The Sarcophagus of the Muses in the Louvre

Sarcophagus of the Muses, c. 150-160 AD, Pentelic Marble, 0.92×2.06 m, the Louvre Museum, Paris, France
https://twitter.com/MuseeLouvre/status/1254455247449317379/photo/1

[36] Come thou, let us begin with the Muses who gladden the great spirit of their father Zeus in Olympus with their songs, telling of things that are and that shall be and that were aforetime with consenting voice. Unwearying flows the sweet sound from their lips, and the house of their father Zeus the loud-thunderer is glad at the lily-like voice of the goddesses as it spread abroad, and the peaks of snowy Olympus resound, and the homes of the immortals. And they uttering their immortal voice, celebrate in song first of all the reverend race of the gods from the beginning, those whom Earth and wide Heaven begot, and the gods sprung of these, givers of good things. Then, next, the goddesses sing of Zeus, the father of gods and men, as they begin and end their strain, how much he is the most excellent among the gods and supreme in power. And again, they chant the race of men and strong giants, and gladden the heart of Zeus within Olympus, — the Olympian Muses, daughters of Zeus the aegis-holder… Writes Hesiod in his Theogony, describing the Muses… the lovely goddesses who dance and sing and inspire poets like Homer, Virgil, Dante, John Milton, and William Blake… Can The Sarcophagus of the Muses in the Louvre help us learn more about them? https://www.theoi.com/Text/HesiodTheogony.html

It does, indeed! According to the Louvre experts… Created around the mid-second century BC, this sarcophagus was probably made for a cultivated Roman anxious to demonstrate his attachment to Greek culture, with models drawn from Greek art. The composition of the frieze, the neutral background and the retrained attitude of the Muses all evoke the classical art of the fifth and fourth centuries BCE. This impression is sustained by the very discreet employment of the drill and the rounded forms of the carefully polished surfaces. The elongated figures of the young women and their almost statuesque appearance, suggested by the depth of the relief, also recall Hellenistic art. Furthermore, each Muse is clearly identified by her attributes and demeanour… https://collections.louvre.fr/en/ark:/53355/cl010278285

Sarcophagus of the Muses, c. 150-160 AD, Pentelic Marble, 0.92×2.06 m, the Louvre Museum, Paris, France
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Muses_sarcophagus_Louvre_MR880.jpg

Let’s Identify them, starting from left to right…

Kalliope… According to Hesiod, Kalliope was the oldest of the nine Muses, the wisest, and the most assertive. As for the Roman poet Ovid, she was the Chief of all Muses! Orpheus was her son and poets since antiquity called upon her for inspiration! Kalliope is the Muse of Epic Poetry, Music, Song, Dance, and Eloquence. Her attribute is the Wax Tablet or the Scroll. Her name means beautiful-voiced.

Thalia… like all nine Muses, was the daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne (Goddess of Memory) and the mother of the Corybantes, the warrior dancers who worshipped goddess Cybele with drumming and dancing. Thalia is the Muse of Comedy and Bucolic Poetry. Among her attributes are the Comic mask, an ivy wreath, and the shepherd’s staff. She is the joyous, flourishing Muse.

Terpsichore… whose name means Delight in Dancing, is fittingly considered the Muse of Dance. Interestingly she is usually, not in the case of the Louvre Sarcophagus, depicted sitting down, holding a lyre, accompanying the dancers’ choirs with her music. Terpsichore was the mother of the dangerous Sirens, who lured sailors with their music and singing voices to shipwreck and death! Her attribute is the lyre.


Euterpe… the Giver of Delight, was, according to ancient Greek poets, the Goddess of Lyric Poetry. Along with her sisters, she entertained the Gods and Goddesses at Mount Olympus, but she also loved to wander around Mount Helicon and Mount Parnassus. Euterpe is credited as the inventor of the Aulos, an ancient Greek wind instrument, often translated as Flute or Double-Flute. The Aulos is her attribute.

  Polyhymnia… Muse of the sacred Poetry, is the most serious looking of all Muses. Often depicted pensive, and meditative, like in the case of the Louvre Sarcophagus, Polyhymnia, whose name means Praise, is often covered in a veil which is her attribute as well. Diodorus Siculus wrote that Polyhymnia, because by her great (polle) praises (humnesis) she brings distinction to writers whose works have won for them immortal fame…

Clio… whose name derives from the Greek root κλέω/κλείω, meaning to make famous or to celebrate. is the Muse of History. She is often presented holding an open scroll or seated beside a chest of books, which are her attributes as well.

Erato… is the Muse of erotic poetry, and mimic imitation. Her name, etymologically, shares the same root as Eros, the god of love! Erato is usually depicted holding her attribute, the Lyre or a Kithara, and she is adorned with a wreath of myrtle and roses!

Sarcophagus of the Muses (Urania and Melpomene), c. 150-160 AD, Pentelic Marble, 0.92×2.06 m, the Louvre Museum, Paris, France
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Urania… the heavenly Muse of Astronomy, is often depicted wearing a cloak covered in stars, looking upwards toward the sky. In the case of the Louvre Sarcophagus, Urania is portrayed as pensive, looking downwards, pointing to the celestial Globe with a staff. In Orphic Hymn 76 to the Muses Urania is beautifully described as heavenly bright.

Melpomene… is the Melodious Muse of Tragic Poetry, the Muse who celebrates with dance and song. Melpomene is often depicted with her attributes… carrying a sword or a dagger, holding the tragic mask, and wearing cothurnus boots which were worn by tragic actors.

For a PowerPoint on The Sarcophagus of the Muses in the Louvre, please… Click HERE!

