[外文]The Three Graces
The ancient Roman Graces were three beautiful, young, naked （or, in earlier times, skimpily dressed） virgin goddesses. They were shown dancing with their hands entwined, sometimes in a circle but usually in a row with two facing forward and the middle one backward. Seneca, writing a massive treatise on gift-giving in the first century AD, mentions the three Graces irritably and in passing. He had to bring them in, he complains, because all writers invariably discussed what the Graces meant---as if they meant anything at all---when they talked of gifts. These people (whose writings have not come down to us) kept asking, says Seneca, why there were three of them. Why were they sisters? Why were their hands interlocked? Why were they happy; youthful, and virginal women? And why did they wear so little clothing?
The Graces, it was generally agreed, represented the social obligations of giving, receiving, and returning gifts and favours. They danced holding hands because a benefit passes from one person to another and eventually returns to the giver. This was so firmly believed that many did not think primarily of the giving of the first giver, but habitually jumped a step and called her “the one who earns benefits”: she gave, but would eventually get something back. The Graces are girls because both Gratia and Charis (the Greek for Grace) are feminine nouns; abstractions are commonly feminine in European language, and therefore tend to be embodied by women. Their beauty is the elegance of an uninterrupted sequence: they represent gifts circulating without hitch. They are happy because the whole cycle is joyous, virginal because gifts must not be bribes but rather “pure and undefiled and holy in the eyes of all,” and young because the memory of a gift should not “grow old” it must not be forgotten but should provoke a response, and not too late.[/外文]