Thursday, May 22, 2008

Don't Call Me; I'll Call You

Much of what is known about the events of the early days of the Greeks and Persians came to us because of the energy and methodology of Herodotus, widely acknowledged as one of the first if not the first historian. A significant amount of what we know of the world before man, the divine world, comes to us through the work of Hesiod, whose earlier career was as a shepherd in Boeotia.

Both men are believed to have been called to their careers rather than having prepared for it in an academy or formal institute of learning. In a splendid example of how low residence instruction works, both men were called upon by the Muses to sing forth, the former about events on the human scale, the latter about the origin of the universe and the rise of the gods, from the early beginnings to the triumph of Zeus.

Herodotus presumably heard the call of Clio, muse of history; Hesiod was likely to have been contacted by Polyhymnia, muse of sacred song and oratory.

Herodotus lived approximately 485 BCE to 425 Hesiod's dates are less certain, but he is thought to have been a contemporary of Homer, whom Herodotus said predated him by four hundred years.

It is never a good time to be a writer, but whatever the time may be in the cosmic sense, it is an important time for there to be writers. This observation is a nod to gnomic verse, a form of painful, sometimes ironic truth that needs to be observable. Gnomic verse was a particular implement in Hesiod's toolkit. The times of Homer (if indeed Homer was one single person and not a number of writer/poets) and the later times of Hesiod and Herodotus were good times to be writers not only because of all the event's of significance to write about but because the Muses were just beginning to get the notion that humans could be called to serve as writers.

It is a different story today; magazines such as The Writer (which I own a piece on dialog) Writers' Digest, and Poets & Writers are suggesting ways many of us mortals can become writers without having been tapped by a particular Muse. Not to mention the dozens of colleges and universities calling individuals forth to pursue careers in writing.
No doubt we have all read somewhere that being called upon by a Muse is a metaphor for being inspired. But that was back at a time when there weren't so many writing programs and publications and books being published. Undoubtedly there are those being called forth by one or more Muses, leading to a wealth of fantastic materials to guide us on our celestial ways.

Hi, Mr. Hesiod, let me introduce myself I am Polyhymnia, daughter of Zeus, Let's not go into the details of how I was begot, rather let's look at the reality of you wasting your time in a dead-end job of shepherd. I'm thinking you have the talent to leave sheep behind and take up the stylus, You know, write stuff.

After a youth of reading the remarkable works of writers such as Hesiod or Herodotus or Homer, or in more modern times, Louise Erdrich or Jim Harrison or Richard Russo or Richard Price, we hear a voice we think at first blush to be a Muse or one of her sisters, but alas, we were hearing from the bird-women, The Sirens, calling us away from our daytime jobs into the reality that we are going to have to make our own way, inspiration-wise going to have to get our own vision, our own sound, our own powers.

The Muses have become bureaucratized because there are now so many wannabes waiting for inspiration.

You could, I suppose, offer a nice plump organic chicken along with an invocation to a particular muse, hoping she'll take interest in you. You could also get a fantastic first page that would so engage her that she's stick around to see how well you did on page two, tomorrow. Or you could just plod on and make page three so good that you yourself were caught up in it and had to see where things were going.

No comments: