In ancient Greek mythology Clio was one of the nine Muses, all daughters of Zeus and
Mnemosyne. The Muses were thought to be the source of inspiration for the various
Her older sister, Calliope, was the muse of heroic or epic poetry and probably the
one Homer invoked at the beginning of the Iliad: “Sing O Muse . . . .” Her younger sisters were associated with various other arts:
Erato with love poetry, Euterpe with music, Melpomene with tragedy, Polymnia with
sacred poetry, Terpsichore with dancing and choral song, Thaleia with comedy, and
Urania with astronomy.
Clio was the muse of history and therefore a kind of “patron saint” of history for
In Greek, Clio’s name is Κλειώ, which transliterates as kleiō. It means “to make famous” or “to celebrate.” It could argued that Clio, more than
any other of the Muses, resembled her mother Mnemosyne. Mnemosyne means “remembrance,”
which is one of the basic functions of the history. (The word “mnemonic,” a technique
or device — such as a string tied around the finger — to remember something derives
from the mother’s name.)
Although historians today do not believe that Clio literally puts the words in their
mouths (or, more accurately, in their pens or word processors), she is still a convenient
symbol for the discipline.
Traditionally, each Muse was represented in painting or statuary with something that
would identify her with the art for which she was the inspiration. Euterpe, for example,
was often shown playing the flute and Terpsichore was shown dancing while holding
Fittingly, Clio was shown with an open scroll, which in more modern representations
might be replaced by a bound book, on which she is recording information for a succeeding
generation or from which she is reading information from a previous generation. She
usually wears a laurel wreath and may be carrying a trumpet. At the left, above, is
Clio as seen by Johannes Vermeer, a 17th-century Dutch painter, where she is the artist’s
model in his painting The Allegory of Painting.
At the right is Clio as envisioned by another 17th-century painter, Pierre Mignard.
Rather amusingly, while Clio has several books scattered around her and is holding
another, she is gazing skyward as if trying to find inspiration herself instead of
conveying it to historians.
The most striking representation of Clio is in the National Statuary Hall in the Capitol
in Washington, D. C. The hall, just south of the Rotunda, was the meeting place for
the House of Representatives from 1807 to 1857 and is sometimes called the Old Hall.
Over the doorway that leads from the hall into the Rotunda is Carlo Franzoni’s Car of History, in which Clio is shown riding in the vehicle that represents the movement of history
through the ages. Clio is standing in her car (there was no Department of Transportation
rule requiring seat belts in those days), holding her traditional book of remembrance.
The car is moving along a globe which has the signs of the Zodiac on it to represent
the passage of time. The wheel of her car is a clock, which also represents the passage
of time. The clock’s works were made by the famous craftsman, Simon Willard. Franzoni
created the statuary in 1819, shortly before he died. He was also responsible for
the sculpted figure of Justice for the Old Supreme Court Chamber.