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The Three Graces in a fresco at Pompeii, 1-50 AD

In Greek mythology, the Charites /ˈkærɪtz/ (Χάριτες [kʰárites]), singular Charis, or Graces, were three or more goddesses of charm, beauty, nature, human creativity, goodwill, and fertility.[1] Hesiod names three – Aglaea ("Shining"), Euphrosyne ("Joy"), and Thalia ("Blooming")[2][1] – and names Aglaea as the youngest and the wife of Hephaestus.[3] In Roman mythology they were known as the Gratiae, the "Graces". Some sources use the appellation "Charis" as the name of one of the Charites, and equate her with Aglaea, as she too is referred to as the wife of Hephaestus.[4]

The Charites were usually considered the daughters of Zeus and Oceanid Eurynome.[2] According to the Orphic Hymns, they were the daughters of Zeus and Eunomia,[5] while Cornutus records other possible names of their mother by Zeus as Eurydome, Eurymedousa, or Euanthe.[6] Rarely, they were said to be daughters of Dionysus and Coronis[7] or of Helios and the naiad Aegle[8][9] or of Hera by an unnamed father.[10] Homer identified them as part of the retinue of Aphrodite. The Charites were also associated with the Greek underworld and the Eleusinian Mysteries.

In Roman and later art, the three Charites are generally depicted nude in an interlaced group, but during the Archaic and Classical periods of Greece, they were typically depicted as fully clothed,[1] and in a line, with dance poses.


The Three Graces, from Sandro Botticelli's painting Primavera in the Uffizi Gallery.

Members of the Charites


The name and number of goddesses associated with the Charites varied, although they usually numbered three. In Hesiod's Theogony, the Charites are listed as Aglaea, Euphrosyne, and Thalia.[11] Alternate names to those given by Hesiod include: Damia ("Earth Mother"), Auxesia ("Spring Growth"), Cleta ("Renowned"), Eupheme ("good omen"), Phaenna ("Bright"), Hegemone ("Leader"), Peitho ("Persuasion"), Paregoros ("Consolation"), Pasithea ("Relaxation"), Charis ("Grace"), and Kale ("Beauty"). Alternatively, an ancient vase painting attests the following names as: Antheia ("Blossoms"), Eudaimonia ("Happiness"), Euthymia ("Good Mood"), Eutychia ("Good Luck"), Paidia ("Play"), Pandaisia ("Banquet"), and Pannychis ("Night Festivities"), all refer to the Charites as patronesses of amusement and festivities.

Pausanias interrupts his Description of Greece (Book 9.35.1–7) to expand upon the various conceptions of the Charites that developed in different parts of mainland Greece and Ionia:

The Boeotians say that Eteocles was the first man to sacrifice to the Graces. Moreover, they are aware that he established three as the number of the Graces, but they have no tradition of the names he gave them. The Lacedaemonians, however, say that the Graces are two, and that they were instituted by Lacedaemon, son of Taygete, who gave them the names of Cleta ("Sound" or "Renowned") and Phaenna ("Light" or "Bright"). These are appropriate names for Graces, as are those given by the Athenians, who from of old have worshipped two Graces, Auxo ("Increase" or "Growth") and Hegemone ("Leader" or "Queen"), until Hermesianax added Peitho ("Persuasion") as a third.[12] It was from Eteocles of Orchomenus that we learned the custom of praying to three Graces. And Angelion and Tectaus, sons of Dionysus, who made the image of Apollo for the Delians, set three Graces in his hand. Again, at Athens, before the entrance to the Acropolis, the Graces are three in number; by their side are celebrated mysteries which must not be divulged to the many. Pamphos (Πάμφως or Πάμφος) was the first we know of to sing about the Graces, but his poetry contains no information either as to their number or about their names. Homer (he too refers to the Graces) makes one the wife of Hephaestus, giving her the name of Charis ("Grace")." He also says that Sleep was a lover of Pasithea ("Hallucination"), and in the speech of Sleep there is this verse:

Verily that he would give me one of the younger Graces.

