Invocation of the Muse (C. Schindler)

From Homer onwards the epic poet’s inspired invocation of the Muse has become a core feature of epic poetry or, to be more precise, the introduction to an epic (proem) or one of its subsections (medial proem) in which the invocation to the Muse is inserted within the epic plot itself.

The invocation on the one hand serves to ensure the favour of the inspiring addressee; on the other hand, it is also an opportunity for the epic poet to reveal the source of his information and verify his statements through divine authority. At the same time it is a means by which the poet can indicate which pieces of information he receives from the Muse and which he would like to present as his own creation: Is the Muse responsible for the entire epic plot or only for the deeper causes that are not accessible for the human mind and its complex relations?

The placement alone can be indicative of the importance the poet assigns to the Muse in his epic narrative. As the invocation of the Muse is a constant feature of the epic proem, it is also highly significant when they have been replaced by other types of addresses and sources of inspiration such as Apollo. Likewise, their function changes when the Muses are accompanied by another addressee such as a member of the ruling family. Substitutions of the traditional Muse invocation, such as in Christian poetry in Late Antiquity, at least structurally partly follow the ancient model as well and retain its function.

This paper analyses the invocation of the Muse as an epic type scene – while considering ancient theoretical statements on Muse invocation and the request for inspiration – and will describe this structural element in its recurrent patterns and characteristics. By analysing the different Muse invocations in epic proems from Homer to Claudian the question will be raise, to what extent and in what respect a development of epic muse invocations can be determined and in how far Muse invocations, which at first glance seem traditional, are still innovative.