In Greek mythology the Horae (/ˈhɔːriː/) or Horai (/ˈhɔːraɪ/) 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 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.
The Horai are mentioned in two aspects in Hesiod and the Homeric Hymns:
- 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, Auxo was the Charis of spring and Hegemone was the Charis of autumn. One of the Horae, and the goddess and personification of the season of summer; she is the protector of vegetation and plants, and growth and fertility.
- 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.
At Athens, two Horae; Thallo (the Hora of spring) and Carpo (the Hora of autumn), also appear in rites of Attica noted by Pausanias in the 2nd century AD. Thallo, Auxo and Carpo are often accompanied by Chione, a daughter of Boreas (the god/personification of the North Wind) and Orithyia/Oreithyia (originally a mortal princess, who was later deifyied as a goddess of cold mountain winds), and the goddess/personification of snow and winter. Along with Chione, Thallo, Auxo and Carpo were a part of the entourage of the goddess of the turn of the seasons, Persephone.
Of the second triad associated to Themis and Zeus for 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:
- Pherusa (Substance, farm estates),
- Euporie or Euporia (Abundance), and
- Orthosie or Orthosia (Prosperity).
The Four Seasons
Nonnus in his Dionysiaca mentions a distinct set of four Horae, the daughters of Helios. Quintus Smyrnaeus also attributes the Horae as the daughters of Helios and Selene, and describes them as the four handmaidens of Hera. The Greek words for the four seasons of year:
- Eiar (Spring),
- Theros (Summer),
- Phthinoporon (Autumn), and
- Cheimon (Winter).
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 (Abundance, from the 3rd triad),
- Eirene or Irene (Peace, from the 2nd triad),
- Orthosie or Orthosia (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).
Horae（Ὧραι), originally the personifications or goddesses of the order of nature and of the seasons, but in later times they were regarded as the goddesses of order in general and of justice. In Homer, who neither mentions their parents nor their number, they are the Olympian divinities of the weather and the ministers of Zeus; and in this capacity they guard the doors of Olympus, and promote the fertility of the earth, by the various kinds of weather they send down. As the weather, generally speaking, is regulated according to the seasons, they are further described as the goddesses of the seasons, i. e. the regular phases under which Nature manifests herself. They are kind and benevolent, bringing to gods and men many things that are good and desirable. As, however, Zeus has the power of gathering and dispersing the clouds, they are in reality only his ministers, and sometimes also those of Hera. Men in different circumstances regard the course of time (or the seasons) either as rapid or as slow, and both epithets are accordingly applied to the Horae. The course of the seasons (or hours) is symbolically described by the dance of the Horae; and, in conjunction with the Charites, Hebe, Harmonia, and Aphrodite, they accompany the songs of the Muses, and Apollo’s play on the lyre, with their dancing. The Homeric notions continued to be entertained for a long time afterwards, the Horae being considered as the givers of the various seasons of the year, especially of spring and autumn, i. e. of Nature in her bloom and maturity. At Athens two Horae, Thallo (the Hora of spring) and Carpo (the Hora of autumn), were worshipped from very early ties. The Hora of spring accompanies Persephone every year on her ascent from the lower world; and the expression of “The chamber of the Horae opens ” is equivalent to ” The spring is coining.” The attributes of spring-flowers, fragrance, and graceful freshness-are accordingly transferred to the Horae; thus they adorned Aphrodite as she rose from the sea, made a garland of flowers for Pandora, and even inanimate things are described as deriving peculiar charms from the Horae. Hence they bear a resemblance to and are mentioned along with the Charites, and both are frequently confounded or identified. As they were conceived to promote the prosperity of every thing that grows, they appear also as the protectresses of youth and newly-born gods ; and the Athenian youths, on being admitted along the ephebi, mentioned Thallo, among other gods, in the oath they took in the temple of Agraulos.
In this, as in many other cases of Greek mythology, a gradual transition is visible, from purely physical to ethical notions, and the influence which the Horae originally had on nature was subsequently transferred to human life in particular. The first trace of it occurs even in Hesiod, for he describes them as giving to a state good laws, justice, and peace; he calls them the daughters of Zeus and Themis, and gives them the significant names of Eunomia, Dice, and Eirene. But the ethical and physical ideas are not always kept apart, and both are often mixed up with each other, as in Pindar. The number of the Horae is different in the different writers, though the most ancient number seems to have been two, as at Athens but afterwards their common number is three, like that of the Moerae and Charites. Hyginus (Hyg. Fab. 183) is in great confusion respecting the number and names of the Horae, as he mixes up the original names with surnames, and the designations of separate seasons or hours. In this manner he first makes out a list of ten Horae, viz. Titanis, Auxo, Eunomia, Pherusa, Carpo, Dice, Euporia, Eirene, Orthosia, and Thallo, and a second of eleven, Auge, Anatole, Musia, Gymnasia, Nymphes, Mesembria, Sponde, Telete, Acme, Cypridos, Dysis. The Horae (Thallo and Carpo) were worshipped at Athens, and their temple there also contained an altar of Dionysus Orthus; they were likewise worshipped at Argos . In works of art the H orae were represented as blooming maidens, carrying the different products of the seasons.