Judgement of Paris  

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The Judgement of Paris is a story from Greek mythology, which was one of the events that led up to the Trojan War and (in slightly later versions of the story) to the founding of Rome. The mytheme of the Judgement of Paris naturally offered artists the opportunity to portray three ideally lovely women, Hera, Athena and Aphrodite, in undress, as a sort of beauty contest. A detail of an engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi of the subject was used as the basis for Manet's Le déjeuner sur l'herbe.


In post-Classical art

post-Classical art

Middle Ages

The subject became popular in art from the late Middle Ages onwards, with the three goddesses usually shown nude, following the classical literary sources, although in ancient art it is only Venus who appears nude, and that not always. The opportunity for three female nudes was a large part of the attraction of the subject. It appeared in illuminated manuscripts and was popular in decorative art, including 15th century Italian inkstands and other works in maiolica, and cassoni.


As a subject for easel paintings, it was more common in Northern Europe, although Marcantonio Raimondi's engraving of ca. 1515ref, probably based on a drawing by Raphael, and using a composition derived from a Roman sarcophagus, was a highly influential treatment, which made Paris's Phrygian cap an attribute in most later versions. The subject was painted at least seven times[1] by Lucas Cranach the Elder. Rubens painted several compositions of the subject at different points in his career.

Modern art

Later artists painting the subject include Renoir, Salvador Dalí, Max Klinger and Paul Cézanne.

Mythic narrative

It is recounted that Zeus held a banquet in celebration of the marriage of Peleus and Thetis (parents of Achilles). 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 καλλίστῃ ("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 favour 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.

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 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 the Cypria 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.

The contestants, Hera, Aphrodite and Athena

According to tradition, "cow-eyed" Hera was indeed the most objectively beautiful. Hera was the Goddess of the marital order and of cuckolded wives, amongst other things. Hera was often portrayed as the shrewish, jealous wife of Zeus, who himself often escaped from her controlling ways by cheating on her with mortal and immortal women.

Aphrodite was effortlessly sexual, both beautiful and charming; thus her ability to sway Paris and her position as Goddess of Love were more palatable to Paris.

Athena's beauty is rarely commented upon in the myths, perhaps because Greeks held her up as an asexual being, being able to "overcome" her "womanly weaknesses" in order to become both wise and talented in war (both considered male domains by the Greeks). Her rage at losing makes her join the Greeks in the battle against Paris's Trojans, a key event in the turning point of the war.


Seen purely as a story, such as is recounted in Bulfinch's Mythology, the Judgement of Paris is simply an amoral episode in which Paris' skill for sound judgement (for which the gods approved him) is overcome by appeals to his lust; thus a lengthy and blood-soaked war revolves upon a series of apparently trivial episodes, each adding to the inertia that drives events to their inevitable and tragic conclusions.

Alternatively, the narrative can be seen as a rationalized series of episodic causes and consequences that has been developed to embed within a human timeframe, and to explain, a moment of epiphany that occurs in a suspended moment out of time that artists endeavor to recapture in an icon (illustration): a blissfully fortunate mortal is confronted by a trinity of goddesses and a transcendent gift, the "apple", is exchanged. The story appears to be the result of an interpretation of an archaic iconic image representing such an ecstatic moment, which logically must have preceded the narrative invented to explicate it.

In the archaic prototypical stories antedating the Judgement of Paris, the gift is imparted by the deity, like the pomegranate that the Goddess offers on Minoan seal-impressions, and the mortal the recipient. As such, the classic telling of the Judgement of Paris is an example of mythic inversion, in which the apple becomes his to award.

The mytheme of the Judgement 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 Judgement 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.


("for the fairest one")

Kallistē(i) is the word of the Ancient Greek language inscribed on the Golden Apple of Discord by Eris. In Greek, the word is καλλίστῃ (the dative singular of the feminine superlative of καλος, beautiful). Its meaning can be rendered "to the fairest one".


The word Kallisti (Modern Greek) written on a golden apple, has become a principal symbol of Discordianism, a post-modernist religion. In non-philological texts (such as Discordian ones) the word is usually spelled as καλλιστι. Most versions of Principia Discordia actually spell it as καλλιχτι, but this is definitely incorrect; in the afterword of the 1979 Loompanics edition of Principia, Gregory Hill says that was because on the IBM typewriter he used, not all Greek letters coincided with Latin ones, and he didn't know enough of the letters to spot the mistake. Zeus' failure to invite Eris is referred to as The Original Snub in Discordian mythology.

Other uses

  • Kallisti (Καλλίστη) is also an ancient name for the isle of Thera.

In literature and music

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