Recommended by Mister H.
We spoke last week about the Invocation of the Muse from Homer’s Odyssey [translation by T.E. Lawrence] … and the tattered copy of that prayer that I still have (and still recite each morning) from my dear friend and mentor, Paul Rink.
Today let’s talk about the composer of that prayer, the epic poet Homer. Who was he anyway? And why should we pay attention to anything he did or said?
Homer is the author (though of course his works were originally meant to be sung or recited orally) of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Are there two greater works in the Western canon? Does Western Civ in its entirety not derive, pretty much on every level, from these two sagas? Would not Shakespeare himself pass the prize of honor to Mister H?
The Spartans believed that the Iliad was the only work that their young men, and probably young women as well, needed to know to complete their educations as citizens. All wisdom and ethics were, they believed, contained therein.
Alexander the Great slept with a copy of the Iliad—annotated by his tutor, Aristotle— beneath his pillow.
As for the Odyssey, it was and remains the archetypal “hero’s journey” saga of Western civilization. A case could be made that virtually every drama, novel, epic, comedy and even videogame and hip-hop song descends from this single document and follows the structure and narrative principles it embodies.
We can safely declare, I believe, that Homer knew what he was talking about.
So what does it mean that he started the Odyssey with the Invocation of the Muse that we cited (and wrote out in its entirety) last week?
Was Homer serious? Was he truly invoking the aid of the goddess as he embarked on his great opus? Or was this just a literary trope, a style of intro, a formality without real meaning?
I can’t prove it but I believe Homer meant every word. I think he was expressing a universal truth that all writers and artists know—that they, the artists, are not the true authors of the works they produce but that the narrative or visual image or music comes through them from some source they cannot define or locate and whose very existence they cannot prove. Homer, like his fellow Hellenes, anthropomorphized this source. He gave it a face and a name. He addressed it as “Divine Poesy, goddess, daughter of Zeus.”
Homer did the same in the opening verses of his other great work, the Iliad.
Sing, goddess, of the wrath of Achilles, Peleus’ son, which brought pains thousandfold upon the Achaeans, hurling in their multitudes to the house of Hades strong souls of heroes …
In last week’s post, I wrote about my friend Paul Rink typing out the Invocation and giving it to me as a kind of blessing or benediction upon my fledgling career. Like Homer, Paul believed that it only made sense, before we as artists sat down to work, that we take a moment to show respect for the mysterious (female) force that we hoped would guide and inspire us and that we humbly invoke her favor upon our enterprise.
“If it was good enough for Homer,” Paul said, “it should be good enough for you and me.”
This makes a lot of sense to me. And what better than a brief (or not so brief) gratitude practice before you even start working? That will put me straight into John Cleese’ ‘open mode’. then I set my timer for 15 mins and get my hand moving across the keyboard.
I keep coming back to Liz Gilbert with her insistence upon showing up to do the work, but without coercion, with mercy for yourself. And invoking the ‘genius’, the spirit of creativity: “I keep showing up. Can I ask you start helping me here, please?” I’d very much to hear a conversation between Steve and Elizabeth. It would be most interested though to find where they would disagree – where there is daylight between their views on writing. Anybody who hasn’t heard that wonderful TED talk by Elizabeth, here it is: https://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_your_elusive_creative_genius
And whether you believe in a muse literally or figuratively, it’s certain that in terms of our perceptions and that which we can influence, we can’t easily delineate where we end and the rest of the cosmos begins. We’re all unconsciously running sophisticated simulations of each other (AI, if you will) in our own minds, and the part of each of our minds that we’re conscious of can only be the tip of the iceberg. I mean to say that there are unfathomable systems within and around us through which the muse can act, when she chooses to.
Uchh, too many typos in my comment.
Proof of what I wrote below–that entire post was a response to yours…and I touched the wrong ‘reply’ button! AAAHHHGGG!
“… and the part of each of our minds that we’re conscious of can only be the tip of the iceberg. I mean to say that there are unfathomable systems within and around us through which the muse can act, when she chooses to.”
