The Judgment of Paris

March 8, 2018

The Greek myth of the Judgment of Paris illustrates the folly of man. 

 

When Paris was designated to judge which of the three goddesses, Hera, Athena or Aphrodite, was the most fair, he was offered gifts and bribes by the three goddesses to induce him to vote for them.   He had three choices: 1.) Hera offered him power and to be ruler of Europe and Asia; 2.) Athena offered him wisdom and great luck and skill in war and strategy; and 3.) Aphrodite offered him the most beautiful woman in the world. We all know Paris chose the last one. This was a totally emotional, hormonal and irrational choice. The first two were far better choices, but clearly from a rational standpoint one stands far above the others. Just think of the saying “You can give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, but if you teach a man to fish he will eat for life.” Hera offered immediate gratification with power and kingdoms, but power is fleeting and there is no guarantee that Paris could hold onto what was given him, especially since he would have no skill to navigate political, economic and military challenges. Athena, on the other hand, the goddess of wisdom, handicraft and warfare, offered Paris wisdom almost as great as her own, so he could use his mind to decide the best course of action in any given situation, helping him not only to attain power, but to hold onto it and exercise it wisely, and skill in war and strategy to continually obtain greater heights of achievement and power and the ability to best his opponents, and finally luck which is an intangible quality that can always help tip the balance in his favor. These are not one-time gifts, but gifts that can keep on giving throughout his mortal life. Moreover, he had to know that the two goddesses he rebuffed with his choice would be out for revenge, but with Athena’s gifts, he had the best chance of fending off their vengeful acts to undermine him.

 

Alas, Paris’ choice was foolish, shortsighted and indicative of an inability to delay gratification.  Moreover, his determination incurred the wrath of the Greeks and these two goddesses, leading to the Trojan War.  Once the war began, he had Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, but by stealing her from Menelaus and insulting him and the rest of the Greeks by rejecting two of their main gods, he ensured a calamitous war on top of him and his city that would not have happened had he chosen Athena’s gifts.  Moreover, while his brother Hector was a fine warrior and military leader, if Paris had accepted Athena’s gifts, he surely would have risen to the occasion and found a way to best the Greeks through his supreme wisdom and strategy.  Instead, he behaved cowardly, running away from a duel with Menelaus; he was unable or unwilling to abide by the code of battle among warriors and use the typical honored and “manly” close-quarter weapons of spear, sword and shield, opting instead for the safe at a distance bow and arrow; and he was humiliated in front of his love Helen and eventually killed in shame as his city burned to the ground. 

 

The moral is that man is thoroughly flawed and his judgment is highly suspect.  Man cannot know all and in fact usually knows very little.  He makes snap judgments, oftentimes because he will obtain something of immediate gratification.  The one thing that man must never forget, however, is that he must always “know thyself”, the inscription in front of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, meaning know your limitations; vanity and hubris are fatal.  Carefully weigh everything when making important decisions and seek the counsel of others.  And above all, be humble before the awesome power of fate, chance and an unknown future. 

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