From Joy to Grief: the Community of Ancient Greek 'Charis'


Lisa Kraege

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?Charis? is an ancient Greek concept that roughly translates as ?grace.? However, its implications extend far beyond the confines of the word itself. It played a crucial role in the canon of Greek literature, appearing at pivotal moments in the works of Homer, Hesiod, Sappho, Pindar, Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides and beyond. These incidences led me to my research question: why did charis and its mythological complement the three Charities, or three Graces, have such profound importance in the ancient Greek psyche? My research investigates charis as it appears in the literature, and attempts to understand charis holistically, as a key to understanding Greek sociality. However, the definition and meaning of charis necessarily changes depending on its usages. It at once implies a generosity of giving and a sense of gratitude upon receiving. This fact led many Classicists to establish charis as an exchange , working within the framework of economic societies of ?total-services? as put forth by Marcel Mauss. I argue that such applications ignore one primary tenet of charis: erotic allure. Charis is very often associated with pleasure, charm and loveliness, feelings that usually subsume the subject out of systems of total-services rather than into it, as Maussian interpretations suggest. Using the work of Georges Bataille?s theories of expenditure, this paper establishes that charis defined sociality by its conditions of expenditure and excess, that Greek sociality was forged by the intimacy of an openhearted willingness to exchange excessively, giving, receiving, and loving infinitely.


Damian Stocking




Ford Research Endowment

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