Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A Time of Giving: The Three Graces of ancient Greece and Rome

The ancient Greeks and Romans imagined the process of gift exchange in philosophy and art as three women with linked hands known as The Three Graces.

"The Graces were said to be the daughters of Zeus and Eurynome (one of the daughters of Oceanus), although other versions of their parentage mentioned Hera, Eunomia, Lethe and Aphrodite, and Uranus or Dionysus. There was also some ambiguity as to their number and their names, which varied from place to place. In the most distant past, their number was either one or two, and they were known as the wives of major gods or as divinities who rendered services to Aphrodite.

Homer first mentions a Grace who was the wife of Hephaestus. He also tells the story of one of the Graces who was married to Hypnos (=Sleep): Hera had promised her to this god, in exchange for his service in putting Zeus to sleep so that the gods could involve themselves in the Trojan War. At a later period, the Graces were generally considered to be three inseparable sisters, daughters of Zeus and Eurynome, named Aglaia (Brightness), Euphrosyne (Joyfulness) and Thalia (Bloom). They inhabited the summit of Mount Olympus, from where they arranged all things, ceaselessly singing hymns of praise to their father, the king of the gods. They spent much of their life feasting, as their presence was essential at the banquets of the gods: without the Graces, there could be neither pleasure nor dancing. They usually sat next to Apollo, praising Zeus and adorning the assemblies with their presence and their melodious voices."
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