Core Vocab: kharis, kharites, part 2 | The Graces

Statue Three Graces, Roman copy

We continue this month’s Core Vocab exploration—taken from The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours (H24H)[1] and the associated Sourcebook[2]—of kharis [χάρις], plural kharites [χάριτες] which Gregory Nagy glosses as ‘reciprocity, give-and-take, reciprocal relationship; initiation of reciprocal relationship; the pleasure or beauty derived from reciprocity, from a reciprocal relationship; gratification; grace, gracefulness; favor, favorableness; gratitude; for the sake of’. In part 1 we looked at it as an ordinary noun, and at the associated verb. This time we focus on the three Graces.

As so often, we find a concept embodied as a group of goddesses, although their names are not consistent:

Near them [= the Muses] the Kharites [Graces] and Himeros [Desire] have their abodes, amidst festivities.
Hesiod Theogony 64–65, Sourcebook
And Eurynome, daughter of Okeanos, having a very lovely form, bore him [= Zeus] the fair-cheeked Kharites [Graces]: Aglaia, and Euphrosyne, and winsome Thalia; 910 from whose eyelids also as they gazed dropped Love, unnerving limbs, and sweetly too they look from under their brows.
Hesiod Theogony 907–911, Sourcebook

These names mean, approximately, “Beauty,” “Joy,” and “Good Cheer.”

Vanloo: Three Graces

In perhaps another tradition we have a different name for one of them: when Hera bribes Sleep to help her seduction of Zeus, she promises one of the Graces in marriage:

“…Come, I will marry you to one of the youngest of the Graces, and she shall be your own—Pasithea, whom you have always wanted to marry.”

[270] Sleep was pleased when he heard this, and answered, “Then swear it to me by the dread waters of the river Styx; lay one hand on the bounteous earth, and the other on the sheen of the sea, so that all the gods who dwell down below with Kronos may be our witnesses, [275] and see that you really do give me one of the youngest of the Graces [Kharites]—Pasithea, whom I have always wanted to marry.”
Iliad 14.267–276, Sourcebook

In the Iliad we find Kharis as the name of Hephaistos’ wife (although Aphrodite is given elsewhere as his wife, for instance in the song of Demodokos at Odyssey 266–367):

While he [= Hephaistos] was thus at work silver-footed Thetis came to the house. Kharis, of graceful head-dress, wife to the far-famed lame god, came towards her as soon as she saw her, and took her hand in her own, saying, [385]”Why have you come to our house, Thetis of the light robes, honored and ever welcome—for you do not visit us often? Come inside and let me set refreshment before you.”

The goddess led the way as she spoke, and bade Thetis sit on a richly decorated seat inlaid with silver; [390] there was a footstool also under her feet.
Iliad 18.381–390, Sourcebook

whereas according to Hesiod:

Hephaistos, far-famed, crippled god, took to wife blooming Aglaia, youngest of the Kharites [Graces].
Hesiod Theogony 945, Sourcebook

Their role, as suggested in the quotation from Theogony above, is often associated with that of the Muses:

Vase depicting wedding

15 Muses and Graces [Kharites], daughters of Zeus! You were the ones who once came |16 to the wedding of Cadmus, and you sang this beautiful set of words [epos]: |17 “Whatever is beautiful [kalon] is near and dear [philon], and whatever is not beautiful [kalon] is not near and dear [philon].” |18 That is the set of words [epos] that came through their immortal mouths.
Theognis 15–18, Sourcebook

Gregory Nagy comments about this passage:

Performing along with the Muses at the wedding of Cadmus are the Kharites or ‘Graces’, who are the embodiment of kharis, which expresses the beauty and the pleasure of the ties that bind men and women together, thus integrating the body politic.
H24H 21§63

We saw last time how the related verb is used in the salutation in Homeric Hymns, and how the reciprocity of giving and receiving the beauty and pleasure is an important aspect of song-making.

Pindar illustrates beautifully the importance and role of these goddesses in the context of song-and-dance:

Pradier: Les Trois Grâces

You who have your home by the waters of Cephisus, who dwell in the town of beautiful horses: songful queens, Graces of splendid Orchomenus, guardians of the ancient race of Minyans, [5] hear me; I am praying. For with your help all delightful and sweet things are accomplished for mortals, if any man is skillful, or beautiful, or splendid. Not even the gods arrange dances or feasts without the holy Graces, who oversee everything [10] that is done in heaven; with their thrones set beside Pythian Apollo of the golden bow, they worship the everlasting honor of the Olympian father. Lady Aglaia, and Euphrosyne, lover of dance and song, daughters of the strongest god, [15] listen now; and you, Thalia, passionate for dance and song, having looked with favor on this victory procession, stepping lightly in honor of gracious fortune.
Pindar Olympian 14.1–17, translated by Diane Arnson Svarlien, Perseus

These are just a few examples of situations where one or more of the goddesses appear. Please share other passages and images in the forum to help build up a picture of what they meant to the ancient Greeks. And, having explored the term kharis in other contexts, how does it inter-relate with the concept as embodied by these goddesses?


[1] Nagy, Gregory. 2013. The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013. (H24H)
[2] Sourcebook: The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours Sourcebook of Original Greek Texts Translated into English, Gregory Nagy, General Editor.

Image credits

Marie-Lan Nguyen (photo): The Three Graces, Roman copy (2nd century CE?) of Hellenistic original, restored 1609. Marble, Louvre. public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Vanloo, Charles-André, The Three Graces, c 1763, LACMA, public domain

shakko (photo): Skyphoid pyxis Wedding preparation, Sicilia, 330–320 BCE, Pushkin Museum, Moscow, Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Coyau (photo): Pradier, James Les Trois Grâces, marble 1831, Louvre. Creative Commons CC BY_SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Note: Images have been selected from pictures that are freely available with open source or Creative Commons licenses or from photographs sent in by community members for the purpose. The images in this post are intended to suggest the subject, rather than illustrate exactly—as such, they may be from other periods, subjects, or cultures. Attributions are based where possible by those shown by museums, or on Wikimedia Commons, at the time of publication on this website.


Sarah Scott has a degree in Language from the University of York, and has worked as an editor, technical author, and documentation manager. She is the Associate Producer for the HeroesX project, and one of the Executive Editors of the HeroesX Sourcebook. She is an active participant and member of the editorial team in Kosmos Society, with a particular interest in content development, document management, word studies, language learning, comparative linguistics, and digital humanities.