Inspired by Muses, Graces and Fates

How did the Muses, Graces and Fates influence the arts beginning in the ancient world and continuing through the post-modern era?


Key Staff

Social Studies, Theater, Art or Music teacher with opportunities for collaboration

Key Skills

Making Art: Performance Skills and Techniques, Producing, Executing and Performing, Composing and Planning
Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture
Creative Thinking: Creativity and Innovation


The Muses of ancient Greece inspired poets, playwrights, dancers, actors, musicians, and scientists. The Graces added life to a party and the Fates determined a life’s destiny. In this lesson, students identify the character traits of each Muse, Grace, or Fate. They study some writings of ancient Greek literature. They discover how artists throughout the ages have used the Muses in literature, music, dance, theatre, and the visual arts. Students then create a line or two of literature, as well as dance, music, and choral speaking performance based on a specific Muse, Grace, or Fate.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Identify the nine Greek Muses, three Graces, and three Fates and the attributes of each
  • Associate ancient Greek literature with a Greek Muse, Grace, or Fate
  • Examine how artists have expressed the Muses through the arts
  • Interpret a piece of ancient Greek literature and a Muse, Grace, or Fate through dance, music, and choral speaking
  • Practice and perform the piece for others

Teaching Approach

Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Cooperative Learning
  • Discussion
  • Role Playing

Assessment Type

Determined by Teacher


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Classroom
  • Internet Access
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Students will be examining the muses, graces and fates as inspiration for artists, dancers and musicians.

For more information, visit Mythweb and Theoi Greek Mythology.

Prior Student Knowledge

Familiarity with ancient Greek culture and traditions.

Physical Space



  • Large Group Instruction
  • Small Group Instruction


  • Prepare photocopies as needed
  • Test internet connection

Accessibility Notes

Students with physical disabilities may need modified movements.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge


1. Ask students what inspires them to create. Record all responses on the board.

2. Distribute the Classical Greek Poetry handout located within the Resource Carousel. Explain to students that the ancient Greeks entertained themselves with epic poems which told stories from history and mythology.

For example, Homer begins his epic, The Odyssey:

"Tell me, O Muse, of that man,
so in need of help, who wandered far and wide,
after he had sacked the sacred city of

In another section of The Odyssey, the blind poet wrote:

"The herald came near, bringing with him the
excellent singer
Whom the Muse had loved greatly…
She had deprived him of his sight, but she gave him
the sweet singing art...
The herald hung the clear lyre on a peg placed over
His head, and showed him how to reach up with his
hands to take it down."

3. Tell students that lyric poetry was often accompanied by a lyre. The early poet, Hesiod, wrote about the history of the gods in The Theogony. He writes:

"One day the Muses taught me glorious song...
They plucked and gave to me a laurel rod,
A sturdy shoot, a truly wondrous thing,
And into me they breathed a voice divine
To celebrate the future and the past.
My orders were to celebrate the gods who live
Eternally, but most of all to sing
Of them themselves, the Muses, first and last."

A female lyric poet and teacher, Sappho, was inspired to write about her daughter, Cleis in a poem entitled, "A Girl." She also broke traditions by having one speaker, herself, instead of a chorus speak to her audience. The poem is simple:

"I have a child; so fair
As golden flowers is she,
I'd give her not away
For Lydia's wide sway
Nor lands men long to see."

4. Explain to students that plays were often presented in festivals and contests were held to select the best ones. Greek drama developed from worship; from improvised dancing and singing to the god Dionysus, to organized choruses of two groups presenting plays that were choreographed and practiced. One actor, two, and finally three individual actors were slowly introduced by playwrights, as competitions grew more intense. The poems and plays of Sophocles and Aristophanes were partly sung to make them easier to remember. The chorus danced, sang, and commented on the play. They helped the audience understand transitions of time and place. They also explained a character's motivations and actions. The chorus stood in a circular area called an orchestra. The chorus and the actors wore masks. Every actor, dancer, and chorus member was male.

5. Ask students how this compares to the way plays are presented today.


Build Knowledge

1. Distribute the Muses, Graces, and Fates Information Chart to students located within the Resource Carousel.

2. Tell students that in ancient Greece, the Muses (mousai), nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (memory) were said to give inspiration to poets and artists. They are:

  • Calliope (epic poetry)
  • Clio (history)
  • Erato (love poetry and mimicry)
  • Euterpe (music)
  • Melpomene (tragedy)
  • Polyhymnia (hymns, sacred poetry, mime)
  • Terpsichore (dancing)
  • Thalia (comedy)
  • Urania (astronomy)

They are closely associated with Apollo and Dionysus. Apollo and Dionysus were brothers and sons of Zeus. Dionysus invented the lyre and gave it to Apollo who loved playing it. Apollo was the god of music and is often shown with the Muses. Dionysus enjoyed good times, music, and theatre.

