Looking around the Musee d’Orsay on Saturday last, I came across several works of art based on various Greek myths. I’m not really surprised given that most Greek myths centre around the theme of love and beauty. And who doesn’t like to talk of these two?
Of all the myths I’ve read, I find the Judgement of Paris the most fascinating. Haven’t heard of the story? Let me tell you.
One day, three Greek goddesses had an argument on who was the most beautiful of them all. Hera, the Goddess of Wealth and the wife of Zeus, Nike, the Goddess of Victory and Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. Unable to agree upon a judgement, they invited Paris, the most handsome man in the the world to judge. These women, being women, each offered Paris a bribe to judge her the most beautiful. Hera offered him all the wealth of the world. Nike offered to make him the invincible ruler of the world. But Aphrodite, offered him the love of the world’s most beautiful woman, Helen of Troy.
Paris, being a normal man of course, accepted Aphrodite’s gift and judged her the most beautiful. And thus started one of the most destructive wars in history: the Trojan War. For wasn’t Helen’s the face that launched a thousand ships?
Love has been a powerful theme in art throughout its history. Who doesn’t love a good love story? And if it involves lust, intrigue, murder and war, even better.
What makes love such a powerful emotion? What makes people do things for love that they would never otherwise do? What makes them forget the rules of right and wrong, of social mores and of moral values and pursue something to the end of their lives? Is it really love? Or is it something more basic? Lust perhaps? Or perhaps it is a need for validation. Or maybe it’s none of the above. Maybe it’s just what the heart wants.
Did Paris really believe that by abducting the wife of another there would be no repercussion? Or did he not care about the repercussions? Did the love of Helen really mean so much that was willing to put his country, his family and his own life on the line?
We can never get completely satisfying answers to any of these questions. But, we are human and therefore not infallible. If there is one thing that makes us weak like no other, it is love, especially the forbidden kind. But great love is also great art. As is great tragedy. And by loving without reservations, we open our souls out to great achievement. And perhaps heartbreak as well. But, that’s really part of the game isn’t it?