Valley of the Muses

The Sanctuary of the Muses on the Helikon actually covered the whle of upperreaches from the Termessos. The sanctuary stood in a sacred forest, and included from the 3rd century B.C. on a simple theater, a long ionic column hall, connected to a small temple or altar for the Muses. The festival held here, the Mouseia, included music and singing competitions, and later a theater competition, and was held every four years. The sanctuary owes its fame mainly to the fact that the epic singer-poet Hesiodos grew up in Askra. In his Works and Days (vs. 639 ff.) Hesiodos is also hard on the village of Askra, which he calls a miserable hamlet, where summer and winter are bad. Pausanias assumed that the village of Askra only contained a tower from earlier times, a statement through whichthe place can be clearly identified.




At the top: reconstruction of the Muses sanctuary on the upper reaches of the Termessos (taken from Papachatzis), with 1) the theatre, 2) a long stoa for holy gifts, 3) a place (purely hypothetical) for the statues of the Muses and 4 ) the altar. Photo’s in the middle, the (Macedonian) watchtower at Askra and the valley of the Muses. On the right the theater (only recognizable by the dib hole in the landscape) and the remains of the altar.


The Sanctuary of the Muses was probably founded in response to the first 103 verses of the Theogony of Hesiodos, where he describes how he, as a simple shepherd (in a dream?), received a visit from the Muses, who taught him how to sing. They then handed him a scepter as a sign of his new dignity and inspired a divine song to sing “what will be and what has already been”. They also ordered him to sing the genus of the eternally living gods, but always mentioning the Muses first and last in his song. Whether Hesiodos has made a fine introduction to his poem, with a literary “poet ordination”, or whether he really had a religious experience, will of course never be clear. The fact is that even before Hesiodos, the valley of the Termessos (or Permessos) was seen as dedicated to the Muses.


The nine Muses on a Roman sarcophagus (2nd century) in the Louvre. Notice how their functions are indicated by the attributes they carry, from left to right: Clio (history> scroll), Thalia (comedy> comedy mask and trumpet), Erato (lyric and erotic poetry) ?, Euterpe (music)?, Polyhymnia (religious poetry> leans on pillar, deep in thought), Calliope (epic> writing table), Terpsichore (dance> lyre), Urania (astrology> atmosphere of stars), Melpomene (tragedy> tragedy mask).