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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Judgment of Paris

By Lucian (c. 125–after 180)

From ‘Dialogues of the Gods’: Translation of Emily James Putnam

Persons: Zeus, Hermes, Paris, Hera, Athena, Aphrodite

ZEUS—Hermes, take this apple and go to Phrygia, to Priam’s son, the cowherd,—he is pasturing his drove on Ida,—and say to him that since he is handsome himself, and a connoisseur in matters of love, he has been appointed by Zeus to judge which is the fairest of the three goddesses. The apple is to be the victor’s prize.[To the goddesses.]It is time now that you ladies were off to the judge. I have delegated the office of umpire because I am equally attached to you all, and if it were possible I should gladly see you all win. Moreover, the man who gives the prize of beauty to one must in the nature of things be detested by the others. These reasons disqualify me as umpire; but the young man in Phrygia to whom you are going is of a royal house,—being in fact a cousin of Ganymede, whom you know,—and he has the simple manner of the mountains.

Aphrodite—For my part, Zeus, you might make Momus himself the umpire and I should still go confidently to trial; for what could he find to criticize in me? And the others must needs put up with the man.

Hera—We are not afraid either, Aphrodite, even if your Ares were to settle the question. We are satisfied with this man, whoever he is,—this Paris.

Zeus[to Athena]—Well, daughter, are you of the same mind? What do you say? You turn away blushing? It is natural for you virgins to be coy in such matters. But you might at least nod.[Athena nods.]Off with you, then; and the defeated, mind you, are not to be angry with the judge nor to do any harm to the young man. It is impossible for all to be equal in beauty.[They start.]

Hermes—Let us make straight for Phrygia. I will go first, and do you follow smartly. And don’t be uneasy. I know Paris; he is a handsome young fellow, a lover by temperament, and a most competent judge in such cases as this. His decision will certainly be correct.

Aphrodite—That is good news, and all in my favor.[To Hermes, apart.]Is this person a bachelor, or has he a wife?

Hermes—Not exactly a bachelor.

Aphrodite—What do you mean?

Hermes—Apparently a woman of Ida is his mate: a good enough creature, but crude and extremely rustic. He does not seem to care much about her. But why do you ask?

Aphrodite—Oh, I just asked.

Athena[to Hermes]—This is a breach of trust, sirrah. You are having a private understanding with Aphrodite.

Hermes—It’s nothing terrible, and has nothing to do with you. She was asking me whether Paris is a bachelor.

Athena—Why is that any business of hers?

Hermes—I don’t know; she says she asked casually, without any object.

Athena—Well, is he a bachelor?

Hermes—Apparently not.

Athena—Has he any leaning towards war? Is he an ambitious person, or a cowherd merely?

Hermes—I can’t say certainly; but it is safe to guess that a man of his age will hanker after fighting and long to distinguish himself in the field.

Aphrodite—See now, I don’t find any fault with you for talking apart with her. Fault-finding is not natural to Aphrodite.

Hermes—She was asking me almost exactly what you did, so don’t take it amiss or think you are badly treated. I answered her just as simply as I did you.

—But while we are talking we have come a long way. We have left the stars behind and almost reached Phrygia. I see Ida and the whole range of Gargarus clearly; and unless I am mistaken, I can even make out Paris, your judge.

Hera—Where is he? I don’t see him.

Hermes—Look off to the left,—not at the summit of the mountain, but along the flank where the cave is. There you see the herd.

Hera—But not the herdsman.

Hermes—What? Look along my finger, so. Don’t you see the cows coming from among the rocks, and a man with a crook running down the bluff to hem them in and keep them from scattering further?

Hera—I see now, if that is he.

Hermes—That’s he. When we are close at hand we will take to the ground, if you please, and come up to him walking, so as not to frighten him by dropping in from the unseen.

Hera—Very good, we will do so.[They alight.]Now that we are on earth, Aphrodite, you had better go ahead and lead the way. You are probably familiar with the spot. The story goes that you have visited Anchises here more than once.

Aphrodite—Those jokes don’t bother me very much, Hera.

Hermes—I will lead the way myself. Here is the umpire close by: let us address him.[To Paris.]Good morning, cowherd!

Paris—Good morning, my lad. Who are you? And who are these women whom you are escorting?—not mountain-bred: they are too pretty.

Hermes—And not women. Paris, you see before you Hera and Athena and Aphrodite; and I am Hermes, bearing a message from Zeus. Why do you tremble and lose color? Don’t be frightened; it’s nothing bad. He bids you judge which of them is fairest; “for,” says Zeus, “you are fair yourself and wise in lover’s lore, so I turn over the case to you. You will know what the prize is when you read the legend on the apple.”[Hands him the apple.]

