ZEUS: Hermes, I have an important task for you. Take this apple to Phrygia. On the Gargaran peak of Ida, you will find a young herdsmanParis, the son of Priam. Tell him that he’s been chosen by Zeus to judge the beauty of the Goddesses and to decide once and for all which one is the most beautiful.
HERMES: What’s the apple for?
ZEUS: Oh, that’s the prizefor the winner.
HERMES: That’s the best you could do?
ZEUS: It’s an apple from the table of Zeus! Besides, it’s not the prize that’s important, but the honor of being chosen most beautiful of all the Goddesses. As for myself, I’ll have nothing to do with it. I love you all equally, and if I had my way, all three would win. But of course one of you has to be honored above the others or you’ll never be satisfied, and if I choose one of you, the other two will make my life miserable. This young Phrygian, on the other hand, has an objective eye. Although there is royal blood in his veins, he is a simple countryman, so he knows what’s what, and he won’t play any games.
APHRODITE: It doesn’t matter who the judge is. Momus himself can be the judge, as far as I’m concerned. I have nothing to hide. I mean, what fault could he possibly find with me? Of course, the others must agree too.
HERA: Oh, we’re not afraid to measure ourselves against you, even if your lover Ares should be appointed. Paris will dowhoever he is.
ZEUS: And my little Athenadoes she approve? No, no, don’t blush or hide your pretty face. I know it’s a delicate subject, butthere, she nods her consent. Very well, thenit’s decided. And remember, the losers in this contest mustn’t be angry with the judge. I won’t have the poor boy punished for his decision. Only one can wear the crown of beauty.
HERMES: All right, thenwe’re off to Phrygia. Just follow me, ladies, and don’t be nervous. I know Parishe’s a good boy, quite the charmer, and a clever judge of beauty. He’ll make the right choice, you can count on it.
APHRODITE: I’m glad you approve of Paris; I ask for nothing but a fair judge. Do you know if he has a wife, Hermes? Or is he a bachelor?
HERMES: He’s not a bachelor in the strictest sense.
APHRODITE: What does that mean?
HERMES: Well, there’s a wife … and she’s nice enough … but she really doesn’t deserve him.
APHRODITE: Why not?
HERMES: Well … she’s a “country beauty.” In other words, she’s downright ugly and he only took her because there was nothing else available, and a young man must have somewhere to sow his seed. Why do you ask?
APHRODITE: Just curious.
ATHENA: What’s all this whispering about? That isn’t fair, Hermes. Whatever you’re telling Aphrodite, you can tell the rest of us.
HERMES: It’s nothing important. She only asked if Paris was a bachelor.
HERA: None of her businessthat’s what you should have said.
HERMES: It’s an innocent enough question.
ATHENA: Wellis he?
HERMES: A bachelor? No.
ATHENA: What are his ambitions? Does he care for military glory? Or just for his goats?
HERMES: Well, I don’t really know, but he’s a young man, so I would assume he’s dreamed of distinction on the battlefield.
APHRODITE: There, you seeI don't complain when you whisper to her.
HERMES: Listen, ladies, don’t be cross with me; I’m just the messenger. And besides, Athena asked almost the same question you did. It can’t do any harm, can itmy answering a simple question?
HERA: How much further?
HERMES: We’re almost over Phrygia now. There’s IdaI can just make out the peak of Gargarum, and if I’m not mistaken, there’s Paris right there.
HERA: Where? I can’t see.
HERMES: Over there, to the left. No, not on topdown to the side, by that cave where you see the herd.
HERA: I don’t see the herd either.
APHRODITE: It’s a good thing this isn’t a “seeing” contest.
HERMES: Right there, between the rocks. Where I’m pointing, lookand the man running around with the staff, keeping them together …
HERA: Ah, I see now.
HERMES: Yes, that’s him, all right. We should descend herehe might be frightened if we swoop down too suddenly.
HERA: Now that we’re on the earth, Aphrodite, why don’t you lead the way? I understand you’ve been here often enough to “visit” Anchises; or at least that’s what I’ve heard.
