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The Muse
The Dream of the Poet, or, the Kiss of the Muse (Paul Cézanne)

Sing, O Muse...

In Greek Mythology, there is a subset of spirits/goddesses under the guidance of Apollo known as muses. These entities exist to seek out creative people and inspire them to create great works of art. In a sense, this posits that all great works of art are linked to the divine and their creators are merely vessels for which divine forces can channel their energy.

This concept is often invoked by many a real life creator by attributing a real life person special to them as their "personal muse". Usually occurs with a female muse for a male creator, but the inverse (or a combination thereof) is not too uncommon. If said woman is an actress, she'll be cast in the main female role in every one of the director's movies, at least until their relationship breaks down.

Of course, art often mirrors life in this regard, and many fictional artists have muses of their own—sometimes, in fact, literal Muses from classical Greek mythology.

The magazine Strange Horizons mentions among a List of stories we've seen too often "Creative person meets a muse (either one of the nine classical Muses or a more individual muse) and interacts with them, usually by keeping them captive." Neil Gaiman has commented in his online journal: "I have a fairly good memory, and don't recall ever reading any captive-muse-for-someone-with-writer's-block stories before I wrote mine." This would make Gaiman's story (detailed below) the Trope Codifier, at least for the supernatural version of the trope.

Not incidentally, the same story provides a codifying example of Muse Abuse.

Not to be confused with the British rock band Muse. Or Muse Abuse, though it often follows. See also Manic Pixie Dream Girl. For someone who functions as the opposite and is also the artist's love interest, see Love Makes You Uncreative.

Examples of real-life muses:

  • Surrealist artist Salvador Dali obsessed over his wife, Gala, putting her either abstractly or more recognizably into nearly all of his paintings.
  • Beatrice to Dante. Even after her death and he was married to someone else, he still wrote about her.
  • Laura to Petrarch.
  • Alma Mahler, to more than one man, most notably Gustav Mahler, Walter Gropius, and Franz Werfel. And one she never met.
  • Norwegian poet Henrik Wergeland combined four women in one muse. All four were girls he had pined for in his late teens and early twenties. The name of the muse was Stella. See all love is unrequited.
  • Marlene Dietrich to Joseph Von Sternberg
  • Edie Sedgwick to Andy Warhol
    • See also Bob Dylan's entry below.
    • And don't forget Lou Reed with "All Tomorrow's Parties."
  • David Fincher to Brad Pitt, and vice versa.
  • June Miller to Henry Miller and Anais Nin
  • Eminem's ex-wife Kim Mathers was certainly a muse, but since he wrote about killing her she probably wished she wasn't.
  • Anita Pallenberg inspired The Rolling Stones songs Wild Horses and You Got Silver, and Angie is rumored to be about her though others say it was about Angela Bowie.
    • Marianne Faithful and Marsha Hunt were also Stones muses
    • Several of Bryan Ferry's songs both with Roxy Music and as a solo artist were about Jerry Hall, including at least one about her leaving him for Mick Jagger.
  • Nick Cave sought much creativity from Anita Lane during his tenure in The Birthday Party and throughout The Bad Seeds.
  • Rosanna Arquette inspired the Rosanna by Toto and In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel
  • Bob Dylan had several muses, including Edie Sedgwick who he wrote "Like A Rolling Stone" and "Just Like A Woman" about, Joan Baez, Suze Rotcho and Sara Lowndes who he wrote two albums about (including the incredibly heartfelt and desperate song "Sara", from Desire).
    • It should be noted that "Like A Rolling Stone" has been discussed to no end, and to this day there are many likely candidates as to who inspired Dylan to write it.
    • Considering the brutal Take That which these and "Positively 4th Street" are, some of them also probably would rather not to have been Dylan's muse.
    • In her tuen, Baez wrote "Diamonds and Rust" about Dylan. She describes him is a bit of a jerk though...
  • Roy Orbison's wife Claudette inspired the songs Claudette and Pretty Woman
  • The Suede song Animal Lover and the Blur album 13 were both inspired by Justine Frischman.
  • Pattie Boyd was a muse to George Harrison and Eric Clapton.
    • She was a muse for Clapton while she was still married to his good friend Harrison. (''Layla'')
  • Woody Allen has had a few, especially Diane Keaton, Mia Farrow and Scarlett Johansson.
  • Gong Li to Zhang Yimou.
  • Maggie Cheung to Olivier Assayas.
  • Fanny Brawne to John Keats.
  • Pedro Almodovar has Carmen Maura and Penelope Cruz (putting them together for arguably his best film, Volver), but there is no romantic involvement whatsoever, seeing as he's gay.
  • Frances McDormand to (her husband) Joel Coen
  • Gender Flip: Tom LeFroy to Jane Austen. He was partially the inspiration for Mr. Darcy.
  • Quentin Tarantino refers to Uma Thurman as his muse, but their relationship is "strictly platonic."
    • Maybe these days, but no, not strictly.
  • Joey Lauren Adams to Kevin Smith.
  • Sarah Brightman to Andrew Lloyd Webber
  • Tim Burton and Lisa Marie...and Helena Bonham-Carter. And Johnny Depp.
  • Peter Pears to Benjamin Britten.
  • Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith of Tears For Fears. Roland, discussing how he and Curt work together to write music, referred to Curt as his. "He's always been my muse."
  • Alfred Hitchcock considered Grace Kelly to be his muse.
  • Milla Jovovich to Luc Besson until they divorced. Now she is Paul W.S. Anderson's muse in the Resident Evil series.

