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The Muse

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The Kiss of the Muse by Paul Cézanne

"Sing to me now, you Muses who hold the halls of Olympus! You are goddesses, you are everywhere, you know all things—all we hear is the distant ring of glory, we know nothing. Who were the captains of Achaea, who were the kings? The mass of troops, I could never tally, never name, not even if I had ten tongues and ten mouths, a tireless voice and a heart inside me bronze, never unless you Muses of Olympus, daughters of Zeus whose shield is rolling thunder, sing, sing in memory all who gathered under Troy."
Homer, The Iliad, Book II (translation by Robert Fagles)

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, although 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. When athletes need inspiration, it is often rallied by pom squads.


Examples of real-life muses:

  • Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí obsessed over his wife, Gala, putting her either abstractly or more recognizably into nearly all of his paintings.
  • Beatrice to Dante Alighieri. Even after her death and he was married to someone else, he still wrote about her. He even went so far to make her the one responsible for the journey through the Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven in his masterpiece, The Divine Comedy.
  • 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.
  • Monica Vitti to Michelangelo Antonioni
  • Marlene Dietrich to Joseph von Sternberg.
  • Regine Olsen to Søren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard's failed relationship with her profoundly impacted his philosophical ideas.
  • 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
  • Jean Marais to his lover Jean Cocteau.
  • 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 Faithfull 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 Rosanna by Toto and In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel
  • Bob Dylan had several muses, including Edie Sedgwick (about whom he wrote "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Just Like a Woman"), Joan Baez, Suze Rotolo, and Sara Lowndes (about whom he wrote not one but two whole albums, 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 tune, 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 ("Something") and Eric Clapton ("Wonderful Tonight").
    • She was a muse for Clapton while she was still married to his good friend Harrison. (''Layla'')
  • Joni Mitchell was an accomplished songwriter in her own right, but served as muse for other musicians like Graham Nash ("Our House", which he wrote while the two were living together) and Led Zeppelin ("Going to California").
  • 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 Almodóvar has Carmen Maura and Penélope 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."
  • Joey Lauren Adams to Kevin Smith.
  • Sarah Brightman to Andrew Lloyd Webber
  • Tim Burton and Lisa Marie... and Helena Bonham Carter. And Johnny Depp. And Vincent Price.
  • Peter Pears to Benjamin Britten.
  • Curt Smith to Roland Orzabal, both members of Tears for Fears. Orzabal, while discussing how he and Smith work together to write music, referred to Curt as his: "He's always been my muse." Smith has truly been a lifelong inspiration to Orzabal because their friendship and musical partnership began when they were both 13 years old. During their first meeting, Roland heard Curt singing to Blue Öyster Cult's "Then Came the Last Days of May", and the former was so impressed that he immediately asked the latter if he wanted to be the lead singer of his band. (This is the exact moment when the artist discovers his muse.) Curt replied yes, and the rest is history.
    • Intriguingly, even after Smith's departure from the group due to the Muse Abuse he experienced, Orzabal's creativity continued to be fueled by his absent muse.
      Orzabal: But really, I never stopped writing for him. It would have been very easy to get Curt in on Elemental and sing those songs. They were built for him. I hadn't stopped writing for his voice. I was just singing them myself.
  • Alfred Hitchcock considered Grace Kelly to be his muse.
  • Milla Jovovich to Luc Besson until they divorced. Since then she has become Paul W.S. Anderson's muse in the Resident Evil Film Series.
  • The lead singer for The Knack, Doug Fieger, fell for a then-17-year-old Sharona Alperin and wrote the band's biggest and only hit "My Sharona" in her honor. She even graced the single's cover shot.
  • Rihanna to Drake, who wrote several songs ("Firework", "Take Care" and possibly "Made Man") based on their relationship and frequently collaborate with her.
  • Stan Lee's wife Joanie was widely regarded as his muse. She made appearances alongside Stan in both animated and live-action Marvel adaptations, most notably as Madame Web in Spider-Man: The Animated Series and a posthumous appearance in Avengers: Endgame.
  • Carly Simon wrote "You're So Vain" as a friendly-yet-jabbing aside about a self-absorbed lover that is a composite of three men Carly befriended: the only thing we know for certain is that one of them is Warren Beatty, and that Mick Jagger is not one of them.
  • Ethan Hawke to Richard Linklater.
  • The LFO song "Girl on TV" was written by Rich Cronin after he started dating Jennifer Love Hewitt, and the song is about falling in love with a movie star. Jennifer Love Hewitt then starred in the accompanying music video.
  • Anna May Wong was an inspiration to many writers. Eight Poems of Li Po was written in her honor by Constant Lambert. She inspired "These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)" as well. The lead role in Daughter of Shanghai was written for her, and the film's working title was The Anna May Wong Story.
  • Bobby Calloway wrote The Gumdrops specifically for Rebecca Rose Flynn, and some of the scripts would have the stage direction 'Rebecca will make it funny'. Likewise the film Aaron was created entirely for Thomas Fitzgerald, and he says it wouldn't have been made if he hadn't played the role.
  • German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder had a muse in actress Hanna Schygulla.
  • Selena Gomez's on-and-off exboyfriend Justin Bieber is a frequent inspiration for her songs, most notably on Rare. She herself is speculated to be the inspiration for several song of her ex-boyfriend The Weeknd My Dear Melancholy.
  • Fashion Designer Yves Saint Laurent had many muses throughout his career, including Catherine Deneuve, Victoire Doutreleau, Betty Catroux, Talitha Pol Getty and Loulou de la Falaise. The films about his life, Yves Saint Laurent and Saint Laurent, portray some of these relationships, often as nonsexual romances or at the least very intense friendships.