Hence some have suspected that Homer knew of older Graces as well. Hesiod in the Theogony (though the authorship is doubtful, this poem is good evidence) says that the three Graces are daughters of Zeus and Eurynome, giving them the names of Aglaia, Euphrosyne and lovely Thalia. The poem of Onomacritus agrees with this account. Antimachus, while giving neither the number of the Graces nor their names, says that they are daughters of Aegle and the Sun. The elegiac poet Hermesianax disagrees with his predecessors in that he makes Persuasion also one of the Graces.[9]

Nonnus gives their three names as Pasithea, Peitho and Aglaia.[13] Sostratus gives the names as Pasithea, Cale ("Beauty") and Euphrosyne;[14][15] Pasithea for Thalia and Cale for Aglaia, Euphrosyne is unchanged.[16] In Sparta, only Cleta and Phaenna were counted.[17]

Role in mythology

6th-century BCE relief

The Charites' major mythological role was to attend the other Olympians, particularly during feasts and dances.[18] They attended Aphrodite by bathing and anointing her in Paphos before her seduction of Ankhises and after she left Olympus when her affair with Ares is found out.[19] Additionally, they are said to weave or dye her peplos.[20] Along with Peitho, they presented Pandora with necklaces to make her more enticing.[21] Pindar stated the Charites arranged feasts and dances for the Olympians.[22] They also danced in celebration of the birth of Apollo with Aphrodite, Hebe, and Harmonia.[23] They were often referenced as dancing and singing with Apollo and the Muses.[24] Pindar also referred to them as the guardians of the ancient Minyans and the queens of Orchomenus who have their thrones beside Apollo's.[22]

The Charites appear to have a connection to Hera, where some ancient authors reference her as their nurse.[25] In the Iliad, as part of her plan to seduce Zeus to distract him from the Trojan War, she offers to arrange Hypnos's marriage to Pasithea, who is referred to as one of the younger Charites.[26]

One of the Charites had a role as the wife of the smith god Hephaestus. Hesiod names the wife of Hephaestus as Aglaea.[3] In the Iliad, she is called Charis, and she welcomes Thetis into their shared home on Olympus so that the latter may ask for Hephaestus to forge armor for her son Achilles.[27] Some scholars have interpreted this marriage as occurring after Hephaestus's divorce from Aphrodite due to her affair with Ares being exposed. Notably, however, some scholars, such as Walter Burkert, support that the marriage of Hephaestus and Aphrodite as an invention of the Odyssey, since it is not represented within other Archaic or Classical era literature or arts, and it does not appear to have a connection to cult.[28] 


The Three Graces, Antonio Canova's first version, now in the Hermitage Museum

The cult of the Charites is very old, with their name appearing to be of Pelasgian, or pre-Greek, origin rather than being brought to Greece by Proto-Indo-Europeans.[29] The purpose of their cult appears to be similar to that of nymphs, primary based around fertility and nature with a particular connection to springs and rivers.[29] One of the earliest centres of worship for the Charites was the Cycladic Islands including Paros, with epigraphical evidence for a cult to the Charites dating to the sixth century B.C.E. on the island of Thera.[1][29] Scholars have interpreted them as chthonic deities connected to fertility due to the absence of wreaths and flutes in ceremonies. An aetiological explanation for the lack of music and garlands was from a myth involving Minos. He was said to have been sacrificing to the Charites on the island of Paros when he learned of his son's death in Athens and stopped the music and ripped off his garlands in grief.[1] Dance, however, appears to be strongly connected with their cult, which is similar to the cults of Dionysus and Artemis.[29]

Although the Charites were most commonly depicted in the sanctuaries of other gods, there were at least four temples exclusively dedicated to them in Greece. The temple regarded as their perhaps most important was that in Orkhomenos in Boeotia, where their cult was thought to have originated. There were also temples to the Charites in Hermione, Sparta, and Elis.[30] A temple was dedicated to the Charites near the Tiasa river in Amyclae, Laconia that was reportedly founded by the ancient King of Sparta, Lacedaemon.[31]

Les Trois Grâces by James Pradier, 1831. Louvre.

In Orkhomenos, the goddesses were worshipped at a very ancient site with a trio of stones, which is similar to other Boiotian cults to Eros and Herakles.[1] The local river Kephisos and the Akidalia (or Argaphia) spring was sacred to the three goddesses. Orkhomenos was an agriculturally prosperous city because of the marshy Kopaic plain, and the Charites were offered a portion of the produce.[1] Regarding the foundation of their cult in Orkhomenos, Strabo wrote:

Eteokles, one of those who reigned as king at Orkhomenos, who founded a temple of the Kharites, was the first to display both wealth and power; for he honored these goddesses either because he was successful in receiving graces, or in giving them, or both. For necessarily, when he had become naturally inclined to kindly deeds, he began doing honor to these goddesses; and therefore he already possessed this power.[32]

In cult, the Charites were particularly connected with Apollo and appear to be connect to his cult on Delos, however, this connection is not present in other cults to Apollo.[29] In the Classical era and beyond, the Charites were associated with Aphrodite in connection to civic matters.[29]

