Lend me your ears, O wanderers, for I am a plastic surgeon in need. This is the tale of the Golden Apple of Eris.
* * *
In the beginning there was chaos, void without form, and she was called Eris, the Goddess of Strife and Discord.
Eris was her name to the Greeks, and the Romans called her Discordia, and men in general have usually called her by foul and degrading names, such as, “what misbegotten noony idiot caused this mess, then?”
She was a Greek god then, and there were many other Greek gods as well. This was a very bad thing for the Greeks themselves — witness how much grief has been caused by only one god, that in the beginning was one to some, then three to many, and then one, with one prophet, to others. The Greeks had a god for every mountain and a goddess for every creek, and one of them was Eris.
Her creek probably was a gutter behind Zeno’s Drinking Ass Tavern.
There was one day a great feast at the peak of Mount Olympus, the top place of the Greek divinities. It was in honor of a marriage long since forgotten since, as usually, of personal things only the ghastly and disastrous ones are remembered, while great joys are forgotten.
The happy couple had not invited Eris.
They can maybe be excused; one does not show great intelligence by calling the Queen of Strife, the Lady of Collapsing Cosmoses, to visit. Still, they should have known that Eris wouldn’t take lightly not being invited. Maybe they wished that a goddess capable of sniffing out every false note and gap would not notice?
Indeed they were fools.
And so, halfway through the evening, when all present were merrily drunk, when Apollo was dancing on tables, when Zeus was using Aeolian shepherds for target practice while Hera and Persephone betted, when Hebe the cupbearer of the gods was already, again, cursing her vocation and dodging the sweaty hands of Ares — then in rolled a thing of glistening gold.
It was an apple, made of pure and flawless gold, an object of great worth and immediately evident beauty.
The gods and goddess, being greedy bastards, immediately all began to covet it.
Zeus picked up the apple, inspected it, and then handed it to Hermes, saying: “I really should learn this Greek script someday.”
Hermes, the trusted god of thieves, squinted and said: “There is but one word written on this apple. It is ‘kallisti’, and it is written in the Greek script.”
There was a moment of silence, which Hebe used to whisk most of the remaining wine-amphoras away; she sensed that a great commotion was about to begin.
After a while Aphrodite, the goddess of physical beauty, frowned and, fearing she was being set up for a bad joke, asked: “Indeed? And what might that mean?”
Hermes blushed. “No idea.”
Others hung their heads as well.
Zeus rose up and thundered. “What disgrace! What idiots are you, incapable of understanding even a single short word of the language of those you so fickly lord and lady it over! What a sad, sad disgrace!”
Ares, the red-eyed god of war, havoc and devastation, mumbled angrily to himself that neither did Zeus know anything about the word, either.
Hebe ran to kitchen, scared. If the Lord of Slaughter began muttering to himself, the wise ran.
“Is there no-one here that knows anything of those we rule?” Zeus roared.
Various gods shrugged and rolled their eyes. Well, duh! You don’t need to understand people when you can shoot fire and poison from your fingertips.
Finally Hephaestus, the smith, spoke. “Where’s Hebe? And where’s the wine?”
“There’s but one amphora remaining!”, Hermes cried, and immediately a Great Fight for the Last Amphora broke out.
While the fight continued (Ares and Zeus were betting), three goddesses retired to a corner. Athena, the wise one, with owl-droppings decorating her shoulders, held the apple she had picked from Zeus’s clenching fingers. Aphrodite and Hera looked at her, and the apple, curious.
“Kallisti”, Athena pondered. “It is in Greek either ‘geometry’ —”
“Like, what’s that?” Aphrodite groaned. “All Greek to me!”
Athena coughed. “— or then the dative singular of the feminine superlative of the word for beauty.”
Hera, the wife of Zeus and the lady of the household, clenched her fists. She was starting to feel as stupid as Aphrodite was, and that irritated her greatly.
“To the fairest”, Athena clarified. “So, —”
“That’s me!” each of the three cried.
The strength of Zeus and Ares both was needed to stop the hair-pulling and spitting resulting from this, and as Zeus was wroth (having missed the spectacle of Hermes rendering himself unconscious with a careless swing of his blackjack) he heard the matter and ordered the goddesses to find an impartial judge and settle the matter thusly.
