|The Wedding of Peleus and Thetis by Cornelius van Haarlem|
I have always been interested in connections and causes: and in the following weeks I will be exploring the main events that led up to the Trojan War.
You could say, then, that it began with an apple. A golden apple, thrown down onto the grass during the wedding of the sea-goddess Thetis, and her mortal husband, Peleus. Thetis had not wanted to marry Peleus: but he had grappled with her as she changed forms, like Proteus, from snake to fire and back again; and so the gods were called, and the wedding celebrations began.
But in the bustle of preparations - one could not say, necessarily, that they were happy - Peleus and Thetis forgot to invite one god. The original wicked fairy, Eris, the goddess of strife, was passed over. The gods, careless, feasted and drank, and gods can feast and drink with the best of them. One guest - a young nymph, perhaps, yawning as she longed for her bed, unable to leave before her divine mistress decided it was time to go - picked up something pretty and golden that had rolled towards her feet.
It was an apple, gleaming and golden, and on it were inscribed the words: “To the most beautiful.”
Goddesses are not known for their modesty. Dignities will be stood upon, privileges invoked. The minor goddesses and nymphs bowed out of the way, as, flashing to the fore, the queen of the goddesses herself stood forwards. Two peacocks pecked at her feet; a diadem flashed upon her forehead; proud and haughty she did not even have to glance at her husband Zeus, the king of the gods, as she knew that he would give the apple to her.
But her husband hesitated. And what was this - Aphrodite, the goddess of love, in a dress embroidered with dolphins, long hair falling down her white arms, was looking as if she might have an interest in the matter. And even Athene - so dear to Zeus’s heart, having sprung out of his own head - was adjusting her helmet and looking at herself in the reflected sheen of her warrior’s shield. Concealed behind a nearby tree, Eris watched all, and laughed. She had picked the apple herself, and had inscribed those fatal words with her long fingernails. She lazily picked up a grape from a bunch held by an attendant, and strolled off, delighted with the conflict she had caused.
Zeus, looking at his wife, his daughter and the primal goddess of love, could not bear to be the judge. Choosing between these three mighty goddesses would bring untold strife to the calm mansions of Olympos. Zeus was not a god who enjoyed conflict, and, although he was not necessarily known for his tact, did tend to spend rather a lot of time mopping up after his own mistakes. Sighing - because he, after all, knew what was going to happen, even if nobody else did - he decreed that a mortal man would be found who would be arbiter; and he, Zeus, would wash his hands of it, and go back to enjoying his wine with Ganymede.
Laughter began again in the wedding, and the guests returned to their carousing, glad that the strife had been put off - for now. Peleus and Thetis were joined in marriage beneath the leaves of a broad oak; and the Fates, who were attendant in their white robes, spinning, whispered of the son that would be born to them: the mightiest warrior of all the Greeks: Achilles. The three goddesses retired; and plotted.
NEXT WEEK: The Judgement of Paris
THE ARROW OF APOLLO is a novel that takes place after the fall of Troy. Have a look at the funding page on Unbound here.