What is the role of divine inspiration in creativity?
In Homeric epic poetry, the answer is in plain sight at the start.
It's the μοῦσα in the first line of the Odyssey, the θεὰ is the first line of the Iliad...
The Muse, the Goddess... the bard is giving him or herself over in the service of the song, to be a vessel through which the divine breathes the story.
I think this is exactly how the best of creativity works and I said so to the students attending the second of two performances for St. Norbert College classes on a fall Tuesday in October (or as I like to call it in 2020, the ninth March in a row).
I was particularly thankful for these shows because they were long -scheduled to be in person and rather than cancel them, my host was able to move them to the virtual realm. I always thank my audiences for the privilege of performing my Odyssey, but this gratitude is amplified in these pandemic times. My Zoom shows this fall have been a lifeline to staying active musically, intellectually, and professionally. A true gift that is part the work I've done on the material and part the generosity of those who enable me to perform it.
Following my second show of the day for a Classical Myth class, I was asked a question about how the experience of performing my Odyssey had informed my conception of the Muse and her connection to the bard.
I talked a bit about the experiences I've had disappearing into the material, becoming Nobody as I sing, which speak to how effortlessly these songs flow through me after 300 plus performances.
But then I started thinking about not just the performance but the act of composition: for an ancient bard these were one and the same but for me as a modern bard this process is separated into two acts. And that act of composition... that is the part of it where I think I feel the ancient notion of divine inspiration and mystery most clearly.
And it appears most in what I can only describe as treating creativity as an act of humility. All the best things I've written, both classically-themed and otherwise, have happened when I've set my ego aside and let the material tell me how it should be presented. When the thing is created I often marvel at it as if I'm an observer and had no hand in it. This was especially true more recently of my Blues of Achilles songs but remains true of my older Odyssey material.
I don't know what type of divine energy is responsible for the music I make but I am respectful towards and humbled by its power. When I'm doing it right the creativity flows through me like I'm a conduit, just like the ancient bards thought it should.
I wrapped up the discussion and in the sudden quiet that follows these virtual performances I gave post-show thanks to that power that has provided me with these songs and this life singing them.