There was a festival in honour of the Charites which was called Charisia (Χαρίσια). During this festival there were dances all night and at the end a cake was given to those who remained awake during the whole time.[33]

Visual art

Early 5th-century BCE, from the acropolis of Athens; not in fact by Socrates

Ancient art


Despite the Charites usually being depicted nude entwined in a "closed symmetrical group" for the last two millenia, this was a later development, as in depictions from Archaic and Classical Greece, they are finely dressed,[1][18] and usually shown in a line, as dancers. In contrast, the third century BCE poets Callimachus and Euphorion describe the trio as being nude.[18]

The earliest representation of these goddesses was found in a temple of Apollo in Thermon dated to the seventh to sixth century BCE.[29] It is possible, however, that the Charites are represented on a Mycenean golden seal ring that depicts two female figures dancing in the presence of a male figure, who has been interpreted as Hermes or Dionysus.[29] Another early representation of the Charites, from a relief at the Paros colony of Thasos dated to the beginning of the fifth century BCE, shows the Charites with Hermes and either Aphrodite or Peitho, which marked the entrance to the old city.[29] The opposite side of the relief shows Apollo being crowned by Artemis with nymphs in the background. At the entrance of the Akropolis, there was a famous Classical era relief of the Charites and Hermes, and the popular belief was that the sculptor was Sokrates, although this is very unlikely.[1]

Kenneth Clark describes the "complicated" pose of the Three Graces facing inwards with interlaced arms as "one of the last beautiful inventions of antique art". He thought it was invented in the 1st century BCE, based on the proportions of the figures, and notes that none of the many survivals from antiquity are of "high quality".[34] The opportunity for artists to show their skill in representing figures with three nude female figures seen from different angles has been a factor in the enduring popularity of the subject.

One of the earliest known Roman representations of the Graces was a wall painting in Boscoreale dated to 40 BCE, which also depicted Aphrodite with Eros and Dionysus with Ariadne.[18] The group may have also appeared on a small number of coins to symbolize the union between Marcus Aurelius and Faustina Minor and on other coins they were depicted in the hands of Juno or Venus.[18] The Graces were common subject matter on Roman sarcophagi, and they were depicted on several mirrors.[18]

The Three Graces from the Piccolomini Library, now in Siena Cathedral

On the representation of the Graces, the second century CE guide book author Pausanias wrote:

Who it was who first represented the Graces naked, whether in sculpture or in painting, I could not discover. During the earlier period, certainly, sculptors and painters alike represented them draped. At Smyrna, for instance, in the sanctuary of the Nemeses, above the images have been dedicated Graces of gold, the work of Bupalus; and in the Music Hall in the same city there is a portrait of a Grace, painted by Apelles. At Pergamus likewise, in the chamber of Attalus, are other images of Graces made by Bupalus; and near what is called the Pythium there is a portrait of Graces, painted by Pythagoras the Parian. Socrates too, son of Sophroniscus, made images of Graces for the Athenians, which are before the entrance to the Acropolis. Also, Socrates was known to have destroyed his own work as he progressed deeper into his life of philosophy and search of the conscious due to his iconoclastic attitude towards art and the like. All these are alike draped; but later artists, I do not know the reason, have changed the way of portraying them. Certainly to-day sculptors and painters represent Graces naked.

Renaissance onwards


Clark writes that "For some reason the nakedness of the Graces was free from moral opprobium, and in consequence they furnished the subject through which pagan beauty was first allowed to appear in the 15th century".[35] Indeed, a large marble Graeco-Roman group, which was a key model in the Renaissance,[36] when it was in the Piccolomini Library, is now displayed in Siena Cathedral.

The Three Graces, from Carle van Loo (1763)
The Three Graces, Raphael, 1504–1505.

The Charites are depicted together with several other mythological figures in Sandro Botticelli's painting Primavera. Raphael also pictured them in a small painting now in the Musée Condé (Chantilly, France). Among other artistic depictions, they are the subject of famous sculptures by Antonio Canova and Bertel Thorvaldsen. The vast majority use a variant of the closed group pose.

