Web Theoi
KHARITES CULT
 
Greek Name Transliteration Latin Spelling Roman Name
Χαριτες Kharites Charities Gratiae
OTHER KHARIES PAGES
Kharites General Info & Myths

THE KHARITES (Graces) were three goddesses of the grace, beauty, pleasure, merriment and dance. Their two main cult centres were the town of Orkhomenos in northern Boiotia, and the Aegean island of Paros.

In classical sculpture they were represented as three beautiful, naked ladies, dancing in a circle. Older Greek sculpture depicted them clothed.


S21.1 CHARITES
     

GENERAL CULT

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 35. 1 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"The Boiotians say that Eteokles [mythical king of Orkhomenos, Boiotia] was the first man to sacrifice to the Kharites. Moreover, they are aware that he established three as the number of the Kharites, but they have no tradition of the names he gave them.
The Lakedaimonians, however, say that the Kharites are two, and that they were instituted by Lakedaimon, son of Taygete, who gave them the names Kleta and Phaenna. These are appropriate names for the Kharites, as are those given by the Athenians, who from of old have worshipped two Kharites, Auxo and Hegemone. Karpo (Fruit) is the name, not of a Kharis, but of a Hora ) . . .
It was from Eteokles of Orkhomenos that we learned the custom of praying to three Kharites.
And Angelion and Tekatios, sons of Dionysos, who made the image of Apollon for Athens, set three Kharites in his hand.
Again, at Athens, before the entrance to the Akropolis, the Kharites are three in number; by their side are celebrated mysteries which must not be divulged to the many.
Pamphos [legendary poet] was the first we know of to sing about the Kharites, but his poetry contains no information either as to their number or about their names.
Homer (he too referes to the Kharites) makes one the wife of Hephaistos, giving her the name Kharis. He also says that Hypnos was a lover of Pasithea, and in the speech of Hypnos there is this verse:--`Verily that he would give me one of the younger Kharites.’ Hence some have suspected that Homer knew of older Kharites as well.
Hesiod in the Theogony says that the Kharites are daughters of Zeus and Eurynome, giving them the names of Euphrosyne, Aglaia and Thalia. The poem of Onomakritos [poet C6th B.C.] agrees with this account.
Antimakhos [poet C5th B.C.], while giving neither the number of the Kharites nor their names, says that they are daughters of Aigle and Helios.
The elegaic poet Hermesianax [poet C4th B.C.] disagrees with his predecessors in that he makes Peitho one of the Kharites.
Who it was who first represented the Kharites 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 Kharites of gold, the work of Boupalos; and in the Music Hall in the same city there is a portrait of a Kharis, painted by Apelles.
At Pergamon likewise, in the chamber of Attalos, are other images of the Kharites made by Boupalos; and near what is called the Pythion there is a portrait of Kharites, painted by Pythagoras the Parian.
Sokrates too, son of Sophroniskos, made images of Kharites for the Athenians, which are before the entrance to the Akropolis.
All these are alike draped; but later artists, I do not know the reason, have changed the way of portraying them. Certainly today sculptors and painters represent Kharites naked."


CULT IN ATTIKA (SOUTHERN GREECE)

I) ATHENAI Chief City of Attika

The Athenians goddesses Karpo, Thallo and Auxo of Athens were described as both Kharites (Graces) and Horai (Seasons). Their names and presence in the Mystery cults suggest that they were Horai of spring growth.

Aristophanes, Thesmophoriazusae 280 (trans. O'Neill) (Greek comedy C5th to 4th B.C.) :
"Woman Herald : Silence! Silence! Pray to the Thesmophorai [Athenian festival of Demeter], Demeter and Koura [Persephone]; pray to Ploutos, Kalligeneia, Kourotrophos [Hekate], Ge (the Earth), Hermes and the Kharites (Graces), that all may happen for the best at this gathering, both for the greatest advantage of Athens and for our own personal happiness!"

Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 22. 7 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Right at the very entrance to the Akropolis [at Athens] are a Hermes . . . and figures of Kharites, which tradition says were sculptured by Sokrates, the son of Sophroniskos."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 35. 1 :
"Appropriate names for the Kharites are those given by the Athenians, who from of old have worshipped two Kharites, Auxo and Hegemone. [The third] Karpo is the name, not of a Kharis, but of a Horai . . .
At Athens, before the entrance to the Akropolis, the Kharites are three in number; by their side are celebrated mysteries which must not be divulged to the many . . .
During the earlier period, certainly, sculptors and painters alike represented them [the Kharites] draped . . .
Sokrates too, son of Sophroniskos, made images of Kharites for the Athenians, which are before the entrance to the Akropolis."


CULT IN ARGOLIS (SOUTHERN GREECE)

I) MYKENAI Town in Argolis

Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 17. 3 :
"In the fore-temple [of the temple of Hera near Mykenai, Argos] are on either side ancient statues of the Kharites . . . [The statue of Hera] is wearing a crown with Kharites (Graces) and Horai (Seasons) worked upon it."

II) HERMIONE Town in Argolis

Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 34. 10 :
"[At Hermione, Argos] there is a temple to Helios (the Sun), another to the Kharites (Graces)."

III) EPIDAUROS Town in Argolis

Greek Lyric V Anonymous, Fragments 937 (Inscription from the shrine of Asclepius at Epidaurus) (trans. Campbell) (B.C.) :
"High-skilled Asklepios; and summon the two Dioskouroi and the august Kharites and glorious Mousai and kindly Moirai . . . Greetings, all you immortal gods everlasting and immortal goddesses!"


CULT IN LAKEDAIMONIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)

I) SPARTA Chief City of Lakedaimonia

Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 14. 6 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"[At Sparta, Lakedaimon] are sanctuaries of the Dioskouroi, of the Kharites, of Eileithyia."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 18. 6 :
"As you go down to Amyklai from Sparta [in Lakedaimon] you come to a river called Tiasa . . . and by it is a sanctuary of the Kharites, Phaenna and Kleta, as Alkman [poet C7th B.C.] calls them in a poem. They believe that Lakedaimon [mythical first king of the region] founded the sanctuary for the Kharites here, and gave them their names."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 35. 1 :
"The Lakedaimonians, however, say that the Kharites are two, and that they were instituted by Lakedaimon, son of Taygete, who gave them the names Kleta and Phaenna. These are appropriate names for the Kharites."

II) AMYKLAI Town in Lakedaimonia

Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 18. 9 :
"Bathykles of Magnesia, who made the throne of the Amyklaios [Apollon at Amyklai], dedicated, on the completion of the throne, [statuettes of the] Kharites (Graces) and an image of Artemis Leukophryene . . . [The throne] is supported by two Kharites and two Horai (Seasons)."


CULT IN ELIS (SOUTHERN GREECE)

I) ELIS Chief City of Elis

Pausanias, Description of Greece 6. 24. 6 :
"There is also a sanctuary to the Kharites [at Elis, Elis]; the images are of wood, with their clothes gilded, while their faces, hands and feet are of white marble. One of them holds a rose, the middle one a die, and the third a small branch of myrtle. The reason for their holding these things may be guessed to be this. The rose and the myrtle are sacred to Aphrodite and connected with the story of Adonis, while the Kharites (Graces) are of all deities the nearest related to Aphrodite. As for the die, it is the plaything of youths and maidens, who have nothing of the ugliness of old age. On the right of the Kharites is an image of Eros, standing on the same pedestal."

II) OLYMPIA Town & Sanctuary in Elis

Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 11. 7 :
"[Images on the throne in the temple of Zeus at Olympia :] On the uppermost parts of the throne Pheidias has made, above the head of the image, three Kharites on one side and three Horai (Seasons) on the other. These in epic poetry are included among the daughters of Zeus."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 14. 10 :
"By the sacred enclosure of Pelops [at Olympia] is an altar of Dionysos and the Kharites in common."


