Saturday, February 15, 2020

Backstory on Aphrodite and the Trojan War

The Destruction of Troy -- J.G. Trautmann
Though most of us are familiar with the story of the Trojan Horse, I'm willing to bet most of you do not recall--or ever knew--the beginning of this historical event, which took place over three millennia ago.

In Greek mythology, the Trojan War was waged against the city of Troy by the Achaeans (Greeks) after Paris of Troy took Helen from her husband Menelaus, king of Sparta. The impetus for this impudent act occurred on another plane, at the wedding of Peleus (a sea-nymph) and Thetis (a king), the future parents of Achilles.

All the gods of Olympus were invited except Eris, the goddess of discord. Angered by the snub, Eris gets her vengeance. Despite being uninvited, she shows up anyways and places a golden apple on the banquet table. The golden apple has an inscription: "For the Most Beautiful."

Naturally there are a lot of beautiful goddesses present, this being Mount Olympus and all. Three of the goddesses claimed the apple was intended for them. As a result, there was a beauty contest for which a judge had to be selected.

Though Zeus was asked to be the final arbiter of their beauty, he knew better than to get into that kind of situation. No doubt they were all beautiful, so let's just avoid that minefield altogether. He chooses instead to appoint a mortal, Paris of Troy, because of the wise manner in which Paris had handled a previous incident involving making a judgment.

The Judgment of Paris, by Peter Paul Rubens (1638)
Well, these goddesses were wily. As each presented herself to the young man, each also offered a bribe to help improve his ability to assess her worthiness. Hera, queen of the gods and wife of Zeus (you see why Zeus declined to be judge), promised Paris that he could be king of Europe and Asia. Athena--goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, strategic warfare, mathematics, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts, and skill--offered him wisdom and skill in war, her forte. Aphrodite--goddess of love, beauty, sensuality, pleasure and procreation--offered Paris the world's most beautiful woman.

There was, however, a major complication. This most beautiful woman in the world happened to be wife of King Menelaus. This didn''t stop Paris from choosing Aphrodite, which resulted in his whisking Helen away to Troy, infuriating the Greeks as well as Hera, who was actually the most beautiful of the goddesses.

Obviously Paris should not have been such a dolt, allowing himself to be seduced by this last option. Unfortunately, his behavior was consistent with that of a lot of guys I suppose, but let's not go there.

The end result was a war that lasted 10 years and which produced some very famous sayings and stories while destroying a lot of lives as well as a great city. Helen was indeed beautiful, and when her husband sent 1,000 ships to Troy in order to retrieve her, this saying was born: "The face that launched a thousand ships."

The familiar story of the Trojan Horse became the final chapter in this war, the means by which the armies of Greece laid Troy to waste.* It's a story that itself involves audacity, subterfuge, courage and cleverness. Like all great stories it includes a memorable image, and a decisive act.

Rubens produced several paintings on this theme. Oil sketch on copper, 1606.

*Trivia: When I was young I read a book about this Ten Years War and the Fall of Troy. One of the characters in the story was Hector, a Trojan prince and Troy's greatest fighter. There was a baseball player at the time named Hector Lopez, who played for the A's and the Yankees from 1955 to 1966. I don't now whether I latched on to Hector Lopez as someone cool because of the story of Troy, or I latched on to Troy's Hector as cool because of the Panama-born Lopez. I've liked the name Hector ever since.

Related Links
The Fall of Troy
The Judgement of Paris
Images on this page are public domain.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I always like to read something about the Trojan War"The way you resume it is very pleasant and I also like your conclusion. "It's a story that itself involves audacity, subterfuge, courage and cleverness. Like all great stories it includes a memorable image, and a decisive act."
It's always the same nowaday, if you want to get something, take something or stil something you must use the Trojan horse method. It works for sure but after the victory you must be able to handle the collateral damages...and to live under pressure.
Thanks for thepictures.I like this sketch by Rubens it reminds me of Gustave Moreau a Symbolist painter who was admired by Salvador Dali

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