The Judgement of Paris

The Golden Apple of Discord

The goddess of quarrel and strife was Eris. She was sister and companion of murderous Ares, the Greek  god of war and daughter of Nyx (Night). Unhappy and displeased that she was not invited to the wedding ceremony of Peleus (the king of the island of Aegina) and Thetis (the sea-nymph), Eris felt pushed aside and soon came up with a cunning plan in revenge for not being invited

Eris

Eris. Attic plate, ca. 575–525 BC (Berlin Antikensammlung)

The feast was attended by most of the Olympian Gods. Eris’ idea was to ‘forget’ a golden apple in the great banquet. That apple carried an inscription: “TO THE FAIREST” (ΤΗ ΚΑΛΛΙΣΤΗΙ). Eris knew that her shiny apple would quickly draw attention.

Yes, that was all she had to do. Soon, three goddesses at the wedding were fascinated by the golden apple and wanted it for themselves. Aphrodite, Athena and Hera immediately competed for it. They asked the other Greek Gods who should own it, but they proved smart and they chose not to interfere. They immediately smelled trouble. What was the point? If they chose one, then the other two goddesses would probably hold this against them. It sure was a hard call so the Gods agreed that Paris, being the most handsome mortal, should be the judge.

judgement Paris 1

Walter Crane – The Judgement of Paris (watercolor on paper, 1909)

Everyone was happy with this solution and the gods were very pleased. Paris had a difficult task laying ahead. Athena, Hera and Aphrodite stripped naked in front of Paris and each goddess offered him an appealing gift trying to win his decision.

  • Athena tried to tempt him offering infinite wisdom.
  • Hera promised him absolute power over great kingdoms.
  • Aphrodite offered him the love of the most beautiful woman on earth, Helen.

Deal-maker! Paris made his choice

As you know, Paris gave the golden apple tot he Goddess of Love, Aphrodite. Spoiler alert: This decision would soon lead to the outbreak of one of the most famous wars ever, the Trojan War… And the fall of Troy would later lead to the foundation of Rome!

All this, for an apple.

gold apple

The Nine Muses

Have you ever wondered where does the word ‘museum’ come from? No? Ok… I’ll tell you anyway: It’s connected with the Muses! The Nine Muses were deities who ruled over the arts and sciences and gave humans the necessary inspiration for creation.

According to Hesiod, Zeus slept with the young and beautiful Mnemosyne. Mnemosyne (the Greek word for ‘memory’) held a special importance in ancient times, when there were still no written records and manuscripts, so poets had to carry their work in their memory.

The offspring of the love affair between Zeus and Mnemosyne? The Nine Muses. God Apollo took them under his protection and when the Muses grew up they showed their tendency to the Arts. An epithet of Apollo was ‘Mousagetes’, meaning ‘leading the Muses’ and those young deities soon decided to dedicate their lives to the Arts:

1. Calliope : Epic poetry
2. Clio : History
3. Euterpe : Lyric poetry and flutes
4. Erato : Love poems
5. Melpomene : Tragedy
6. Polyhymnia : Sacred hymns
7. Terpsichore : Dance
8. Thalia : Comedy and pastoral poetry
9. Urania : Astronomy

Ancient writers, as early as Homer, appeal to the Muses at the beginning of their work. Homer appeals to the Muses both in the Iliad and Odyssey and until today, the Muses are symbols of inspiration and artistic creation. In the Ancient Graeco-Roman world, authors, statesmen, artists, philosophers they all believed they were successful because one or more of the nine Muses were guiding them.

Every learning institute with respect for itself had an altar to honor the Muses. The Ptolemies in Egypt dedicated the famous Library of Alexandria to the Muses. The word “museum” literally means a shrine dedicated to the Muses and you must have guessed by now the origins of the word “music”, too.
In modern times we tend to call someone who inspires an artist “a muse”!

9 Muses

The famous ‘Dance of Apollo and the Muses’ by the Italian architect and painter, Baldassare Tommaso Peruzzi.

The Flight of Icarus

Stories told in Greek Mythology are just that: stories. They’re not parables. You can read it or hear it and then you draw your own conclusions. Maybe even change your mind later.  You may conclude that the moral of a myth applies well to your own concerns but this may not be the case for someone else. The reader / listener is never presented with a ‘moral lesson’ at the end. The story ends. Period. You understand and see the myth through your own eyes.

The story of Daedalus and Icarus is still super-famous because they were the first humans that managed to fly! Not by using magic or through the grace of God. They did it through their human ingenuity.

Pre-WW2 stamp issued to fund the Greek Air Force

Icarus is considered to be even more famous than his father today, even though it was Icarus that perished. This seems a bit odd… Well, people since the ancient times, interpreted Icarus’ death as caused entirely by his own hubris.

For most people the moral of this story can be summarized in just 3 words:

Obey the rules.

That’s it. Simple. If you don’t, this will lead to your demise.

The vast majority of people from Plutarch to the latest YouTube creator believe that the story of Icarus teaches us one or all of the following:

  • Listen to your parents or you will fail
  • Respect the Gods or you will be punished
  • Restrain yourself or you will perish
  • Hear the warnings or you will die

At first glance, this meaning seems to make sense.

Some others believe that’s just the surface of the myth.

Delving deeper, I see Icarus as a symbol for people of action… Adventurers dare,  they impulsively rush into the unknown. They go further and higher where everybody else thinks is foolish to do so. That is the spirit of great explorers.

Imagine if James Cook said… “Nah… I’d rather not do this. Sailing into the unknown is not such a good idea.” It wasn’t. But he sailed anyway! Roald Amundsen could have said “On second thoughts the Antarctic is way too cold. Humans can’t live there anyway, so screw this… I’m stayin’ home” Well guess what: he didn’t.

It’s this characteristic that only a tiny percentage of the population possesses. Not to heed warnings of danger and to follow temptation, even if you know that you may perish. To chase dreams and achieve the impossible. Yes, we can learn by the mistake of Icarus and at the same time be inspired by his daring legendary flight.