The Dance of the Graces

If we remember that the meaning of the Latin word gratia hovers somewhere between the Spanish expression muchas gracias and the English concept of grace, there is much to be learned from the lovely passage below in the first book of Seneca’s On Good Deeds:

“Why are the Graces three in number?  Why they are sisters?  Why are they seen hand in hand, why laughing and young, why clothed in flowing, sheer dresses?  Some say the reason is that there is one who does a kind deed, there is another who receives it, and a third who then repays it. … What is the meaning of the sisters’ dancing in a circle, hand in hand?  It indicates the movement of a good deed from one hand to another, until it makes its way back to the giver.  The beauty of the whole is lost if there is an interruption, but is at its most beautiful when it holds and preserves itself in its turning . … Their faces are happy, as the faces usually are of kind people kindly treated. They are young, because the memory of a good deed should never grow old. They are virgins, because kindnesses are pure and sincere, and considered holy by all people.  Good deeds are done without strictures or attachment, and so the Graces wear flowing tunics that are transparent, because kindnesses love to be seen.”

Quare tres Gratiae et quare sorores sint, et quare manibus inplexis, et quare ridentes <et iuuenes> et uirgines solutaque ac perlucida ueste. Alii quidem uideri uolunt unam esse, quae det beneficium, alteram, quae accipiat, tertiam, quae reddat. … Quid ille consertis manibus in se redeuntium chorus? Ob hoc, quia ordo beneficii per manus transeuntis nihilo minus ad dantem reuertitur et totius speciem perdit, si usquam interruptus est, pulcherrimus, si cohaeret et uices seruat. … Voltus hilari sunt, quales solent esse, qui dant uel accipiunt beneficia; iuuenes, quia non debet beneficiorum memoria senescere; uirgines, quia incorrupta sunt et sincera et omnibus sancta; in quibus nihil esse adligati decet nec adstricti: solutis itaque tunicis utuntur; perlucidis autem, quia beneficia conspici uolunt.


About Uncomely and Broken

I am a classicist in Sewanee, Tennessee.
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