0116: Paris. Statue by Antonio Canova, 1757-1822. Neue Pinakotek, München.
|The man and the circumstances
Some have thought that just as Hector 1 could be the
incarnation of bravery, his brother Paris could be
that of cowardice. For that reason, reproaches of
all kinds have fallen upon the head of this
handsome man, whose deeds, some affirm, caused the
ruin of Troy. Yet, the burden of cowardice may be heavier than the toil of courage, and it also takes a man to bear it to the end of time. Courage has its reward, but for him who has been appointed by nature or the gods to play the part of the coward, there is no rest, now or later. And these issues being matter of opinion, Paris was also accused, near the end of his life, of being too bold.
Courage comes and leaves as it pleases. For even Hector 1, the bravest
among the braves, trembled when he confronted Achilles, and ran away,
being pursued by his enemy around the walls of Troy like a hare by a dog.
And if he finally faced Achilles, it was
because a goddess, who wished his death, fooled him
to do so. And what brave Hector 1, though being the pillar of Troy, could not accomplish
in close combat, was later done by Paris from the
distance. For he, using weapons adapted to what has
been thought to be his less audacious nature, put
an end to Achilles'
life, thus avenging the brother who had despised
him. But all these matters were, as it is said, on the knees of the gods. Being so, a seducer was needed, since it was the will of Zeus to make his daughter Helen famous for having entangled Europe and Asia in hostility. Others assert that the god just wished to exalt the race of the demigods. In any case, Zeus, having planned with Themis how to bring about
the Trojan War,
appointed the shepherd Paris to judge the goddesses
in Mount Ida, where Aphrodite gave him the promised bribe—Helen—in exchange for the Apple of Eris (Discord) that Paris awarded her.
Paris was the second child of Queen Hecabe 1 of Troy. Just before his
birth, Hecabe 1 dreamt
she had brought forth a firebrand that destroyed
the city of Troy. When this dream was known, the diviner Aesacus 1, who had learned to understand the meanings of dreams because he had been taking lessons in this art from the seer Merops 1, the father of King Priam 1's first wife Arisbe, advised to expose the child, prophesying that Paris was to become the ruin of the city. But that is not the way Paris himself understood
the dream at the time when he went to fetch Helen. For he believed
that the fire referred to the torch of his heart
burning of love for Helen.
So, when Paris was born, King Priam 1, following Aesacus 1's interpretation of the dream, gave his and Hecabe 1's son to a servant Agelaus 2, with instructions to expose him on Mount Ida, near Troy. Agelaus 2 did as he was told, but when he returned after five days, seeing that the child had survived because a bear had nursed him in the wilderness, carried him away, and bringing him up as his own son, he named him Paris. This boy grew up to be a very handsome and strong young shepherd who also defended the flocks from robbers, and it is at this time that he was surnamed Alexander.
His first love
Once, while he was tending his cattle on Mount Ida, the young shepherd fell in love with the nymph Oenone 1, daughter of the river god Cebren. This girl was possessed by a divinity, and some say that it was Rhea 1 who taught
her the art of prophecy, but herself she says that
it was Apollo. In any
case, as the rumour went, she was able to foretell
the future, and also obtained renown for being a
woman of wisdom and understanding. Paris took Oenone 1 to Mount Ida, where he had his home, and being very much in love with her, promised her continuously, as lovers often do, that he would never desert her. But almost everybody knew Paris' deeds before Paris himself, and so Oenone 1, though acknowledging that he for the moment was profoundly in love with her, said that she knew that one day he would fall in love with an European woman, whom he would bring back with him, carrying with her all the horrors of war. And to this disappointing picture, she added that he was to be wounded in that war, and that nobody would be able to cure his wound except herself, who was well acquainted with the Phrygian forests and its healing herbs. This nymph, who loved Paris when he still was a poor shepherd (for at the time it was not known that he was a Trojan prince) never accepted, though she foretold it, that this young man, who had gone around writing "Oenone" with his blade in the trunks of the trees, could endure to desert her. Also the seeress Cassandra told her that her love was a fruitless one, for when she knew what Oenone 1 was up to, she said:
"What are you
doing, Oenone? Why commit seeds to sand?" (Cassandra to Oenone 1. Ovid, Heroides 8.115).
