What’s in a name?

What’s in a name?

“To fill my rising song with sacred fire, ye tuneful nine, ye sweet celestial choir! From Helicon’s imbowering height repair, attend my labours and reward my prayer!”

Batrachomyomachia, Homer (maybe)

A question we get relatively frequently here at Helicon HQ is why on earth we decided to call ourselves Helicon. No, it’s not after the large tuba; nor is it after the low-frequency electromagnetic wave observed in some plasmas. No, as any smug classicist reading this will know, Helicon comes from Mount Helicon, the mountain (pictured above) in Boeotia, Greece.

 A Pair of Helicon Tubas

According to Hesiod and Homer, Mount Helicon is the home of the nine Muses, the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (also called Memory). These nine daughters are the personification of all knowledge and art. By the Hellenistic era, they had been each been given a name and a sphere of  expertise: Calliope (epic poetry), Clio (history), Euterpe (flutes and lyric poetry), Thalia (comedy and pastoral poetry), Melpomene (tragedy), Terpsichore (dance), Erato (love poetry), Polyhymnia (sacred poetry) and Urania (astronomy).

Of course, it being Classical myth, there are plenty of other versions. In one, the nine muses burst forth from four springs, each one exploding from ground touched by the four hooves of Pegasus, the mythical winged horse. In earlier versions, the muses are the offspring of the primal deities of the world – the titans Gaia (earth) and Uranos (sky); while in another set, there are only three muses, and they live on Mt Parnassus, near Delphi.

We felt there probably wasn’t a more suitable name for a theatre company – especially one with a taste for the Classical. It helps, of course, that Helicon is not totally unpronounceable, like some of the other names we shortlisted!

What has been, in retrospect, something of a muse-given gift is that a standard part of any epic poetry in the tradition of Homer is the opening invocation to the muse. In fact, both the Iliad and the Odyssey open with a request for the muse to “sing, goddess” of one hero or another. You can imagine our delight when we first picked up a copy of The Battle of Frogs and Mice and found not just an invocation to the muse, but one directly referencing their mythical homeplace, Mount Helicon!

One final anecdote on the name, before I sign off for this week. Very early on in the process, shortly after we had announced the name, I received a message from a friend who had previously been involved with some of our early stage R&D. He asked why we had named the company after the Conservative Party’s helicopter, even sending a picture of Ruth Davies in a chopper, claiming this was it out on the campaign trail… needless to say it was a well-crafted joke… I had to google to check!


A trick played on us by a certain buddy..