Muses were the daughters of Zeus and the Titaness Mnemosyne. They were the famed goddesses of the fine arts, music (the English word derives from their name), literature and, later, a whole range of intellectual pursuits. Traditionally there were nine Muses, Hesiod naming them as Calliope, Clio, Euterpe, Terpsichore, Erato, Melpomene, Thalia, Polymnia and Urania.

Their collective name is probably linked with the men- root that gives Greek mnesis, 'memory' and English 'reminder' and 'mind' (and of course 'memory' itself), the argument being that in early times poets had no books to read from so relied on their memories (compare Mnemosyne, and so also Mentor, Minerva and Mnemon).

Other possible derivations have been offered, however, including an obsolete verb mao, 'to inquire', 'invent' and manthano, 'to learn', 'to understand'. The name gave English (and other languages) not only 'music' but also 'museum', the former word originally relating to all the arts (including paint­ing and poetry) and the latter being an establishment that began as a 'seat of the Muses'.