Mother of Muses: From Mnemosyne to Elvis, Talking Heads to Leonard Cohen

By Tony Attwood

In Greek mythology, the original gods were thought to have been born out of the void – the gap created by the separation of heaven and earth.  These were the primordial deities Gaia (Mother Earth) and Uranus (Father Sky) and they created the Titans.

There were six male Titans, Oceanus, Crius, Hyperion, Iapetus, and Cronus, and six female Titans, Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe and Tethys.

Mnemosyne became the goddess of memory and remembrance and the mother of the nine Muses. And of course memory was of central importance the oral culture of the Greeks as much as it is to a performer of pop, rock and folk music today.

Zeus, the sky and thunder god appeared in the form of a shepherd, and stayed with Mnemosyne for nine consecutive nights, and as a result she conceived the nine Muses: Calliope (the muse of epic poetry), Clio (history), Euterpe (music), Erato (lyric poetry), Melpomene (tragedy), Polyhymnia (hymns), Terpsichore (dance), Thalia (comedy) and Urania (astronomy).

Mnemosyne, the mother of Muses, is subsequently called upon by poets who seek her help so that they may correctly remember the lines that they are to recite – this occurs both in the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Mnemosyne was thus worshipped in Ancient Greece and statues were erected to her while in drawings she is often shown alongside her daughters.   Thus in “Mother of Muses” Dylan, now aged 79, can be seen to be asking for a little help in remembering his lines.  Or he may just be reflecting upon the ancient Greek traditions.  Or both.

The Odyssey begins, “Sing for me, O muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy.”

Dylan then cites five generals from America, Russia and Britain, who created the modern world into which Bob’s heroes could create the world.

Mother of Muses sing for me
Sing of the mountains and the deep dark sea
Sing of the lakes and the nymphs in the forest
Sing your hearts out - all you women of the chorus
Sing of honor and fame and of glory be
Mother of Muses, sing for me

Mother of Muses sing for my heart
Sing for a love too soon to depart
Sing of the Heroes who stood alone
Whose names are engraved on tablets of stone
Who struggled with pain so the world could go free
Mother of Muses, sing for me

Sing of Sherman - Montgomery and Scott
Sing of Zhukov and Patton and the battles they fought
Who cleared the path for Presley to sing
Who carved out the path for Martin Luther King
Who did what they did and then went on their way
Man, I could tell their stories all day

Bob then focuses on one of the muses – Calliope, the Muse who presides over eloquence and epic poetry who taught Orpheus verses that he could sing.  According to some tellings she was the wisest of the Muses, and the most assertive.

I’m falling in love with Calliope
She doesn’t belong to anybody - why not give her to me
She’s speaking to me, speaking with her eyes
I’ve grown so tired of chasing lies
Mother of Muses wherever you are
I’ve already outlived my life by far

Mother of Muses unleash your wrath
Things I can’t see - they’re blocking my path
Show me your wisdom - tell me my fate
Put me upright - make me walk straight
Forge my identity from the inside out
You know what I’m talking about

Take me to the river and release your charms
Let me lay down in your sweet lovin’ arms
Wake me - shake me - free me from sin
Make me invisible like the wind
Got a mind to ramble - got a mind to roam
I’m travelin’ light and I’m slow coming home

In this final verse Dylan refers to some of his favourite songs as he reviews his travels on the Never Ending Tour, and gives me a rare chance to include a Talking Heads recording.

“Traveling Light”, “Slow,” and “Going Home” are from Leonard Cohen.  Here’s just one of those…

Rough and Rowdy Ways

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  1. ‘Thus in “Mother of Muses” Dylan, now aged 79, can be seen to be asking for a little help in remembering his lines.’ Are you serious???

    This is the devil who wants to use the Mother of the Muses for his own business.
    ‘Deep dark sea’, where people drown, ‘nymphs of the forest’, the forest where people get lost.
    ‘Sing of a love too soon to depart’ but of course he will leave, he only uses people, he is a vampire.
    “Heroes who stood alone, whose names are engraved on tablets of stone,” the devil knows all about it, he takes pleasure in this.
    ‘Pain’, ‘battles’, ‘chasing lies’, he has ‘outlived his life by far’, and the Mother of Muses has a wrath on him, the Mother of Muses blocks her way to him. He wishes her to ‘forge his identity, from within, you know what I’m talking about.’ We know.
    ‘He asks her to ‘free me from sin’, thats impossible for the devil but in poetry he can pretend and he can be invisible.
    ‘Got a mind that ramble, got a mind that roam, I’m travelin’ light and I’m a-slow coming home’, the devil is roaming over the world, looking for victims and his goal is never to bring them home.
    So it’s up to us, listeners, to identify what’s pure, what’s false, what’s real and what’s unreal.

  2. This is full of interesting ideas, but you do know that “Take Me to the River” is an Al Green song, covered by Talking Heads.

  3. Ehm… I think I didn’t look closely enough. Of course this is not a song with a devilish character, I was completely wrong.

    This song is about Dylan himself, in a rough time in his life, calling f0r the mother of muses to help him out.

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