Inspired by artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s passion for wombats, every Friday is Wombat Friday at Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood. “The Wombat is a Joy, a Triumph, a Delight, a Madness!” – Dante Gabriel Rossetti
In Mnemosyne, Dante Gabriel Rossetti painted Jane Morris as the Greek goddess of memory and time. Sadly, time was running out on Rossetti as he painted this work. Completed in 1881, he would die the next year.
Rossetti inscribed these words on the frame: “Thou fill’st from the winged chalice of the soul/Thy lamp, O Memory, fire-winged to its goal.”
Mnemosyne is a compelling subject to me as so much of what I find meaningful in life is tied to memories and their creation. And she’s so much more than the goddess of memory.
As a Titan daughter of Ouranos (Heaven), Mnemosyne was also a goddess of time. She represented the rote memorisation required, before the introduction of writing, to preserve the stories of history and sagas of myth. In this role she was represented as the mother of the Mousai (Muses), originally patron goddesses of the poets of the oral tradition.
Finally Mnemosyne was a minor oracular goddess like her sister-Titanes. She presided over the underground oracle of Trophonios in Boiotia.
Mnemosyne is a powerful force. Creator of words, which makes perfect sense as language is how we process and share our memories. The important link between word and memory can be seen in mnemonics, a memory device used by almost everyone which is, of course, named in her honor.
As the mother of the muses, she has given birth to the very germ of artistic creation. We have her to thank for the tiniest spark of inspiration that ignites a poem, a tune, a drawing.
Mnemosyne is part of the collection at the Delaware Art Museum.