"Graces." The personifications of Grace and Beauty, which the Roman poets translate by Gratiae and we after them by Graces.
Homer, without giving her any other name, describes a Charis as the wife of Hephaestus.1 Hesiod2 calls the Charis who is the wife of Hephaestus, Aglaea, and the youngest of the Charites.3 According to the Odyssey, on the other hand, Aphrodite was the wife of Hephaestus, from which we may infer, if not the identity of Aphrodite and Charis, at least a close connexion and resemblance in the notions entertained about the two divinities.
The idea of personified grace and beauty was, as we have already seen, divided into a plurality of beings at a very early time, probably to indicate the various ways in which the beautiful is manifested in the world and adorns it. In the Iliad itself4 Pasithea is called one of the younger Charites, who is destined to be the wife of Sleep (Hypnos), and the plural Charites occurs several times in the Homeric poems.5
The parentage of the Charites is differently described; the most common account makes them the daughters of Zeus either by Hera, Eurynome, Eunomia, Eurydomene, Harmonia, or Lethe.6 According to others they were the daughters of Helios by Aegle,7 of Zeus by Euanthe,8 or of Dionysus by Aphrodite or Coronis.
The Homeric poems mention only one Charis, or an indefinite number in the plural, and from the passage in which Pasithea is mentioned, it would almost seem as if the poet would intimate that he was thinking of a great number of Charites and of a division of them into classes. Hesiod distinctly mentions three Charites, whose names are Euphrosyne, Aglaea, and Thalia, and this number as well as these names subsequently became generally established, although certain places in Greece retained their ancient and established number. Thus the Spartans had only two Charites, Cleta and Phaenna, and the Athenians the same number, Auxo and Hegemone, who were worshiped there from the earliest times. Hermesianax added Peitho as a third.9 Sostratus10 relates that Aphrodite and the three Charites — Pasithea, Cale, and Euphrosyne — disputed about their beauty with one another, and when Tiresias awarded the prize to Cale he was changed by Aphrodite into an old woman, but Cale rewarded him with a beautiful head of hair and took him to Crete. The name Cale in this passage has led some critics to think that Homer also11 mentions the names of two Charites, Pasithea and Cale, and that καλή (kalē) should accordingly be written by a capital initial.
The character and nature of the Charites are sufficiently expressed by the names they bear: they were conceived as the goddesses who gave festive joy and enhanced the enjoyments of life by refinement and gentleness. Gracefulness and beauty in social intercourse are therefore attributed to them.11 They are mostly described as being in the service or attendance of other divinities, as real joy exists only in circles where the individual gives up his own self and makes it his main object to afford pleasure to others. The less beauty is ambitious to rule, the greater is its victory; and the less homage it demands, the more freely is it paid. These seen to be the ideas embodied in the Charites. They lend their grace and beauty to everything that delights and elevates gods and men. This notion was probably the cause of Charis being called the wife of Hephaestus, the divine artist. The most perfect works of art are thus called the works of the Charites, and the greatest artists are their favorites. The gentleness and gracefulness which they impart to man's ordinary pleasures are expressed by their moderating the exciting influence of wine,13 and by their accompanying Aphrodite and Eros.14 They also assist Hermes and Peitho to give grace to eloquence and persuasion,15 and wisdom itself receives its charms from them.
Poetry, however, is the art which is especially favored by them, whence they are called ἐρασίμολποι (erasimolpoi) or φιλησίμολποι (philēsimolpoi). For the same reason they are the friends of the Muses, with whom they live together in Olympus.16 Poets are inspired by the Muses, but the application of their songs to the embellishment of life and the festivals of the gods are the work of the Charites. Late Roman writers describe the Charites (Gratiae) as the symbols of gratitude and benevolence, to which they were led by the meaning of the word gratia in their own language.17
The worship of the Charites was believed to have been first introduced into Boeotia by Eteocles, the son of Cephissus, in the valley of that river.18 At Orchomenos and in the island of Paros a festival, the χαρίσια (charisia) or χαριτήσια (charitēsia), was celebrated to the Charites.19 At Orchomenos they were worshiped from early times in the form of rude stones, which were believed to have fallen from heaven in the time of Eteocles.20
Statues of them are mentioned in various parts of Greece, as at Sparta, on the road from Sparta to Amyclae, in Crete, at Athens, Elis, Hermione, and others.21
The Charites were often represented as the companions of other gods, such as Hera, Hermes, Eros, Dionysus, Aphrodite, the Horae, and the Muses. In the ancient statues of Apollo at Delos and Delphi, the god carried the Charites on his hand. In the archaic art, the Charites are portrayed individually, dressed in long robes, such as on a late-archaic relief of Thasos, but afterwards their figures were always made naked, though even Pausanias22 did not know who had introduced the custom of representing them naked (probably due to Scopas and Praxiteles). Specimens of both dressed and naked representations of the Charites are still extant. Their character is that of unsuspicious maidens in the full bloom of life, and they usually embrace one another. Their attributes differ according to the divinities upon whom they attend; as the companions of Apollo they often carry musical instruments, and as the companions of Aphrodite they carry myrtles, roses, or dice, the favorite game of youth.
Some 100 copies of sculptures from the Hellenistic and Roman periods known today portray the Charities as nudes or as a group with their arms entwined. A famous piece of art is the Primavera by Botticelli and the statues of Canova and Thorwaldsen.
- Iliad xviii, 382.
- Theogony, 945.
- Comp. Eustathius on Homer, p. 1148.
- xiv, 269.
- Odyssey xviii, 194.
- Hesiod. Theogony, 907 ff.; Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library i, 3.1; Pindar. Olympian Odes xiv, 15; Phornutus, 15; Orphic Hymn 59, 2; Statius. Thebaid ii, 286; Eustathius on Homer, p. 982.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece ix, 35.1.
- Cornutus. On the Nature of the Gods, 20.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece ix, 35.
- ap. Eustathius on Homer, p. 1665.
- Iliad xviii, 393.
- Horace. Carmina iii, 21, 22; Pindar. Olympian Odes xiv, 7 ff.
- Horace. Carmina iii, 19. 15; Pindar. Olympian Odes xiii, 18.
- Homer. Odyssey viii, 364; xviii, 194; Pausanias. Description of Greece vi, 24.5.
- Hesiod. Works and Days, 63.
- Hesiod. Theogony, 64; Euripides. Hercules Furens, 673; Theocritus, xvi, in fin.
- Seneca. De Beneficiis i, 3; comp. Diodorus Siculus, v, 73.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece ix, 35.1; Theocritus, xvi, 104; Pindar. Olympian Odes xiv.
- Eustathius on Homer, p. 1843; Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 15.7.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece ix, 38.1; Strabo. Geography ix, 414.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece i, 22.8; ii, 34.10; iii, 14.6; vi, 24.5.
- ibid. ix, 35.2.
- Aken, Dr. A.R.A. van. (1961). Elseviers Mythologische Encyclopedie. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.