Judgement of Paris

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1. The Judgement of Paris

The Judgment of Paris by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640)

Athena was the goddess of wisdom, but on one occasion she did a very foolish thing; she entered into competition with Hera and Aphrodite for the prize of beauty. It happened thus: At the nuptials of Peleus and Thetis all the gods were invited with the exception of Eris, or Discord. Enraged at her exclusion, the goddess threw a golden apple among the guests, with the inscription, "For the fairest." Thereupon Hera, Aphrodite and Athena each claimed the apple. Zeus, not willing to decide in so delicate a matter, sent the goddesses to Mount Ida, where the beautiful shepherd Paris was tending his flocks. He was an excellent judge of beauty, Zeus told them. Paris, though a royal prince, was doing shepherd’s work because his father Priam, the King of Troy, had been warned that this prince would someday be the ruin of his country, and so had sent him away. At the moment Paris was living with a lovely nymph named Oenone.

The goddesses accordingly appeared before him. Hera promised him power and riches, Athena glory and renown in war, and Aphrodite the fairest of women for his wife, each attempting to bias his decision in her own favor. Paris decided in favor of Aphrodite and gave her the golden apple, thus making the two other goddesses his enemies. Under the protection of Aphrodite, Paris sailed to Greece, and was hospitably received by Menelaus, king of Sparta. Now Helen, the wife of Menelaus, was the very woman whom Aphrodite had destined for Paris, the fairest of her sex. She had been sought as a bride by numerous suitors, and before her decision was made known, they all, at the suggestion of Odysseus, one of their number, took an oath that they would defend her from all injury and champion the cause of Helen’s husband if necessary.

She chose Menelaus, and was living with him happily when Paris became their guest. Paris, aided by Aphrodite, persuaded her to elope with him, and...