Paris was a child of King Priam and Queen Hekuba. Just before his birth, his mother dreamed that she gave birth to a flaming torch. This dream was interpreted by the seer Aesacus as a foretelling of the downfall of Troy, and he declared that the child would be the ruin of his homeland. On the day of Paris's birth it was further announced by Aesacus that the child born of a royal Trojan that day would have to be killed to spare the kingdom, being the child that would bring about the prophecy. Though Paris was indeed born before nightfall, he was spared by Priam; Hecuba, too, was unable to kill the child, despite the urging of the priestess of Apollo, one Herophile. Instead, Paris's father prevailed upon his chief herdsman, Agelaus, to remove the child and kill him. The herdsman, unable to use a weapon against the infant, left him exposed on Mount Ida, hoping he would perish there; he was, however, suckled by a she-bear. Returning after nine days, Agelaus was astonished to find the child still alive, and brought him home in a backpack (πήρα, hence Paris's name, which means "backpack") to rear as his own. He returned to Priam bearing a dog's tongue as evidence of the deed's completion.
Paris's noble birth was betrayed by his outstanding beauty and intelligence; while still a child he routed a gang of cattle-thieves and restored the animals they had stolen to the herd, thereby earning the surname Alexander ("protector of men") It was at this time that Oenone became Paris's first lover. She was a nymph from Mount Ida in Phrygia. Her father was Kebren, a river-god (other sources declare her to be the daughter of Oeneus). She was skilled in the arts of prophecy and medicine, which she had been taught by Rhea and Apollo respectively. When Paris later left her for Helen, she told him that if he ever was wounded, he should come to her for she could heal any injury, even the most serious wounds.
Paris's chief distraction at this time was to pit Agelaus's bulls against one another. One bull began to win these bouts consistently, and Paris began to set it against rival herdsmen's own prize bulls; it defeated them all. Finally Paris offered a golden crown to any bull that could defeat his champion. Ares responded to this challenge by transforming himself into a bull and easily winning the contest. Paris gave the crown to Ares without hesitation; it was this apparent honesty in judgment that prompted the gods of Olympus to have Paris arbitrate the divine contest between Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena.
The Judgment of Paris
In celebration of the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, Lord Zeus, father of the Greek pantheon, hosted a banquet on Mount Olympus. Every deity and demi-god had been invited, except Eris, the goddess of strife and discord (no one wanted a troublemaker at a wedding). For revenge, Eris threw the golden Apple of Discord inscribed with the word "Kallisti" — "For the fairest" — into the party, provoking a squabble among the attendant goddesses over for whom it had been meant.
The goddesses thought to be the most beautiful were Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite and each one claimed the apple. They started a quarrel so they asked Zeus to choose one of them. Knowing that choosing any of them would bring him the hatred of the other two, Zeus did not want to take part in the decision. He thus appointed Paris to select the most beautiful. Escorted by Hermes, the three goddesses bathed in the spring of Mount Ida and approached Paris as he herded his cattle. Paris could not decide, as all three were ideally beautiful, so the goddesses attempted to bribe him to choose among them - Hera offered ownership of all of Europe and Asia; Athena offered skill in battle, wisdom and the abilities of the greatest warriors; and Aphrodite offered the love of the most beautiful woman on Earth, Helen of Sparta. Paris chose Aphrodite— and, therefore, Helen.
Helen was already married to King Menelaus of Sparta (a fact Aphrodite neglected to mention), so Paris had to raid Menelaus's house to steal Helen from him (according to some accounts, she fell in love with Paris and left willingly). The Greeks' expedition to retrieve Helen from Paris in Troy is the mythological basis of the Trojan War. This triggered the war because Helen was famous for her beauty throughout Achaea (ancient Greece), and had many suitors of extraordinary ability. Therefore, following Odysseus's advice, her father Tyndareus made all suitors promise to defend Helen's marriage to the man he chose for her. When she disappeared to Troy, Menelaus invoked this oath. Helen's other suitors—who between them represented the lion's share of Achaea's strength, wealth and military prowess—were obligated to help bring her back. Thus, the whole of Greece moved against Troy in force. The Trojan War had begun.
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