Who Was Calliope in Mythology?

by Karie Lapham Fay
Each of the nine Muses championed an art or science.

Each of the nine Muses championed an art or science.

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"...And thus again Urania; 'On our side we trusted all to one.' Which having said, Calliope arose. Her glorious hair was bound with ivy. She attuned the chords, and chanted as she struck the sounding strings..." The quote comes from Ovid in "Metamorphoses," a Roman epic written in the first century. Calliope, Greek Muse and patron goddess of epic poetry, was immortalized through the words of classical authors such as Ovid. Mythical legend says she gave the gift of "eloquence" to kings and princes.

The "Camanae," or Muses

Calliope was the beautiful daughter of Zeus, king of the gods, and Mnemosyne, a Titaness known as the goddess of memory. Zeus slept with Mnemosyne for nine consecutive nights, each resulting in the birth of a Muse: Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia and Urania. Calliope (sometimes spelled 'Kalliope' and pronounced 'Ka-lee-o-pee') was the eldest of the nine Camanae or Mousai (Muses). Goddesses who both inspired and sometimes punished mortal men and women, the Muses were the champions of arts, literature and science. While ancient Boetians in Greece claimed there were three Muses, born possibly of Uranus and Gaea and living at Mount Helicon in Greece, later myths placed nine Muses near Mount Olympus, around Peiria, Macedon (modern-day Macedonia, a province of Greece).

Goddess Calliope

Calliope, perhaps because she was oldest, was considered the chief among the Mousai. Hesiod reveals her special position in "Theogony" (meaning "birth of the gods"), an epic poem from the end of the eighth century B.C. "Calliope," he writes, "is the chiefest of them all, for she attends on worshipful princes: whomsoever of heaven-nourished princes the daughters of great Zeus honour, and behold him at his birth, they pour sweet dew upon his tongue, and from his lips flow gracious words..."

Calliope's Gifts and Curses

Linked as she was with poetry and music, it is little wonder that Calliope is rendered as a beautiful woman with a melodious voice. Calliope was typically shown holding a stylus along with either a scroll or tablet, and sometimes a lyre. Calliope alone was allowed to give the gifts of both poetry and persuasion -- gifts which kings and princes needed, as Hesiod explains. Thus, with the gift she gives to men, they are able to sing her praises. However, Calliope and the other Muses could be jealous about their gifts, blinding both Thamyris and, later, the Phaeacian bard Demodocus for their boasting, although they compensated Demodocus with the gift of song in a moment of compassion. Calliope and her sisters also turned Pierus' daughters into magpies for having the nerve to challenge them.

Calliope's Loves

As a beautiful woman, much less a goddess, it is little surprise that Calliope had many lovers. As her life is documented solely through often conflicting classical works, arising from varying regions, it is sometimes hard to be sure of each of her children. Most accounts state that she was at one time lover of the god Apollo, and with him birthed Linus and Orpheus, although some ancient works list Oiagros as Orpheus' father. She is rumored to have mothered Carybantes with her father, Zeus, along with Rhesus by the river Strymon, and also the Sirens with the sea god Phorcys. Calliope was also enamored of Achilles, but contented herself with teaching him to sing -- which he used to not only entertain his friends but also to raise their morals.

The Famous Dispute

Calliope is famous for one other act: The goddesses Aphrodite and Persephone were in a custody battle over Adonis. Father Zeus called upon Calliope to settle the dispute. Calliope's decision was to give Adonis both time alone as well as equal time with each goddess.

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