Let me paint you a picture – you’re just casually tending your flock on the mountainside of Mount Ida when the god of travellers appears with three goddesses and a golden apple. On it is inscribed ‘for the fairest’ and your tasked with judging which goddess you think is the fairest.
Well, it was never going to end well, was it?
This story from Greek mythology is known as the Judgement of Paris, where the Trojan Prince Paris was asked by Hermes which goddess: Hera, Athena or Aphrodite was the fairest and should receive the apple. The contentious apple had been created by Eris the goddess of discord, who for obvious reasons, didn’t get invited to a wedding* so formed the apple to create, you guessed it, discord. Her plan succeeded as the three goddesses fought over who should have the apple. Zeus wouldn’t make a judgement, so pushed it onto the unsuspecting Paris (typical Zeus move).
Hera, Athena and Aphrodite all tried to bribe Paris with offers. Hera, the goddess of family and queen of the gods, offered him power. Athena, goddess of wisdom and war, offered him military success. Aphrodite, goddess of love, offered him “the love of the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Sparta”.
So why was this judgement so important you ask?
Because it became the precursor to the Trojan War.
Paris judged Aphrodite the fairest and gave her the apple, which naturally Hera and Athena weren’t thrilled about. The Olympians weren’t exactly known for their kindness, and could be spiteful, petty and cruel. With the goddess of love in his corner, Paris set sail for Greece and took Helen of Sparta back with him to Troy, igniting the fury of her husband Menelaus of Sparta. Calling on an oath the kings of Greece had agreed to on his marriage to Helen, they created a fierce armada honour bound to retrieve Helen from Paris and return her to Menelaus. Thus, the Trojan War began. The Olympians all took sides, and quelle surprise Hera and Athena sided with the Greeks. Having the queen of the gods and goddess of war supporting your enemies is never a good start to any war.
With his judgement Paris set in motion a chain of events that “would destroy his city and bring death to all his family, and to himself”.
So, what can we learn from this story? Well, if you’re ever asked who’s the fairest – politely abstain.
What do you think of the Judgement of Paris? Let me know in the comments section below!
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*The wedding was that between Peleus and Thetis, whose son Achilles would go on to become a legendary warrior due to his involvement in the Trojan War.
Classical Myths by Jenny March
Wikipedia: The Judgement of Paris