CHARITES

ΧΑΡΙΤΕΣ

Cupid and the Three Graces, by Raphael Sanzio (1483-1520), Italian Renaissance painter

Primavera (detail the Graces), by Sandro Botticelli
(1444-1510), Italian Renaissance painter

The personification of Grace and Beauty, which the Roman poets translate by Gratia and we after them by Grace. Homer, without giving her any other name, describes a Charis as the wife of Hephaestus. (Il. xviii. 382.) Hesiod (Theog. 945) calls the Charis who is the wife of Hephaestus, Aglaia, and the youngest of the Charites. (Comp. Eustath. ad Hom. p. 1148.) 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 itself (xiv. 269) Pasithea is called one of the younger Charites, who is destined to be the wife of Sleep, and the plural Charites occurs several times in the Homeric poems. (Od. xviii. 194.)

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. (Hesiod. Theog. 907, &c.; Apollod. i. 3. § 1 ; Pind. Ol. xiv. 15; Phurnut. 15; Orph. Hymn. 59. 2; Stat. Theb. ii. 286; Eustath. ad Hom. p. 982.) According to others they were the daughters of Apollo by Aegle or Euanthe (Paus. ix. 35. § 1), 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, Aglaia, 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 Phaënna, and the Athenians the same number, Auxo and Hegemone, who were worshipped there from the earliest times. Hermesianax added Peitho as a third. (Paus. ix. 35.) Sostratus (ap. Eustath. ad Hom. p. 1665) relates that Aphrodite and the three Charites, Pasithea, Cale, and Euphrosyne, disputed about their beauty with one another, and when Teiresias 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 also (Il. xviii. 393) mentions the names of two Charites, Pasithea and Cale, and that kalê 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. (Horat. Carm. iii. 21, 22; Pind. Ol. xiv. 7, &c.) 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 favourites. The gentleness and gracefulness which they impart to man's ordinary pleasures are expressed by their moderating the exciting influence of wine (Hor. Carm. iii. 19. 15; Pind. Ol. xiii. 18), and by their accompanying Aphrodite and Eros. (Hom. Od. viii. 364, xviii. 194; Paus. vi. 24. § 5.) They also assist Hermes and Peitho to give grace to eloquence and persuasion (Hesiod. Op. 63), and wisdom itself receives its charms from them. Poetry, however, is the art which is especially favoured by them, whence they are called erasimolpoi or philêsimolpoi. For the same reason they are the friends of the Muses, with whom they live together in Olympus. (Hes. Theog. 64; Eurip. Herc. fur. 673; Theocrit. xvi. in fin.) 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. (Senec. De Benef. i. 3 ; comp. Diod. v. 73.)

The worship of the Charites was believed to have been first introduced into Boeotia by Eteoclus or Eteocles, the son of Cephissus, in the valley of that river. (Paus. ix. 35. § 1; Theocrit. xvi. 104; Pind. Ol. xiv.) At Orchomenos and in the island of Paros a festival, the charisia or charitêsia, was celebrated to the Charites. (Eustath. ad Hom. p. 1843; Apollod. iii. 15. § 7.) At Orchomenos they were worshipped from early times in the form of rude stones, which were believed to have fallen from heaven in the time of Eteocles. (Paus ix. 38. § 1; Strab. ix. p. 414.) 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. (Paus. i. 22. § 8, ii. 34. § 10, iii. 14. § 6, vi. 24. § 5.) They 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 early times the Charites were represented dressed, but afterwards their figures were always made naked, though even Pausanias (ix. 35. § 2) did not know who had introduced the custom of representing them naked. 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 favourite game of youth.

Primavera (Mercury, the Graces, Venus, Flora & Aquilo), by Sandro Botticelli (1444-1510), Italian Renaissance painter

Primavera (Mercury, the Graces, Venus, Flora & Aquilo), by Sandro Botticelli (1444-1510), Italian Renaissance painter