APHRODITE: Your sneers are wasted on me, Hera.
HERMES: Come on, I’ll lead the way myself. I spent enough time in the area while Zeus was courting Ganymede. Many times, I stood watch over the boy; and when the great eagle came and swooped him up, I flew at his side and helped with his lovely burden. I believe this is the very rock where he stood piping to his sheep as Zeus tenderly caught him up in those talons and carried the frightened boy off. I picked up his pipes, he had dropped them trying to escape, and
HERA: Enough about my husband’s philanderings.
HERMES: Oh, yes … sorry. Anyway, here is our appointed referee. Good morning, Paris!
PARIS: Hey, kid. Aren’t you a little young to be climbing these dangerous peaks? And with a band of women, no less! Beautiful womentoo beautiful for this mountain-side.
HERMES: These women, good Paris, are the Goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. And I am Hermes, messenger extraordinaire for mighty Zeus. He has chosen you to judge the beauty of these three, and the prize is this apple.
PARIS: An apple?
HERMES: I know, I know, but it’s a very nice apple. And there’s an inscription. Here, have a look.
PARIS: “For the Fair.” So, I …
HERMES: Just give the apple to the fairest of the three. That’s it. Couldn’t be simpler.
PARIS: But lord Hermes, how do you expect a mere goatherd to judge between three such unparalleled beauties?
HERA: He speaks well, at least.
PARIS: Surely, there must be some fine city folk better suited to judge this contest. I can tell you which of two goats is the finer beast, or adjudicate the merits of two heifers, but in the present company there is beauty all around. I don’t know how any man could tear his eyes away from one to look on the other. Wherever my eyes fallthere is beauty. I move them, and what do I findmore loveliness! And yet I can’t focus because I sense equal beauty lurking just this way or that! I am distracted by neighboring charms! If only I were all eyes, like Argusthen perhaps I could judge the matter!
APHRODITE: You’re right, Herahis speech is pretty.
HERMES: So it is. I’m sorry, Paris, but these are Zeus's ordersthere’s no way out of it. You are to decide the matter.
PARIS: All right, but the losers mustn’t be angry with me. The fault will be with my eyes onlythey are instruments far too crude for deciding such a fine matter.
HERMES: Zeus has already made this clear. There will be no retribution from the losing parties. Now get to work!
PARIS: All right, but … am I just to examine them as they are, or should I go into the matter more thoroughly?
HERMES: Well, that’s for you to decide, I guess. Do whatever you think best.
PARIS: What I think best? Then I will be thorough.
HERMES: When you say “thorough” …
PARIS: I mean, if I’m to judge the entire package, perhaps they should disrobe.
HERMES: Disrobe?! You naughty boy! Do you really think
HERA: Calm down, Hermesthe boy’s quite right. I approve of your decision, Paris, and will be the first to submit myself to your inspection. You will find that I have more to boast of than white arms and large eyesevery part of me is beautiful.
PARIS: Aphrodite, will you also submit?
ATHENA: Oh, Parismake sure she takes off that girdle; there’s magic in it! She’ll bewitch you! And she ought to wipe off all that makeup as well! She has no right to come so tricked out and painted!
APHRODITE: This is my natural hue.
HERA: Oh, pleaseyou look like a prostitute.
APHRODITE: Excuse me?!
ATHENA: She really should show herself unadorned.
PARIS: The makeup can stay, but they’re right about the girdle, madamit must be removed.
APHRODITE: Oh, fine. But Athena has to take off her helmet thenno intimidating the judge with that waving plume. Or are you afraid your colorless eyes might be exposed without their formidable surroundings?
ATHENA: I’m afraid of no such thing. Here is my helmet.
APHRODITE: And here is my girdle.
HERA: Good. Let’s get on with it.