Mortals inspired by Muses include Homer (poet), Socrates (philosopher), and Aristophanes (playwright). Vase painters and sculptors decorated pieces with the Muses as a central theme. It is believed that there were originally three muses, but the number increased to nine. The Romans gave the Muses names and attributes. The word "music" has its origin in the word "muse."

The Muses continued to inspire painters, like the Dutch master, Vermeer, the German painter Hans Rottenhammer, and Simon Vouet, a French artist in the 16th and 17th Centuries.

3. Visit the following Web sites for multimedia works with the theme of the Muses.

  • Minerva (Pallas Athena) was the patron goddess of Athens and the patroness of the arts; as such, played a significant role in Greek mythology and culture. Ovid wrote that she visited the Muses on Mt. Helicon which is depicted in Jacques Stella’s oil painting Minerva and the Muses.
  • Artist Peter Paul Rubens depicted The Three Graces in the Baroque style to which he was accustomed. Although Rubens had depicted the Graces a number of times, it is in this, one of his final works, that he rendered them as they had been shown in antiquity: with one’s back to the viewer.
  • In Parnassus by Andrea Mantegna, the Muses are depicted with a Renaissance flair.
  • In The Muses Clio, Euterpe and Thalia, by Eustache Le Sueur, the Muses are not all depicted together.
  • Go to the American Memory site to see sheet music for Julius Bernstein's "Nine Muse Waltz" (1879). (Select the Performing Arts section and type in his name.)
  • The 20th Century composer, Igor Stravinsky, who was fascinated by the ancient Greeks, wrote Apollon Musagete.
  • Choreographer George Balanchine visualized the music and created movement for the god Apollo and the Muses Terpsichore, Polyhymna, and Calliope to create the ballet, Apollo. In 1928, this ballet made George Balanchine famous and it remains in dance repertoires throughout the world. Visit the New York City Ballet website to hear a piece of the score and a photo of Apollo.

4. Explain that the graces and the Fates also play an important part in ancient Greek life and mythology. Like the Muses, they were daughters of Zeus. The Graces' mother, Eurynome, was the daughter of the Titan Oceanus. They are known as

  • Aglaia (Spendor)
  • Euphrosyne (Joy)
  • Thalia (Rejoicing)

They brought beauty and charm to everything they touched. They liked poetry, singing, and dancing. The Graces were also called Charities (Kharities) and were closely associated with Aphrodite. Poems, plays, music, visual arts, and dance were created to honor them. They, too, inspired composers in the 1800s. For The Three Graces; Tone Picture by Erwin Schneider in 1881 or Julia Rive-King's Mazurka des Graces go to American Memory. Select Performing Arts and type in each composer's name. A list of titles will include the pieces listed above.

5. Inform students that the Fates (Moirai) were the daughters of Themis (Night).

  • Clotho was the spinner and twister.
  • Lachesis was the lot caster.
  • Atropos cut the thread to end a person's life.

They spun the course of every human life. It is even said that the gods themselves were powerless against the power of the Fates. They are mentioned in Homer's poetry and throughout history people have said that fate has led them to where they end up in life.


1. Have the students examine the chart, look at the visual art, and listen to the music inspired by these goddesses. Download the sheet music and images appropriate for the students to examine. Direct them to the following Web sites:

The images of Muses should provide a variety of ways to see how the Muses were portrayed. Questions you may ask include:

  • What seems to be similar in these art works?
  • Are all of the Muses always together?
  • What props are with them? Do the props help to identify who is who?
  • What gods are often seen with them?
  • What is their attire like? Does the attire change according to the time the art was produced? Why do you think the attire changes?
  • What actions are they doing?
  • Do the Muses, Graces or Fates look different from each other as portrayed in the art works?

2. Distribute the ancient Famous Greeks and Their Quotes worksheet located within the Resource Carousel. Choose a quote to analyze. For example, "Life is short to the fortunate, long for the unfortunate." (Apollonius Rhodius) Ask which goddess the students would choose for this statement. Suggest that the Fate, Lachesis, would be a good choice because it has to do with a life's course.

3. Break the class into groups. Divide the list evenly so that the groups look at three to five quotes. Ask them to assign a quote to a Muse, Grace, or Fate by looking at the descriptions and attributes. The groups then read the quote to the class as a Greek chorus and justify the selection of the goddess to the quote.

4. Have the students move desks and chairs to the sides of the room. Have students warm up their bodies and voices to help them do their best work. (Go to The Improv Encyclopedia for a variety of exercises and games to get students warmed up. Drama Themes by Larry Swartz and Viola Spolin's Theatre Games for the Classroom are books that are useful references for drama games and were used for this lesson.)

5. Pair students up for "Mirrors." They face each other silently. One person is the leader, making movements that the partner will follow. Any part of the body can move - a finger, mouth, arm, leg, or rib cage. Shift weight or levels in space for added challenges. After a minute, positions are switched. Have slow calm music playing. Do this for about two minutes.

