to all of life's problem
    well thats a bit hard to swallow for the old generation-ers
    always these-darn-fangled-things minded old coots(ah brings us back to our old debate not yet settled)he he
    One university in Australia has actually allowed students to use any means of resource during their exam cos they believe thats how life is gonna be for them....everything at their fingertips- just see how well u can utilise ur need to try and mug up all the info in the world
    wish my univ would try that out

  18. Greek Mythology tih vel hi chu ka tan a sang ltk a, ka phak lo a ni:)

  19. diary, glad to hear that :)

    Op, I meant I'm too busy with all the responsibilities that come with maturity to have time to read etc

    azassk, pheikhawk sang bun la, leilawnah lawn bawk la nih mai chu a 125 :P

  20. this post had so much to teach... felt like listening to a magical story after years!