Destiny comes from far away
Paris and Oenone 1. 3823: Jacob de Wit 1695-1754: Paris and Oenone. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
At this time the gods attended the wedding party
of Peleus and Thetis, to
which Eris (Discord) was
not invited. And being in pain because of anger and
jealousy, this persistent goddess decided to spoil
the feast, and though unwelcome, she appeared and
threw among the guests one of the Apples of the HESPERIDES, in which
the inscription "for the
fairest" could be read. Helping herself
through that device, she succeeded in starting a
dispute between Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. So Zeus, who knew the
otherwise anonymous shepherd Paris, appointed Hermes to lead the three
goddesses to Mount Ida in order to be judged by the
same shepherd, and in that way put an end to the
The Judgement of Paris
When Hermes came to
Mount Ida with the three goddesses, he called Paris
and said to him:
"Come here and
decide which is the more excellent beauty of face,
and to the fairer give this apple's lovely
fruit." (Hermes to
Paris. Colluthus, The
Rape of Helen 130).
While Paris reflected, the goddesses, who for
the occasion had bathed their immortal bodies,
offered him bribes in order to win Eris' award of beauty: Athena offered him the
command of Phrygia and
the destruction of Hellas, or as some say, that he
would be bravest of mortals and skilled in every
craft. Likewise Hera offered him, besides wealth, the dominion over Asia
and Europe. But Aphrodite offered him
the hand of Helen, whose
beauty was famous worldwide, and this bribe won the
What Paris did not think about
From the moment he thought he could get the
daughter of Zeus, there was no more "Oenone" for Paris, and he thought the bribe to be most splendid. The fact that Helen was
already a married woman, herself mother of a little
daughter, did not disturb his heart, nor the fact
that he was second, not only in marrying her, but
also in stealing her. For Theseus had already
abducted her years ago, and she was not a maid when
the DIOSCURI rescued
her, razing the city of Aphidnae where Theseus kept her hidden.
So what happened to Troy had already been rehearsed in Attica for the sake
of the same woman, who, as some suggest, was
perhaps inclined to lend herself to theft. Even
less did Paris evaluate his new bride's real dowry:
a powerful fleet of avenging war-ships, determined
to ruin Paris' city and family, and to bring the
stolen beauty back. And above all he earned the
eternal enmity of the two spurned goddesses, who
never forgave him, nor his family nor his whole
country, the humiliation they had suffered.
What he did think
Paris regarded his own judgement quite fit. For
love, he reasoned, was greater than power or a
brave heart, and to follow the path traced by Theseus was rather
something to be proud of, for Theseus was a great man,
except in that he lost Helen, a mistake that
Paris intended to correct on his own account. In
fact he considered the whole scene and his
acquaintance with the goddesses as a favor and a
sign of his growing fortune. And as if fate had
decided to make him prosper, he saw one favor
being followed by another, for his royal origin
having been discovered, he changed the life of the
shepherd for that of the prince.
Another coup of fortune
This is what happened: Some servants of King Priam 1 came to Mount Ida in order to fetch a bull to be given as prize in funeral games. Paris followed them because this was his favorite bull, and having decided to participate in the games, he defeated all other contenders, including his own brothers. One of them, Deiphobus 1 was so angry on account of his defeat that he drew a sword against him and would have killed him, had not Paris quickly taken refuge at the altar of Zeus. It
was then that the seeress Cassandra declared
that Paris was her brother, and Priam 1 then acknowledged
him as his son, receiving him into his palace. This
is how Paris, who had been expelled from the city
following the advice of one seer, was taken back in
accordance with the advice of another seer.
Shepherd becomes prince, and now he can travel
When by such wonders the shepherd saw himself turned into a prince, it came the time for Paris to go and fetch the prize he had preferred when he happened to act as a judge. Back in Mount Ida, Phereclus 1, son of Tecton 1, son of Harmon 1, built the ships that Paris needed in order to sail to Lacedaemon and reach Sparta, where Queen Helen lived.
Some say that Oenone 1 still was around begging him not to sail, and warning him of the consequences of the actions he was about to perform. It is also said that his sister Cassandra uttered new
fiery prophecies as Paris sailed:
"Where are you
going? You will bring conflagration back with you.
How great the flames are that you are seeking over
these waters, you do not know." (Cassandra to Paris.
Ovid, Heroides 16,120).