A group of three trees in the Calaveras Big Trees State Park are named "The Three Graces" after the Charites.[37]

List of notable artworks with images resembling the three Charites


See also




(The Imagebase links are all broken)

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Larson, Jennifer (2007). Ancient Greek Cults. New York, NY: Routledge. pp. 162-163. ISBN 978-0415491020.
  2. ^ a b Hesiod, Theogony, 907 ff.
  3. ^ a b Hesiod, Theogony, 945 ff.
  4. ^ Homer, Iliad, 18.382.
  5. ^ Orphic Hymn (60), 2–3.
  6. ^ Cornutus, Compendium of Greek Theology, 15
  7. ^ Nonnus, Dionysiaca 48.548
  8. ^ Nonnus, Dionysiaca, 15.87 & 48.530
  9. ^ a b Pausanias, Description of Greece, 9.35.5.
  10. ^ Coluthus, Rape of Helen 173
  11. ^ Gantz, p. 54; Hesiod, Theogony 906–11.
  12. ^ Carr, Thomas Swinburne. A manual of classical mythology; or, A companion to the Greek and Latin poets, designed chiefly to explain words, phrases and epithets, from the fables and traditions to which they refer. p. 139 ISBN 9781290153911
  13. ^ Keightley, p. 192; Nonnus, Dionysiaca 24.261–4 with note b, pp. 242, 243.
  14. ^ Alan Cameron, Greek Mythography in the Roman World. p. 150 ISBN 0-19-517121-7
  15. ^ Charles Wilkins, The Red Dragon: The National Magazine of Wales, Volume 11. p. 76
  16. ^ Perry L. Westmoreland (2007). Ancient Greek Beliefs, p. 112, ISBN 0-9793248-1-5
  17. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Graces, The" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 12 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 310.
  18. ^ a b c d e f Milleker, Elizabeth J. (1988). "The Three Graces on a Roman Relief Mirror". Metropolitan Museum Journal. 23: 69–81. doi:10.2307/1512847. JSTOR 1512847. S2CID 193031954.
  19. ^ Homeric Hymn 5 to Aphrodite, 58.
  20. ^ Homer, Iliad, 5.338
  21. ^ Hesiod, Works and Days, 69
  22. ^ a b Pindar, Olympian Ode 14, 1-20
  23. ^ Homeric Hymn 3 to Pythian Apollo, 186
  24. ^ Hesiod, Theogony, 63
  25. ^ Colluthus, Rape of Helen 88.
  26. ^ Homer, Iliad, 265
  27. ^ Homer, Iliad, 18.382-385
  28. ^ Burkert, Walter (2009). "The Song of Ares and Aphrodite: On the Relationship between the Odyssey and the Iliad". In Doherty, Lillian E. (ed.). Homer's Odyssey. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. pp. 29–43. ISBN 9780199233328.
  29. ^ a b c d e f g h i Breitenberger, Barbara (2007). "Goddesses of Grace and Beauty: the Charites". Aphrodite and Eros: The Development of Greek Erotic Mythology. New York, NY: Routledge. pp. 105-116. ISBN 978-0-415-96823-2.
  30. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.34.10, 3.14.6, 6.24.6
  31. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.18.6
  32. ^ Strabo, Geography 9.2.40 (trans. Jones)
  33. ^ Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898), Charisia
  34. ^ They are all "either mediocre commercial pieces or such rough imitations as local masons might make of a subject which was popular, but not yet sanctified by time". Clark, 85
  35. ^ Clark, 86
  36. ^ Clark, 86
  37. ^ ""The Three Graces", Calveras Big Tree State Park". Search3.famsf.org:8080. Archived from the original on 2009-07-24. Retrieved 2010-03-16.
  38. ^ "ImageBase". Search3.famsf.org:8080. Archived from the original on 2009-07-07. Retrieved 2010-03-16.
  39. ^ Mosaico de las tres gracias
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  41. ^ "Man surprising Sleeping Venus and Graces". Wga.hu. Retrieved 2010-03-16.
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  43. ^ "detail of Primavera". Wga.hu. Retrieved 2010-03-16.
  44. ^ Bouillon, Jean-Paul. Kane, Elizabeth (1984-1985). "Marie Bracquemond." Woman's Art Journal. 5(2): 21-27.
  45. ^ "The Three Graces Dancing by Canova, Antonio". Wga.hu. Retrieved 2010-03-16.
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  53. ^ Three Graces at Chenonceau
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  57. ^ Monument du coeur d'Henri II
  58. ^ "Three Graces by Pontormo, Jacopo". Wga.hu. Retrieved 2010-03-16.
  59. ^ "Les Trois Grâces by James Pradier". Wikimedia Commons.
  60. ^ "Les Trois Grâces". 1793. Retrieved 2011-09-05.
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  62. ^ Olga Mataev. "Raphael. The Three Graces.- Olga's Gallery". Abcgallery.com. Retrieved 2010-03-16.
  63. ^ Soghomonyan, Anna. "Three Graces - MODERN STILL LIFE – Annuk's Official Website". Retrieved 2022-01-11.
  64. ^ "Allegory of April". Wga.hu. Retrieved 2010-03-16.
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