Paris: The Ill-Fated Prince of Troy

When one thinks of Greek mythology, the mind often wanders to the Trojan prince Paris, known for his fateful decisions. He, whose choices set the stage for the legendary Trojan War, is a figure of both romance and tragedy. But who was Paris, really? 

Paris Key Facts

ParentsPriam and Hecuba
PartnersHelen of Sparta, Oenone
SiblingsHector, Cassandra, and many others
OffspringCorythus
Other namesAlexander
Roman nameParis
Best Known MythAbduction of Helen and Judgment of Paris

Name and Etymology

Paris, also known as Alexander, is a name that resonates with love, tragedy, and war. Some say it might be related to the Luwian word “Pariya”, meaning “young man”. His other name, Alexander, is more straightforward, stemming from the Greek “Alexandros”, which means “defender of the people”. This name, however, seems ironic given the catastrophic war he inadvertently initiated. The Romans, ever the fans of Greek culture, kept his name unchanged, simply calling him Paris.

Helene Paris David
Jacques-Louis David, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Paris’ Family and Relationships

Born to King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy, Paris’ entrance into the world was marked by omens and prophecies. Before his birth, Hecuba dreamt of a flaming torch, symbolizing her unborn son, which set Troy ablaze. This vision led to a prophecy that Paris would be the city’s downfall. In an attempt to prevent this fate, he was left on Mount Ida to perish. However, destiny had other plans. Rescued by shepherds, he grew up amidst nature, unaware of his royal blood.

As Paris matured, his romantic life became as complex as his early years. His first known love was the nymph Oenone. Their passionate affair bore fruit in the form of a son, Corythus. However, as fate would have it, their love was not meant to last. Paris’ heart soon became ensnared by another: Helen of Sparta. Their illicit love affair is the stuff of legends. It would eventually lead to the decade-long Trojan War. Helen’s husband, Menelaus, felt the sharp sting of betrayal. With allies like Agamemnon, and Achilles, he sought to reclaim his wife and punish Troy.

While Paris is often remembered for his love affairs and the war they incited, his family ties run deep. His bond with his siblings, especially his brave brother Hector and prophetic sister Cassandra, played a significant role, both in his life and the events of the Trojan War.

Myths about Paris

The life of Paris is intertwined with myths that not only shaped his destiny but also the fate of many heroes and the entire city of Troy. Let’s delve deeper into some of these tales.

The Judgment of Paris

In a celestial gathering, Eris, the goddess of discord, not being invited, spitefully threw a golden apple inscribed with “To the Fairest” into the midst. Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite all laid claim to this title. Zeus, not wanting to be embroiled in their dispute, appointed Paris, then a humble shepherd, as the judge. Each goddess attempted to sway his judgment with tempting offers. Hera promised him kingship over Asia, Athena offered wisdom and prowess in battle, but it was Aphrodite’s promise of the love of the world’s most beautiful woman, Helen, that won him over. This decision, as many of us know, set the stage for the Trojan War.

The Abduction of Helen

With Aphrodite’s blessing, Paris traveled to Sparta under the guise of diplomacy. There, he met Helen, the wife of King Menelaus. With the goddess’ influence, the two fell deeply in love. They fled to Troy, an act that was seen as a grave insult to Menelaus. This abduction, or elopement as some versions suggest, was the spark that ignited the flames of the Trojan War. Kings and heroes from across Greece rallied with Menelaus to retrieve Helen and punish Troy.

Duel with Menelaus

As the war raged on, it was proposed that Paris and Menelaus settle their dispute in single combat. With the winner getting Helen as the prize. The two met on the battlefield, with the armies of Troy and Greece as spectators. Paris, though brave, was no match for the seasoned Menelaus. However, just as Menelaus was about to deliver the final blow, Aphrodite whisked Paris away in a cloud. Thus, saving him from certain death. This act, however, did not end the war; instead, it intensified the conflict.

The Death of Achilles

Paris is often seen as less of a warrior compared to others like Hector. However, he did have his moments of valor. One of the most significant was his role in the death of the great Greek hero, Achilles. Guided by the god Apollo, Paris shot a poisoned arrow that struck Achilles in his only vulnerable spot, his heel. This act brought down one of Greece’s mightiest warriors, giving Troy a brief respite in the war.

The Death of Paris

As the Trojan War approached its end, the death of Paris became an inevitable reality that the gods had foreseen. Paris’ demise came at the hands of Philoctetes, a Greek hero and a formidable archer. The tale of Paris’ death is as much about his own fate as it is about the redemption of Philoctetes, who had been sidelined for much of the war due to a grievous wound.