I agree. Consider only the fact that we’re surrounded by Dark Matter and Dark Energy, both of which topics about wich the scientists of this world have to say exactly–nothing. But Dark Matter makes up more than a quarter of the matter in the universe:
(“Dark matter seems to outweigh visible matter roughly six to one, making up about 27% of the universe. Here’s a sobering fact: The matter we know and that makes up all stars and galaxies only accounts for 5% of the content of the universe.” )
So, if I have to choose, I’d rather go with you and believe that there is a muse and there are ‘unfathomable systems’ everywhere before I join these bold know-it-alls who sell the delusion that we can do it all and that we are on our way to a brilliant era in which we humans are in total control of everything that concerns us.
I always dig realizing how little we really know. It opens up lots of possibilities.
My sentiments exactly. It incites awe in me.
Fascinating stuff Michael.
So many things here to unpack. Great post about surrendering to the muse and being the conduit. Your thoughts made me realize vulnerability is key. We must remain open to create. Open to new experiences, knowledge, and relationships.
Yasssssssss…..I was thinking of Elizabeth’s TED talk the entire time I read Steven’s post and wondering what it would take to connect the two in public conversation…. Muse/Source/Revelation/Creator/Genius…
Thanks for the reminder that we we are merely human. As such, we are focused on the outcomes of our labors. The gifts of the muse really impact the process. For those that believe, God is in charge of outcomes. Before a complex spinal surgery a few years ago, my wife related my surgeon’s prayer for God to guide him. I was already out and missed everything. It went well, and I am grateful.
I would certainly want an experienced, talented, brilliant surgeon–but that he prayed for guidance prior to doing his work adds a much greater sense of trust for me. I had a flash of we must be followers before we can be leaders run through my mind as I thought of your doctor just know.
Big theme of humility running through today’s thread. I love it.
I hate it when I make typos in this forum as well–but I think if I proof-read most of the stuff I post–I’d chicken out and delete 95% of it. I really, really, like this:
“…we can’t easily delineate where we end and the rest of the cosmos begins. We’re all unconsciously running sophisticated simulations of each other (AI, if you will) in our own minds…”
The entire paragraph is great–but when I read ‘we can’t delineate where we end and the rest of the cosmos begins’, I was nodding my head.
Oh, funny anecdote about Elizabeth Gilbert and TED. About a decade ago I had the privilege of speaking at a TEDx Tacoma. TEDx is the Bush League of TED to be clear–but I was so proud of myself for doing it.
I was corresponding with Steve about something–and slipped my talk in–OBVIOUSLY wanting praise from our Yoda. Steve correctly gave me a ‘meh’ and pointed me to an Elizabeth Gilbert TED talk! Cracks me up to this day!
While I fall prey to each of the Seven Deadly Sins, Pride seems to be my default, ‘hop out of bed, face the world’ shortcoming.
I was actually thinking about this site last night while I was daydreaming instead of paying attention in my code bootcamp. I was thinking about the Muse, God, connection, the mystery of it all–how we are all reflections of the same building blocks–how much I HATE the term ‘SOCIAL DISTANCING’ (I personally think in the autopsy of this COVID fiasco, that term will become synonymous with words like genocide, Nazism, Trail of Tears, child porn…I think it is evil). Well I was thinking almost exactly some of your thoughts about how we all share atoms, the idea of auras (do some people see these regularly), and this interplay between it all.
Great post! Screw the typos.
Likewise, look forward to hearing what people have to say on Wednesday mornings.
“…we can’t easily delineate where we end and the rest of the cosmos begins. We’re all unconsciously running sophisticated simulations of each other (AI, if you will) in our own minds…”
I really like this. There are some humanly experiences that remind us of our true home. Art, love, and faith are some examples of holiness. I believe we are spiritual beings having a human experience to grow. One of my favorite verses is Romans 8:28 in which I’ll paraphrase–if we give our problems back to God, back to our creator, back to LOVE at its source, then the creator will make all bad things good. Beauty from ashes. Creators of any medium are problem solvers at heart. Take your problem, process it, and transform it into something beautiful to you. Rock n’ Roll is beautiful to Ozzy Osbourne. The macabre is beautiful to an artist of vanitas work. To some ears, country western has the most beautiful sound. To others, they attend the opera or worship Tupac.
Find your truth as we all try to make sense of our mortality.
