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Urania the Muse of Astronomy: Greek Mythology & Definition

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The Muses were goddesses of the arts, but one of these is not quite like the others. In this lesson, we'll get to know Urania, Muse of astronomy, and see what role she played in Greek mythology.

Urania

Fidelity was not one of Zeus' strengths. Greek mythology is full of stories beginning with Zeus caught in some adulterous affair with gods, mortals, or other creatures, but these escapades literally helped shape the world humans lived in. For example, Zeus once courted the beautiful Titaness Mnemosyne, a primordial being who personified memory. Zeus went to Mnemosyne nine nights in a row, and as a result, she had nine daughters, collectively called the Muses.

Each of the Muses became a goddess associated with one of the arts. Eight of them mastered arts closely connected to life on Earth. One, however, set her sights a little higher. That was Urania, the Muse of astronomy.

Urania was one of the nine muses
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Attributes of Urania

Urania was obsessed with the sky and the study of the stars. In fact, her namesake was Uranus, the primordial Titan who embodied the sky, and her grandfather. This was a very powerful concept in Greek mythology, as the sky was a place of divine power. Zeus, for example, was also a being associated with the sky. As the granddaughter of Uranus and daughter of Zeus, Urania's role as the Muse of astronomy is not inconsequential. She contained some of the power and authority of her forebearers.

Urania is most often identified by the globe or celestial sphere she holds
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Like the other Muses, Urania is depicted as a beautiful woman and generally draped in a flowing cloak. The globe and the compass are used to identify her in ancient art she often gestures towards them with a short staff. This likely reflects the connection between astronomy and navigation in the ancient world. As goddess of astronomy, she could read the stars better than anyone else and watched the movements of various celestial bodies in order to predict the future.

Urania was also occasionally conflated with the planet Venus, a celestial body itself, and therefore with the goddess Aphrodite. Both were beautiful and inspirational, and Aphrodite was also said to be a descendant of Uranus.

Art or Science?

The Muses are goddesses of the arts, so how did astronomy get wrapped up in this? We don't usually consider astronomy, or other sciences, to be artistic. Well, that's not how the Greeks felt. To the ancient Greeks, there was no firm line between art, science, and philosophy. In their endless search for universal truths, the Greeks found that all of their disciplines could be based on the same moral and logical principles.

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