The passion for collecting and creating is almost as old as the humankind. The concept of museums originates from the mythical creatures known as muses.
In this article, I will try to recreate the original idea of museums from Greek mythologies. Before I start, I would like to ask you two questions. Firstly, how often do you use the word “amusement”? Secondly, do you know its origin, and what it contains inside?
So, it is “a-muse-ment”, do you notice the pattern? Yes, it comes from the same origin as the “museums”. So, amusing museums is a phrase that makes a lot of sense actually.
Muses and amusement
While the amusement usually sounds like something perfectly opposite to museums, it is all a kind of similar in its essence. In other words, the original meaning of museums was all about that thing – amusement.
According to a myth, Zeus slept with Titaness Mnemosyne (Goddess of Memory!) for nine consecutive nights. As a result, the Nine Muses were born. The Muses sisters were the goddesses of inspiration in literature, sciences and arts.
So for the Ancient Greeks, literature, science, and arts meant joy and happiness. Therefore, the first idea about museums was all about joyful, amusing places.
Misunderstanding and “a broken telephone”
However, the modern English word doesn’t reflect the way it sounds in Greek. Amousos in Greek has a an opposite meaning, and could be explained as “without muses” or “uneducated”, as the prefix a- brings negation to words.
That is to say, the name of the goddesses of inspiration was changed after being imported into languages other than Greek. The contemporary English word “amusement” is a combination of Latin and French word, composed from the preposition a (at, to), and the name from Greek mythology. Eventually, the word got the shape of a-muse-ment.
The ancient Greeks considered learning and education the fun, amusing activities, because in the past, it was certainly more enjoyable than the tough physical work at the fields.
There was no such a thing as a museum as we know it today during these times. Moreover, most people didn’t even know how to read or write. But some wealthy minority had a passion for collection. Most importantly, they created their own, private cabinets of curiosities.
As the time passed, many of these collections opened up and nowadays we have public museums. Subsequently, we are getting more and more museums as special, thematic initiatives turn into specific collections.
Amusement parks vs. amusing museums?
Amusement parks such as Disneyworld seem to have little to do with museums. In reality, many museum professional hate any comparisons between museums and these facilities.
Nevertheless, the purpose of amusement parks seems to go along with the idea of inspiration, fantasy, everything the mythical muse were supposed to do. Clearly, it could have been an initial purpose of museums, I guess.
But in the meantime, the learning went from being a fantasy to being a torture. Similarly, schools were not interesting anymore, to anyone who took them for granted.
The privilege of learning
The interest for joyful learned has grown since the lockdowns were implemented across the world. As a result, many museums created some virtual content while there is also a growing number of museum podcasts.
In conclusion, can we have joyful learning back? I believe in the slow travel idea for museums, an idea that makes museums essential for the local and international travel. Slow traveling, discovering, and learning brings back the original purpose of the muses, and the way ancient Greeks liked to see the learning and education processes.