The Judgement of Paris

The Judgement of Paris marks the beginnings of the Trojan War, the terrible event which has gone down in both myth and history as lasting ten years, and resulting in thousands of casualties. The Judgement of Paris does, however, revolve primarily around a series of chance circumstances that lead to this terrible outcome.

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Cecchino da Verona, Judgement of Paris from The Penguin Book of Classical Myths

It all began at the great wedding of Peleus and Thetis. They had invited all the gods to the celebrations, except Eris, the goddess of discord. They feared that she would ruin the wedding, and so, even when she turned up uninvited, they refused to let her in.

Eris did leave, but not before she provided the discord that the couple had been so desperate to avoid. She threw a golden apple into the crowd of goddesses that was addressed “to the Fairest”.

Three goddesses all laid claim to the apple, each certain that they alone were the fairest and most beautiful. These were: Hera (Zeus’ wife and sister), Athena (Zeus’ daughter) and Aphrodite (rumoured to be Zeus’ other daughter, although her parentage is unclear).

They argued for quite some time over the apple before they decided to put the matter to Zeus, demanding him to choose one of them to be “the Fairest”. Zeus, however, simply refused to choose between the goddesses, and so ordered Hermes to escort them to Paris of Troy, who would choose for him.

Paris was a mortal man, but was considered by many to be the most handsome man on Earth. He’d been banished by his father from the city of Troy after his mother had a dream about Paris destroying the city, and had become a lonely shepherd, and therefore the perfect candidate to solve the dispute between the goddesses.

Upon reaching Paris, each goddess spoke of their own beauty, trying to win him over, but, when Paris still couldn’t decide, each goddess promised Paris a gift if he were to chose them to be “the Fairest”.

Hera, Goddess of Marriage and Children, promised Paris control over all of Asia; Athena, Goddess of War and the protector of Athens, promised wisdom and victory in all battles; and Aphrodite, Goddess of Love and Beauty, promised him a wife. She swore to him that he would be married to the most beautiful woman on Earth, Helen, who was already married to King Menelaus of Sparta.

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[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Paris instantly chose Aphrodite as the winner, and “the Fairest” of the three goddesses, and so, to fulfil her promise, she helped him to kidnap Helen and bring her back to Troy, so that she could be his wife.

Menelaus, outraged, declared war against Troy. It was thought that Paris had brought dishonour to Menelaus’ name through the capture of his wife, and so he rallied the Greek army together, and, in doing so, initiated the Trojan War.

Sources

March, Jenny. “The Trojan War.” The Penguin Book of Classical Myths, Penguin, 2009, pp. 294-389.
Wikipedia contributors. “Judgement of Paris.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 20 Jun. 2017. Web.

The Titans vs. The Olympians

I recently wrote a book review for The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood’s contemporary twist on the traditional tale of The Odyssey. The book evoked my old curiosity in the world of classical civilisations, so I’ve decided to write a series of non-fiction pieces describing some of the myths from the Ancient Greek and Ancient Roman worlds. As ever, thanks for reading.

The History

Cronus became the lord of the universe by helping his mother, Gaia, to overthrow Uranus, her husband. After this, Cronus reigned for many hundreds of years as the master and lord of everything. He commanded the other gods and treated humankind however he saw fit.

However, one day he heard of a prophesy that threatened this position. It stated that, one day, one of his children would overthrow him, just as he had once overthrown his father.

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Peter Paul Rubens [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Terrified that this would come true, Cronus swallowed (yes, swallowed. You read it right) his first five children as soon as they were born. They were, of course, immortal, and so he couldn’t kill them, but by swallowing them whole, he believed that he was trapping them forever.

When Rhea, his wife, grew pregnant for a sixth time, she was determined to avoid the same fate for this next child; so she fled to the island of Crete. It was here that she gave birth to her third son, and named him Zeus.

Needing to return to Cronus with a child that she had supposedly given birth to, Rhea left Zeus to be raised by nymphs as she returned with a rock wrapped tightly in a blanket. Cronus didn’t want to see his child; he swallowed the rock, thinking it was his son, without ever supposing that he might have been tricked.

When Zeus was fully grown, he returned to his father posing as a servant. He was determined to avenge his lost siblings, and so gave Cronus a cup of wine that forced his father to be violently sick.

Cronus regurgitated the rock that he’d swallowed in Zeus’ place, along with his five other children, now fully grown. Then, before Cronus had time to recover, his six children fled to Mount Olympus, which they claimed as their own and, in doing so, became the first Olympians.

The War

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Joachim Wtewael [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The six Olympians knew that their father would happily swallow them again if he was given the chance, and so they declared war on him and the rest of the Titans, who supported him. As well as wishing to protect themselves, Cronus’ children hoped that they could claim his power as their own.

The war, known as Titanomachia, was terrible, lasting for a total of ten years. When it first began, though, the Olympians were massively outnumbered by the Titans; this was until Zeus sought out the Hundred-handers and the Cyclopes that Uranus had long ago imprisoned.

The Hundred-handers were able to throw massive rocks at the Titan army, proving themselves to be great allies. The Cyclopes, meanwhile, were skilled craftsmen. They forged three weapons for the three of Cronus’ sons: Zeus was given a magical thunderbolt that could be thrown great distances; Poseidon was given a trident that could defeat any enemy; and Hades a helmet that possessed the powers of invisibility.

With these weapons, the Olympians finally defeated the Titans, and decided to punish them accordingly. They sent most to Tartarus, where they would be imprisoned for eternity, but Atlas, who had led the Titans into battle, was punished by being forced to hold up the sky with his bare hands, unable to ever move, lest he destroy the world. As for Cronus, they sent him to the Island of the Dead, where he later sent dreams from to guide Zeus from afar.

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Raphael [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Poseidon, Hades and Zeus sectioned off the world into three parts; Poseidon took control of the seas, Hades the underworld, and Zeus the skies. As the sky is what covers all the world and universe, Zeus also became king of all gods and ruler of the universe, just as Cronus had once been.

The sisters of Zeus were given responsibilities, too. Demeter, the Goddess of agriculture and all growing things; Hestia, the Goddess of the hearth and the home; and Hera, marrying Zeus, became the Goddess of marriage and childbirth. The Gods and Goddesses of Olympus were then free to continue their family, untainted by the threat of Cronus and his Titans.

Sources

  • Karas, Michael and Charilaos Megas. “Titanomachy.” Greekmythology.com.
  • March, Jenny. “Creation.” The Penguin Book of Classical Myths, Penguin, 2009, pp. 21-51
  • Wikipedia contributors. “Titanomachy.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 26. Jul. 2017. Web. 10 Aug. 2017.
  • Wikipedia contributors. “Twelve Olympians.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Web. 10. Aug. 2017.