Paris (mythology)

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Prince Paris with apple by H.W. Bissen, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen
This article is about the mythological character. For other uses, see Paris (disambiguation).

Paris (Ancient Greek: Πάρις; also known as Alexander or Alexandros, c.f. Alaksandu of Wilusa), the son of Priam, king of Troy, appears in a number of Greek legends. Probably the best-known was his 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's mother, Thetis.

Paris's childhood

Paris was a child of Priam and Hecuba (see the list of King Priam's children). 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's 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's 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 (cf: Oedipus); he was, however, suckled by a she-bear. Returning after nine days, Agelaus was astonished to find the child still alive, and brought him home in a backpack (πήρα, hence Paris's name, which means "backpack") to rear as his own. He returned to Priam bearing a dog's tongue as evidence of the deed's completion.[1]

Paris's 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").[2] It was at this time that Oenone became Paris's first lover. She was a nymph from Mount Ida in Phrygia. Her father was Cebren, a river-god (other sources declare her to be the daughter of Oeneus). She was skilled in the arts of prophecy and medicine, which she had been taught by Rhea and Apollo respectively. When Paris later left her for Helen she told him that if he ever was wounded, he should come to her for she could heal any injury, even the most serious wounds.

Paris's chief distraction at this time was to pit Agelaus's 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.

The Judgment of Paris

Main article: Judgment of Paris
El Juicio de Paris by Enrique Simonet, ca. 1904. Paris is studying Aphrodite, who is standing before him naked. The other two goddesses watch nearby.

In celebration of the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, Lord Zeus, father of the Greek pantheon, hosted 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). For revenge, Eris threw the golden Apple of Discord inscribed with the word "Kallisti" — "For the fairest" — into the party, provoking a squabble among the attendant goddesses over for whom it had been meant.

The goddesses thought to be the most beautiful were Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, and each one claimed the apple. They started a quarrel so they asked Zeus to choose one of them. Knowing that choosing any of them would bring him the hatred of the other two, Zeus did not want to take part in the decision. He thus appointed Paris to select the most beautiful.

Escorted by Hermes, the three goddesses bathed in the spring of Mount Ida and approached Paris as he herded his cattle. Having been given permission by Zeus to set any conditions he saw fit, Paris required that the goddesses undress before him.[3] (Alternatively, the goddesses themselves chose to disrobe to show all their beauty.) Still, Paris could not decide, as all three were ideally beautiful, so the goddesses attempted to bribe him to choose among them - Hera offered ownership of all of Europe and Asia; Athena offered skill in battle, wisdom and the abilities of the greatest warriors; and Aphrodite offered the love of the most beautiful woman on Earth, Helen of Sparta. Paris chose Aphrodite— and, therefore, Helen.

Abduction of Helen, ceiling fresco, Venetian, mid-18th century

Helen was already married to King Menelaus of Sparta (a fact Aphrodite neglected to mention), so Paris had to raid Menelaus's house to steal Helen from him (according to some accounts, she fell in love with Paris and left willingly). The Greeks' expedition to retrieve Helen from Paris in Troy is the mythological basis of the Trojan War. This triggered the war because Helen was famous for her beauty throughout Achaea (ancient Greece), and had many suitors of extraordinary ability. Therefore, following Odysseus's advice, her father Tyndareus made all suitors promise to defend Helen's marriage to the man he chose for her. When she disappeared to Troy, Menelaus invoked this oath. 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 whole of Greece moved against Troy in force. The Trojan War had begun.

Paris and the Trojan War

Paris, in "Phrygian dress", a second-century CE Roman marble (The King's Library, British Museum)

Homer's Iliad casts Paris as unskilled and cowardly. His brother Hector scolds and belittles him,[4] though Paris readily admits his shortcomings in battle. His preference for bow and arrow emphasizes this, since he does not follow the code of honor shared by the other heroes. After slaying Hector and other heroes, Achilles dies by an arrow. By some accounts, the archer is Paris with Apollo's help; by others it is Apollo disguised as Paris.

