The Gratiae Goddesses

Updated on September 3, 2018
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Have you ever noticed the way that literature, beauty, poetry and other related expressions of art create peacefulness and harmony within individuals and society in general? The Greeks did, and the tradition of such skills comprised some of their most fundamental concepts of civilization; developing into ideas that were synonymous with notions regarding basic morality and religious divinity.

"The Three Graces"

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Painting - Edouard Bisson (1899).
Painting - Edouard Bisson (1899).
Painting - Edouard Bisson (1899). | Source

"The use of the term charis is longstanding. We find it in Homer. The two meanings of the word “grace” (as beauty and as favor) reflect the two chief meanings of charis."

— Denis Vidal

Background Information The Gratiae (The Graces) or The Charities

The Three Graces are (most consistently named), from youngest to oldest, Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia (2, 12). Roman mythology depicts these Goddesses as The Graces (The Gratiae), having been previously referred to as the Charities (Kharites) in Greek mythology. In the Roman custom, in addition to their other benefits, The Gratiae signify gratitude (as in gratia), as well as benevolence (9), and according to Seneca, each of the three Goddesses is linked in a chain to causality, which pertains to the divine manifestation of Grace, and as related to their differing ages (15).

  • Aglaia – the eldest, (literal: splendor, beautiful, bright) (4), beauty, nature, amusement; sometimes wife of Hephaestus (14), divine artistry; “The Grace symbolizing beauty (9).”

  • Euphrosyne – (literal; mirth, merriment, cheerful, or a good mind) (5), good cheer, joy, and being well. “The Grace incarnate of delight (9).”

  • Thalia – (literal; luxuriant, blooming) (6), plentiful, rich, festivity. “The Grace of blossoming (9).”

“It is traditional to offer them the first draught of wine at a gathering to invoke their blessing and aid.”

— 365 Goddess

The Graces vs The Muses vs. The Fates

The Graces are most principle in relationship to Venus (15) appearing as handmaidens within her extended entourage, and spending much time at the Goddess's sanctuary at Cypress. It was in this temple of refuge where Venus was maintained in health and comfort, regularly bathed in the divinely anointed oils of The Gratiae, and where for example, the Goddess was presented with a magnificent immortal robe (10). Eros and The Muses (8) were frequent companions of The Graces as well, and they all loved to spend time together, dancing around in a circle to the music of Apollo (8). Another of their colleagues, the Goddess Dike (one of The Hours), often attended The Graces, and particularly in matters of peace and justice (1).

The individual identities of the nine Muses are often intermingled with the three Graces as the two groups sometimes overlap in benefit. However, The Graces and The Muses dwell from slightly different origins. All of the Goddesses share a parent Zeus, though, in some Roman lore, The Graces are instead, fathered by Bacchus. Eurynome an Oceanid - daughter of Oceanus (God of the Sea) and Tethys (fresh water), (an incestuous Titanian brother/sister marital couple), is their mother (14).

  • The Muses are (most often referred to as): Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia, and Urania. Each of these nine Goddesses is a daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne (the Titan Goddess of memory). The main focuses of The Muses are the sciences and the arts, inspiring philosophers, musicians, and poets (8). Their closest relationship is with Zeus, remaining near to him on his throne. The Muses work to encourage the poets while The Graces are responsible for the application and dedication of this artwork to the beautification of life and its presentation at the festivals of the Gods (9).

  • The Fates are (frequently referred to as): Clotho, Antropos, and Lachesis. The Fates (Moirai) are daughters of Zeus and Themis (law and divine order) (13), who wield the power to create a human being’s destiny.

Sacred to/Associated with The Gratiae

An annual festival held in The Graces honor called the Charitesia at Orchomenus in Arcadia.
Any type of wine. All vegetation.
Mrtyle and Rose.
Spring and the spring flowers.
Aspects of Human Life
Amusement, banqueting, dance, floral decoration, rest, happiness, and play.
All animal life.
Rude stones, which fell from heaven and used for worship at Orchomenos during the time of Eteocles.
All over Greece, especially southern Greece and Asia Minor.
Sacred Associations

"The Three Graces"

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"The sculpture is modeled after a tempera painting and a gesso relief of the same scene, The Three Graces and Venus Dancing before Mars (c. 1797) by Antonio Canova."
"The sculpture is modeled after a tempera painting and a gesso relief of the same scene, The Three Graces and Venus Dancing before Mars (c. 1797) by Antonio Canova."
"The sculpture is modeled after a tempera painting and a gesso relief of the same scene, The Three Graces and Venus Dancing before Mars (c. 1797) by Antonio Canova." | Source

Influence on Culture, Religion, and Art Culture

Preceding the philosophers and their sympotic laws, were The Graces themselves, who originate from the poets, and who, in their writings, constructed their ideals of harmony and how their works could be appreciated and most effectual in specific circumstances (1). Peace the Symposium of the Poet, describes the way ancient Greek poets developed their symposiums of - civilized, unobtrusive, Greek lifestyle.

For example; a breakdown of order occurs at a wedding celebration where the guests were drinking a great deal, and which resulted from the retelling of the battle between the Lapiths and the Centaurs. Violence and chaos ensued, and it was scenes like these that were some of the leading concerns of the Greek in ancient times, referred to as “the notorious exemplum for sympotic hybris (sin) (1).” It was highly frowned upon not only in political life but also in the spiritual, establishing the primary differences between Hellenism and Barbarism (1). Peace then was a condition necessary for harmony. Without it, Roman Petulantia - the spirit daemon goddess who instigated violent, punitive behavior, might prevail. This disorderly type of conduct was also known to be highly infective of intimate relations occurring within the civilization, as sexual interactions involving a great deal of pain and humiliation were quite common.

