“Muses?” Gemma asked.
“Yes, muses,” Penn explained patiently. “They are the daughters of Zeus, born to inspire and enthrall the mortals.”
“So, what does that mean?” Gemma moved closer to the fire and sat down on a large rock. “What does being a muse entail?”
“Have you heard of Horace’s Odes?” Penn asked, and Gemma shook her head.
“I’m not in Honors English, but I have heard of Homer’s Odyssey.”
“The Odyssey,” Thea scoffed. “Homer is an idiot.”
“Ignore her. She’s just bitter because she was completely omitted from The Odyssey.” Penn waved her off. “Back to your question, a muse helped Horace write some of his prose. She didn’t write it herself, exactly, but she gave him the inspiration and motivation for his work.”
“I think I get it.” Gemma’s brow remained furrowed, though, as if she didn’t completely understand it.
“A muse’s job isn’t important anyway,” Penn said, deciding to move on. “Achelous had a love affair with the muse of song, and together they had two daughters, Thelxiepeia and Aglaope. He then became involved with the muse of dance, and they had a daughter, Peisinoe.”
“Those are really ridiculous names,” Gemma commented. “Didn’t anybody go by Mary or Judy back then?”
“I know, right?” Lexi laughed. “Things are so much easier to spell now.”
“Despite the fact that their father was a god, Thelxiepeia, Aglaope, and Peisinoe were the bastard offspring of his affairs with servants, so they grew up without anything,” Penn continued.
“Wait. Muses were servants?” Gemma asked. “But their father was Zeus. Wasn’t he the most powerful god or whatever? Shouldn’t they be queens?”
“You would think that, but no.” Penn shook her head. “Muses were created to serve man. Yes, they were beautiful and brilliant, talented beyond all measure. They were revered and worshipped by those they inspired, but in the end, they spent their days working for starving artists and poets. They lived a bohemian lifestyle, feeding into man’s desires. When the poets had finished their sonnets, the artists their paintings, the muses were cast aside and forgotten.”
“They were glorified prostitutes,” Thea summed up.
“Exactly,” Penn agreed. “Achelous all but disavowed his daughters, and their mothers were busy servicing men. Thelxiepeia, Aglaope, and Peisinoe were forced to fend for themselves.”
“Thelxiepeia tried to take care of her younger sisters,” Thea interjected. She gave Penn a hard look, the light from the fire dancing and casting shadows over her lovely features, making her appear almost demonic. “But Peisinoe was never satisfied.”
“One cannot be satisfied living on the streets.” Penn turned her attention from Gemma to Thea, meeting her gaze evenly. “Thelxiepeia did the best she could, but starvation isn’t good enough.”
“They weren’t starving!” Thea snapped. “They had work! They could’ve made a life for themselves!”
“Work.” Penn rolled her eyes. “They were servants!”
Both Lexi and Gemma watched the exchange between Penn and Thea with fascination. The two girls stared each other down across the fire, and for a moment neither of them said anything. The tension in the air was so thick, Gemma was too afraid to break the silence.
“That was a very long time ago,” Lexi said quietly. She stayed close to Penn and gazed up at her, almost adoringly.
“Yes, it was,” Penn agreed, finally pulling her death stare from Thea and looking back at Gemma. “They were starving on the streets. Even Thelxiepeia knew it. That’s why she went to her father, begging him to find them work.
“They were old enough then that they had started getting the attention of men,” Penn went on. “The three sisters had inherited many gifts from their mothers, including their beauty and talent for song and dance.”
“Thelxiepeia thought honest work would be the best way to get out of the life,” Thea said, joining the conversation in a much more reasonable tone. The anger had gone from her voice, and she was simply telling the same tale as Penn. “Peisinoe, on the other hand, thought marriage was the way to escape.”
“It was a different time then,” Penn explained. “Women didn’t have the choices and the rights they have now. Getting a man to take care of you was the only way out.”
“That was only part of it. Thelxiepeia was the oldest, most experienced. But Peisinoe was only fourteen. She was still a romantic and a dreamer. She believed if she fell in love, a prince would sweep her off her feet.”
“She was young and stupid,” Penn said, almost to herself, then she shook her head quickly. “The job Achelous found for his daughters was working as handmaidens for Persephone. A handmaiden is just a servant, helping to dress and clean up for a spoiled brat.”
“Oh, she was not a spoiled brat,” Thea chastised her.
“She was, too,” Penn insisted. “She was horrible, constantly entertaining suitors, and Achelous’s daughters should’ve had handmaidens of their own. It was an abomination, and Persephone never cared. She just ordered them around like she was married to Zeus.”
“Tell Gemma about Ligeia,” Lexi suggested, reminding Gemma of a small child who asked to be read the same story every night even though she knew all the words.
“Ligeia was working as a handmaiden for Persephone when Thelxiepeia, Aglaope, and Peisinoe started,” Penn said, and Lexi smiled at her. “Ligeia wasn’t their sister, but they loved her like she was. And Ligeia had the most beautiful singing voice. It truly was the loveliest sound anyone had ever heard.
“As a servant, Ligeia actually did very little work,” Penn said. “She spent most of her days singing for Persephone, but nobody minded because her singing was so enchanting. It made everything seem better.
“But it wasn’t all work,” Penn went on. “The four girls were only teenagers and needed to have fun. As often as they could, they would escape from their servitude and go out to the ocean to swim and sing.”
“It was Ligeia’s songs that commanded an audience,” Thea said. “She and Aglaope would sit perched in the trees on the shore, singing in perfect harmony, while Thelxiepeia and Peisinoe would swim.”
“But it wasn’t just swimming,” Penn clarified. “It was entrancing, underwater dancing. They put on a show just as much as Ligeia and Aglaope did.”