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The Muse

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Artist and Muse by Jacek Malczewski

"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 real-life creators 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.

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 & 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 
  • The Sandman (1989): In Calliope 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.

    Fan Works 

  • 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.
  • Cynara: Poetry in Motion: Byron (a poet) and Cynara (a sculptor) both inspire each other while they practice their art as they're falling in love.

  • 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.
  • Daisy Jones & The Six: Daisy gets frustrated when her boyfriends keep referring to her as their muse because she wants to be known for her own songwriting and singing abilities. When she shows one boyfriend some lyrics he tells her he's going to use them, without even pausing to consider that she might want to record the song.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Daisy Jones & The Six: Defied. Daisy hates that her boyfriends keep using her as inspiration. She doesn't want to be the muse, but to be recognized as an artist and person in her own right.
  • 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.
  • Interview with the Vampire (2022):
  • The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The Muse" is about an energy being who claims to be a muse and latched onto Jake Sisko, drawing out his creativity while simultaneously draining his mental energy. The same muse claims to have inspired other artists who produced profound works at the expense of shorter lives.
  • 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 
  • Alex Bale's SpongeBob Conspiracy series has a twisted example with the... thing inside Alex's house, as it gives him the ideas for the many theory videos in exchange for fresh meat. 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):


I Love How Sad You Make Me

When Ernst sees Helen for the first time, he admires and is moved by how sad and pathetic she looks and finds inspiration to paint her, but Helen isn't exactly flattered by his compliments.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / InnocentlyInsensitive

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