Adapted by Doug Muder, used in the service “Is There a Western Path to Enlightenment?“
Once upon a time the gods were planning a big party, and one of them said, “Whatever you do, don’t invite Eris. She’s the Goddess of Discord and she always makes trouble.”
Well, Eris wasn’t supposed to hear that, but she did. And she said, “They’re worried about me causing trouble, are they? I’ll show them what causes trouble.”
So she sat down and created the Apple of Desire, which was made of gold and was the most beautiful thing in the whole world. Just looking at this apple made you want to have it and keep it for your own and not share it with anybody. And she put an inscription on the apple, which said, “This belongs to the most beautiful goddess.”
Well, the day of the party came and Eris didn’t get an invitation, so she waited until the music was playing and the party was going really strong. And she stood outside the door and rolled the apple in.
As soon as the gods and goddesses saw the apple, everybody wanted it. But then they read the inscription and knew that the apple should go to the most beautiful goddess. But who was the most beautiful goddess?
Athena, who was Goddess of Wisdom and should have known better, grabbed for the apple and said, “It’s mine, because nothing is more beautiful than Wisdom.”
Then Hera grabbed the apple away from her and said, “I’m the Queen of the Gods, and nothing is more beautiful than Power, so the apple belongs to me.”
And Aphrodite tried to take the apple, saying, “I get it, because I’m Goddess of Love and nothing is more beautiful than Love.”
They kept pushing and pulling and grabbing the apple away from each other, and the whole party was about to turn into a riot, when Zeus, the King of the Gods yelled for everybody to be quiet and sit down and stop fighting over this apple. And everyone said, “OK, then, you decide who gets it.”
Well, Zeus took one look at Athena and Hera and Aphrodite, and he knew he did not want to get into the middle of this. So he said, “I know a handsome young man named Paris. He’s a good judge of beauty, so why don’t we let him decide.”
So that’s what they did. They went to see Paris and Zeus gave him the apple and told him to give it to whichever of the three goddess was the most beautiful. That’s how Paris came to hold the world’s first beauty pageant. He put the goddesses through an evening gown competition and a talent competition and a swimsuit competition, and Paris kept making up more and more events, because he was really enjoying being the judge of three goddesses, and he didn’t want it to be over.
Finally Athena realized that the only way this was going to end was if one of the goddesses bribed Paris into giving her the apple. So she said, “If you give the apple to me, I can make you the smartest person in the whole world.”
Paris thought that sounded pretty good, and he was about to give Athena the apple when Hera said, “If you give me the apple, I can give you a kingdom and make your armies unbeatable so that you’ll conquer the whole world.”
Paris thought that sounded really good, and he was about to hand the apple to Hera when Aphrodite said, “If you give me the apple I can make the most beautiful woman in the world fall in love with you.”
And Paris said, “I don’t know. King of the World has a real ring to it.”
But Aphrodite said, “Look.” And she showed Paris a vision of Helen of Sparta, the most beautiful woman in the world.
Well, Paris took one look and said, “Here’s your apple.” So Aphrodite transported Paris to Sparta and made Helen fall in love with him, and they ran away to the city of Troy, where Paris’ father was king.
Now, by choosing Aphrodite, Paris did exactly the same thing the goddesses had done: Namely, he saw something he wanted and just grabbed for it without stopping to think. He didn’t think about whether it might be wrong to make somebody fall in love with him, or what might happen next.
One of things he didn’t think about was that Helen was already married to a powerful king. And the brother of the powerful king was an even more powerful king. Between the two of them, they raised a huge army and went off to fight a war to get Helen back.
It was a terrible war. It lasted ten years and in the end Troy was burned to the ground. Paris got killed, and even the three goddesses didn’t come out ahead, because some of their temples were destroyed in the fire. So this story doesn’t have a happy ending for anybody, except maybe Eris.
Because she had made her point. She proved to the gods that nobody makes trouble for you. You make trouble for yourself when you grab what you want without thinking.