The Judgement of Paris
Travel with Stanito is not only a blog about real geographic travel adventures. It is also a space where you can travel back in time, when the world was a more magical place filled with myths and tales. On this note today I offer you a piece of one of my biggest passions: Greek myths. Specifically, to the myth that caused the most famous war known to ancient men: the Last War of Troy.
Troy was attacked and almost sacked at least three times during different kingdoms, but the one we remember is the was caused by love. Or at least that is what we believe to be the cause. The cause of the war of Troy was a very unfortunate judgment.
The most emblematic paintings of this tragic event is this one:
Paris was a handsome young man. A goat herder with a scarce intellect and a very interesting past.
Anaware of it, his true name was Alexandros, and he was the youngest child of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy. But the poor child had a terrible older sister, Cassandra, who as soon as he was born started shouting “Troy will burn! Kill him!”.
As Priam knew his daughter was blessed with the gift of prophecy, he considered that the safety of his realm was too important, and so one night he left the new born baby on a cliff of Mt. Ida hoping that wolves or whatever angry animal looking for a meal would eat the baby. However, Cassandra had already spoken and Troy was doomed, so the fatherly gesture didn’t help save precious Troy in the future: Alexandros was found by Agelaus, who took him along and named him Paris (Greek for ‘warrior’ or ‘backpack’, I disagree with the first one as Paris was quite the coward and fled battles in numerous occasions).
Now, we know Cassandra was quirky but she did in fact predict the fall of the city very accurately, in fact she knew how it would have been destroyed, when and by whom. Such gift you would think could have saved the entire country from the peril of destruction, but the girl also brought a side effect to it. Being gifted and all that, Cassandra once refused to lie with Apollo. The god, angered by such offence, spit in her mouth and turned her blessed gift into a curse that would make Cassandra’s divinations never to be believed by anybody.
As Paris was herding his goats on Mt. Ida. on a sunny day, he was unaware that on a different mountain, Mt. Olympus, a very significant event was taking place, an event that would have soon claim Paris’ role in the biggest war of all time.
On Mt. Olympus that day something very unusual was happening: for the first time, the Twelve Olympic gods were celebrating the joyous union of a mortal and an immortal, Peleus and Thètis. Normally the gods wouldn’t never attend weddings involving mortals, but this was a special case.
Thètis and Peleus wanted the perfect wedding, which means: “We want all the gods to be witnesses of our joyous union, we want to have our wedding on Mr. Olympus with a glorious feast and we certainly don’t want anything to go wrong, so Eris, we are sorry but you’re not invited”. Eris, Goddess of Discord, Contention, Provocations and many more, was certainly hurt. But she decided to keep her name up with honor and mess up the wedding celebration by doing what she does best: she rolled on the banquet table a beautiful Golden Apple with imprinted “To the most beautiful”.
Aphrodite and Hera, quite rightly, jumped at it. Athenae, Goddess of Wisdom, Strategy, Intelligence and many more attributes, also raced to the get the Apple, but since she was known for other reasons (kind of like ‘inside beauty is what really matters’) and frankly she was not that pretty, I still wonder why she jumped too.
Zeus was quite the coward too and didn’t dare to assign the Apple to one of them, plus his wife Hera was fiercely jealous, so it was better to skip trouble and designate someone else to be the impartial beauty judge.
The choice went to Paris, an honest goat herder blessed with a simple uncomplicated life who was probably napping under a tree while his goats roamed around.
Hérmes led the three goddesses to the unfortunate fellow and let him judge who was the fairest. As soon as they found the doomed boy Hérmes gave the introductory speech (from Robert Graves’ book The Greek Myths):
‘Paris, since you are as handsome as you are wise in affairs of the heart, Zeus commands you to judge which of these goddesses is the fairest.’
Paris accepted the apple doubtfully. He first thought to divide the Golden Apple in three identical parts, but such thing was not allowed so he proceeded by asking the three goddesses to disrobe so that he could judge them. Before they did so, he said ‘But first I beg the losers not to be vexed with me. I am only a human being, liable to make the stupidest mistakes.’ As if he knew the gods at all before asking for such promise…
Aphrodite was quickly undressed, Hera followed right up and Athenae was the last one (she had a helmet and armor, so it took longer to undress).
Hera was the first one to speak and try to bribe him:
‘Examine me conscientiously,’ said Hera, turning slowly around, and displaying her magnificent figure,’ and remember that if you judge me the fairest, I will make you lord of all Asia, and the richest man alive.’
Poor Paris, knew nothing about glory and war ambitions so he kindly refused the offer.
Athenae was next:
‘Listen, Paris, if you have enough common sense to award me the prize, I will make you victorious in all your battles, as well as the handsomest and wisest man in the world.’
He didn’t know what wars and wisdom were either, so another monumental offer was kindly turned down.
Then last but not least, Aphrodite. She approached Paris so closely that he immediately blushed:
‘Look carefully, please, pass nothing over. … By the way, as soon as I saw you, I said to myself:’ ‘Upon my word, there goes the handsomest young man in Phrygia! Why does he waste himself here in the wilderness herding stupid cattle? “Well, why do you, Paris? Why not move into a city and lead a civilized life? What have you to lose by marrying someone like Helen of Sparta, who is as beautiful as I am, and no less passionate? I am convinced that, once you two have met, she will abandon her home, her family, everything, to become your mistress. Surely you have heard of Helen?’
Paris immediately said ‘you have all my attention’ and asked for a description of Helen. Aphrodite knew to manage situations like this one very well as she masters all matters of love. It was easy: she basically described herself by adding the “human” factor, and boom! Paris was convinced and awarded her the Golden Apple!
The scene of Aphrodite’s moment of victory