The Judgment of Paris, Enrique Simonet (1904)
A Fable in the Assembling Terrania Cycle
Young Paris made an impulsive decision; the result was the Trojan War. What might a mature man have done instead?
One day late in the spring a teller of tales was out walking in the hills alone. Twists of scrub and sandy ditches wound around ridges of rock. Goats grazed. It was here, Heaven decided, that the trap would be sprung.
Upon rounding a shoulder of stone he beheld a sight that nearly overwhelmed his startled senses.
Three mighty goddesses stood squarely in his path. So bright was the glorious glow given off by their faces and robes and hands that he could scarcely keep his footing. He halted.
When his sight had returned somewhat, he bowed courteously to these three. But he did not kneel.
Hera spoke first, as befitted the Queen of Heaven:
“Greetings, O reweaver of ancient stories,” she intoned, her voice causing the ground to tremble slightly below his feet. “We are here to make you an offer no mortal could refuse.” She handed him an object he had to squint at to make out: the reddest, fullest, most perfect apple he had ever seen.
“You,” Hera went on, “will give this apple to the most beautiful of the three of us. It is your decision. We will now speak on our own behalf.”
Drawing herself up, she said, “If you choose me, I will give you power and influence.”
Aphrodite let her robe slip slightly. “I will give you the most beautiful woman in the world,” she murmured, turning one perfectly shaped leg slightly outward.
Athena spoke last. “I will give you unconquerable wisdom,” she said as the sunlight shone blindingly on her breastplate. Her voice recalled that of a bugle.
The storyteller thought for a moment, then addressed them in the same order:
“Hera, I know the power you offer me is not the vulgar kind, for you stand for more than your Lady Macbeth-like shadow. You are Sacred Marriage, Holy Commitment, and Fidelity in all things. I cannot refuse that.”
To Aphrodite he replied, “The gods themselves could not resist your charms, for your beauty and grace are what make existence worthwhile. No man breathing could deflect what you offer. I won’t even try.”
To Athena: “What teller of tales could refuse the gift of wisdom? No more could I, who am so poor in it despite all my years of tongue-wagging.”
Remembering fallen Troy, he then said to the three:
“Because you have placed me on the horns of such a dilemma, I exercise my right—for to challenge the gods is a human prerogative—to raise the stakes still higher by meeting you with a counter-offer. It is this:
“If I resolve the dilemma, then I claim a gift from each of you, the friendship of all of you, and the enmity of none of you. Do you agree?”
“We agree,” they said in unison, a lovely-terrible choir.
“Very well. Before I proceed, I would like to name the gifts. From you, queenly Hera, I require the gift of your good counsel in every gathering I assemble that meets with your approval. Beyond this, your signal when the inevitable befalls me and I fail to be a good leader.” Hera nodded, her shoulders straightening her robe of interwoven stars.
“From you, beautiful Aphrodite, I require the gift of reminders to appreciate the lovely moments I encounter, and your momentary frown at the ones I bypass forgetfully.” Aphrodite nodded, her hips brushing against a strip of fabric like unto silver mist.
“From you, wise Athena, I require the gift of discernment of every opportunity to add to what little wisdom I now possess, and your admonitory trumpet call when I fail to learn what I need to know.” Athena nodded, the butt of her spear scraping slightly against an armored instep.
“Very well,” said the storyteller, drawing in a deep breath. “The way out of a dilemma is to take it firmly by the horns—or to be more exact, to take it deep within and digest it.”
With that, he ate the apple.
Respecting its status as a token of marriage, its sweetness as its juice bathed his tongue, and its symbolization of knowledge taken within, he ate slowly, relishing every bite, and gained three mollified goddesses as his teachers.