Interesting information on the 9 Muses can be found… https://www.theoi.com/Ouranios/Mousai.html and https://www.thoughtco.com/the-greek-muses-119788 and https://www.greekmythology.com/Other_Gods/The_Muses/the_muses.html and https://pantheon.org/articles/m/muse.html  

Little Dancer Aged Fourteen by Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas, French Artist, 1834 – 1917
Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, circa 1878-1881, Bronze with brown patina, tulle skirt and satin ribbon on wooden base, Cast by A. A. Hébrard, Paris, circa 1922, 96.5×47×35 cm, Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation, Athens, Greece
https://goulandris.gr/en/artwork/degas-edgar-little-dancer-aged-fourteen

You may write me down in history / With your bitter, twisted lies, / or may trod me in the very dirt / But still, like dust, I’ll rise.    /    Does my sassiness upset you? / Why are you beset with gloom? / ‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells / Pumping in my living room.    /    Just like moons and like suns, / With the certainty of tides, / Just like hopes springing high, / Still I’ll rise.    /    Did you want to see me broken? / Bowed head  /and lowered eyes? / Shoulders falling down like teardrops.    /    Weakened by my soulful cries.    /    Does my haughtiness offend you? / Don’t you take it awful hard / ‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines / Diggin’ in my own back yard.    /    You may shoot me with your words, / You may cut me with your eyes, / You may kill me with your hatefulness, / But still, like air, I’ll rise.    /    Does my sexiness upset you? / Does it come as a surprise / That I dance like I’ve got diamonds / At the meeting of my thighs?    /    Out of the huts of history’s shame / I rise / Up from a past that’s rooted in pain / I rise / I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide, / Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.    /    Leaving behind nights of terror and fear / I rise / Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear / I rise / Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, / I am the dream and the hope of the slave.    /    I rise    /    I rise    /    I rise… writes Maya Angelou and I think of the Little Dancer Aged Fourteen by Edgar Degas in the Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation in Athens… https://www.poetrysoup.com/famous/poems/best/dance

Edgar Degas, French Artist, 1834 – 1917
Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (detail), circa 1878-1881, Bronze with brown patina, tulle skirt and satin ribbon on wooden base, Cast by A. A. Hébrard, Paris, circa 1922, 96.5×47×35 cm, Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation, Athens, Greece
https://goulandris.gr/en/shop/category/edgar-degas

Edgar Degas found ballet dancing irresistible and at the Paris Opéra, he frequently attended grand ballet productions on stage and small ballet classes in rehearsal studios. He was an astute observer of the ballerinas’ daily routine of rehearsing, stretching, and resting. He studied dance movements and filled numerous notebooks with sketches to help him remember details so he could later compose paintings and model sculptures in his studio. His penetrating observations are best exemplified in the artist’s statue of the Little Dancer Aged Fourteen exhibited in the Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation in Athens. The Little Dancer’s name was Marie van Goethem… and she was a young student at the Paris Opéra Ballet School. https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/Education/learning-resources/an-eye-for-art/AnEyeforArt-EdgarDegas.pdf and https://goulandris.gr/en/artwork/degas-edgar-little-dancer-aged-fourteen

Adolescent Marie, according to Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation experts, is presented standing in a dynamic but relaxed way, her feet in the “fourth position,” her hands held behind her back, the head slightly raised, and the entire appearance revealing all the ambiguity of an adolescent figure deformed by the dancing practice. The thinness of her body, the possible malnutrition suggested by a slightly swollen belly, does not diminish the girl’s sensuality, whose proud position, almost with an air of defiance, may seem, according to observers, dignified, provocative, or despisingI rise / Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear / I risehttps://goulandris.gr/en/artwork/degas-edgar-little-dancer-aged-fourteen

Edgar Degas, French Artist, 1834 – 1917
Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (back view), circa 1878-1881, Bronze with brown patina, tulle skirt and satin ribbon on wooden base, Cast by A. A. Hébrard, Paris, circa 1922, 96.5×47×35 cm, Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation, Athens, Greece
https://goulandris.gr/en/artwork/degas-edgar-little-dancer-aged-fourteen
Edgar Degas, French Artist, 1834 – 1917
Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (side view), circa 1878-1881, Bronze with brown patina, tulle skirt and satin ribbon on wooden base, Cast by A. A. Hébrard, Paris, circa 1922, 96.5×47×35 cm, Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation, Athens, Greece
https://goulandris.gr/en/artwork/degas-edgar-little-dancer-aged-fourteen

Degas worked on Little Dancer Aged Fourteen for more than two years. He first created an armature of metal, wood, wire, rope, and two long paintbrushes for the dancer’s shoulders. Then, he modeled the figure first with clay to define the muscles, and then he modeled the final layer of the sculpture in wax. It was not enough… He dressed the statue in real ballet satin slippers, a linen bodice, a muslin tutu, and a wig of human hair, braided and tied with a ribbon. Finally, to complete the illusion, a coat of wax spread smoothly with a spatula over the surface of the sculpture, giving it an overall waxy,  lifelike look. After Degas died in 1917, copies of this wax figure were cast in plaster and bronze, and Little Dancer Aged Fourteen grew in fame around the world. https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/Education/learning-resources/an-eye-for-art/AnEyeforArt-EdgarDegas.pdf

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

Edgar Degas, French Artist, 1834 – 1917
Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (Museum Hall view), circa 1878-1881, Bronze with brown patina, tulle skirt and satin ribbon on wooden base, Cast by A. A. Hébrard, Paris, circa 1922, 96.5×47×35 cm, Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation, Athens, Greece
https://goulandris.gr/en/visit/be-athens