It started with a beauty pageant. One day, Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite got into a rather vocal discussion about who was the most beautiful. Unable to resolve this pressing issue, they went to Zeus and asked him to decide who was the most beautiful.
Now Zeus often isn’t given a lot of credit. He’s seen as the god who just goes out to schtup mortals; however, on this occasion he paused and looked around. The contest was between Hera, his wife; Athena, his daughter; and Aphrodite, his adopted daughter. Under these circumstances, he decided, most wisely, that he wasn’t the man for the job—really, what man would actually go through with that, knowing the headaches it would later cause? Instead, he sent them off to a guy named Paris, claiming Paris had sound judgment.
Zeus is a smart cookie.
Confronted with three goddesses, Paris was rather stuck. How, exactly, do you say no to a goddess and come out of it with your skin intact? Now, so far, everything is on the up and up. It’s a straightforward proposition to judge a beauty contest. The goddesses even agree to a set of rules. First among them is not to bribe the judge.
Accounts differ as to who went first.
With the bribing, not the contest.
It seems that all three had cheating at the forefront of their minds. They each took Paris aside and offered him the best of what they could.
Suddenly stories of illicit goings-on in beauty pageants don’t seem out of the ordinary. For as long as there have been contests, there has been cheating. While the three goddesses may seem civilized at the moment, a catfight of epic proportions (literally epic) is on the horizon.
Aphrodite, who probably deserved the title since she is the goddess of love, wins out simply because she has the best bribe. She gives Paris a woman who matches her own beauty (passing up marrying a woman whose passion and beauty rivals that of the goddess of love is a no-brainer). Athena offered him combat ability (impressive, but constantly fighting wears off quick). Hera offered him many children (not exactly what a playboy bachelor prince is looking for).
The funny thing is that Hera and Athena do not react well to Aphrodite’s cheating, despite their own attempts. Perhaps it’s because their attempts were unsuccessful—the woman scorned axiom is very, very true in mythology. The idea of fair play is a modern concept, as most mythology stories adhere to the idea that if it’s successful, it’s okay (though there is one notable exception I’ll write about another time).
So Hera and Athena are very, very put out with Aphrodite. As would be expected, they team up for a little revenge; however, Aphrodite is not their target. A free-for-all hair-pulling match would be the most direct route, but it’s not the route they choose. They go after Paris.
Once again, Zeus is a smart cookie.
It’s like he knew this was going to happen.
Athena and Aphrodite are not content to simply do something horrible to Paris. No, they go so far as to organize whole kingdoms to go after Paris for stealing the wife of Meneleaus, Helen, better known as Helen of Troy.
The Trojan War started over a beauty pageant.
Correction: The Trojan War started because Aphrodite was a better cheater than Hera and Athena.
Ten years of war and countless deaths. That bit about women scorned is severely understated.
One of the things I love most about this story is how human and flawed the characters are. Zeus is not some omnipotent deity. He’s a man who quickly did the math and concluded that it’s not smart to get caught in the middle. Especially not when it’s between his wife and daughters. The three goddesses are petty and base, acting more like immature, spoiled girls than beings of real power.
But, really, when it comes to any kind of crime, pettiness and base behavior are what it’s all about, right?
Andy Adams is an adjunct professor of English at various colleges in the Phoenix area. He has an affectation for fedoras as they complement his villainous goatee. He’s been known to poke his head onto Twitter @A3Writer, but he’s never been big into birds. He blogs at A3writer.com about writing, teaching, and the conquest of fictional worlds—they’re more fun than the real world.
Read all posts by Andy Adams for Criminal Element.