Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

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But all Minerva’s and Juno’s charms and bribes were forgotten when Venus, in her magic cestus, appeared before the judge. This artful simplicity was the result of much thought, for we are told that

Venus oft with anxious care
Adjusted twice a single hair.”

Then, trembling lest her efforts should prove vain, she gently drew near the youth, and softly promised him a bride as fair as herself, in return for the coveted golden apple.

Won either by her superior attractions or by her alluring bribe, Paris no longer hesitated, but placed the prize in her extended palm.

“Ere yet her speech was finished, he consign’d
To her soft hand the fruit of burnished rind;
And foam-born Venus grasp’d the graceful meed,
Of war, of evil war, the quickening seed.”
Coluthus (Elton’s tr.).

This act of partiality, of course, called down upon him the wrath and hatred of Juno and Minerva, who, biding their time, watched for a suitable opportunity to avenge themselves; while Venus, triumphant, and anxious to redeem her promise, directed Paris to return to Troy, make himself known to his parents,—who, the goddess promised, would welcome him warmly,—and obtain from them a fleet in which he might sail to Greece.

Refer to caption

PARIS. (Vatican, Rome.)

In obedience to these instructions, Paris ruthlessly abandoned the fair and faithful Œnone, and, joining a band of youthful shepherds, went to Troy, under pretext of witnessing a solemn [310] festival. There he took part in the athletic games, distinguished himself, and attracted the attention of his sister Cassandra.

Paris’ return to Troy.

This princess was noted for her beauty, and it is said had even been wooed by Apollo, who, hoping to win her favor, bestowed upon her the gift of prophecy. For some reason the god’s suit had not prospered; and, as he could not take back the power conferred, he annulled it by making her hearers refuse to credit her words.

Cassandra immediately called her parents’ attention to the extraordinary likeness Paris bore to her other brothers; and then, breaking out into a prophetic strain, she foretold that he would bring destruction upon his native city. Priam and Hecuba, scorning her prophecy, joyfully received their long-lost son, lovingly compelled him to take up his abode in their palace, and promised to atone for their past neglect by granting his every wish.

Paris sails for Greece.

Still advised by Venus, Paris soon expressed a desire to sail for Greece, under the pretext of rescuing Hesione, his father’s sister, whom Hercules had carried off, after besieging Troy. He was promptly provided with several well-manned galleys, and soon after appeared at the court of Menelaus, King of Sparta, whose young wife, Helen, was the most beautiful woman of her time, if we are to believe the testimony of her contemporaries.

“Full threescore girls, in sportive flight we stray’d,
Like youths anointing, where along the glade
The baths of cool Eurotas limpid play’d.
But none, of all, with Helen might compare,
Nor one seem’d faultless of the fairest fair.
As morn, with vermeil visage, looks from high,
When solemn night has vanish’d suddenly;
When winter melts, and frees the frozen hours,
And spring’s green bough is gemm’d with silvery flowers:
So bloom’d the virgin Helen in our eyes,
With full voluptuous limbs, and towering size:
[311] In shape, in height, in stately presence fair,
Straight as a furrow gliding from the share;
A cypress of the gardens, spiring high,
A courser in the cars of Thessaly.
So rose-complexion’d Helen charm’d the sight;
Our Sparta’s grace, our glory, and delight.”
Theocritus (Elton’s tr.).