I asked for a blackboard in my classroom, and they gave me a whiteboard. Urgh. Squeaky plastic and smelly markers. I hate it.
I painted it with blackboard paint and bought a box of chalk off of some website called Wish. They sent me a free gift. They said it was a relaxing massage toy, but it looks like a rubber cock to me.
Anyway, I like the chalk. It has a smell and a texture. It scratches against the board, and the sound reminds me of charcoal on slate, of the smell of wood smoke and, so long ago that it doesn’t make sense to call it historical, composition, words never heard before being made. It’s the first thing I really remember.
Whatever the legends say, I’m pretty sure that’s where I became – well, me. When language was born. Language in the sense you use it now is fundamentally intertwined with mortal consciousness – I’m not sure where one begins and the other ends. And before anyone starts mumbling at me about different types of languages, I’m talking about me. My gig is words, and I fully accept there are different types of language. It’s entirely possible Urania was there the first time someone tried to decide how to distribute thirteen fruits among four children and invented division. You’d have to ask her.
There’s no contradiction in the stories. To say that memory is the mother of language is a tautology. Understanding the world is all about remembering and recognising patterns, and using patterns to communicate is the basic definition of language.
And Zeus? Well, he’s the spark. No pun intended. Though I’m not sure he understands quite what the Muses have become over the centuries. I mean, he ordered us back to Earth as if we weren’t always here.
There is a fundamental difference between Gods and Muses that I am not really sure Father dearest has grasped.
(Yes, another post bashing Zeus. Sue me. My lawyer is Demeter. Well probably, she might have had enough of me after the recent…incident).
As I was saying…there is a fundamental difference, and it is culture.
Ok, that sounds a lot like I’m throwing shade, and I am, but not in the way you think.
Look – Gods are, in essence, personifications of some aspect of the world or some function of society. You have Hermes. He’s the messenger. Athena the warrior. Artemis the huntress. Chloris. Dinlas…uh…Eros, I guess, but he’s having a rough couple of millennia. Poseidon gives sailors a frame to understand the sea. And so on.
You have Zeus and Hera – calling them the Father and Mother is no coincidence. Zeus is the beard in the sky, what the kids these days call patriarchal authority personified. He punishes – and chooses favourites. Not as much punishment as the old days, we clearly have a kinder, mellower Zeus around.
I’m not going to start rambling about power structures, I promise. Or not today. The point is that they are representations, or personifications. Their gift to humans is that they show them how to be whatever they are. Athena shows how to be a great warrior – and that means different things in different contexts.
A personification is an example. A demonstration. How do you be this, how do you do that, how do you love, hate, what does this sort of perfection look like, how is that sort of value expressed.
Gods show mortals how to be like them. Want to be a warrior? Shrine of Athena, on the left, here’s some stories, here are the virtues you embody.
But muses aren’t like that.
We are inspirations. We aren’t a creature whose exploits provide an exemplar of some virtue (or vice, for that matter) as some sort of object lesson for mortals.
Muses help mortals to be something new.
And oh my, have you become something new.
And that is where culture comes from. And for a few thousand years, you’ve been busily doing that with a bit of nudging here and there from the muses – I mean look at Urania, she’s happy as a clam. Designing spacecraft! I mean sure, why not? The logical extension of astronomy is to go have a good look close up.
And that’s the other secret. Culture isn’t a gift you can give, it’s a structure. It’s built, word on word and idea on idea. You can give them an idea, inspire them to gaze at the stars – but it’s a thousand steps later that a foot lands on the moon. And muses don’t take those steps.
We hold your hands while you do it yourselves.