They supported virtue in distress, and preserved worthy actions from oblivion. Homer calls them superintendents and correctors of manners. In respect to the sciences, these sisters had each their separate province; though poetry seemed more immediately under their united protection.
These divinities, formerly called Mosae, were so named from a Greek word signifying to inquire; because, by inquiring of them, the sciences might be learnt. Others say they had their name from their resemblance, because there is a similitude, an infinity, and relation, betwixt all the sciences, in which they agree together, and are united with each other; for which reason they are often painted with their hands joined, dancing in a circle round Apollo their leader.
They were represented crowned with flowers, or wreaths of palm, each holding some instrument, or emblem of the science or art over which she presided. They were depicted as in the bloom of youth; and the bird sacred to them was the swan, probably because that bird was consecrated to their sovereign Apollo. There was a fountain of the Muses near Rome, in the meadow where Numa used to meet the goddess Egeria; the care of which and of the worship paid to the Muses, was entrusted to the Vestal virgins.
The Muses - Clio
Their names were as follows: Clio, who presided over history. Her name is derived from the Greek words meaning glory or to celebrate. She is generally represented under the form of a young woman crowned with laurel, holding in her right hand a trumpet, and in her left a book: others describe her with a lute in one hand, and in the other a plectrum, or quill.
The Muses - Euterpe
Euterpe is distinguished by tibiae or pipes whence she was called also Tibicina. Some say logic was invented by her. It was very common with the musicians of old to play on two pipes at once, agreeably to the remarks before Terence's plays, and as we often actually find them represented in the remains of the artists. It was over this species of music that Euterpe presided, as we learn from the first ode of Horace.
The Muses - Thalia
Thalia presided over comedy, and whatever was bright, amiable, and pleasant. She holds a mask in her right hand, and on medals she is represented leaning against a pillar. She was the Muse of comedy, of which they had a great mixture on the Roman stage in the earliest ages of their poetry, and long after. She is distinguished from the other Muses in general by a mask, and from Melpomene, the tragic Muse, by her shepherd's crook, not to speak of her look, which is meaner than that of Melpomene, or her dress, which is shorter, and consequently less noble, than that of any other of the Muses.
The Muses - Melpomene
Melpomene was so styled from the dignity and excellence of her song. She presided over epic and lyric poetry. To her the invention of all mournful verses, and, particularly, of tragedy, was ascribed; for which reason Horace invokes her when he laments the death of Quintilius Varus. She is usually represented of a sedate countenance, and richly habited, with sceptres and crowns in one hand, and in the other a dagger. She has her mask on her head, which is sometimes placed so far backward that it has been mistaken for a second face. Her mask shows that she presided over the stage; and she is distinguished from Thalia, or the comic Muse, by having more of dignity in her look, stature, and dress. Melpomene was supposed to preside over all melancholy subjects, as well as tragedy; as one would imagine at least from Horace's invoking her in one of his odes, and his desiring her to crown him with laurel in another.
The Muses - Terpsichore
Terpsichore; that is, the sprightly. Some attribute her name to the pleasure she took in dancing; others represent her as the protectress of music, particularly the flute; and add, that the chorus of the ancient drama was her province, to which also logic has been annexed. She is further said to be distinguished by the flutes which she holds, as well on medals as on other monuments.
The Muses - Erato
Erato, presided over elegiac or amorous poetry, and dancing, whence she was sometimes called Saltatrix. She is represented as young, and crowned with myrtle and roses, having a lyre in her right hand, and a bow in her left, with a little winged Cupid placed by her, armed with his bow and arrows.
The Muses - Polyhymnia
Polyhymnia. Her name, which is of Greek origin, and signifies much singing, seems to have been given her for the number of her songs, rather than her faithfulness of memory. To Polyhymnia belonged that harmony of voice and gesture which gives a perfection to oratory and poetry. She presided over rhetoric, and is represented with a crown of pearls and a white robe, in the act of extending her right hand, as if haranguing, and holding in her left a scroll, on which the word Suadere is written; sometimes, instead of the scroll, she appears holding a caduceus or sceptre.
The Muses - Urania
Urania, or Coelestis. She is the Muse who extended her care to all divine or celestial subjects, such as the hymns in praise of the gods, the motions of the heavenly bodies, and whatever regarded philosophy or astronomy. She is represented in an azure robe, crowned with stars and supporting a large globe with both hands: on medals this globe stands upon a tripod.
The Muses - Calliope
Calliope, who presides over eloquence and heroic poetry; so called from the ecstatic harmony of her voice. The poets, who are supposed to receive their inspirations from the Muses, chiefly invoked Calliope, as she presided over the hymns made in honor of the gods. She is spoken of by Ovid, as the chief of all the Muses. Under the same idea, Horace calls her Regina, and attributes to her the skill of playing on what instrument she pleases.