The confrontation between Paris and Philoctetes was swift, yet it carried the weight of destiny. With a well-aimed shot, Philoctetes’ arrow found its mark, piercing Paris. The poison on the arrow ensured that Paris’ end was near. As Paris lay dying, he was carried to the chamber of Oenone, his first love, who had the knowledge to heal him. However, bitter from his abandonment, Oenone refused to help. By the time she relented and rushed to his aid, it was too late. Paris had succumbed to his wounds, his life a tale of love, choices, and the inexorable hand of fate.

Thus, the death of Paris was not merely an act of vengeance by the Greeks, but a closure to the cycle of destiny that began with a golden apple. His death symbolized the impending doom of Troy, a city that had defied the mighty forces of Greece for a decade, but was now on the brink of destruction. Through the death of Paris, the saga of the Trojan War neared its tragic end, leaving behind tales of heroism, love, and the harsh consequences of choice.

Depiction And Characteristics

Paris is often portrayed as a handsome young man, embodying the very essence of youthful beauty and charm. He’s frequently shown with the golden apple, a symbol of his fateful judgment. While many admire his physical beauty, his character is a subject of debate. Some view him as a romantic, willing to risk it all for love. Others however, see him as a coward, especially when compared to his brave brother, Hector.

Representations Of Paris In Art

Throughout history, the tale of Paris and Helen has captivated artists. One of the most iconic depictions is “The Abduction of Helen” by Guido Reni. In it, Paris is shown as a passionate lover, whisking Helen away. 

Another notable piece is Rubens’ “The Judgment of Paris”, which captures the moment Paris awards the golden apple to Aphrodite. These artworks, among many others, showcase the allure and tragedy of Paris’ story.

Paris
Joseph Fran├žois Ducq, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Mentions in Ancient Texts

The tales of Paris have been immortalized in numerous ancient texts. Each offering a unique perspective on the prince and the events he set in motion.

The Iliad by Homer

Written around the 8th century BC, The Iliad is an epic poem by the legendary poet Homer. Indeed, often considered the cornerstone of ancient Greek literature. This work delves into the final weeks of the Trojan War, with Paris playing a pivotal role. Especially important to his story is his duel with Menelaus. Homer’s portrayal of Paris is complex, painting him both as a romantic figure and a source of Troy’s downfall.

Quote: “Paris, magnificent as a god, came to the forefront accompanied by a shepherd of his flocks, making light of it all, with his curved bow, his sword, and his two sharp spears that he could throw.”

The Aeneid by Virgil

Penned in the 1st century BC by the Roman poet Virgil, The Aeneid is a Latin epic that touches upon the aftermath of the Trojan War. While primarily focusing on the journey of Aeneas, a Trojan hero, the shadow of Paris’ actions and their consequences loom large throughout the narrative. Virgil, being Roman, offers a slightly different perspective on the events, weaving them into the larger tapestry of Rome’s mythical origins.

Metamorphoses by Ovid

Ovid, a Roman poet from the early 1st century AD, penned Metamorphoses, a narrative poem that covers the creation of the world to the deification of Julius Caesar. Within its vast scope, Ovid touches upon the story of Paris and Helen, offering a more romanticized version of their love affair. Ovid’s poetic flair brings a unique charm to the tale, emphasizing the irresistible pull of love.

Quote: “Golden Venus stood naked on the shoreline and the hero Paris could hardly bear to look for the brilliance of her beauty.”

Posthomerica by Quintus Smyrnaeus

A lesser-known work, Posthomerica, was written in the 4th century AD by Quintus Smyrnaeus. This epic poem picks up where Homer’s Iliad left off. It is filling in the gaps of the Trojan War’s story until the fall of Troy. Paris’ role, and especially his involvement in the death of Achilles, is given ample attention. Providing insights into his final days and the ultimate fate of Troy.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who did Paris choose as the fairest goddess?

Paris chose Aphrodite as the fairest, leading to the events of the Trojan War.

With whom did Paris elope, causing the Trojan War?

He eloped with Helen of Sparta, sparking the decade-long conflict.

How did Paris die?

Paris was mortally wounded in battle by an arrow from the bow of Philoctetes.

Was Paris a warrior or a lover?

Mostly known for his love affair, Paris did participate in battles during the Trojan War. However, he wasn’t as renowned a warrior as others.

Who was Paris’ first love?

Before Helen, Paris was in love with the nymph Oenone.

Did Paris have any children?

Yes, with Oenone, he had a son named Corythus.

Featured Image Credit: Alessandro Turchi, CC0 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Evangelia

Evangelia Hatzitsinidou is the creator and author of www.greek-gods.info which has been merged with Olympioi.com. She has been writing about Greek Mythology for almost twenty years. A native to Greece, she teaches and lives just outside Athens.