The Contest of Three Beauties

Strabo, one of the ancient writers tells that this globally known saga takes place in Antandros by saying “Inside is Antandrus, above which lies a mountain called Alexandreia, where the Judgment of Paris is said to have taken place”.

Birth and Growth of Paris

Paris is a Trojan hero who evokes the Trojan War, forming the core of Homer’s Iliad. Paris’ father is the Trojan king Priamos and his mother is Hekabe. Hekabe sees a terrible dream one night during her pregnancy with Paris. In her dream, the flames coming out of her belly burns the Trojan city walls and the fires from the ramparts burn the city and the forests of Mount Ida. She wakes up in fear and tells her dream to her husband. The king and the queen decide to consult the oracles. The oracles foresee that the child to be born would cause the devastation of the city. The queen rejects the idea of the child being killed but she gives in to the decision that he is to be taken to Mount Ida and is left there.

In fact, Mount Ida owes its fame to the renowned poet Homer. Homer’s Iliad has made Mount Ida one of the most well-known mountains of the world. Many of the important myths of the Ancient Greek Mythology take place in Mount Ida.

There are different versions of how Paris fared in the mountain. According to one of them, shepherds find and raise Paris and call him Alexandros (that who protects, who is protected). In another version; Angelos, one of Priamos’ servants, leaves the boy in the mountain and a bear looks after the boy for five days. When Angelos goes back to the mountain to check on the boy, he sees that Paris is still alive, so he takes Paris and raises him. Paris becomes a handsome and a gallant young man. He spends his days herding animals in Mount Ida.

One day, servants of Priamos come to fetch a bull from the herd that Paris is tending. The bull would be given as a trophy in the games organised in the name of Priamos’ beloved son who –is believed to have- died years ago. Paris is very fond of that bull so he goes to the city with a plan to win the games and get the bull. And so he does. One of the daughters of Priamos, Kassandra, is bestowed with the gift of foretelling. Kassandra recognizes Paris and warns her mother and father. Overwhelmed with the joy of reuniting with their son, Priamos and Hekabe ignore the prophecy and heartily welcome their son to the palace.

Choice of Paris

Paris (Alexandros) is the son of Trojan King Priamos. Upon a prophecy that he would bring certain doom to Troy, he was sent to Mount Ida right after he was born. He survives and he is in the mountains shepherding the herds. Meanwhile, interesting things happen in Olympus. Zeus forces Goddess Thetis to marry Peleus, a mortal. Eris, the Goddess of strife and discord is not invited to the wedding ceremony due to her unpleasant characteristics. Eris learns this and makes an appearance in the ceremony and throws a golden apple in the midst of the Gods and Goddesses with a writing on the apple that says “to the fairest”. Hera, Athena and Aphrodite each make a move towards the apple claiming they are the fairest. Upon this, Zeus instructs Hermes to take the Goddesses to Mount Ida. There, they would ask Paris to be the judge and give the golden apple to the Goddess of his choice.

Parisin Secimi Resim, Peter Paul Rubens (1636)
The Judgement of Paris, Peter Paul Rubens (1636)
Parisin Seçimi Anfora Görseli MÖ 530
Election of Paris, Anfora, 530 BC

The Goddesses stand in front of Paris. Hera whispers to Paris that if he chooses her, she would give him the Asian Empire. Following Hera, Athena approaches and proposes him wisdom, and glory in all the battles he would wage; Aphrodite on the other hand offers him the love of the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris hands the apple over to Aphrodite, thus chooses the fairest on behalf of Zeus as Aphrodite, and starts waiting for the time he would have the most beautiful woman of the world. Strabo, one of the ancient writers tells that this globally known saga takes place in Antandros by saying “Inside is Antandrus, above which lies a mountain called Alexandreia, where the Judgment of Paris is said to have taken place”.

Paris Finds and Takes the Most Beautiful Woman of the World

While wandering in Mount Ida Paris falls in love with a Nymph named Oinone, and marries her. But, he is overwhelmed by Aphrodite’s promise of the most beautiful woman of the world and he leaves his wife Oinone.

The most beautiful woman of the world is Helene, wife of Spartan King Menelaus. Paris sails in a ship and goes to Sparta. There, he is welcomed by King Menelaus. As the king has to go Crete to attend Katreus’ funeral, he asks his wife Helene to entertain Paris and leaves. In no time at all, Helene and Paris fall in love with each other. So Helene takes some valuables with her, and runs away to Troy together with Paris.

Following this event, the Spartan king Menelaus whose wife has been abducted (or ran away) gathers all the Achaean kingdoms under the leadership of his elder brother Agamemnon and convinces them to wage war against Troy and get Helene back. Thus, the whole Achaean army gathers with their ships and sets sail to Troy. After 10 years of waging war, Troy falls. So the prophecy is fulfilled and Paris becomes the cause of the devastation of Troy.

Helen ve Paris'in Aşkı, Jacques Louis David,1788
The Loves of Paris and Helen, Jacques Louis David,1788
Hera ve Prometheus, Cabinet des Medailles,Paris-(mö500-450)
Hera and Prometheus, Cabinet des Medailles,Paris-(500-450 BC)
Athena ve Heracles, Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich (mö490-470)
Athena and Heracles-Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich (490-470 BC)
Aphrodite, Museum of Fine Arts,Boston (mö365-355)
Aphrodite, Museum of Fine Arts,Boston (365-355 BC)

Doç Dr. Yasemin POLAT

Ege University Faculty of Letters, Department of Classical Archaeology