Charis Before Christ: a Discussion of Grace in Ancient Greek Literature

Alyson Melzer

Session 2A, 1:00pm, Room 114

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In the New Testament, the Greek word charis signifies the grace of God, as in John 1:14 where Jesus is described as being “full of grace (charis) and truth.” The concept of “grace” has become so integral to the Christian faith that it is easy to take for granted the profundity of the term and its many implications. But it is a term that was central to Greek culture hundreds of years before the formation of the Christian church, with a significant role in the realms of religion, hospitality, and aesthetics. I will therefore take a step back in time to Greek literature before Christ to discuss how charis operated in ancient Greek culture. I will look in particular at the Homeric epics (8th century BCE) and Sophocles’ tragedy Ajax (5th century BCE). I believe that, by thinking about these expressions of charis outside the Christian tradition, we as Christians can better understand the grace of God, and our role in receiving and cultivating this gift.


This fall, I will be a second year graduate student in the Classics department at Stanford, focusing in particular on Greek poetry and performance. Before coming to Stanford, I studied Greek and Latin at the University of California Los Angeles and at Arizona State University, and received my Bachelor of Arts in 2011 from Occidental College in Los Angeles with majors in Music Performance and Literature.

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