The Iliad belongs to a number of the most famous ancient poems devoted to conflicts between states. Numerous references present the work’s characteristics, making it a popular research subject in cultural studies to Greek legends. Among the codes that are related to the events described in the Iliad, there is the story about Paris, who had to choose the most beautiful goddess to give her the golden apple provided by Eris.
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The judgment of Paris is one of the legends that are believed to shed light on the real causes of the Trojan War. As is stated by modern researchers, this story is quite popular in ancient literature and art due to the theme of competition (Hamilton 255). The work being discussed thoroughly describes the Trojan War, paying special attention to particular battles, their outcomes, and the intricacies in the relationships of the key characters. However, as is noted by Hamilton, this focus on the battles significantly decreases the amount of attention paid to the events that led to the war (255). Therefore, the references to some legends, including the judgment of Paris, are few in number.
Although the story of Paris is often regarded as the key prerequisite to the outbreak of the Trojan War, it is not referenced in work by Homer many times. This point is supported by Hamilton, who claims that the Iliad “makes only a dubious allusion to the judgment of Paris” (255). The most obvious reference to the discussed legend can be found in the last part of the Iliad, the twenty-fourth book (Homer). The final chapter is devoted to the events after the death of Hector, who was one of the sons of Priam, the King of Troy (Homer). At the beginning of this part, “the blessed gods” urge Hermes to steal the body of Hector, and this idea is supported by all of them, “except for Hera, Poseidon, and Athena” (Homer). Having expressed this thought, the author further develops an idea of their negative attitude to Alexander (another name of Paris from the mentioned legend).
The twenty-fourth book mentions the name of Paris and contains explicit references to his decision, causing the war. To explain the reason why Hera and Athena hate Paris, the author explains the meaning of “Alexander’s folly” (Homer). The explanation is provided in lines 30-33 of the twenty-fourth book, stating that “he’d been contemptuous of those goddesses, when they were visiting his sheep-fold” (Homer). Judging from the fact that the story of Paris has not been referenced earlier in the book, the author suggests that the audience already knows about the conflict caused by his decision to choose Aphrodite. The effects of his decision are also referenced in lines 32 and 33, stating that he has chosen “the one who volunteered to serve his dangerous lust” (Homer). Therefore, these lines aim at linking the actions of Paris to his weaknesses supported by the winner, Aphrodite.
The legendary episode referenced in the Iliad involves a number of themes such as jealousy, competition, and lust. It is also interesting that the story of Paris is closely interconnected with the wedding of Peleus, a mortal but very strong man, and Thetis, who was a nymph (Hamilton 256). One of the goddesses named Eris was not invited to the celebration, and she decided to revenge that injustice. In order to achieve her goal, Eris came to the banquet and drove a wedge between all goddesses by throwing “a golden apple marked For the Fairest” (Hamilton 256). Three goddesses (Athena, Aphrodite, and Hera) asked Zeus to choose one of them, but he did not agree to become a judge and referred them to another man called Paris. A son of the Trojan King, Paris was sent out by his father and used to tend his father’s sheep. Paris is an interesting character that had enough money and power to live comfortably but could also find peace in the activities typically associated with the poorest people.
Having learned about the abilities and the sense of justice that Paris possessed, the three goddesses decided to ask him for advice. In this connection, it needs to be noted that the story about Paris is sometimes associated with beauty contests (Goldsmith 38). In fact, Paris was supposed to focus not on the natural beauty of the three goddesses but to evaluate their gifts and accept one of them. The three gifts were chosen by the contestants with special attention to common men’s interests and expectations. Thus, Hera “promised to make him Lord of Europe and Asia,” whereas Athena offered him great success in wars (Hamilton 256). Aphrodite decided to resort to a trick and promised him that “the fairest woman in all the world” should be with him (Hamilton 258). Being afraid of the need to take responsibility and become a ruler, Paris decided to choose the last gift offered by Aphrodite.
In the end, the Iliad uses poetic forms for the description of key events, which can cause disputes concerning the correct interpretation of stories. This epic poem, just like many famous texts of the remote past, has a complicated structure and references some popular legends such as the story about Paris and three goddesses. Despite being related to the causes of the Trojan War, the judgment of Paris is not thoroughly discussed in Homer’s work about this war. The brief references to the legend can be found in the twenty-fourth book of the Iliad.
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Goldsmith, Elizabeth C. “Fanning the ‘Judgment of Paris’: The Early Modern Beauty Contest.” Seventeenth-Century French Studies, vol. 36, no. 1, 2014, pp. 38-52.
Hamilton, Edith. Mythology: Timeless Takes of Gods and Heroes. Back Bay Books, 1969.
Homer. The Iliad – Book Twenty Four. Translated by Ian Johnston.