But as before, Paris thought that those flames
just described the love he felt was burning in his
heart. So he left, trusting that Aphrodite, whom he had
painted on his sail, would favor a gentle breeze
and a calm sea; for having rose from the waves, it
was natural to think that she could tame them,
which apparently she did, by putting him on the way
that was also to calm his heart.
The Judgement of Paris: Nike crowns Aphrodite as she receives the apple from Paris. To the right Hera stands and Athena sits; behind them is Hermes. 1125: Judgement of Paris. Painting by Franz Floris, 1519/20-1570. Neue Galerie, Kassel.
Paris in Sparta
When Paris landed in Lacedaemon, he was first
received by the DIOSCURI, brothers of Helen, but soon he went to Sparta, where he became
King Menelaus' guest,
and in the course of a party he gave gifts to Helen. Menelaus entertained
him for nine days, but then he had to leave for Crete in order to attend
the funeral of his grandfather Catreus, who had been
accidentally killed in Rhodes by his own son
Althaemenes, having been taken for a pirate or an
invader when he disembarked by night. Thus an
oracle was fulfilled, for it had been predicted
that Catreus, son of Minos 2, would die by the
hand of one of his children, and the one child who
exiled himself to avoid the oracle was the same who
brought it to completion.
On leaving, said Menelaus:
"Look to my
affairs, and to the household, and to our guest
from Troy." (Menelaus to Helen. Ovid, Heroides 17.160).
Menelaus then set
sail for Crete, after
having ordered Helen to furnish the guests with all they required, which she did in all details, for as some say, from the moment she met Paristhe young prince who had renounced the riches of the world for her sakeshe gazed at his dashing presence with no little admiration, possessed as he was by Aphrodite, who was now
his only pilot and sponsor. And not less persuading
was his talk about the golden houses, magnificent
temples, and lofty towers of Troy, riches not to be
found in niggard Sparta. As soon as Menelaus sailed to Crete, also the
companionless beds started haunting them. For
nothing seems more wasteful to those pierced by
love and desire than to go and lie alone in
separate bedrooms while being under the same roof.
To Paris' mind there was no risk in the escape: the master of the house was away, and on the shore the Trojan fleet, well equipped with arms and men, was ready. As for the consequences of the abduction, there was, according to Paris, nothing to fear, for never before had a war broke out for a stolen woman. Boreas 1 (see WINDS) ravished Orithyia 2, daughter of King Erechtheus of Athens, and took her to
Thrace, and there was never an Athenian invasion of
that country. Jason the
Argonaut took with him, besides the Golden Fleece,
the king's daughter Medea,
and though they were persecuted by the Colchian
fleet, the invasion of Thessaly never took place. Theseus abducted Ariadne, the daughter of
King Minos 2 of Crete, and yet Minos 2 did not call to
arms. And some say that Io was also taken to Egypt by force, and Europa was removed from
Phoenicia, and yet none of these events led to war.
It seemed then to Paris that even if most people
think it unjust to carry women off, the will to
avenge rape is weak, for apparently many believe
that the women would never have been abducted, had
they not wished it themselves. And so he deemed the
risks for retaliation as almost non-existent.
On her side, Helen always felt that she still had a reputation to take
care of. For Theseus,
she says, did not lure her away but seized her by
force, and yet he did her no harm when she was a
captive, but just stole a few kisses, so that when
she was returned to Sparta by the DIOSCURI, she was
untouched. To become an adulteress living in a
foreign land was not an easy step to take, since
being abroad without the support of family and
friends could be difficult if she ever met harm.
For Jason promised many
things to Medea, but then
he got tired of her and looked for a younger
princess, leaving Medea alone and defenceless, and forcing her to go from
land to land, and in each cope with the
difficulties of exile, until one day she returned
But Aphrodite had
promised to bring Helen and Paris together; so while Menelaus was still in Crete, they put many
treasures on board, and sailed away by night,
leaving Helen's and Menelaus' daughter Hermione behind, who
was then nine years old. As the Trojan fleet still
was in the Laconian Gulf, Helen and Paris
consummated their marriage in the island of Cranae. Now Hera started to go
against the couple, and because of her they met
heavy storms at sea, which obliged them to put in
at Sidon, a coastal city of Phoenicia, which some
say was in reality taken by force by Paris and his
troop. In Sidon, Paris purchased or stole richly
broidered robes which he gave to his mother when he
reached Troy. In the
brothers, the DIOSCURI, disappeared from this world after Idas 2 and Lynceus 1 killed Castor 1 when the latter and Polydeuces were stealing their cattle. Some say that Paris and Helen,
fearing persecution, spent much time in Phoenicia
and Cyprus, but others affirm that they reached Troy in three days, having
a fair wind and a smooth sea. It is told that when the seeress Cassandra saw Helen coming into Troy she tore her hair and
flung away her golden veil, but the city
nevertheless received this woman as a jewel which
would enhance its beauty.
