The Art of the Muses: Poetry, Inspiration and Craft

Dr Penelope Murray, Scholar of Classics and Classical Literature, formerly King's College London, Oxford and University of Warwick

Co-presented with the Inspired Voices Research Cluster at the University of Sydney

2 October, 2012

Inspiration and craft might be thought to offer contrasting models of the poet’s activity, the one deriving from a divine source, the other dependent on human expertise. But for the early Greek poets there was no contradiction in claiming to be inspired by the Muse and yet in control of the making of a poem. It was Plato who, for his own reasons, first set inspiration and technique against each other through his development of the notion of furor poeticus, that mad frenzy which descends on the poet and sends him out of his mind so that he knows nothing of what he does, and is incapable of explaining the composition or the content of his poetry.

The appeal to the Muse, so beloved of the poets, contains within it an ambiguity which Plato was all too ready to exploit. For whilst it can act as a guarantee of the poet’s credentials, it also deprives him of responsibility. The lecture will focus mainly on Plato’s Ion which strikes at the heart of the problems of authorship, authority and value that the claim to inspiration raises.

Dr Penelope Murray

Penelope Murray read Classics at Newnham College, Cambridge, where she also took her Ph.D. After research posts at King’s College, London and St. Anne’s College, Oxford, she was a founder member of the department of Classics at the University of Warwick, where she taught for many years. She has written extensively on ancient poetics and has a particular interest in the Muses. Her books include:Genius: the History of an Idea (1989);Plato on Poetry (1996); Classical Literary Criticism (2000);Music and the Muses: the Culture of Mousike in the Classical Athenian City (ed. with Peter Wilson, 2004). She is currently working on the Blackwell Companion to Ancient Aesthetic,which she is co-editing with Pierre Destrée.