ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα - Tell me, O Muse, of the man…
That is how Homer started the narrative of the epic song of the famous Odysseus – calling for transcendent inspiration. At the beginning of both "Iliad" and "Odyssey", the author appealed to a goddess known as Muse to stimulate his creative work in presenting heroic myths of the Greek past. Many ancient poets and writers after him would do the same when intending to produce something out of their talent.
Music is, beyond any doubt, an activity requiring talent and inspiration. It derives from the ancient Greek adjective "mousikos" as a part of "mousikos techne" – musical art. The primary meaning of the word was "connected with the Muses". It represented the Greek idea of how poetry, music, writing, dance, all artistic work were presided and supported by those goddesses. The Greeks believed that one needed to establish and maintain a good relationship with them to be blessed with their gift – creativity and good performance. The great number of the Muses (Μοῦσαι), nine in total, allowed them to cover a broad range of expressive art activities. Calliope supervised the epic poetry, Clio – the history, Euterpe – the music and elegiac poetry, Erato – the lyric and love poetry, Melpomene – the tragedy, Polyhymnia – the hymns and the sacred poetry, Terpsichore – the dance, Thalia – the comedy, and Urania – the astronomy.
Muses Sarcophagus, first half of the 2nd century AD, found by the Via Ostiense. From left to right: Calliope, Thalia, Terpsichore, Euterpe, Polyhymnia, Clio, Erato, Urania, and Melpomene
Muses’ role was not confined only to inspiring men. They were also considered as an inexhaustible source of knowledge and mentors of the process of reflecting on subjects. This notion was indicated in the root of their very name *men- ; a Proto-Indo-European root the basic meaning of which was "to think, to reflect". The prime denotation of the root gave a birth to the Modern English verb "to muse" in the sense of "to be absorbed in thoughts, to think about thoroughly". (Certainly, with the help of the favorable Muses). It also produced a variety of words referring to various qualities and states of mind and thought, such as mental, mentality, mania, mind, memory.
Muses have inherited features from their both parents – the god Zeus and the titaness Mnemosyne. They gained a divine nature from their father and received their famous abilities from their mother. Her name in ancient Greek literally meant "memory, remembrance" and again, derived from the root *men-. Mnemosyne gave the English adjective mnemonic – "related to memory, assisting the memory". Thus, mnemonics was called an art of developing the memory using specific words or techniques. In fact, men reciting epic poetry in Antiquity have used such methods. As the poems usually exceeded the number of several thousand verses, the performers applied different mnemonics and were able to declaim long, consecutive hours without rest.
Some ancient authors, as Pausanias and Varro, reported that initially there were only three Muses under the worship of the Greeks – Aoide (meaning "song"), Mneme (meaning "memory") and Melete (meaning "practice"). Now you know what it takes to be darling of the Muses – to have the ability for expression, to maintain active memory, and to constantly practice!
As guardians of the art in all its forms, Muses have given the name of the institution that conserves and takes care of paintings, sculptures, artefacts and other valuable objects – the museum. The English word came from the Latin "musaeum" which derived from the Greek "mousaion – a shrine of the Muses". There were many of them in ancient Greece, but one particular "mousaion" was believed to has given the modern notion of the word museum. It was built in the ancient city of Alexandria in 3rd century BC by the Hellenistic ruler Ptolemy II Philadelphus. He was the son of Ptolemy I Soter - Macedonian general and successor of Alexander the Great, founder of the Ptolemaic kingdom in Egypt.
The Mousaion (Museum) of Alexandria was one of the biggest shrines of the Muses. It did not possess particular rooms with collections but was the most famous scholar center in the Antiquity. Philosophers, scientists, and writers from different parts of the Hellenistic world studied, conducted experiments, wrote and taught in that place. They worked under the patronage of the king who ensured them decent accommodation and even salary with the only requirement – to bring scientific progress. Many of the participants brought in the institution valuable artefacts subject of academic research. Others invented machines and mechanisms at the center of high interest that deserved preserving and public displaying.
Bibliotheca/ The Bible
The Royal Library of Alexandria was an integral part of the Mousaion. It was surrounded by gardens and places for walk. The complex consisted of a dining room for number of people, a meeting room, lecture halls, a reading room and a hall containing the biggest known papyri collection in the ancient world. The real size of that Library is unknown today; scientists argue between 40, 000 and 400, 000 scrolls. Its unfortunate end – burnt down yet in Antiquity – leaves that question opened. Still, many text sources talk about its magnitude and constant collecting of papyri. Galen wrote that every ship that anchored in Alexandrian bay was obliged to give all the books in its possession for copying. Then the original was kept in the Library, and the ex-owners received a copy. What an efficient method for accumulating considerable amount of books!
The hall that contained the shelves on which the papyri were preserved was called bibliotheca (βιβλιοθήκη). That is a compound word with literally meaning of "a bookcase" (from "biblion" – book and "theke" – case, chest). With the time, its prime notion was restricted in English to denoting "a collection (a list) of books". Nevertheless, in French, German, Spanish, and other languages the word nowadays represents a library.
Bibliotheca derived from the Greek word "biblos" (βίβλος) - "a bast fibre (inner bark) of the papyrus plant". That was the most popular substance for producing paper-like material in the past. Later, "biblos" gave "biblion" (βιβλίον) nominating the product of this paper - the book.
In the Greek language "biblion" with a capital letter named the Holy Scripture of the Christians - The Bible (The Book) and its name has been adopted in many modern languages the same way.
So, where did library come from in English? From Latin, of course, through Old French. "Liber" (gen. libri) is the Latin word for "book". Like the Greek "biblion", "liber"’s original meaning was "an inner bark, a rind of a tree". The name of the early writing material has slowly transformed into presenting first paper, then parchment, and last book. Consequently, the word library appeared to denote a place where books are stored and could be read by people.