THE STORY: (30 minutes) Hermes, the messenger god, locates a “highly qualified” judge for a beauty contest between three powerful, vain and vindictive goddesses. One of the goddesses is cruising to what appears to be certain victory, until her competitors propose a “twist” on the contest rules. And our judge – a boy you already know – is suddenly confronted with a choice: political power, military glory, or some smokin’ hot … But you’ll have to tune in, if you want to find out exactly what happens.
THE COMMENTARY: (14 minutes; begins at 30:00) I begin the post-story commentary by acknowledging some of the “time line inconsistencies” inherent in this episode. Has it really taken Zeus eighteen years to find a judge for a beauty contest? I explore some of possible solutions to the time line problem, including: “look the other way and pretend it isn’t there”, and “employ Einstein’s theory of relativity to reason the problem away”. Eventually I give up and simply acknowledge that timeline problems are endemic to stories grounded in the oral tradition, or to stories penned by multiple authors working without central editorial oversight. I note that timeline inconsistencies are not unique to Greek epic, and cite by way of example the creation stories (both of them) in the book of Genesis.
I then turn to a discussion of The Judgment of Paris as a favourite subject of visual artists, from the time of Classical Greece to the present. I muse about why this work has been so consistently popular with artists, and decide it must be because: a) everybody already knows the story, and b) the artist gets to paint three really hot women in the nude (the women in the nude that is, though I suppose nudity might have been the artist’s aspirational outcome too?). I then spend some time “deconstructing” Rubens’ famous The Judgment of Paris painting (check out the RELATED IMAGES below). I note that the three Olympian goddesses are traditionally depicted in art accompanied by certain “props”, that offer viewers the necessary clues to figuring out who is who. Athena: a helmet, a shield with a monster’s head, and an owl to represent her wisdom. Hera: a peacock. And Aphrodite: accompanied by her son Eros – the “Valentine’s Day boy” if you will, complete with bow and quiver of “erotic arrows”. In any Judgement of Paris painting, I note, Aphrodite will always be the goddess in the most flagrantly sexual pose, as befits her status as goddess of lust and sexual passion.
Finally I conclude the post story commentary by relating the story of my teenage son’s response – “on first looking into Rubens’ Judgement”. My son found the goddesses in the painting shockingly “Rubenesque”, which led the two of us –father and son – into a long winded discussion (more of a lecture by father actually) on the culturally implicated and temporally transient nature of female beauty. And that’s where I wrapped things up. To test your skills in “goddess identification” check out Raphael’s “Judgement of Paris” painting, posted below. Have Fun.