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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Influence of Zeus on the Trojan War

Peter Paul Rubens - The Judgement of Paris, c.1606 (Museo del Prado)
Peter Paul Rubens Judgment of Paris,
via Wiki Commons
Often, the Judgement of Paris is considered to be the first seed of the Trojan War -- the story of Eris tossing an apple to the goddesses of Olympus, inscribed with the words "for the fairest," which caused Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite to squabble over who it should belong to. The three goddesses are then referred to Paris for judgement, and proceed to each bribe him for the apple and the title of "fairest." Paris ultimately chooses Aphrodite, who offers him Helen, and then, with the goddess's encouragement goes to Sparta to fetch her for his own.

But the beginnings of the Trojan War go back even farther than Paris's ill-considered judgement. There are a couple of accounts which place the blame squarely on Zeus' (premeditating) shoulders:
"There was a time when the countless tribes of men, though wide-dispersed, oppressed the surface of the deep-bosomed earth, and Zeus saw it and had pity and in his wise heart resolved to relieve the all-nurturing earth of men by causing the great struggle of the Ilian war, that the load of death might empty the world. And so the heroes were slain in Troy, and the plan of Zeus came to pass" (Cypria Fragments).

And according to Hesiod's Catalog of Women:

"Now all the gods were divided through strife; for at that very time Zeus who thunders on high was meditating marvellous deeds, even to mingle storm and tempest over the boundless earth, and already he was hastening to make an utter end of the race of mortal men, declaring that he would destroy the lives of the demi-gods, that the children of the gods should not mate with wretched mortals, seeing their fate with their own eyes; but that the blessed gods henceforth even as aforetime should have their living and their habitations apart from men. But on those who were born of immortals and of mankind verily Zeus laid toil and sorrow upon sorrow" (II: 2-13).
Hesiod's account is almost Old-Testament-I'll-Flood-The-World-and-Destroy-Everyone in its tone, but both of the texts make it clear that Zeus had a plan to rid the world of a good portion of its population, be they demigods and their children, or just men in general. From this perspective, Paris, Helen, Menelaus -- they were simply expedient tools to bring about this master plan. A plan that it seems, when taking into account the events of  The Iliad, the other gods and goddesses weren't necessarily privy to. It also makes Zeus into a fantastic puppet master, or grants him a level of omniscience we don't often associate with the Olympian gods.

However the Trojan War came about, it was devastating. Not just for Troy, but for the Greeks as well. And in my opinion, it seems the perfect mythic explanation for the Greek Dark Ages, which followed. And what's a better story to tell around the hearth than one with a mess of  meddling by the gods?

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Long before she ran away with Paris to Troy, Helen of Sparta was haunted by nightmares of a burning city under siege. These dreams foretold impending war—a war that only Helen has the power to avert. To do so, she must defy her family and betray her betrothed by fleeing the palace in the dead of night. In need of protection, she finds shelter and comfort in the arms of Theseus, son of Poseidon. With Theseus at her side, she believes she can escape her destiny. But at every turn, new dangers—violence, betrayal, extortion, threat of war—thwart Helen’s plans and bar her path. Still, she refuses to bend to the will of the gods.

A new take on an ancient myth, Helen of Sparta is the story of one woman determined to decide her own fate.

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