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.
  • The Thebaid begins with the author asking the Goddesses of Song to decide how to tell the story of Thebes and where in its long history to begin.
  • The Achilleid begins with Statius praying for Apollo himself to inspire him and does so by appealing to his previous experience writing epic poetry.
  • 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 Illium 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...
  • In The Pirates of Penzance, one song calls out Euterpe (or possibly Calliope, but probably not Erato) by (English) name.
    Hail, Poetry, Thou heav'n born maid!
  • Throughout his Confessions, Augustine calls upon God to give him the words to do justice to the truth and grace He provided to him.

Examples of muses to fictional artists:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Free Soul, Keito's creation Angie is this to her.
  • In Cooking With Wild Game, Asuta becomes Ai Fa's chef as a way of repaying her for saving his life (and funding his initial culinary experiments). Since no one in her village can cook half as well as he can, this arrangement works out well for everybody.
  • In My Roommate is a Cat, a stray cat inspires the main character with the idea for his new novel.
  • Don't Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro: The title character eventually becomes this for her Senpai. She sometimes poses for his drawings, and it definitely helps that Senpai finds her both gorgeous and captivating to begin with. It's also implied that the Arts Club President was also this for him before Nagatoro showed up.

    Comic Books 
  • In The Sandman (1989), 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).
  • 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.
    • Azrael, the story's villain is revealed to be a former muse who was sent down to hell for refusing to fight against Satan.
  • In Albert Brooks' film The Muse 1999 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.
  • The writer's muse in Film, Film, Film is rather unreliable in her appearance.
  • Jennie for Eben in Portrait of Jennie
  • The Sack Of Rome (1992). The painter played by Franco Nero uses his much younger mistress as his muse. Despite being played by the stunningly beautiful Vittoria Belvedere this causes him some guilt, as she's not as pure and innocent as she looks, and thus not quite an appropriate model for heavenly angels in the religious paintings that he's famous for.
  • In Alex & Emma the eponymous Alex is a writer suffering from writer's block. It's hinted that his ex, Polina, was his muse and breaking up with her caused the block of inspiration. However, as he gets to know Emma, we see her slowly take over as his muse, eventually inspiring the lead character in his new novel.
  • The character in the eponymous film The Muse may or may not be a literal muse, but also doubles as a Spoiled Brat.
  • In the 1924 silent film Michael, the title character is the muse for an Ambiguously Gay painter.
  • Deconstructed in Malcolm & Marie, where Marie is Malcolm's muse, but she feels alienated from his work and hurt by how he uses her life story.
    Marie: It's not just about you forgetting to thank me, Malcolm. It's about how you see me. And how you view my contribution, not just to this relationship, but to your work. Specifically in a movie you made about my life.
  • Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti: The Tahitian woman Tehura to French Post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin.
  • Coda (2019): Helen slowly becomes an anchor and inspiration to the elderly and depressed pianist Henry. As he tells her late in the film, he'll be playing for her.