CULT IN BOIOTIA (CENTRAL GREECE)

I) ORKHOMENOS Town in Boiotia

Pindar, Olympian Ode 14. 1 ff (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"Whose haunts are by Kephissos’ river, you queens beloved of poets’ song, ruling Orkhomenos, that sunlit city and land of lovely steeds, watch and ward of the ancient Minyan race, hear now my prayer, you Kharites three."

Pindar, Pythian Ode 12. 26 ff :
"The Kharites’s city [Orkhomenos], home of lovely dances."

Strabo, Geography 9. 2. 40 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"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."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 35. 1 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"The Boiotians say that Eteokles [king of Orkhomenos, Boiotia] was the first man to sacrifice to the Kharites. Moreover, they are aware that he established three as the number of the Kharites, but they have no tradition of the names he gave them . . .
It was from Eteokles of Orkhomenos that we learned the custom of praying to three Kharites."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 38. 1 :
"At Orkhomenos [in Boiotia] is a sanctuary of Dionysos, but the oldest is one of the Kharites. They worship the stones most, and say that they fell for Eteokles out of heaven. The artistic images were dedicated in my time, and they too are of stone."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 13. 94 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"The dancebeaten precinct of the Erotes (Loves), Orkhomenos city of Minyas, which the Kharites never leave."


CULT IN PHOKIS (CENTRAL GREECE)

I) DELPHOI Town & Sanctuary in Phokis

Pindar, Olympian Ode 14. 10 ff (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"[The Kharites] who are stewards of all the rights of heaven, whose thrones are set at Pytho beside Apollon of the golden bow."


CULT IN PAROS (GREEK AEGEAN)

I) PAROS Chief Town of Paros

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 210 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Minos was told of his son’s death while sacrificing to the Kharites on Paros: he ripped the garland from his head and stopped the flute--but even so he completed the ritual, and to this day on Paros they sacrifice to the Kharites without benefit of flutes or garlands."

Callimachus, Fragment 491 (from Hephaestion 15) (trans. Trypanis) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"The Parian is pleased to sacrifice [to the Kharites] without flutes and garlands."


CULT IN KEOS (GREEK AEGEAN)

I) POEESSA Town in Keos

Callimachus, Aetia Fragment 3. 1 (from Oxyrhynchus Papyri 7) (trans. Trypanis) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"Poeessa [town on the island of Keos], seat of the fair-tressed Kharites."


CULT IN TEUTHRANIA (ASIA MINOR)

I) PERGAMON Chief City of Aiolia / Teuthrania

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 35. 1 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"During the earlier period, certainly, sculptors and painters alike represented them [the Kharites] draped . . .
At Pergamos likewise, in the chamber of Attalos, are other images of the Kharites made by Boupalos; and near what is called the Pythion there is a portrait of Kharites, painted by Pythagoras the Parian."


CULT IN LYDIA (ASIA MINOR)

I) ERYTHRAI Town in Ionia / Lydia

Pausanias, Description of Greece 7. 5. 9 :
"The white marble images of Kharites and Horai (Seasons) that stand in the open before the entrance [of Athena in Erythrai, Asia Minor]."

II) SMYRNA City in Ionia / Lydia (Anatolia)

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 35. 1 :
"During the earlier period, certainly, sculptors and painters alike represented them [the Kharites] draped. At Smyrna, for instance, in the sanctuary of the Nemeses, above the images have been dedicated Kharites of gold, the work of Boupalos; and in the Music Hall in the same city there is a portrait of a Kharis, painted by Apelles."


Sources:

  • Pindar, Odes - Greek Lyric C5th B.C.
  • Greek Lyric IV Anonymous, Fragments - Greek Lyric B.C.
  • Aristophanes, The Birds - Greek Comedy C5th-4th B.C.
  • Callimachus, Fragments - Greek Poetry C3rd B.C.
  • Strabo, Geography - Greek Geography C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
  • Pausanias, Description of Greece - Greek Travelogue C2nd A.D.
  • Nonnos, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th A.D.