Early in the epic, Paris and Menelaus duel in an attempt to end the war without further bloodshed. Menelaus easily defeats Paris, though Aphrodite spirits him away before Menelaus can finish the duel. Paris is returned to his bedchambers where Aphrodite forces Helen to be with him.[5]

Paris's second attempt at combat is equally faced: rather than engage the Greek hero Diomedes in hand-to-hand combat, Paris wounds Diomedes with an arrow through the foot.

Later in the war, after Philoctetes mortally wounds Paris, Helen makes her way to Mount Ida where she begs Paris's first wife, the nymph Oenone, to heal him. Still bitter that Paris had spurned her for his birthright in the city and then forgotten her for Helen, Oenone refuses. Helen returns alone to Troy, where Paris dies later the same day. In another version, Paris himself, in great pain, visits Oenone to plead for healing but is refused and dies on the mountainside. When Oenone hears of his funeral, she runs to his funeral pyre and throws herself in its fire.[6]

After Paris's death, his brother Deiphobus married Helen and was then murdered by Menelaus in the sack of Troy.

Later treatments

  • Jacques Offenbach, Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy's 1864 operetta La Belle Hélène tells a droll version of the seduction of Helen by Paris, who is the lead male role.
  • The 1951 Swedish film Sköna Helena is an adapted version of Offenbach's operetta, starring Max Hansen and Eva Dahlbeck
  • In the 1956 film Helen of Troy, Paris, as the main character, is portrayed as a heroic character who at first worships peace and love but is later forced to take up arms against the treacherous Greeks.
  • In the 1961 film Trojan Horse, Paris is played by Warner Bentivegna.
  • In the 1962 film The Fury of Achilles, Paris is played by Roberto Risso.
  • The Judgment of Paris and its aftermath are the subject of Michael Tippett's 1962 opera King Priam.
  • In the 2003 TV miniseries Helen of Troy, the character Paris, played by actor Matthew Marsden, is killed by Agamemnon.
  • In the 2004 Hollywood film Troy, the character Paris was played by actor Orlando Bloom. He is not killed by Philoctetes in this version, but leaves the falling city of Troy together with Helen and survives. Paris is portrayed as an irresponsible prince who put his romance before his family and country.
  • In prose he appears as the main character in Rudolf Hagelstange's book Spielball der Götter (Game of Gods).
  • The song "The Third Temptation of Paris" by Alesana tells the story of Helen and Paris from the viewpoint of Paris.
  • The story was also made into a musical, Paris Prince of Troy, written by Jon English and David Mackay. Barry Humphries starred in the original performance as Sinon.
  • The song, Crimes of Paris by Elvis Costello on his album Blood and Chocolate asks the question, "Who'll pay for the Crimes of Paris, who's gonna pay for the Crimes of Paris?"
  • In Aaron Allston's Galatea in 2-D, a painting of Paris, brought to life, is used against a painting of Achilles brought to life.

Notes and references

  1. ^ For a comparison of hero births, including Sargon, Moses, Karna, Oedipus, Paris, Telephus, Perseus, Romulus, Gilgamesh, Cyrus, Jesus, and others, see: Rank, Otto. The Myth of the Birth of the Hero. Vintage Books: New York, 1932.
  2. ^ http://www.ancientlibrary.com/seyffert/0461.html
  3. ^ Neil Phillip. Myths and Legends. Dorling Kindersley. 
  4. ^ e.g., Iliad, bk. 3, lines 38-57.
  5. ^ Iliad, bk. 3, lines 340-419.
  6. ^ Way, A.S. (Ed. & Trans.): "Quintus Smyrnaeus: The Fall of Troy" bk. 10, 259-489 (Loeb Classics #19; Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA,1913).http://www.theoi.com/Nymphe/NympheOinone.html

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