Invocations to Muses

  • Homer invokes the Muse (probably Calliope) at the start of both The Iliad and The Odyssey.
  • Virgil invokes a muse both at the beginning and middle of The Aeneid.
  • Dante doesn't invoke the muses until the second part of The Divine Comedy, but at the beginning of Paradiso, the third part, he invokes all nine plus Apollo himself.
  • John Milton asks for Urania, Muse of astronomy (and thus, knowledge of God's creation) to inspire him at the beginning of Paradise Lost.
  • Alexander Pope refers now and then to a muse in The Rape of the Lock, which was based on the tussle over the haircut of his friend Arabella Fermor.
  • Dan Simmons's Ilium opens with an invocation to the Muse by the narrator, since it's based partially on the Iliad. The invocation starts out by mirroring the opening of the Iliad, but degenerates into a vicious rant against the Muse, who is an actual character in the story and something of a bitch.
  • This, after Colin Meloy's over-educated literary fashion, was used at the beginning of The Decemberists' "The Perfect Crime No. 2," as follows:
    Sing, muse, of the passion of the pistol
    Sing, muse, of the warning by the whistle...

Examples of muses to fictional artists:

  • In E. T. A. Hoffmann's story "The Jesuits' Church in G—-", an artist catches a glimpse of a beautiful woman, which he believes to be a vision, and is inspired to paint a luminously spiritual picture of the Virgin Mary, his masterpiece. Unfortunately, before the painting is finished, he discovers the woman again, by chance saving her life, and marries her. Although he thinks she'll be a living muse, her earthly reality destroys his religious exaltation, and he's unable to continue the painting. He drives her away with their newborn child, and at first it seems that he'll now be able to paint again, but the guilt from his cruelty drives him mad.
  • Subverted (after a fashion) in The Picture of Dorian Gray: Dorian himself is the muse for the painter Basil Hallward, which at once turns the concept of a muse on its head (he's a man!) and doesn't (Basil is gay, and Dorian is beautiful and ravenously bi).
  • In Hermann Hesse's Demian, the main character, Sinclair, finds his muse in a woman passing by. He overcomes his alcohol addiction and miserliness and started to paint, even when he doesn't know her name; he simply dubbed her "Beatrice". In a suitably Mind Screw-y fashion, when the painting is finished, it actually resembled...the face of the titular character, who incidentally has been described as the perfect union between masculinity and femininity.
  • In The Sandman, an aspiring writer captures one of the bona fide, Classical Mythology Muses. He imprisons her, and while raping her, is gifted with fantastic inspiration, and he soon becomes a renowned, and extremely wealthy, writer. Unfortunately for him, this particular muse is the former lover of The Dreamlord, Morpheus, and when she calls to him for help, he sympathizes with her plight. Needless to say, the author is soon 'convinced' to release his captive... and the Dreamlord takes appropriate revenge.
  • Shakespeare in Love, wherein the playwright's titular romance allows him to iron out the wrinkles in his play-in-progress (working title: Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter).
  • Christine to the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera.
  • There's a literal muse in Dogma, a magical stripper played by Salma Hayek.
    • And she will not be happy if you try to credit her with Home Alone.
  • In Albert Brooks' film The Muse he gets a real Muse.
  • Happens literally in Xanadu: a struggling artist is inspired by (and falls in love with) an authentic Greek Muse (goddess).
  • In Mr. Holland's Opus, Mr. Holland is inspired by student Rowena and begins writing music again.
  • In As Good As It Gets, Greg Kinnear's character gets his artistic groove back by drawing Helen Hunt.
  • Barbie & The Diamond Castle features three muses of music (and one apprentice), although none of them are actually shown inspiring anything.
  • In Kim Newman's Warhammer-set stories, his vampire heroine Genevieve serves as muse to Detlef Sierck, poet (he writes her a sonnet cycle titled "To My Unchanging Lady"), playwright (he meets her while preparing to stage the story of Drachenfels, in which she features), actor, musician, and so on and so forth. Warhammer being a Crap Sack World, it doesn't work out so well, and she leaves him. Kim Newman being ultimately a rather romantic sort, she comes back in a more recent story, and they get a remarkably happy ending to a story featuring murder, mayhem, political chicanery, and ventriloquism.
  • Does not happen with the sculptor in Jak and Daxter - while he does have a muse that apparently inspires him, instead of being a beautiful girl, it's a Pokémon. An adorable Pokemon.
  • In Sunday Inthe Park With George, Georges' relationship with Dot is like this: but he's also increasingly distant and cold to her, so she eventually leaves him. That doesn't stop him from making her the star of his most famous painting.
  • In The Dreamer issue #11, Beatrice's voice teacher invokes this as the reason why Beatrice is singing particularly well during their session, with a Gender Flip.
