Bk 1.xxvii. 17-18 Orthography (cont.)

Hora… “associated with days”

  • The ancient Greek horae were modest girls of good family (Zeus and Hera) who represented the beneficence of the natural order, the procession of seasons – each with its particular benefit – and that sort of thing. As it were, they represented a perfection of natural and of divine οἰκονόμος (“household management”), a word formed from οἶκος (“house/household”) and νέμω (“to manage/apportion/dispense”).. so household management was  οἰκονομία.  And that, essentially, was their role in the cosmic order –  as the Greek narratives make clear.
  • Blogpost  ‘Greek Mythology: “The Horae” from La Audacia de Aquiles names all twelve.[HERE]  It wanders off into the Renaissance imagery, forgetting that the ancient Greeks had never heard of Rome, much less of the Renaissance.  Includes other good links.
  • For one type of modern comparative treatment see Helene E. Roberts, Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art (1998; 2013)   p.792. (Full disclosure – this is not the style of comparative iconography I prefer, or practice. Which is not to say that comparing pictures alone without reference to historical, archaeological and other matters clarifying intention, isn’t one acceptable strand within the discipline.)

Having, evidently, only the vaguest idea of the Greeks’ Horae, the Romans depict them en déshabillé – more like Bacchus’ followers, those passionate wine-maddened Bacchantes.  One can’t imagine these young women  busying themselves with household tasks and seeing carefully to the economy of an estate. If you see ‘horae’  looking a little the worse for wine and wear – you can fairly predict that the piece is Roman.

  • The wiki article ‘Roman timekeeping’ has some  nice interactive diagrams at present. [HERE]

Medieval ‘Hours’ (Horae)

Until about the 1970s, the custom in academe was to describe Books of Hours as ‘horae’ and occasionally you find the custom preserved in library catalogues, even now.  Here is an example: an excellent list from  The New York Public Library [HERE].

So much is written about the monastic hours and Books of Hours that I’ll add just a couple of references:

  • Gerhard Dohrn-van Rossum, History of the Hour: Clocks and Modern Temporal Orders.  Dohrn-van Rossum’s description of the monastic hours is not correct. It did not  originate in the Roman-  but in the Egyptian ‘hours’ and in the early church the ‘hours’ were sung through the night watches rather than through the day. However, as a general guide this work is helpful especially if read together with specialised studies.



  • Header – image of woman praying – inhabited initial ‘O’ from Brit.Lib. MS Additional 49999 f. 64v. 
  • The bone sculptures of Kutna Hora are not medieval gothic. They’re high Victorian gothic.  In 1870 an artist was hired by the local nobles, the  Schwarzenbergs,  “to decorate the chapel with the bones and create a reminder of the impermanence of human life and inescapable death.”  Despite the anachronism, I’ve used this as a nice mnemonic for the content in this passage from the Etymologies: face, bone and the transient ‘hour’.
  • Horae as Greek daughters of Zeus, administrators of the world’s estate  – from an Attic vase dated to the 5thC BC.
  • Horae in the Bacchante style.  Roman era  relief dated to the 1stC.  Described as ‘neo-Attic’.  Now in the Louvre ( MR 720).


-back to CONTENTS

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.