When Menelaus learned, through Iris 1,
what had happened, he, along with his brother King Agamemnon of Mycenae, started
planning an expedition against Troy. For this purpose they gathered many other rulers
from the whole of Hellas, and a powerful fleet met
at Aulis, a Boeotian city opposite the island of
Euboea, in order to sail to Troy, and get Helen and the stolen
property back, either by persuasion or by force.
The seducer considered guilty by his own brother
That is how what was deemed unlikely to happen
(since it had never happened before), that is, war
for the sake of a woman, was now unavoidable unless Helen and the property
were restored. There were Trojans who wished to do
so, but they apparently were a minority, and
neither King Priam 1 nor
the crown prince Hector 1 ever compelled Paris to give back lovely Helen, in spite of the
accusations which fell upon the head of the
"It is your
fault that this city is invaded by the sounds of
battle." (Hector 1 to Paris. Homer, Iliad 6.327).
The gifts of the gods cannot be refused
During the last year of the war there was an
attempt to solve the conflict by a single combat to
be fought between Paris and Menelaus. Paris was at
first reluctant to fight and Hector 1 reproached him:
"Are you too
cowardly to stand up to the brave man whom you
wronged? You would soon find out the kind of
fighter he is whose lovely wife you stole. Your
lyre would not help you at all, nor Aphrodite's gifts … But the Trojans are too soft. Otherwise you would have been stoned to death long ago for the evil you have done." (Hector 1 to Paris.
Homer, Iliad 3.45).
Paris, who would not compete with his brother's
courage, praised brave Hector 1, and accepted
both the reprimand and the duel with Menelaus, but he also
something you must not reproach me for: the lovely
gifts I have from Aphrodite. The precious gifts that the gods
lavish on a man unasked are not to be despised,
even though he might not choose them if he had the
chance." (Paris to Hector 1. Homer, Iliad 3.65).
Duel with Menelaus
This is how Paris fought with Menelaus, and got
almost killed. But when Menelaus, during the
fight, seized him by the horsehair crest of the
helmet and began to drag him, Aphrodite came and
broke the strap of the helmet, so that it came away
empty in Menelaus'
hand, and then, to escape Menelaus' renewed
attack, the goddess hid Paris in a mist, and took
him to his own bedroom in the city, where he soon
met Helen in a kind of
duel that suited him better:
"Come, let us
go to bed together and be happy in our
love." (Paris to Helen. Homer, Iliad 3.440).
That was, generally speaking, the kind of
engagement which interested Paris, far more, no
doubt, than the war which, as they say, he had
himself caused. So while Hector 1 and others were
seen making superhuman efforts in the battlefield,
Paris could occupy himself at length attending his
armour, shield, and bow in the palace, with Helen sitting beside him.
That is why Hector 1 reproached him:
"It is because
of you that the battle-cry and the war are ablaze
about this city. You would be the first to quarrel
with anyone else whom you found shirking his duty
in the field." (Hector 1 to
Paris. Homer, Iliad 6.330).
And yet Hector 1 did
not think of Paris as being a coward altogether:
plenty of courage. But you are too ready to give up
when it suits you, and refuse to fight." (Hector 1 to
Paris. Homer, Iliad 6.520).
Killed by Paris
The henchman of Meges 1, commander of the Epeans (for the Epeans see Elis).
A Laconian in Menelaus' army.
Son of the seer Polyidus 1. His father told him that he must either die in bed of a painful disease or sail with the Achaeans and be killed at Troy (see also SEERS).
A man from Dulichium, which is one of the Echinadian Islands at the entrance of the Gulf of Corinth.
Mosynus and Phorcys 2
Both from Salamis. They came in the ships of Ajax 1.
Those killed by Paris
Paris, who is frequently seen aiming his arrows
at several Achaean warriors including Diomedes 2 whom he wounded, killed many men in battle (see table).
