The Muses: Memory

O Muse, help me remember . . .

This week I am taking my AP Latin students into the ancient Roman epic, Virgil’s Aeneid. True to the ancient Greek and then Latin form, the epic, somewhere in the first few lines, makes an invocation of the Muse.  Virgil makes this plea:

O Muse, bring to my remembrance the causes . . .


Calliope, Muse of Epic poetry, Charles Meynier

Virgil wants to remember the causes of Aeneas’ flight from Troy.  Virgil wants to remember the causes of Aeneas’ long sufferings.  Virgil wants to remember the causes of an ancient bitterness.  But, ultimately, what Virgil really wants to remember are the causes–the flight, the suffering, the bitterness–that ultimately brought about a Latin people, a nobility and an eternal city.  O Muse, he might have said:  help me to remember the foundations of all that we have for which to be grateful.

This little invocation of the Muse in The Aeneid causes me to ponder some connections that I might not otherwise:  the connection of memory, glory and gratitude.

When we allow ourselves to move into deep memory, we may go places that at first we do not wish to be.  I have heard elders, beset by fear, say:  “I don’t allow myself to think about those things.”  By this, they mean old memories that are painful.  I have encountered folks who dismiss the past with God:  it’s all forgiven.  No need to go there.

The invocation of the Muse, of inspiration, says otherwise.  Travelling through memory to our most painful pasts not only kicks up those scenes that we would rather forget, but they also raise up the path that we have been traveling since that moment.  That path leads, stepping stone by stepping stone to where we are now.  Have there been joys along the way?  Have there been moments of beauty, instances of success, relationships of the tenderest and deepest love?  These are our glory moments, and once we are allowed to see them, two things must be true:  that we have a gratitude that we cannot deny, and that the memory of the ancient painful past revealed their connection to our moments of glory.

Memory.  Glory.  Gratitude.  They are the work of the Muse.  The Romans called her Calliope–the Muse of epic poetry.  Call on her today.  See where she leads you.

Bob Patrick

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