In symposia, war is banned, as is the Scythian/Centaur-like behavior that results from being drunk. The idea is to experience a being-ness that is as calm as the sea. The Graces then, were an integral component of construction against not only the hybris but also Stasis (factional fighting); Polemos (a daemon of war); and Aphrosyne (senselessness/recklessness) (1).

Years later, political prose, derived from outside the world of the poets, would end the era of symposia. Words like Philathropia and Homonia developed, changing the language and replacing poetic mythology. The ideals and associations made between poetry, music, and festivities later reached its greatest influence within the medium of choral music lyrics during the high baroque period (1).


In the songs composed by Pindar (c.522-443 BC), we learn that the power of the Graces is sometimes expressed when an individual is deprived of something like song, as when Tantalus, in the odes of Pindar, has hybris. Morality must be found within the Graces as governed by the Goddess Dike. He must praise the Graces in a way that is related to justice, to Apollo, and also to the Horae to be saved. The morally correct stance implies that song will be granted following a victory of peace and justice. In Pythian, we also learn of the way Hyperion creates his own peace and justice through the praise of playing the lyre (Apollo’s instrument), which then quells the hybris brought about by the Carthaginians. This worship is what is referred to as ‘Just Praise;’ ‘Politics derived from archaic life – poeticized by sympotic bards – and utilized by choral lyric, is the moralization of just praise (1).’

The cult worship of The Graces was widespread throughout Greece, especially in southern Greece and within Asia Minor (10). One should always strive to be like the Charis, the embodiment of beauty, nature, fertility, and human creativity; who exist as conduits of grace conducted through poets to poetry (1). It is also necessary to engage the presence of Apollo, who is the son of Zeus, patron of all the arts, and of all that makes life human and decent. "His presence ensures that civilized men will prevail (1).”


The Graces are “among the most consistently rendered motifs in the Roman world (2)” as they maintain a uniformity of characteristic, which is almost always front-back, nude/semi-nude alternating figures, embracing. The hair is pulled up with some falling down on the neck, one faced forward and two backward. One arm is usually touching the left shoulder and the right is placed just in front of the breast. Whereas in their depiction as Charities there are ‘considerable discrepancies in hairstyle, pose, clothing, attributes, and evidential meaning (2).’ In Greek societies, their image transitioned according to the local standards of beauty and traditions without adhering to an artistic standard. Consistency then is most likely the product of the Roman patron who desired the particular quality of The Graces and wanted to see that replicated, as opposed to the copying processes popular among sculptors during the late Hellenistic period (2).

The Charities in Greek culture demonstrate both regional and cult variations, especially as the characteristics sometimes overlapped with entities such as the Horai and the Nymphs. The majority appear as relief sculpture, as they might be found walking single file or dancing, as in the Thasos relief from The Passage of Theores c.470BC, which resides at the Louvre. In Greek portrayals, they are more ambiguous looking, similar to the Nymphs and the Horai, which often appear with a written inscription at the bottom. In Roman depictions, this isn’t necessary as The Gratiae are presented as identifiable icons of charm, beauty, and grace; and while the relationship with Aphrodite is emphasized and the figures are seemingly more forceful in appearance (2). The depiction of The Graces in relief minors associates them even more so with objectifiable beauty; on sarcophaguses - the connubial harmony of marriage and the elegance of the deceased. Overall, Roman expressions are considered more generative, offering different interpretations more often related to Aphrodite’s adventures and intrigues (16).

"The Three Graces Dancing with a Faun"

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Painting - Jules Scalbert (1851-1928). Oil on Canvas. Classical, Academic, Neoclassical.
Painting - Jules Scalbert (1851-1928). Oil on Canvas. Classical, Academic, Neoclassical.
Painting - Jules Scalbert (1851-1928). Oil on Canvas. Classical, Academic, Neoclassical. | Source

The Gratiae and The Origin of Modern Aesthetics 1711-35

Aesthetics became an academic branch of philosophy in 1735 after the publishing of a dissertation called Philosophical Considerations of Some Matters Pertaining to the Poem by Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, who described the study as “a science of how things are to be known according to the senses (3).” Four years later, he expanded the definition to: “logic of the lower cognitive faculty, the philosophy of The Graces and The Muses. Ten years later as a Professor of Philosophy he wrote - Aesthetics (the theory of the liberal arts, lower gnoseology, the art of beautiful thinking, the art of the analogue of reason) - is the science of sensitive cognition. Freedom of imagination as existed in Greece is generally thought to have created the foundation of the 18th-century epoch of modern aesthetics (3). Therefore, it might be considered controversial for a philosopher to presume that the concept of art is an expression of aesthetic ideas since beauty, for some thinkers, is itself a symbol of mortality (3).

Anthony Ashley Cooper, third Earl of Shaftesbury (1677–1713), one of the earliest contributors to the literature regarding aesthetic phenomena, surmised in his writings that independent aesthetic response derived from the beauty of natural objects or the expressed views of these objects when observing them, engender no expectation of consumption, which sometimes implies becoming dependent or controlled by what is being seen. That instead, the sense of beauty is “a sensitivity to the wonderful order of the universe that is also manifested by the moral sense (3).” Therefore, he writes, beauty and good are the same, “the divine intelligence which is behind all order and proportion” and not neglecting what is achieved through humanity (3).

Primavera (1482) Painting - Sandro Botticelli.

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