  • 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 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 Crapsack 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.
  • Kim Newman's horror novel Bad Dreams features supernatural beings called The Kind, who feed on humanity's emotions and imaginings; some of them (including the Big Bad) are monsters who specialize in evoking and feeding off negative emotions, but there's also one who has established a satisfactory niche for herself as the muse to a succession of artists, inspiring them to heights of creativity and taking a cut of the resulting emotions.
  • In the book Sacré Bleu Bleu is the Muse of Painting and has inspired, among others, Vincent van Gogh, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Joseph 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.
  • Sherlock Holmes: Dr. Watson is supposed to just be Sherlock'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 The Silver Codex, Hanlowa is the Muse of Horror, who works with Xarissa.
  • The World According to Garp: Garp's eventual wife Helen is the one who inspires him to become a novelist.
  • In the Stephen King short story "The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet" (from Skeleton Crew), author Reg Thorpe believes that a small creature called a Fornit lives in his typewriter and magically assists with his writing—something halfway between a traditional muse and a House Fey. His editor (the story's viewpoint character) initially dismisses this as an odd superstition, but undergoes Sanity Slippage aided by his own alcoholism and begins to believe in Fornits as well. The ending is deliberately unclear on whether Fornits are real or just a delusion.
  • Isaac Asimov's "Does a Bee Care?": Thornton Hammer considers Kane his Good Luck Charm, believing that he's giving him loads of ideas just by being there. He's not wrong. It's a psychic power he has that does it, and did it to loads of scientists in the past, inspiring Lise Meitner, Einstein and Newton.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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?
  • Crashing (UK): Colin is Melody's muse. Perhaps parodied, in that the roles are inverted from their usual from—the hot younger woman is the artist, and the plain-looking middle-aged man is the muse.
    Melody: I want to get to know you. I want to paint you. I want to make love to you. I want to be your friend.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had an episode about an energy being who claimed to be a muse that latched onto Jake Sisko, drawing out his creativity while simultaneously draining his mental energy. The same muse claimed to have inspired other artists who produced profound works at the expense of shorter lives.
  • 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.
  • In Winter Begonia, Shang Xirui is this to Du Qi, who will proudly proclaim to anyone that will listen that he writes plays for Shang Xirui and Shang Xirui only.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In Peanuts, Lucy wants to be this to Schroeder. And note that she did inspire at least one of his compositions — "The Fussbudget Sonata".
  • 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.

  • Christine to the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera.
  • In Sunday in the 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.
  • French classical composer Hector Berlioz was hopelessly, obsessively, in love with Harriet Smithson, a beautiful Irish Shakespearean 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.

    Video Games 

  • 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.
  • In Cheer!, the artist Tselsebar's Author Avatar is frequently beset by an Anti-Muse, who hits him with a hammer and prevents him from getting the ideas to make new comics. He later does get an actual muse which, despite the Anti-Muse complaining that her job was too easy earlier, has her calling the muse a "hussy" and demanding "her" Tselsebar back.
  • Oglaf: One hapless poet attracts a no-nonsense Brawn Hilda of a muse who adds an entirely literal dimension to "inspiration strikes."
    "So are you going to write some poems or am I going to tear your balls off and hunt ostriches with them?"

    Web Original 
  • The Spongebob Conspiracy has a twisted example with the...thing inside Alex's house, as it gives him the ideas for the theory videos in exchange for fresh meat. [[Spoiler And he's not the only one with a Muse...]]
  • This trope is Parodied by the Twitter blog Worst Muse, which only gives bad advice to writers.
    "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."

    Western Animation 
  • Barbie & The Diamond Castle features three muses of music (and one apprentice), although none of them are actually shown inspiring anything.
  • In Grojband, Trina Riffin serves as an unwitting one to the band. Due to Corey's inability to come up with lyrics, he and his friends turn to Trina's diary entries for inspiration, often by trying to rile Trina up enough for her to write in her diary.
  • In Gravity Falls, it turns out Bill Cipher posed as a muse to the Author in order to trick him into building an inter-dimensional portal that would let him and his "hench-maniacs" through to Earth so they could take over our dimension.


Video Example(s):


Bonita Soleil

Bonita Soleil is the inner muse of Glorio Von Gouton. Her inner sunshine and the spirit of her youth.

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