Building of Alexandria
The Alexandrian Mouseion, founded and favoured by the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt, arose from the ancient Greek idea of mouseia, temples of learning dedicated to the Muses and centered upon the study of literature and the arts. Plato’s Academy blended this conception with the Pythagorean paradigm of a spiritual order consecrated to learning and the practical application of sacred truths. Aristotle’s Lyceum encouraged serious study in a broadly secular context and provided a model for the Alexandrian Mouseion.
Ever since she read about the lost museum in Alexandria, Heather Blakey has been on a quest to re-establish a fragment of the ‘House of the Muse’ in Melbourne, Australia. The Alexandrian museum was, and remains, a beacon. No one is certain what the great institution looked like, but the Greek geographer, Strabo, describes it as part of a richly decorated complex of buildings and gardens. The whole complex was a centre of learning and research, organised into faculties, whose scholars were paid by the royal purse. The library’s broader mission was to rescue Greek literature from decay. The Riversleigh Mouseion features Lemurian artefacts and collectibles and has special displays archeaological and nature exhibitions.
The Muses entered Western literature almost at the beginning. They made their first appearance in Hesiod’s Theogany, which was probably written in the late seventh century B.C. Hesiod tells how the Muses came to him as he was pasturing his flock in the foothills of Mount Helicon and how they inspired him to write verse. Their function, their ancestry are all there in the opening lines of the Theogany and no one has ever done better in conveying the poet’s sense that his work originates outside himself and that the work is not really his to claim.
It matters little if the Muses that Hesiod contrived were seen and heard in a hallucination and it is more than likely that they were personifications. What is important is that these timeless symbols have the power to transport us and help us to resuscitate our imagination.
Those who subject the Muse to hostile scrutiny would do well to remember that Protean-like, these creatures adapted themselves to a number of meanings and gave meaning to the lives of a host of poets. For Plato they originated the divine fury that alone could guarantee poetic excellence, while for Cicero they were associated with the quietly satisfying life of the thinker. Musa, -ae was one of the first latin words that Milton learned and, from the time he learned it at age six or seven, to the end of his life, the Muses were never far from his consciousness.
More recently Walt Whitman, in his Song of Exposition calls upon the Muse to ‘migrate from Greece and Ionia’, to ‘Placard ‘Removed’ and ‘To Let’ on the rocks of snowy Parnassus’. When he speaks of their phantom wold, Embroider’d, dazzling, foreign world, with its gorgeous legends, myths it feels like he has breathed imagination into my writing heart.
I will give all to work with her for just awhile, to hear the rustling of her gown, to scent the odor of her breath’s delicious fragrance. I yearn to experience the form of possession, or madness, of which the Muses are the source. To know the madness of the Muses is my wish.
This House of the Muse is a rhapsody in honour of the Muses.
(copyright Heather Blakey 2008.)
(artcard image, copyright Carol Abel, 2008.)