The Graces - Encyclopedia

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THE GRACES, (Gr. X 6.pLTES, Lat. Gratiae), in Greek mythology, the personification of grace and charm, both in nature and in moral action. The transition from a single goddess, Charis, to a number or group of Charites, is marked in Homer. In the Iliad one Charis is the wife of Hephaestus, another the promised wife of Sleep, while the plural Charites often occurs. The Charites are usually described as three in number - Aglaia (brightness), Euphrosyne (joyfulness), Thalia (bloom) - daughters of Zeus and Hera (or Eurynome, daughter of Oceanus), or of Helios and Aegle; in Sparta, however, only two were known, Cleta (noise) and Phaenna (light), as at Athens Auxo (increase) and Hegemone (queen). They are the friends of the Muses, with whom they live on Mount Olympus, and the companions of Aphrodite, of Peitho, the goddess of persuasion, and of Hermes, the god of eloquence, to each of whom charm is an indispensable adjunct. The need of their assistance to the artist is indicated by the union of Hephaestus and Charis. The most ancient seat of their cult was Orchomenus in Boeotia, where their oldest images, in the form of stones fallen from heaven, were set up in their temple. Their worship was said to have been instituted by Eteocles, whose three daughters fell into a well while dancing in their honour. At Orchomenus nightly dances took place, and the festival Charitesia, accompanied by musical contests, was celebrated; in Paros their worship was celebrated without music or garlands, since it was there that Minos, while sacrificing to the Charites, received the news of the death of his son Androgeus; at Messene they were revered together with the Eumenides; at Athens, their rites, kept secret from the profane, were held at the entrance to the Acropolis. It was by Auxo, Hegemone and Agraulos, the daughter of Cecrops, that young Athenians, on first receiving their spear and shield, took the oath to defend their country. In works of art the Charites were represented in early times as beautiful maidens of slender form, hand in hand or embracing one another and wearing drapery; later, the conception predominated of three naked figures gracefully intertwined. Their attributes were the myrtle, the rose and musical instruments. In Rome the Graces were never the objects of special religious reverence, but were described and represented by poets and artists in accordance with Greek models.

See F. H. Krause, Musen, Gratien, Horen, and Nymphen (1871), and the articles by Stoll and Furtwangler in Roscher's Lexikon der Mythologie, and by S. Gsell in Daremberg and Saglio's Dictionnaire des antiquites, with the bibliography.

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