Paris (mythology)

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This article is about the king of Troy. For other uses, see Paris (disambiguation).

Paris (Greek: Πάρις; also known as Alexander or Alexandros, c.f. Alaksandus of Wilusa), mythological son of Priam, king of Troy, appears in a number of Greek legends. Probably the best-known was his abduction of, or elopement with, Helen, queen of Sparta, this being one of the immediate causes of the Trojan war. Later in the war, he fatally wounds Achilles in the heel with an arrow, as foretold by Achilles' mother, Thetis.


[edit] Paris' childhood

In Greek mythology, Paris was the child of Priam and Hecuba; just before his birth, his mother dreamed that she gave birth to a flaming torch. This dream was interpreted by the seer Aesacus as a foretelling of the downfall of Troy, and he declared that the child would be the ruin of his homeland. On the day of Paris' birth it was further announced by Aesacus that the child born of a royal Trojan that day would have to be killed to spare the kingdom, being the child that would bring about the prophecy. Though Paris was indeed born before nightfall, he was spared by Priam; Hecuba, too, was unable to kill the child, despite the urging of the priestess of Apollo, one Herophile. Instead, Paris' father prevailed upon his chief herdsman, Agelaus, to remove the child and kill him. The herdsman, unable to use a weapon against the infant, left him exposed on Mount Ida, hoping he would perish there; he was, however, suckled by a she-bear. Returning after five days, Agelaus was astonished to find the child still alive, and brought him home in a wallet (hence Paris' name, which means "wallet") to rear as his own. He returned to Priam bearing a dog's tongue as evidence of the deed's completion.

Paris' noble birth was betrayed by his outstanding beauty and intelligence; while still a child he routed a gang of cattle-thieves and restored the animals they had stolen to the herd, thereby earning the surname Alexander ("protector of men")[1]. It was at this time that Paris became the lover of Oenone (See Below).

Paris' chief distraction at this time was to pit Agelaus' bulls against one another. One bull began to win these bouts consistently, and Paris began to set it against rival herdsmen's own prize bulls; it defeated them all. Finally Paris offered a golden crown to any bull that could defeat his champion. Ares responded to this challenge by transforming himself into a bull and easily winning the contest. Paris gave the crown to Ares without hesitation; it was this apparent honesty in judgment that prompted the gods of Olympus to have Paris arbitrate the divine contest between Hera, Aphrodite and Athena (though it may be noted that Paris did not maintain the same level of disinterest here).

[edit] The Judgment of Paris

Main article: Judgment of Paris

In celebration of the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, Lord Zeus, father of the Greek pantheon, was hosting a banquet on Mount Olympus. Every deity and demi-god had been invited, except Eris, the goddess of strife; no one wanted a troublemaker at a wedding. Proving the point, Eris crashed the party by tossing in a golden Apple of Discord inscribed with the word Kallisti — "For the most beautiful one" — provoking a squabble among the attendant goddesses over whom it had been meant for. Paris was appointed by Zeus to select the most beautiful and, escorted by Hermes, the three goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite approached him as he herded his cattle on Mount Garagarus.

Greek mythological morality being what it was, each of the contestants immediately attempted to bribe Paris to choose them. Hera offered political power, riches and control of all of Asia; Athena offered skill in battle, wisdom and the abilities of the greatest warriors; and Aphrodite offered Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris, his normally sound judgment overridden by hormones, chose Aphrodite—and Helen.

The only problem was, Helen was married, to King Menelaus of Sparta. This didn't stop Paris from raiding Menelaus's house and stealing her (according to some accounts, she fell in love with Paris and left willingly), but he might have thought twice had he known the circumstances of her marriage. Helen was famous for her beauty throughout Achaea (ancient Greece), and had had many suitors of extraordinary ability. Therefore, following Odysseus's advice, her father Tyndareus made the suitors all promise to defend Helen's marriage to the man she chose. When she disappeared to Troy, Menelaus invoked this oath, and Helen's other suitors—who between them represented the lion's share of Achaea's strength, wealth and military prowess, were obligated to help bring her back. Thus the entirety of Greece moved against Troy in force. The Trojan War had begun.

[edit] Paris and the Trojan War

Paris is portrayed throughout the Iliad as a cowardly character; in a duel between him and Menelaus, he is narrowly saved by Aphrodite. His only kill was in using a bow and arrow to murder Achilles with a poisoned arrow, which is guided to Achilles' vulnerable heel by Paris' good aim--developed as a result of his aversion to manly hand-to-hand combat. According to some texts (sources of history), Menelaus could not defeat Paris in swordsmansship, though Paris could not defeat Menelaus. Paris' use of the bow is mainly mentioned as the pride of the Trojans were their archers, and to differentiate him as Asian, not Greek, as the Greeks seldom used arrows, while the Asian armies they fought often employed archers.

Late in the Trojan War, Paris was killed by Philoctetes ("lover of possession"), an incident not recounted by Homer. After Paris died, his brother, Deiphobus, married Helen until he was killed by Menelaus, who then took his wife back to Sparta.

Oenone, Paris' first lover, was a nymph from Mount Ida in Phrygia. Her father was Cebren, a river-god (other sources declare her to be the daughter of the fountain-nymph Oeneus). She was skilled in the arts of prophecy and medicine, which she had been taught by Rhea and Apollo respectively. When Paris left her for Helen she told him that if ever he was wounded, he should come to her for she could heal any injury, even the most serious wounds.

When Paris was mortally wounded by Philoctetes he was borne to Mount Ida, where he begged Oenone to heal him. She refused and Paris was brought back to Troy, where he died. Relenting, Oenone pursued him down the mountain, but arrived too late, and she threw herself onto his burning funeral pyre. The reasons offered for her refusal are various: some sources state that she resented Paris' betrayal of her and saw his death as a just punishment, before being overcome by her affection; others state that she was prevented from aiding her love by her father, and had to wait until Paris left their home before aiding him.

[edit] Paris in the arts

There is an icon showing Paris presenting an apple to (one of) the goddesses Athena, Aphrodite, and Hera. This icon is most commonly interpreted as the "Judgment of Paris," the assumption being that he is deciding which of the three is the most beautiful.

Ovid presents us with a seductive letter from Paris to Helen [2].

In the Divine Comedy Dante sees the soul of Paris in the second circle of Hell, being tossed around eternally by a fierce wind, along with Helen and others who succumbed to the sin of lust.

[edit] Later treatments

[edit] External link


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Paris (mythology)

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