Paris, Helen and Priam – The Unintended Outcome

The Priam Precept

These from Britannica On-line

Paris, also called Alexandros (Greek: “Defender”), in Greek legend, son of King Priam of Troy and his wife, Hecuba. A dream regarding his birth was interpreted as an evil portent, and he was consequently expelled from his family as an infant. Left for dead, he was either nursed by a bear or found by shepherds. He was raised as a shepherd, unknown to his parents. As a young man he entered a boxing contest at a Trojan festival, in which he defeated Priam’s other sons. After his identity was revealed, he was received home again by Priam.

The “judgment of Paris” was and continues to be a popular theme in art. According to legend, Paris, while he was still a shepherd, was chosen by Zeus to determine which of three goddesses was the most beautiful. Rejecting bribes of kingly power from Hera and military might from Athena, he chose Aphrodite and accepted her bribe to help him win the most beautiful woman alive. His seduction of Helen (the wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta) and refusal to return her was the cause of the Trojan War. During the war Paris seems to have had a secondary role: a good warrior but inferior to his brother Hector and to the Greek leaders whom he faced. Menelaus would have defeated Paris in single combat, but Aphrodite rescued him, and the war continued.

Near the end of the war, Paris shot the arrow that, by Apollo’s help, caused the death of the hero Achilles. Paris himself, soon after, received a fatal wound from an arrow shot by the rival archer Philoctetes.

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Helen of Troy, Greek Helene, in Greek legend, the most beautiful woman of Greece and the indirect cause of the Trojan War. She was daughter of Zeus, either by Leda or by Nemesis, and sister of the Dioscuri. As a young girl, she was carried off by Theseus, but she was rescued by her brothers. She was also the sister of Clytemnestra, who married Agamemnon. Helen’s suitors—including Odysseus—came from all parts of Greece, and from among them she chose Menelaus, Agamemnon’s younger brother. During an absence of Menelaus, however, Helen fled to Troy with Paris, son of the Trojan king Priam, an act that ultimately led to the Trojan War. When Paris was slain, Helen married his brother Deiphobus, whom she betrayed to Menelaus once Troy was captured. Menelaus and Helen then returned to Sparta, where they lived happily until their deaths.

According to a variant of the story, Helen, in widowhood, was driven out by her stepsons and fled to Rhodes, where she was hanged by the Rhodian queen Polyxo in revenge for the death of her husband, Tlepolemus, in the Trojan War. The poet Stesichorus, however, related in his second version of her story that she and Paris were driven ashore on the coast of Egypt and that Helen was detained there by King Proteus. The Helen carried on to Troy was thus a phantom, and the real one was recovered by her husband from Egypt after the war. This version of the story was used by Euripides in his play Helen.

Helen was worshipped and had a festival at Therapnae in Laconia; she also had a temple at Rhodes, where she was worshipped as Dendritis (the tree goddess). Like her brothers, the Dioscuri, she was a patron deity of sailors. Her name is pre-Hellenic and in cult may go back to the pre-Greek periods.

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Priam, in Greek mythology, the last king of Troy. He succeeded his father, Laomedon, as king and extended Trojan control over the Hellespont. He married first Arisbe (a daughter of Merops the seer) and then Hecuba, and he had other wives and concubines. He had 50 sons, according to Homer’s Iliad, and many daughters. Hecuba bore 19 of the sons, including Priam’s favourites, Hector and Paris.

Homer described Priam at the time of the Trojan War as an old man, powerless but kindly, not even blaming Helen, the wife of Paris, for all his personal losses resulting from the war. In the final year of the conflict, Priam saw 13 sons die: the Greek warrior Achilles killed Polydorus, Lycaon, and Hector within one day. The death of Hector, which signified the end of Troy’s hopes, also broke the spirit of the king. Priam’s paternal love impelled him to brave the savage anger of Achilles and to ransom the corpse of Hector; Achilles, respecting the old man’s feelings and foreseeing his own father’s sorrows, returned the corpse. When Troy fell, Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles, butchered the old king on an altar. Both Priam’s death and his ransoming of Hector were favourite themes of ancient art.

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Priam pleading for the return of Hector. He was accompanied there by Hermes hence the Caduceus.

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In response to a dream, a bad omen, concerning his son Paris, Priam unleashed a causal chain of events which he was hoping to avoid. These events lead to the death of many of Priam’s sons and to Priam himself at the falling of Troy. In trying to avoid a possible fate he precipitated it. If Paris had not become a shepherd boy, would he have been chosen by Zeus and tempted by Aphrodite? There was an unintended outcome to the expulsion of Paris.

Yet the omen was fulfilled.

It is not a good idea to try to avoid your fate.

This is the message

I read the Iliad and the Odyssey in translation and in full in the summer of 1999 on the island of Crete. I was on baby watching duty while the ex-wife was attending a Tai Chi retreat.

It was hot.

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