6. Build on this idea with "Fill Ins." Pairs again work together but this time, a movement is made and frozen by one person. The partner looks for open areas to move into, like a bent arm or leg, to fill in the space. They may not touch or talk. Once the space is filled in, the first person unfreezes and fills in the space around his/her partner. After two minutes, combine groups to make groups of four. Again allow two minutes for this activity.

7. As a final piece, "Diamonds," have the students stand in a diamond shape. Choose one person at the tip of each point as a leader. The first leader does a series of slow movements and the class follows. As he/she turns, to the left, right, or back, the class follows and the next person chosen to lead at that point leads for the class. Do this for two minutes.

8. Warm up the voices by having the class, as a chorus, say the names of the Muses Calliope, Clio, and Thalia (substitute Apollo, Dionysus, and Nike if they are easier to say) in a variety of ways:

  • Whispering
  • Mysteriously
  • Rap them
  • As if being scolded
  • As if meeting a long lost friend
  • As if an opera singer
  • As if a robot

9. Now add actions to each. For example, lift an eyebrow for 'mysterious' or hold hands out for 'meeting a long lost friend.'

10. Finally, find a rhythm for each name by clapping out the syllables. Have a volunteer suggest movements to go with each name's syllables. Have the class do the movements while saying the names in unison.


1. Students will simulate an ancient Greek procession and performances. In ancient Greek religious festivals, known in Athens as the City Dionysia, in honor of Dionysus, contests were held annually to determine the winning play, poet, and actor. A lively procession was part of the festivities, which lasted several days. For the purposes of this lesson, the theme of this procession is the Muses, the Graces, and the Fates. The gods Apollo, for music, Dionysus, for entertainment, and Nike, for victory, can be added to the celebrations. Have the class vote, as the ancient Greeks did, for the best presentation within the procession.

2. Alternate groups of students to come up and read as a chorus, "Life is short to the fortunate, long for the unfortunate." Have them think of the Fate, Lachesis, and how she determines a person's lot in life. Ask students how they would speak and move the words. Have a long piece of material or crepe paper to work with. The material or crepe paper can be used as a 'chiton' (tunic made of two pieces of rectangular material and fastened with pins and belts) or a 'himation' (cloak that is draped across one shoulder and falls over the opposite arm). The material or crepe will give the appearance of elegance or connect the figures, as seen in works of art. Give them a few minutes to come up with movement for the sentence and have them perform it for the class.

3. Break the class up into groups. Assign each group a Muse, Grace, or Fate. Remind the groups that the class will vote on their presentations as described above. The pieces will be graded: on cooperation; presentation using voice and movement; and justification of assigned goddess and the quote.

4. Have groups choose a quote to move and speak or sing for the assigned goddess. Let the groups practice for ten to fifteen minutes. Have them present the piece to the class twice in succession. Have the class guess the Muse, Grace, or Fate that the group is presenting. Have the group justify its choice of quote for its goddess. To close the lesson, have students vote on their favorite presentation, just like the ancient Greeks did. Present a 'Certificate' with olive branches located within the Resource Carousel to each group member.


1. Use the following guidelines to assess the student's work.

A. Each group selected and justified a quote to present for their assigned Muse, Grace, or Fate.

  • Selection of quote supported by definition of Muse, Grace, or Fate
  • Selection of quote partially supported by definition of Muse, Grace, or Fate
  • Selection of quote not supported by definition of Muse, Grace, or Fate

B. Each group used movement, choral speaking, and music to present piece.

  • Movement, choral speaking, and music were used
  • Two out of three present in presentation
  • One out of three present in presentation

C. Each group had cooperative participants.

  • All members of the group participated fully
  • Most members of the group participated
  • A few members of the group participated
Extending the Learning
  • Add a visual arts element to the lesson by drawing, painting, or sculpting the Muses, Grace, and Fates.
  • Record the presentations on VHS or DVD. Show the performance on the school’s TV show.
  • Create props like a lyre for Terpsichore or a comedy mask for Thalia for the presentations.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

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Daniella Garran
Original Writer

Mary Beth Bauernschub
Original Writer


  • Baker, Rosalie F. and Christopher F. Baker, III. Ancient Greeks, Creating the Classical Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Blackwell, Dr. Christopher and Amy Hackney Blackwell. Mythology for Dummies. New York: Hungry Minds, Inc., 2002.
  • Hart, Avery and Paul Mantell. Ancient Greece! 40 Hands-On Activities to Experience This Wondrous Age. Charlotte, VT: Williamson Publishing, 1999.
  • Roberts, Jennifer T. and Tracy Barret. The Ancient Greek World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Ross, Stewart. Greek Theatre. Lincolnwood, IL: Peter Bedrick Books, 1996.
  • Spolin, Viola. Theater Games for the Classroom. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1986.
  • Swartz, Larry. Drama Themes. Markham, ON, Canada: Pembroke Publishers, 1995.

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