My typos will also stay. 🙂
As I typed in Romans–8:28 was the first thing that popped up. I’ve been poking my beak into the Bible lately and am finding it to deeply meaningful and rewarding. I will add that to my memorization/3×5 card on my monitor.
Beauty from ashes. Reminds me of when we had to put one of our dogs down a few years ago. I had just read this book “Unsaid” by Neil Abramson. Great story. Veterinarian dies, but cannot pass on because she is wracked with guilt about experiements she did as an intern at NIH..and the all the animals she euthanized.
We operate an animal rescue–and have lost dozens of animals. It wasn’t until I read that book that I thought about what euthanasia might mean to an animal doctor. They went to medical school to heal, not to kill. Anyway–our dog Chloe was nearing the end. I emailed our Vet and said, “I would like the technician to get her IV placed–but I need to be the one who depresses the syringe.” My Vet agreed.
My thought was this was my grief to process, not our Vets–and if I could process it without spreading the pain–then maybe it would just disappear. I wouldn’t add any more grief to the world. Not all of our Vets have permitted this–but I still try to do it. It is awful enough for everyone, why should I ask our healer to be the one to take their lives–even when it is done with compassion?
To take Romans 8:28 to heart–it seems that I need to take that grief and turn it over to God. I like that.
That is so very thoughtful! I am sure the vets appreciate that. I can’t thank you guys enough for the dialogue not only on creativity and music, but as fellow human beings encouraging each other. Listening. Maureen was right; this is a classy hangout online!!
Good insights, Peter. Occasional missing word happens best us…
Also love Liz Gilbert. Her book Big Magic is great, too. A friend of mine recounted something she said to her writing (or extend that — “said to her muse”): “I will never ask you to support me. I will only support you.” And isn’t that the essence of love?
I, too, am fascinated by how our minds work — three pounds of brain locked in the dark inside a bony skull, interpreting signals and making predictions. Anil Seth’s TED Talk on “Your brain hallucinates your conscious reality” is good (https://youtu.be/lyu7v7nWzfo) along with stuff that Donald Hoffman (UC Irvine) is investigating (we are incapable of perceiving reality as it is, and consciousness and our senses are more like a user interface).
And to share a personal experience of what Steve describes: “…artists are not the true authors of the works they produce but that the narrative or visual image or music comes 𝘵𝘩𝘳𝘰𝘶𝘨𝘩 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘮 from some source they cannot define or locate and whose very existence they cannot prove.” About this time last year, I was hanging in a hammock in the middle of a national forest, engaged in deep meditation and listening to a classical playlist. Listening to some of those pieces (Barber’s Adagio for Strings, or Arvo Pärt’s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten, by example), I had the insight that these pieces seemed too beautiful to have originated from 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯 a human mind… it seemed to make more sense that they were coming from “somewhere else, and being channeled 𝘵𝘩𝘳𝘰𝘶𝘨𝘩 the mind of Barber or Pärt’.
I need to read Big Magic! It’s on my Goodreads list now!
This is a beautiful post:
“I will never ask you to support me. I will only support you.” And isn’t that the essence of love?
Liz Gilbert is clearly a beautiful person.
Based on the comments here, I went ahead and purchased her book on Amazon!
“A universal truth that all writers and artists know—that they, the artists, are not the true authors of the works they produce but that the narrative or visual image or music comes through them from some source they cannot define or locate and whose very existence they cannot prove.” I wonder if this is why I struggle with sharing and marketing my work? It makes feel uncomfortable, even though I want to connect with others. It’s the ego vs. soul. I believe art transcends earthly rules to speak directly to our hearts. We should FEEL something with the art that speaks to us.
You’re on the right track, Kate. I think this is all about coming into this place with gifts, and then giving them away. Can I invite you to do something? Go to your YT channel and pick one of your pieces that you’d LIKE to share (I’m not saying “your favorite,” mind you). Put the link in here.
Now it’s not ego… you’re just responding in courtesy to friendly and earnest interest.
“I think this is all about coming into this place with gifts, and then giving them away.” Oooh! I love this. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Joe. One of your gifts is “seeing” people and enouraging them. I’m reminded of the Goethe quote: “treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and we help them become what they’re capable of becoming.”
I’ll share one that I wrote back in January of 2021.
