Clio – Greek Muse of History

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In Greek mythology, Clio (also spelled ‘Kleio) was one of the Nine Muses, the goddesses who guided and inspired artists. She was the personification of history but in some accounts she was also known as the muse of lyre playing.

Who Was Clio?

Clio was born along with eight other siblings to Zeus, the god of thunder, and Mnemosyne, the Titan goddess of memory. According to the ancient sources, Zeus visited Mnemosyne for nine nights in a row and consummated each of those nights after which Mnemosyne became pregnant.

Mnemosye gave birth to nine daughters, one each night for nine nights in a row. The daughters  were known as the Younger Muses, to distinguish them from an earlier set of Muses in Greek mythology. Clio’s siblings included Euterpe, Thalia, Terpsichore, Erato, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Calliope and Urania.  Each of them had their own domain in the arts and sciences.

Clio spent much of her time on Mount Olympus with her sisters, since they provided their services to the gods. They were mostly found in the company of Apollo, the god of the sun who had been their tutor as they grew up and whom the Muses held in high regard.

Depictions and Symbols of Clio

Clio’s name was derived from the Greek work ‘Kleio’ which means ‘to proclaim’ or ‘to make famous’ and she was usually regarded as ‘the proclaimer’. Being the Muse of history, she’s often depicted with a book, a set of tablets or an open parchment scroll.

In some representations, she’s seen with a water clock (known as a clepsydra) and a heroic trumpet. In most depictions, she’s portrayed as a beautiful young woman with wings, just like her sisters. Although Clio wasn’t a muse of music or the lyre, she’s sometimes shown playing a lyre.

Clio’s Offspring

There are various sources that contain information about Clio’s offspring and there are also many speculations about the actual parentage of her children. 

According to the myths, Clio was the mother of Hymenaeus, also called Hymen, a minor god of marriage, with Apollo being his father. In some accounts, she was also the mother of the divine hero Hyacinth, by her lover Pierus, or one of the Spartan Kings Amyclas or Oebalus. In others, she’s mentioned as the mother of the poet Linus who later died in Argos and was buried there. However, Linus was said to have had different parents, and depending on the source, he was the son of Calliope or Urania, Clio’s sisters.

Clio’s Role in Greek Mythology

Clio didn’t play a main role in Greek mythology and she was very rarely identified as an individual.

As the patron of history, Clio’s role was not only to encourage the retelling of factual historical accounts but also the stories themselves, so that they wouldn’t be forgotten. Clio was responsible for all of the knowledge that came from events, investigations and discoveries throughout history and it was her job to safeguard these. Her role was to guide and inspire the mortals, reminding them to always be responsible scholars and share what they learned.

Some sources say that she angered Aphrodite, the goddess of love, by reprimanding her or laughing at her for falling in love with Adonis. Aphrodite, who wouldn’t tolerate being slighted by anyone, punished Clio by making her fall in love with the mortal Macedonian King Pierus. Their son, Hyacinthus, was a very handsome young man but he was later killed by his lover, Apollo, and from his blood grew a hyacinth flower.

In an alternate version of the myth, Clio was said to have had a secret relationship with Adonis who the goddess Aphrodite was in love with. When Aphrodite found out, she cursed the young Muse so that she would fall in love with Pierus instead.

Clio and her beautiful sisters may have been lovely goddesses who were often found singing or dancing, but when angered they could be quite dangerous. They were excellent singers and dancers but they often found their skills challenged by others and they didn’t like this at all. The Sirens, the daughters of Pierus and Thamyris, were all deafed by the Muses who took revenge on their opponents by punishing them. 

Clio Greek mythology

Clio’s Associations

Today, Clio’s name is used for many modern brands like the Clio Awards which is given for excellence in the field of advertising. The history society of the Cambridge University is often called ‘Clio’ and there’s also a bay in Antarctica named after her.

Although the Muse of history is mostly depicted in paintings with her sisters rather than alone, she has also been the main subject of beautiful artwork by famous artists such as Johannes Moreelse and Charles Meynier. A section of Hesiod’s Theogony is dedicated to Clio and her sisters praising them for their kindness, guidance and inspiration.

In Brief

As one of the Muses, Clio played an important role in Greek mythology, especially considering how much the Greeks valued history and music. She continues to be a popular goddess among the historians of today, inspiring them to continue keeping history alive for future generations.