In Greek mythology the Horae (// or //) or Hours (Greek: Ὧραι, Hōrai, pronounced [hɔ̂ːraj], "seasons") were the goddesses of the seasons and the natural portions of time. They were originally the personifications of nature in its different seasonal aspects, but in later times they were regarded as goddesses of order in general and natural justice. "They bring and bestow ripeness, they come and go in accordance with the firm law of the periodicities of nature and of life", Karl Kerenyi observed: "Hora means 'the correct moment'." Traditionally, they guarded the gates of Olympus, promoted the fertility of the earth, and rallied the stars and constellations.
The course of the seasons was also symbolically described as the dance of the Horae, and they were accordingly given the attributes of spring flowers, fragrance and graceful freshness. For example, in Hesiod's Works and Days, the fair-haired Horai, together with the Charites and Peitho crown Pandora—she of "all gifts"—with garlands of flowers. Similarly Aphrodite, emerging from the sea and coming ashore at Cyprus, is dressed and adorned by the Horai, and, according to a surviving fragment of the epic Cypria, Aphrodite wore clothing made for her by the Charites and Horai, dyed with spring flowers, such as the Horai themselves wear.
The number of Horae varied according to different sources, but was most commonly three, either the trio of Thallo, Auxo and Carpo, who were goddesses of the order of nature; or Eunomia, Diké, and Eirene, who were law-and-order goddesses.
The earlier Argive Horae
In late euhemerist interpretations, they were seen as Cretan maidens who were worshipped as goddesses after they had been wrongfully stoned to death.
The classical Horae triads
The earliest written mention of Horai is in the Iliad where they appear as keepers of Zeus's cloud gates. "Hardly any traces of that function are found in the subsequent tradition," Karl Galinsky remarked in passing. They were daughters of Zeus and Themis, half-sisters to the Moirai.
- in one variant emphasizing their fruitful aspect, Thallo, Auxo, and Carpo—the goddesses of the three seasons the Greeks recognized: spring, summer and autumn—were worshipped primarily amongst rural farmers throughout Greece;
- in the other variant, emphasising the "right order" aspect of the Horai, Hesiod says that Zeus wedded "bright Themis" who bore Diké, Eunomia, and Eirene, who were law-and-order goddesses that maintained the stability of society; they were worshipped primarily in the cities of Athens, Argos and Olympia.
Of the first, more familiar, triad associated with Aphrodite and Zeus is their origins as emblems of times of life, growth (and the classical three seasons of year):
- Thallo (Θαλλώ, literally "The one who brings blossoms"; or Flora for Romans) or Thalatte was the goddess of spring, buds and blooms, a protector of youth.
- Auxo (Αὐξώ. "Increaser" as in plant growth) or Auxesia was worshipped (alongside Hegemone) in Athens as one of their two Charites.
- Carpo (Καρπώ), Carpho or Xarpo was the one who brings food (though Robert Graves in The Greek Myths (1955) translates this name as "withering") and was in charge of autumn, ripening, and harvesting, as well as guarding the way to Mount Olympus and letting back the clouds surrounding the mountain if one of the gods left. She was an attendant to Persephone, Aphrodite and Hera, and was also associated with Dionysus, Apollo and Pan.
Of the second triad associated to Themis and Zeus for the law-and-order:
- Diké (Δίκη, "Justice" ; Iustitia for Romans) was the goddess of moral justice: she ruled over human justice, as her mother Themis ruled over divine justice. The anthropomorphisation of Diké as an ever-young woman dwelling in the cities of men was so ancient and strong that in the 3rd century BCE Aratus in Phaenomena 96 asserted that she was born a mortal and that, though Zeus placed her on earth to keep mankind just, he quickly learned this was impossible and placed her next to him on Olympus, as the Greek astronomical/astrological constellation The Maiden.
- Eunomia (Εὐνομία, "Order", governance according to good laws) was the goddess of law and legislation. The same or a different goddess may have been a daughter of Hermes and Aphrodite.
- Eirene or Irene (Εἰρήνη. "Peace"; the Roman equivalent was Pax), was the personification of peace and wealth, and was depicted in art as a beautiful young woman carrying a cornucopia, scepter and a torch or rhyton.
Hyginus (Fabulae 183) identifies a third set of Horae:
The Four Seasons
Finally, a quite separate suite of Horae personified the twelve hours (originally only ten), as tutelary goddesses of the times of day. The hours run from just before sunrise to just after sunset, thus winter hours are short, summer hours are long:
The nine Hours
According to Hyginus, the list is only of nine, borrowed from the three classical triads alternated:
- Auco, or perhaps Auxo (Growth, from the 1st triad),
- Eunomia (Order, from the 2nd triad),
- Pherusa (Substance, from the 3rd triad),
- Carpo (Fruit, from the 1st triad),
- Diké (Justice, from the 2nd triad),
- Euporie or Euporia (Abondance, from the 3rd triad),
- Eirene or Irene (Peace, from the 2nd triad),
- Orthosie (Prosperity, from the 3rd triad) and
- Thallo (Flora, from the 1st triad).
The ten or twelve Hours
This last distinct set of ten or twelve Hours is much less known:
- Auge, first light (initially not part of the set),
- Anatolê or Anatolia, sunrise,
- Mousikê or Musica, the morning hour of music and study,
- Gymnastikê, Gymnastica or Gymnasia, the morning hour of education, training, gymnastics/exercise,
- Nymphê or Nympha, the morning hour of ablutions (bathing, washing),
- Mesembria, noon,
- Sponde, libations poured after lunch,
- Elete, prayer, the first of the afternoon work hours,
- Aktê, Acte or Cypris, eating and pleasure, the second of the afternoon work hours,
- Hesperis, end of the afternoon work hours, start of evening,
- Dysis, sunset,
- Arktos or Arctus, night sky, constellation (initially not part of the set).
- References to the Horai in classical sources are credited in Karl Kerenyi's synthesis of all the mythology, The Gods of the Greeks 1951, pp 101f and passim (index, "Horai")
- Works and Days lines 74-75.
- Homeric Hymn 6.5-13.
- Cypria, fr. 4.
- Iliad 5. 749-51.
- Karl Galinsky, "Venus, Polysemy, and the Ara Pacis Augustae" American Journal of Archaeology 96.3 (July 1992:457-475) p. 459.
- G.M.A. Hanfmann, The Seasons Sarcophagus at Dumbarton Oaks (Cambridge, Massachusetts) 1951; V. Machaira, in Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae 5.1 (1990), p 502f.
- Pausanias, 9.35.2. Compare Hyginus, Fabula 183.
- hyginus fabulae 183
- Grimal, Pierre, The Dictionary of Classical Mythology, Wiley-Blackwell, 1996, ISBN 978-0-631-20102-1. "Horae" p. 217
- Smith, William, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, London (1873). "Horae"
- The dictionary definition of Horae at Wiktionary
- Media related to Horae at Wikimedia Commons
- Theoi Project: Horai
- Theoi Project: Twelve Horae