I collaborated with a drummer from London. We wanted to create a chill song with heavy toms and an emphasis on atomosphere. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=miISghDfYBY
I found the beautiful footage of wolves from an artist on Pixabay. This song is about finding your tribe and daring to dream outside the box of what others have put you in. Lightly inspired by poet Nikita Gill — ‘Some days I am more wolf than woman, and I am still learning how to stop apologizing for my wild.’
Alot of women know what it feels like to be the quintessiental “nice girl”. What some of us never learned is that you also have to be “nice” to yourself. Your dreams are valid. That was the problem. This song was my solution.
“Dare to Dream.” Love that one. You had that pinned to the top at one point, didn’t you? Your voice brings to mind Paula Cole. And the wolf footage works great with the themes of being true to one’s self. Well done!
I also liked “Thank You” (https://youtu.be/miTe9-g0Cs4) with its themes of gratitude (which will also pave a nice landing pad for the Muse). Visually, I thought it was cool how the ferns seemed to be embracing each other there at the start.
So cool of you to find one of Kate’s videos and post here. Too kind. Those initial plants looked like they were courting/dancing/kissing.
You’re truly something else! So talented.
Two wonderful pieces of music. Kate, you have such a beautiful voice and unique and enchanting style. As Joe said already, a touch of Paula Cole, and some Kate Bush. But your musicality and presentation are so understated and tasteful. I like the absence of reverb at one level, so it feels like you’re whispering in my headphones. And then are delightful moments of reverb that come in later in those two pieces. Just trying to give some specifics. Really nice.
Thanks for obeying Joe and sharing with us. 🙂
And who doesn’t love wolves? I encountered gorgeous specimens of wolfhood in the Predators of the Heart Sanctuary near Seattle in 2017, just after the total eclipse. Beautiful primal animals.
Kate thank you for that Goethe quote: “treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and we help them become what they’re capable of becoming.”
Beautiful and important. Thank you.
Nikita Gill — ‘Some days I am more wolf than woman, and I am still learning how to stop apologizing for my wild.’ This reminds me of Robin Williams: “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”
Robin Williams was a gem. I recall him as Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.” I sobbed.
My colleagues and I were just talking about Koko the gorilla meeting Robin Williams. His work with the homeless, our troops, and those in recovery always warmed my heart. He was a gentle soul!
Yes, he was. And I’m fascinated by examples of animal intelligence. Or maybe say “non-human intelligence.” Recently read a bit on “Alex the Grey Parrot.” I continue to consider my role as a meat eater.
Two timeless classics! It is amazing how the Iliad and the Odyssey still speak to us after 28 centuries.
Is it the characters, or the plot?
I think is the universality of its themes (sacrifice for family and country, the quest for glory and immortality, the stress of duty, fate versus free choice, courage in the face of overwhelming odds, the rights and responsibilities of rulers, even in a macro context, civilization (embodied by Hector) versus brutality (embodied by Achilles).
For the ancients, the muses were not personifications, they were real.
And yet, why could they not be? What if they call muse what we choose to call the collective consciousness of human culture?
Interesting post, Steven.
Not just the works of Homer, but much of Greek mythology holds a timeless quality.
It is a challenge to find modern issues that aren’t reflected in the Hellenic stories. For example, PTSD is readily observed in the sad tale of Ajax Lesser.
Of course, just because the ancient poets touched on such issues doesn’t mean they offer any tangible insight into addressing them: Knowing Ajax’s story certainly helped me view my own wartime experiences (I don’t suffer from PTSD), and some friends’ experiences (who do, and are doing better) in a more complete context; yet I cannot explain the mechanism by which it helped.
The epic and nuanced world of Greek mythology is a great companion to the real world in which we all struggle. Of course, similar could be said about the mythology of the Norse, Irish, Japanese, et cetera – but few have been explored and colloquialized in the western world to the same degree.
Correction: Ajax Greater.
In a nice little circle back to the blog: Ajax, son of Telamon.
Guys, todays is a beautiful thread following a great post by the Guv’nor, one that has really resonated with us all. Perhaps it’s that Steve has reminded us (again) that we’re all in contact with the eternal, even when we forget that fact.
