Judgement of Paris

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The Judgement of Paris is a story from Greek mythology, in which the legendary roots of the Trojan War can be found. As with many mythological tales, details vary depending on the source. The story is casually referred to by Homer (Iliad, XXIV, 25–30) as a mythic element with which his hearers were well familiar, and it was elaborated in Kypria, a lost work of the Trojan War cycle, of which only fragments remain. It is told in more detail by Ovid (Heroides xvi.71ff, 149–152 and v.35f), Lucian (Dialogues of the Gods 20), and Hyginus (Fabulae 92), all of whom are late and have skeptical, ironic or popularizing agendas. But it appeared wordlessly on the ivory and gold votive chest of the 7th-century tyrant Kypselos at Olympia, which was described by Pausanias as showing

"Hermes bringing to Paris the son of Priam the goddesses of whose beauty he is to judge, the inscription on them being: 'Here is Hermes, who is showing to Alexandros, that he may arbitrate concerning their beauty, Hera, Athena and Aphrodite." (Description of Greece, LXV.9.5).

The subject was favoured by painters of Red-figure pottery as early as the 6th century (e.g. Kerenyi, fig. 68).

The story

It is recounted that Zeus held a banquet in celebration of the marriage of Peleus and Thetis. However, Eris, goddess of discord, was uninvited. Angered by this snub, Eris arrived at the celebration, where she threw a golden apple (the Apple of Discord) into the proceedings, upon which was the inscription καλλίστη ("for the fairest one").

Three goddesses claimed the apple: Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. They asked Zeus to judge which of them was fairest, and eventually Zeus, reluctant to favor any claim himself, declared that Paris, a Phrygian mortal, would judge their cases, for he had recently shown his exemplary fairness in a contest in which Ares in bull form had bested Paris's own prize bull and the shepherd-prince had unhesitatingly awarded the prize to the god (see Paris).

Thus it happened that with Hermes as their guide all three of the candidates appeared to Paris on Mount Ida, in the climactic moment that is the crux of the tale. After bathing in the copious spring of Ida, each attempted with her powers to bribe Paris; Hera offered to make him king of Europe and Asia, Athena offered wisdom and skill in war, and Aphrodite, who had the Charites and the Horai to enhance her charms with flowers and song (according to a fragment of Kypria quoted by Athenagoras), offered the love of the world's most beautiful woman (Euripides, Andromache, l.284, Helena l. 676). This was Helen of Sparta, wife of the Greek king Menelaus. Paris accepted Aphrodite's gift and awarded the Apple to her, receiving Helen as well as the enmity of the Greeks and especially of Hera. The Greeks' expedition to retrieve Helen from Paris in Troy is the mythological basis of the Trojan War. (For a more complete history of Paris, see Paris.)

The mytheme of the Judgment of Paris naturally offered artists the opportunity to portray three ideally lovely women in undress, as a sort of beauty contest, but the myth, at least since Euripides, rather concerns a choice among the gifts that each goddess embodies: a subtext of the bribery involved is ironic, and a late ingredient.

In each allusion to the Judgment of Paris or narrative account, an aspect of Paris' sojourn as a shepherd-exile that is never linked to the explication of the central moment is his connection with the nurturing nymph of Mount Ida, Oenone.


Kallisti is the word from the Greek language inscribed on the Golden Apple of Discord by Eris. In Greek, the word is ΄καλλίστη; (the dative singular of the feminine superlative of καλος, beautiful). Its meaning comes out to be "for the fairest" or "to the prettiest".


  • Kerenyi, Karl, 1959. The Heroes of the Greeks, vii: "The Prelude to the Trojan War"