Polydamas reproaches him his courage
After the death of Hector 1, Polydamas, the same man who so many times
had given Hector 1 tactical counsel in battle, recommended now to give
back Helen and her wealth,
lest the city be destroyed. But the Trojans
assembled, though approving his proposal, did not
dare to defy the sweet prince Paris. So he, talking
in council, called Polydamas a coward more than
once, and it was then that Paris was accused of
being too brave:
"You most mischievous man, your courage brings us misery … That strife should have no limit, save in utter ruin of fatherland and people, for your sake. Never may such valour craze my soul." (Polydamas to Paris. Quintus Smyrnaeus, The
Fall of Troy 2.85).
Paris' moment of glory
It was fated that Achilles would die
short after the death of Hector 1, and he who
fulfilled that prophecy was the archer Paris, who
shot him in the ankle. However, some say that it
was Apollo who did this,
and still others say that both Apollo and Paris killed
him. But no man could kill another had not a god
Another way of killing Achilles
There are also those who say that Achilles died in a different way: He fell in love with King Priam 1's daughter Polyxena 1, they say, and wishing to marry her, he came for an interview with her brothers Paris and Deiphobus 1, and they treacherously murdered him when they met. It is on account of this, they assert, that Polyxena 1 was, after
the sack of Troy,
slaughtered on the grave of Achilles by the
Achaeans. In any case, Paris is said to have fought for
the body of Achilles,
being this his greatest day in war. It could be
thought at the moment that there could be salvation
for Troy, and it was him,
the weak seducer, who had avenged his brave brother Hector 1's death.
As old prophecies are used up, new ones are
Paris still shoots in the distance, while Achilles kneels wounded.
villenave02143: Death of Achilles. Drawing by Jean-Michel Moreau "le Jeune", 1741-1814 (Les Métamorphoses d'Ovide, Paris 1806).
At this crucial moment, in the tenth year of the
war, as old prophecies were used up, new prophecies
were uttered by the Achaean SEERS, regarding the way
in which Troy could be
taken, and Calchas declared that the Bow & Arrows of Heracles 1 should be
fighting on the Achaean side if Troy was to be taken (see Conditions to take Troy at Trojan War).
That is why an embassy was sent to Lemnos to bring Philoctetes and the
bow back to the front. Philoctetes, in his
way to the Trojan War,
had been bitten by a water-snake in Tenedos, and as
the wound did not heal the army put him ashore on
the island of Lemnos,
where he, by shooting birds, survived in the
wilderness, or perhaps being attended by
Iphimachus, a Lemnian shepherd.
Paris badly wounded
either persuaded or forced to come with his bow. On
his arrival he was healed by Podalirius, one of the
sons of Asclepius, and
going into battle he shot a poisoned arrow at Paris
and injured him.
First love revisited (I)
The wounded prince returned to the city and
spent a night in pain, for there were no remedies
at Troy able to put this damage aright. So now was the time to remember Oenone 1's prophecies, and her talk about the miraculous healing herbs from the Phrygian forests, which the nymph knew so well and had promised to apply to whatever wound he got in war. So as his life fainted, he came back to his first love, but as a suppliant, and was received with no little amazement. He called Oenone 1 "wife"; he blamed fate for having dragged him to Helen, and asked Oenone 1 to be merciful and banish his pain. But Oenone 1 was too bitter to do anything like that. Instead he told him to go now to Helen and be healed by her and be blissful in her arms, and then she cursed him in various ways, as he left stumbling through the brakes of Mount Ida, which he never left, for he died there. Oenone 1 deplored her own wickedness and later, having found the body of the husband she had not ceased to love, she burned it and leapt onto his funeral pyre, and was herself burned to death.
First love revisited (II)
However, others say that Paris did not go to Ida, but that he instead sent a messenger to Oenone 1, asking her to hasten to Troy and heal him, saying
also that she should forgive him, for all events
happened, he argued, through the will of the gods.
Her answer has been reported to be the same, that
is, that he had better go to Helen, and ask her for
healing. But it is told that, all the same, she
left as fast as she could for Troy, willing to heal him. However, the messenger arrived first and delivered her bitter reply, and on hearing it, Paris gave up all hope and died. When she arrived, Paris, for being dead, could no longer forgive her refusal, and Oenone 1, unable to forgive herself, committed suicide. Such were the things that happened to Paris and Helen, but others have
said otherwise, and still others affirm they did
not happen at all.