Melpomene at the Gates

Photo by Milan Surbatovic on Unsplash


Melpomene stood with her sisters at the Gates of Imagination, and waited for the Call.

Unlike the others, who could provide artistic or scientific inspiration on a whim, her gifts were reactionary. They had to be triggered. Terpsichore could tickle a baby’s foot and that child would grow up with the gift of dance. She’d done it so many times: Isadora Duncan was a favorite example. And Euterpe – she was always name-dropping. Everyone from Bach to Billy Joel had felt that sister’s Touch.

But Melpomene was the darker Muse. Her lot was to Whisper into the ears of those who had experienced tragedy, suffering, pain, and loss, and help them find the tiny spark of creativity that always managed to survive.

Her sisters worked alone. They were of the light, and their strength was found in sun and warmth, laughter and joy.

Mel (she thought of herself as ‘Mel’ – more approachable, right?) had a team. Trolls and imps and leather-winged nameless beings. They were her agents, ugly on the surface, with grotesque faces and twisted frames.

And yet, they were gentle beings, who only wished to help.

There! A photographer contemplating the way we look when we die is Visited by the imp who guides her camera. Use the light THIS way. Change the focus like THAT.

And there: a woman grieves for her miscarried fetus. The Troll she sends helps turn that tragedy into a brilliant career as a grief counselor.

But over there – Mel shuddered and Summoned her agents to her side. For this disaster, they would be her escorts. Maybe it’s a hurricane, and she would help the suddenly homeless replace places and things with fond memories, or inspire a nurse to volunteer as an aid worker. Maybe it’s a great fire, and her winged Helpers could Whisper to those who would help save animals, provide shelter, build firebreaks for their neighbors.

The Muse of tragedy Walked among the lost and the hurting, identified a need, and helped spark a solution.



Sometimes Mel got to act a little more like her sisters.

The boy who feared a neighbor’s dog and was almost hit by a car was urged to turn his fears into stories and novels.

The young woman who loved to read classic poetry became the adult who set them to music, and went farther, eventually composing haunting tunes about mummers and midnight train rides.

And the child who had the image of a strange man’s face, looking up at him from the street below, engraved upon his memory, turned that fear into an idea, a pitch, a script, and eventually a franchise about a monster who haunts your dreams.

Erato, Clio and the others were lauded for the way they Pushed their charges into music, poetry, dance, and drama.

Mel was often overlooked: The smallest sister. The one with murky moods and a quiet Otherness about her. She could be cryptic sometimes. She meant well, but her power came from the dark.

Still, tragedy struck randomly and far more often than most knew – or cared to – and when it did, Melpomene and her Darklings would be there, ready to help in their own way.

And until then?

Melpomene and her imps and trolls waited at the Gates of Imagination, watching as the other Muses came and went in light pursuits, as they remained, waiting, straining their ears to hear their Call.

Photo by Milan Surbatovic on Unsplash

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, listen to her podcast, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

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