The Judgment of Paris: Who Are We Ignoring?

“The Judgment of Paris,” between 1485 and 1488, by Sandro Botticelli and workshop. (Public Domain)

One of the greatest stories in Greek mythology is that of the Judgment of Paris. It is in a way a simple story, but beneath the seemingly obvious veneer of “who is the fairest of them all?” there are profound implications that speak to us today, for this story will always resonate so long as human beings reflect on their lives.

First, though, what exactly is the story? It is the prelude, or the cause célèbre, of the Trojan War. Homer does not exactly deal with it, but his masterpiece “The Iliad” and the death of Achilles directly follow from the Judgment of Paris, as do the wanderings of Odysseus once Troy is sacked. Put another way, a whole civilization, Troy, and 10s of thousands of people on both sides are destroyed as a result of the judgment. What seems inconsequential proves to have massive implications.

To illustrate this in relatively modern terms, we might think of Gavrilo Princip, a 19-year-old nobody, yet a terrorist, who in 1914 shot Archduke Ferdinand of Austria. This triggered World War I, the death of millions, and the fall of at least three major empires: the Russian, the Austrian-Hungarian, and the German.