This only shows that there are some who should stay in the field of zapping others with lightning, and out of quarrel-solving.
Some years passed, and each of the three goddesses — Aphodite, Athena and Hera — produced learned works and testimonials on the characters of various “impartial judges”. It has been calculated by Strabo that the volumes used for this were enough to prove each and every man living at that time a hopeless liar and scoundrel, and so this tale, coming down from them, should not be trusted.
Seeing this insolvable knot of parchment and papyrus, Zeus smote it with a ball lightning, and pointed out a random mortal to arbitrate. The goddesses heeded the ancient adage of “whom shoots fire out of his eyes, he is boss”, and went to this mortal to present their case. He was Paris, the son of Priam the king of Troy, also called Ilium.
Troy was also called Ilium, not Priam or Paris. Indeed, Paris was not even founded at that date. But that is an entirely different Paris.
So Paris saw three beautiful, scantily clad goddesses descending from the heavens, pleading for his favor. And he thought: Boy, am I lucky or what?
Soon, however, the matter was cleared to him, and he slumped, greatly disappointed.
(The reader might have noted that Eris hasn’t appeared in this narrative recently. It is indeed so: she was at her palace, biting on an edible golden apple and giggling to herself.)
To better judge the beauty of each goddess, Paris spoke to each of them privately. The goddesses each, naturally, tried to bribe him the best they could.
“I’ll give you the world!”, Hera, the wife of Zeus and the self-proclaimed Queen of Gods, whispered. “You want the islands? They are yours. You want Persia and the Lion Throne? But one word and you shall have them. Cathay, Aztlan, Cimmeria — I can give you dominions without number if you but favor me. Think in your heart of the varieties of womankind that the world holds, and of all things you can possess, and ask this of yourself: Isn’t generous Hera the fairest of all?”
Athena, the wise and warlike, was likewise persuasive. “Now be bright, Paris, behave wisely. Just one little choice, and I’ll make you known for your princely — nay, kingly — charming wisdom and erudition. I’ll bless your arms, so every man will gasp and every woman swoon at the mention of your sagely and war-victorious name! Think of the adulation of masses, O wise son of Priam, and behold the beauty of Athena the fair!”
The last to engage in this fair-play was Aphrodite, the goddess of love and lust. Now she was not very bright, or rich, but she knew the hearts of men — those spiritual pieces of flesh that are usually led around by other pieces of their anatomy either above or below. So she showed Paris a vision, and grinned.
“Indeed, boy! That is Helen, the fairest of all mortals. Who else but I, Aphrodite, the fairest of goddesses, could find her, or bring her to you? Smile at me, O man, and you shall have princess Helen for your wife!”
And since Aphrodite’s offer had been the most palpable (though the least generous), Paris chose her. The apple passed to Aphrodite, and the three goddesses departed, grumbling about unfair play. Aphrodite waved her hand at Paris, and suddenly Helen was there, swooning at his feet. Paris danced a little lusty jig of joy and went to see a priest, towing her and a white marriage-bull-of-sacrifice.
At this point two things about Helen should be noted, two points that Aphrodite failed to mention.
The first point is that Helen was the daughter of one Leda, and of Zeus the Thunderer, who had forced himself on Leda in the shape of a swan. It is unknown what pleasure Zeus got from this.
Secondly, the reason that Helen was a princess of sorts was that she was already married to Menelaus, the warlike and easily angered king of Sparta.
One can easily see why Aphrodite was silent on these details. Soon enough the word reached king Menelaus that his wife, instead of merely playfully hiding somewhere in the palace, was actually prancing around with the son of the king of Troy.
So Menelaus called Odysseus and Menestheus, both Ajaxes and Agamemnon, and all those Achaean lords and warriors whose respect he commanded, and laid siege to the city of Troy.
This Trojan war lasted for ten years, and was the end of men and reputations without number, the end of lives and the end of happiness and joy, the start of grief and endless new strife, and the end of Paris, the end of Ajax, the end of many a hero and a commoner, the end of Priam and the city of Troy, and the end of Trojans except for one that fled to build up even more pain and misery.
Far above, in the skies, the goddess Aphrodite looked down, cradled the apple, smiled a charming little smile, and said: “Oops, I did it again.”
And somewhere else Eris spat out an apple-seed and laughed.