Monday, June 14, 2010

Ten Muses?

As I've mentioned once before, the street names in New Orleans are poetic, they spark revels in the mind when you trace them on the map.  It turns out that the nomenclature isn't limited to the inspiration that gave them their official designations.  Traveling along these thoroughfares likewise enlivens the imagination.  The scenery is gorgeous.
My classical education serves me well when I navigate one part of New Orleans, at least.  I'm referring to the "Muses streets."  Just north of Lee Circle, crossing St. Charles Avenue, are nine streets that, if you know what the names mean, you'll know you're in the right neighborhood.  These streets are named after the Nine Muses in classical mythology.  They are, in order from Lee Circle heading Uptown:

Calliope, the muse of epic poetry;
Clio, the muse of history;
Erato, the muse of lyric poetry, though some say love and erotic poetry;
Thalia, the muse of comedy;
Melpomene, the muse of tragedy;
Terpsichore, the muse of dance;
Euterpe, the muse of music;
Polymnia, the muse of choral poetry that some say includes hymns, sacred songs, and oratory.  The more   traditional spelling is 'Polyhymnia' ;
Urania, the muse of astronomy.

If I can talk a moment about Terpsichore Street, which I am most familiar with, one part of it between Coliseum Park and Prytrania Street is divided down the middle by a strip of neutral ground (median to non-New Orleanians) planted with trees and benches and a path down its middle.  It is a perfect place in which to dance your way from one end of the block to the other.

You'll notice that all the Muse streets cross Prytania Street (parallel to St. Charles Ave.), who was not a Muse no matter what the name sounds like.  The name doesn't seem to have a definition.  A little cursory googling ties the word to Hecate, the classical goddess of witchcraft.  I stopped looking after that, satisfied with that connection.  New Orleans is a magical place and Prytania is a magical street, like so many others.

If you know your Muses, when you reach Thalia Street you'll know what district you're in.  Who said memorizing Greek mythology was a waste of time?  Not me.

Thanks to Rue de Etymologia for the illustration today.


Flynn said...

BTW, loved your post, as I am entranced with the Muse Streets as you are. After reading your post, I went on some hunting myself.

The street layouts were done by Barthelemy Lafon, who apparently had quite the classics bent himself, before turning to piracy and smuggling later in his life (cool!).

However, the two streets that the Nine Muses intersect with (completely, that is...with none of the Muse streets ending) are Coliseum and Prytania. Turns out, Lafon had a plan for both a Coliseum and a Prytaneum.

Now that we have the facts straight, I prefer your magical thinking. As Mnemosyne was the mother of the Muses, and Hecate was known as Prytania Hecate when she was helping people enter Hades, it's far more fun to see some connection with the brief appearance/disappearance of the Muses ending at a magical crossroads like Hecate would preside over in Hades.

At least that's how I'm going to look at it. Thanks for the post!

Whalehead King said...

Well researched, sir. Both through books and experience. We are on the same leaf.

With a handshake,


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