PARIS: God of wonders! What beauty is here! Oh, rapture! How exquisite these ladies’ charms! How dazzling the majesty of Heaven's true queen! And oh, how sweet, how captivating is Aphrodite's smile! And Athena’s taut muscles! It’s too much! I’m overwhelmed by your combined beauty! I know not where to look! My eyes are drawn all ways at oncethey’re splitting apart!
APHRODITE: Perhaps he should view us one at a time.
HERA: Yes, we don’t want the poor boy’s eyes to explode.
HERMES: All right, thenAphrodite, you and Athena withdraw with me. Let Hera remain.
APHRODITE: So be it.
[APHRODITE, ATHENA, and HERMES withdraw.]
HERA: Well, do you like what you see?
PARIS: Words cannot express my satisfaction, madam.
HERA: When you have finished your scrutiny, you must decide how you would like your present.
PARIS: My present?
HERA: That’s right. Give me the prize of beauty, Paris, and I will make you lord of all Asia!
PARIS: I will take no presents, madam. Withdraw, and I shall judge as I see fit.
PARIS: You are very beautiful.
ATHENA: If you will crown me the fairest, Paris, I will make you a great warriora conquering hero! I will cast a divine spell so that you will never lose a battle!
PARIS: I appreciate the offer, Athenabut I’m a lover, not a fighter. There’s peace throughout the land, and my father’s rule is uncontested. What use do I have for fighting? You can put your robe back on, and your helmet; I’ve seen enough.
And now for Aphrodite.
APHRODITE: Here I am. Take your time, and examine every inch as carefully as you like; let nothing escape your vigilance. Don’t be shy. Put your hand here. There, now that’s betterisn’t it? You’re a handsome boy, ParisI’ve had my eye on you for a long time. You must be the fairest youth in all of Phrygia. It’s such a pity that you’re hidden away in these rocks and crags. Your beauty is wasted on these goats. I’d like to whisk you away and marry you to some Greek girlan Argive, or Corinthian, or maybe a Spartan, if you like a girl with a little spunk. Helen is a Spartan. Such a pretty girlquite as pretty as I am.
PARIS: As pretty as you?
APHRODITE: Oh, yes. And such a lover of beauty. I’m quite certain, if she once caught sight of you, she would give up everything to be with you. She would make a most devoted wife.
PARIS: But … I’m already married.
APHRODITE: So is she. But that’s of no importance. When marriage exists without love, such bonds are easily broken.
PARIS: Tell me about herthis Helen.
APHRODITE: Well, she’s the daughter of Ledayou know, the beauty Zeus ravaged in the guise of a swan.
PARIS: And what is she like?
APHRODITE: Helen is the fairest of the fair, and as one might expect from the offspring of the swan, she is soft as down (she was hatched from an egg, you know), and so lithe and graceful; her figure is the picture of perfection. She’s already had one war fought over her after she was abducted by Theseusand she was just a child then. Now she’s all grown up and married to Menelaus, but if you’d like, I will make her your wife.
PARIS: Won’t Menelaus be angry?
APHRODITE: Don’t worry about the details, child; I’ll protect you.
PARIS: I don’t want to cause any problems.
APHRODITE: No problem at all. I will arrange to have you set out for Greece on a little vacation. When you get to Sparta, Helen won’t be able to resist your charms.
PARIS: But … will she really leave her husband and cross the seas with a complete stranger? A goatherd?
APHRODITE: Trust me. I have two beautiful children, Love and Desirethey shall be your guides.
PARIS: I don’t know how this will end, but I feel like I’m in love with Helen already. I can see her in my mind, on our homeward journey from Sparta, her hand wrapped in mine as we stare across the sea.
APHRODITE: Wait! Don’t fall in love yet. There’s still the little matter of crowning me the most beautiful of the Goddesses. Eternal happiness is yoursall you have to do is hand me that apple.
PARIS: Are you sure you won’t forget me after I give you the prize?
APHRODITE: Shall I swear?
PARIS: No; your word is enough.
APHRODITE: You shall have Helen for your wife; she shall follow you and make Troy her homethis I promise.
PARIS: Take the apple. It’s yours.