“Musing Professor” for SamR A Hundred Dollar Drawing. Author: Nina Paley Animator. Director. Artist. Scapegoat. View all posts by Nina Paley
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After some research and some thought,
I have decided on the following interpretation
of the symbolism of this piece:
These muses are not a subset of the classical nine from Hesiod’s Theogony,
but the full complement of the Boeotian muses
mentioned in Pausanias’s Description of Greece,
namely Aoide, Melete, and Mneme.
When depicted alongside a professor at a liberal-arts college,
they signify the principal means of liberal education:
study, contemplation, discourse, and practice.
Aoide, whose name means “voice,” represents discourse.
The cartoonist depicts her with a lyre
because she is also the muse of song (“Aoide” also means “song”),
but in early times there were no firm dividing lines between musical performance,
recitation of poetry,
I think that it is entirely appropriate
to understand discussion sessions of courses
as being inspired by Aoide.
The name ‘Melete’ means both “contemplation” and “practice,”
expressing the idea that thought without action is idle
and action without thought is foolish.
Mneme, whose name means “memory,”
obviously stands for study and recollection of texts.
In the cartoon, she carries a (symbolic) scroll even while dancing.
In most of the works of art that depict muses,
they come singly,
visiting an artist who is lost in thought
or perhaps suffering from writer’s block
to bring fresh inspiration.
In the cartoon, though, they are dancing,
and I like to think that they are moved to dance
by the sheer joy of understanding things,
cheered and invigorated by learning.