Paris—Let me see what it all means. FOR THE FAIREST, the apple says. How in the world, Lord Hermes, can I, a mortal man and a rustic, be judge of this marvelous spectacle, which is beyond a cowherd’s powers? Judgment in such matters belongs rather to the dainty folk in towns. As for me, I have the art to judge between goat and goat, as between heifer and heifer, in point of beauty. But these ladies are beautiful alike. I do not know how a man could drag his sight from one to rest it on another. Wherever my eye falls first, there it clings and approves what it finds. I am fairly bathed in their beauty. It surrounds me altogether. I wish I were all eyes, like Argus. I think I should judge wisely if I gave the apple to all. And here is something to consider too: one of them is sister and wife of Zeus, while the others are his daughters. Doesn’t this make the decision hard?

Hermes—I can’t say. I only know that you can’t shirk what Zeus commands.

Paris—Make them promise one thing, Hermes: that the losers will not be angry with me, but only consider my sight defective.

Hermes—They say they will do so; but it is time you made your decision.

Paris—I will try; for what else can I do? Good heavens, what a sight! What beauty! What delight! How fair the maiden goddess is! and how queenly, glorious, and worthy of her station is the wife of Zeus! And how sweet is Aphrodite’s glance, with her soft, winning smile!—Bah! I can hold no more pleasure. If you please, I should like to study each separately; as it is, I look two ways at once.

Aphrodite—Yes, let us do it that way.

Paris—Go off, then, two of you. Hera, do you stay.

Hera—I will; and when you have considered me carefully you had better consider something else,—whether you like the results of a verdict in my favor. For if you decide, Paris, that I am the fairest, you shall be lord of all Asia.

Paris—My justice is not for sale. Go now, I am satisfied. Come next, Athena.

Athena—Here I am, Paris; and if you decide that I am fairest, you shall never be beaten in battle. I will make you a victorious warrior.

Paris—I have no use for war and battle, Athena. Peace reigns, as you see, in Phrygia and Lydia, and my father’s realm is undisturbed. But cheer up: you shall not suffer for it, even if my justice is not for sale. I have finished with you; it is Aphrodite’s turn.

Aphrodite—At your service, Paris, and I shall bear careful inspection. And if you like, my dear lad, listen to me too. I have had an eye on you for some time; and seeing you so young and handsome—does Phrygia hold such another?—I congratulate you on your looks, but I blame you for not leaving these rocks and living in the city. Why do you waste your beauty in the desert? What good do you get of the mountains? How are your cattle the better because you are handsome? You ought to have had a wife before this; not a wild country girl like the women of Ida, but a queen from Argos or Corinth, or a Spartan woman like Helen, for instance. She is young and lovely, in no way inferior to me, and what is most important, made for love. If that woman should but see you, I know she would surrender herself, and leave everything to follow you and be your wife; but of course you have heard about her yourself.

Paris—Not a word. But I should love to listen if you will tell me the whole story.

Aphrodite—She is the daughter of that fair Leda whom Zeus loved.

Paris—And what does she look like?

Aphrodite—She is blonde, soft, and delicate, yet strong with athletic sports. She is so sought after that men fought for her sake when Theseus stole her, yet a little girl. And when she was grown up, all the noblest of the Greeks came courting her; and Menelaus was chosen, of the family of Pelops. But if you like, I will make her your wife.

Paris—What do you mean? She is married already.

Aphrodite—You are a young provincial, to be sure. But I know how to manage an affair like that.

Paris—How? I should like to know myself.

Aphrodite—You will set out on your travels, ostensibly to see Greece; and when you come to Lacedæmon, Helen will see you. The rest shall be my affair, to arrange that she shall fall in love with you and follow you.

Paris—Ah, that is what seems impossible to me,—that a woman should be willing to leave her husband and sail away with a stranger to a strange land.

Aphrodite—Don’t worry about that. I have two fair children, Longing and Love, whom I shall give you as guides on your journey. And Love shall enter into the woman and compel her to love, while Longing shall invest you with charm in her eyes. I will be there myself, and I will ask the Graces to come too, so that we may make a joint attack upon her.

Paris—How all this is to come about remains to be seen; but I am already in love with Helen. Somehow or other I see her with my mind’s eye, and my voyage to Greece and my visit to Sparta and my return with her. It oppresses me that I am not carrying it out this minute.

Aphrodite—Don’t fall in love, Paris, until you have given me the matchmaker’s fee in the shape of a verdict. It would be nice if we could have a joint festival in honor of your marriage and my victory. It all rests with you. You can buy love, beauty, a wife, with that apple.

Paris—I am afraid you will forget me after the award is made.

Aphrodite—Do you want my oath?

Paris—By no means; only your promise.

Aphrodite—I promise that I will give you Helen to be your wife, that she shall follow you to Troy, and that I will attend in person and help you in every way.

Paris—And you will bring Love and Longing and the Graces?

Aphrodite—Trust me, and I will have Desire and Hymen there into the bargain.

Paris—On these conditions I award the apple to you. Take it!