  • Speaking of Pokemon, there actually is a pokemon that is the equivalent to the artistic muse (more specifically, those related to music and dancing) that has been introduced in the newest generation, Pokémon Black and White. It looks very female, but is genderless for some reason.
  • Barbara Jagger to Thomas Zane
  • French classical composer Hector Berlioz was hopelessly, obsessively, in love with Harriet Smithson, a beautiful Irish Shakespearian actress working in French theatre. He wrote the Symphonie Fantastique to get his feelings for her out of his system. The symphony can be described as five powerful movements of pure stalking, the early nineteenth century's precursor to Every Breath You Take. There is a melancholy Autumn day ending in torrential rain and with a thunderstorm approaching; a stately waltz that begins in a restrained way, but which runs faster and faster and gets out of control; a trial and a death sentence; the March to the Scaffold; and finally the wild and darkly gleeful dance of Death. Two years later, Berlioz wrote Lelio,the Contested Sequel to the Symphonie Fantastique, about how he managed to overcome his gloom and subsequently regain his inspiration. And how did Mrs. Smithson react to all this? She married him. It wasn't a very happy marriage, though.
  • In Sinfest, muses are the most stable theme/Running Joke. E.g. this mini-arc and the page after it. Or this one.
  • The writer's muse in Film Film Film is rather unreliable in her appearance.
  • In Peanuts, Lucy wants to be this to Schroeder. And note that she did inspire at least one of his compositions—"The Fussbudget Sonata".
  • In Free Soul, Keito's creation Angie is this to her.
  • Jennie for Eben in Portrait of Jennie
  • The premise of Castle is mystery novelist Richard Castle shadowing NYPD homicide detective Kate Beckett for, among other reasons, inspiration as she serves as his muse for a series of thrillers starring a main character based on her. Just don't actually call her a muse:
    Beckett: Call me your muse again, I'll break both your legs. 'Kay?
  • In the book Sacre Bleu Bleu is the Muse of Painting and has inspired, among others, Vincent van Gogh, Toulouse Lautrec, Michaelangelo, Turner and pretty much the entire Impressionist movement. However her inspiration comes with a price.
  • Discworld
    • In the novel Unseen Academicals, Glenda inspired Mr Nutt to write a love poem (which he then gives to his friend Trev to give to Glenda's friend Juliet). Juliet herself inspires the painting "Beauty Arising from the Pease Pudding Cart Attended by Cherubs Carrying Hot Dogs and Pies" (It Makes Sense in Context - although even within the story no-one without context knows what the hell it's supposed to be about.)
    • In Soul Music it's suggested by the Band a couple of times that Susan might be Buddy's Muse. Since his music is coming from Somewhere Else, and she's trying to stop it, she really isn't.
  • In the Doctor Who Meta Fic setting This Time Round, most of the Author Avatar characters have a Muse; a supernatural being trained at the Muse Academy who basically acts as a sort of advisor.
  • At the core of Californication is the dysfunctional relationship between Hank Moody, a writer and barely-functional sex addict and alcoholic, and Karen, the muse behind most of his creative output and the mother of his child. He genuinely loves Karen, but the show is a tragic case of Failure Is the Only Option because he's too self destructive to make things work and he needs the On Again Off Again nature of their relationship to truly be creative.
    • The second and sixth seasons explore the idea further through the characters of Lew Ashby and Atticus Fetch, rock stars who have similarly troubled relationships with their muses, and Faith, who is something of a professional muse.
      Atticus: The woman that you love is out there, and you know you can't have her. How do you even get up in the morning?
      Hank: The booze is always helpful... and so is the art. Everything I write is either for her or about her. So I'm with her, even when I'm not, in my writing.
  • Grimm: One episode has an artist whose muse, his ex-girlfriend, actually is a Muse. note  A Wesen of the same kind was also said to be the muse of Vincent van Gogh.
  • Dr. Watson is supposed to just be Sherlock Holmes's biographer, but the way he writes his stories makes Holmes come off more as his muse than an object of a simple biography.
  • In the Rainbow Magic series, the Magical Craft Fairies make and inspire art.
  • In Grojband, Trina Riffin serves as an unwitting one to the band, as Corey's inability to come up with lyrics is part of the reason.
  • Nero: In De Ring van Petatje Nero starts writing poetry in an insane asylum and is visited by a literal muse with wings and a toga. Though she is a subversion of this trope: an obese bespectacled woman, with nevertheless a good heart.
  • Worst Muse is one that is always giving bad advice.
    "It's not racist! It's EDGY!"
    "TWIST: What if the robots overcame their programming and TRIED TO OVERTHROW THE HUMANS?"
    "If it's based on a true story, you don't need to worry about whether it's believable."

Midword RhymePoetryNarrative Poem
The MunchausenCharacters as DeviceThe Music Meister
Ms. FanserviceAlways FemaleMy Beloved Smother
Moral DilemmaImageSource/ArtMusic Tropes

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