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Tales of the Trojan War
TALES OF THE TROJAN WAR
The Beauty Contest
“Welcome, everybody. Welcome to you all,” said Nereus the sea god, graciously. He was busy greeting the last few guests to the wedding of his daughter, Thetis.
The celebrations in the vast banqueting hall were already in full flow, and everyone was having a wonderful time. Thetis was marrying King Peleus, so it was quite an occasion. Hundreds of well-known people had been invited, and so had all the important gods and goddesses. All, that is, except one.
The happy couple had decided that Eris, the unpopular goddess of spite, might cause trouble and spoil their wedding day, so they had purposely left her name off the guest list. But Eris had turned up anyway, in a terrible rage, and stormed through the mingling guests.
“How dare you!” she screamed in fury, wagging a bony finger at the bride and bridegroom. “How dare you insult me like this! I suppose you thought you’d get away with it, didn’t you? Well, you underestimated me, you fools! I’ll make you pay for this – just you wait and see!”
As she spoke, she reached inside her long, black cloak and pulled out a gleaming golden apple. She hesitated briefly, looking around with a hideous scowl on her face. Then, with a shrill cackle, she flung the apple onto the marble floor and flounced out of the hall.
For a moment, everyone stood in shocked silence. Then Nereus bent down and picked up the apple. He turned it over in his hand.
“There’s writing on it!” he exclaimed.
“ ‘For the fairest’,” he read aloud. “That’s what it says. ‘For the fairest’.”
He looked up. “So, who is it for then? Who’s going to claim this golden apple?”
Again, there was silence. Then the deep voice of Hera, queen of the gods, rang out through the hall.
“Well, it’s for me, of course! There’s no doubt about it. I’m the most beautiful, so the golden apple is mine.”
“Yours!” said Athene, the goddess of wisdom and war. “Why should it be yours? Anyone with eyes in their head can see that the apple is meant for me.”
Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was not going to stand for this. “Ladies, ladies,” she purred sweetly. “What can you be thinking of? Everyone knows that when it comes to beauty, no one can compete with me. The apple is mine and that’s all there is to it.” And she laughed a tinkly little laugh and fluttered her unusually long eyelashes.
Feeling rather confused, all the guests turned to Zeus. He was the king of the gods and also Hera’s husband. Generally, whenever a decision had to be made, he could be relied upon to make it. But this time he was in a tricky position. If he agreed that Hera was the fairest, people would accuse him of putting his own wife first. But if he chose another goddess, Hera would be wild with jealousy. So, after a few moments’ thought, he came up with a plan.
“Why is it always me who has to make the decisions?” he grumbled. “Why not let someone else have a try? What about... hmm... let me see... what’s the name of that handsome shepherd who lives on Mount Ida? Paris, isn’t it? Yes, Paris – a fine young man with impeccable taste, I’m sure. I hereby decree that Paris shall be the judge of this contest. Now, enough of this squabbling. On with the party!”
And, apart from Hera, Athene and Aphrodite exchanging the occasional hostile glance, the wedding celebrations continued without further ado.
One day, not long after the wedding, Paris was sitting on a grassy knoll on Mount Ida watching his sheep, when Hermes, the messenger of the gods, suddenly appeared. With him were Hera, Athene and Aphrodite. All three were dressed in their finest robes and looked radiantly lovely, standing there in the dazzling sunlight. Paris was speechless with fear and amazement.
“Paris,” announced Hermes, “don’t be afraid. Zeus has decided that you are to be the judge of a very important contest. You must give this apple to whichever you think is the most beautiful of these goddesses.”
He handed Paris the golden apple. But, before the shepherd boy could open his mouth, Hera spoke.
“Young man,” she proclaimed, in her most queenly tones, “if you choose me, as I’m sure you will, I will give you all the power and wealth you could ever ask for.”
Not to be outdone, Athene chimed in, “And if you choose me, as I know you will, I will give you success in war.”
Aphrodite just smiled sweetly at Paris and whispered softly in his ear, “When you choose me, I will give you the most beautiful woman in the world as your wife.”
“Now make your choice,” ordered Hermes.
Paris stood stock-still, hardly daring to breathe. He glanced nervously at the three powerful goddesses in front of him. Then, after what seemed like a lifetime, he passed the apple to Aphrodite.
Hera and Athene were beside themselves with rage and disappointment. Hera pointed resentfully at Paris. “A beautiful wife won’t get you anywhere, you idiotic boy. Just you wait and see!”
“You’ll regret this,” Athene added in a warning tone. “One day you’ll wish you had me to help you. But it’s your choice, I suppose!”
Then, just as suddenly as they had appeared, they vanished, along with Hermes.
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