“the artists, are not the true authors of the works they produce but that the narrative or visual image or music comes through them from some source they cannot define,” NLP practitioners say that great spellers don’t memorize words they simply copy them down from the frontal lobe part of the brain what they see in their mind’s eye. Mozart said the same. As a visual artist, I’m often asked: what is your painting technique? … outside of holding the brush I have no “technique”, I simply splash paint on a canvas and mess with it until it looks right. Be it zen, god or the abyss, the collective conscience finds the right look and when it is satisfied, I am too. Thanks for the stir, Steve!
I read the post early this morning before running some errands, and returned to reread because a few thoughts were bubbling to the fore.
The fact that EVERYONE is bootlegging off of Homer is added ballast to Steve’s previous posts about ‘it ain’t stealing..’.
Fascinating to think a couple of stories written 3,000-ish years ago have more profundity and wisdom than any of the ‘scientism’ that has been crammed down our throats for the past 15 months. I love what the enlightenment has given us–but we’ve lost a great deal of ancient wisdom. Wisdom is different than educated.
When did we decide to give our agency over to experts who have demonstrated little wisdom?
Then I was thinking about the humility demonstrated by beginning two of the most impactful and copied stories with a prayer. Got me to thinking about the whole amateur/pro issue–and something I don’t remember Steven commenting about. If all creatives, and by that I mean every human alive, are simply vessels through which the Divine is communicated–then I think it follows to say we were all Divinely created.
I haven’t felt this way for most of my life. I have felt ‘wrong’, scarred, an accident. I think I might have said, “I’m sorry…but…” about 100,000 times in my life.
Had this unbelievable experience about 6 weeks ago–ancient practice, ancient medicine involved–and after some pretty severe purging of darkness–I had this ‘knowing’ that I was ‘made on purpose’, and didn’t need to apologize for anything (unless, of course, I consciously did something mean, untoward, spiteful, childish, etc).
I am now beginning to think that until we can accept that we were ‘made on purpose’, ‘Divinely Created’, that we will be unable to use our gifts for their intended use. The beliefs of ‘not good enough’, ‘unworthiness’, ‘damaged’, ‘broken’ –all of the beliefs of the amateur–directly oppose our ability to create with humble abandon.
I don’t think I’m communicating this very clearly–part of this is me trying to sort it out in my own head–but I think there is an immediate humility to understand we are not an accident. There is a consciousness behind our own creation-and it came with a purpose.
Saying that prayer each day is Steve’s way of reminding himself of his own part of the Divinity. I am trying to develop a few of my own practices–A Man At Arms and 1COR13 has become part of that–from that place of humble gratitude, we are able to align with our pre-ordained purpose.
“Wisdom is different than educated.” I second that!
We are bogged down with information. Information overload. What do we do with all the data? Regurgitate? NO. Think for yourself, question (earthly) authority. I like your thoughts on “humble gratitude”. When reading your post, I was reminded of Kintsugi. The most beautiful pieces in this pottery are the cracks filled in with precious metals. Leonard Cohen said the same–“the cracks are where the light comes in”. A mini prayer: May light and love fill all the brokenness this world may have done to our souls. May our work provide meaning to the pain.
Thanks. The first thought I had when I looked at the onmanorama page was the song “Wounded” by Third Eye Blind. I just love that song–really speaks to the resilience in life. Show up, show up wounded.
Thank you dear Steven,
Who could deny the power of the invocation of the Muse, introducing the two powerful epics with her presence? Even if one assumed that he didn’t believe that she was coming to him when he called upon her, which doesn’t seem to be the case, she would nevertheless work her poetic magic, using the great collective energy that an audience of the times would have! An audience that looked at the Sky in awe, at mount Olympus to imagine the works of the Gods, and on Earth as the mother who gave birth and grounds to all the Gods and the mortals, and had in front of them a singer of the songs of Gods, possibly a mysterious and enchanting presence.
Reading a bit about the pre-Socratic philosophers these days, I would playfully try to start defining this force from within the artist as a parallel to the “eternal flow/fire” that Heraclitus of Ephesus considered to be the cause of birth and death of all things, only this time this force would be coming from the inside of special women and men and would be creating not the world itself but their own soul’s paintings.
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