Post of the Hours

One common feature of mythology is an explanation of the procession of the seasons, often linking them to particular deities or to the death and rebirth of a god. In Greek mythology, it’s explained that the winter is when Demeter‘s daughter Persephone is in the Underworld with her husband Hades, making the nature goddess too upset to keep the plants blooming. You’d think she’d eventually get used to it, but that’s one of the oddities of cyclical myths.

There were also goddesses portraying the seasons themselves, and these were the Horae, daughters of Zeus and Themis, the Titaness of Justice. This made them sisters of the three Fates; apparently Themis tended to give birth in threes. There was no Hora of winter, which I guess was seen more as an anti-season. There are actually three different lists of the names of the Horae, but I’m not sure whether they’re all distinct individuals or just different names for the same goddesses. In one list, Thallo was in charge of spring and blossoms, Auxo of the growth of summer, and Karpo of the autumn harvest. Another gives their names as Pherusa, Euporie, and Orthosa. The most famous names for the trio, however, seem to be Dike, Eunomia, and Eirene. In these personifications, the Horae were in charge not only of the seasons, but also of law and order. Dike was a goddess of justice, Eunomia of legislation, and Eirene of peace.

Dike was sometimes viewed as a mortal who lived on Earth until Zeus decided she was better suited for life on Olympus. She was sometimes depicted as holding scales, much like the modern personification of Justice. The idea of Justice being blind, however, was originally an attribute of the Roman goddess Fortuna, associated with the Greek Tyche. Thallo was sometimes used as an epithet for Eirene, so perhaps they were actually the same deity. It can be difficult to tell sometimes. In addition to their association with seasons and order, they were also viewed as the protectors of the cloud-gates of Olympus, and the ones who discovered Aphrodite soon after her sea-foam birth and brought her to the court of the gods.

The word Horae is often translated into English as Hours, which is kind of confusing until you realize that to the Greeks, the term could refer to pretty much any division of time. There were different Horae associated with the hours of the day, or they might have been the same Horae taking on alternate functions. Lists identify between nine and twelve personifications of times of the day, representing periods of time from just before sunrise until just after sunset. As such, hours were longer in the summer; there wasn’t a fixed length for an hour like there is now. The Horae helped the sun-god in his chariot ride across the sky, and as he’s supposed to travel along the zodiac, the number twelve might well relate to the constellations of the zodiac and the months of the year. Speaking of which, the constellation Virgo is sometimes said to represent Dike, with Libra being her scales of justice. It was also sometimes associated with Demeter, which I suppose brings this post full circle, just like the seasons themselves.

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