Traditionally, Apollo and the nine goddesses known as the Muses make their home on the mountain in Greece called Parnassus. Believed to inspire creativity, they are Calliope (epic poetry), Clio (history), Euterpe (lyric poetry), Thalia (comedy and pastoral poetry), Melpomene (tragedy), Terpsichore (dance), Erato (love poetry), Polyhymnia (sacred poetry), and Urania (astronomy). Exclusively deities of performance, their blessing was solicited before any play or public recitation. (There were no Muses for sculptors, painters, and architects, regarded in Attic Greece as mere workmen, too lowly for divine patronage.)
During the eighteenth century, students from the religious schools of the Latin Quarter, panting up this hill at the southern limit of Paris, may have looked back at the city spreading along the banks of the Seine and thought themselves masters of the known world. Through the haze of wine purchased from the locals, this unpromising landfill, formed from the rubble of urban expansion and fertilized by the corpses of the nameless dead, could have felt like their own Parnassus, an illusion they celebrated by reciting or improvising verse. Still then nameless, the hill first appeared on a map, the Lutetia Parisiorum vulgo of Johannes Janssonius, in 1657, which identified the track leading to its summit as the Chemin d’Enfer: the Road to Hell. The district looked doomed to remain a wasteland until, in 1667, Louis XIV chose to build an observatory there. (Charles II of England, envious, immediately commissioned his own for Greenwich.) Sometime during the next fifty years, it became officially Montparnasse, since in 1725 the city annexed it under that name. A road was laid along the ridge. Tunneling below the unstable topsoil, quarrymen mined the fine-grained limestone from which a greater Paris would be built, and where soon the Muses, though far from home, would again be heard.
John Baxter (Montparnasse: Paris's District of Memory and Desire (Great Parisian Neighborhoods, #3))