"Eris the goddess of strife was offended that she had not been invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. In revenge, she threw down a golden apple inscribed with the words 'to the fairest', knowing that this would cause an argument amongst the other goddesses. Aphrodite, Hera and Athena all asked Zeus to decide to whom the apple belonged. Zeus did not want to cause any more trouble. He knew that by choosing one of the goddesses he would incur the resentment of the other two. Instead he decided that the mortal Paris should decide.
All three goddesses appeared before Paris. All three goddesses promised Paris different prizes if he picked them. Aphrodite promised him the most beautiful woman in the world. This woman was Helen, the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta. Aphrodite made Helen fall in love with Paris. The couple ran off together. Menelaus called together his allies in Greece. They set off to recapture Helen. The resulting war lasted for ten years."
Judgment of Paris
I know of three illustrations Blake made of Greek mythology, all for Homer's Iliad or Odyssey : The Judgment of Paris, Philoctetes and Neoptolemus at Lemnos, and The Sea of Time and Space. Although Blake frequently used ideas and images from Greek Mythology embedded in his poetry he rarely illustrated Greek myths as he often did illustrate Milton's poetry. But we can judge from his illustrations to the works of Milton, Bunyan and Dante that he intended to do more than portray scenes as written by others. To use a phrase coined by Irene Langridge he intended to present a 'spiritual parable.' It is our job to discern the meaning which has been added to the original conception.
Something of what Blake intimated by portraying the Judgment of Paris results from the scene having taken place at the marriage of Thetis, a sea goddess, and Peleus, a human. The strife which originated at that marriage feast is similar to the strife which originated at the nuptial feast of Los and Enitharmon. Discord over the selection of the most beautiful goddess by Paris led to the Trojan war. What was to be a nuptial feast for Los and Enitharmom became the occasion for confirmation of the division of the inner being from its outer manifestation. The war which ensued saw Enitharmon in the camp of Urizen and Los struggling to maintain the vision of the Eternal.
In the Four Zoas the nuptial feast of Los and Enitharmon is also the feast of mortality and the introduction of the principal of duality. The strife which is introduced is taken up by the demons of the deep who sing the song of war.
The symptoms of strife which follow the fateful feast are indicated by these words which occur in the subsequent passage: Scorn & Indignation, Revenge, pride, compell, discontent & scorn, Wailing, dread, cruelty and Slaughter. Just as the Judgment of Paris set in motion forces which broke the harmony which allied the Greek City States, the events associated with the nuptial feast propelled the disruption among the Zoas. It was far easier to start a war by an unconscious action than it was to bring it to a resolution.
In her 1904 book William Blake: A Study of His Life and Art Work, Irene Landridge commented on Blake's Judgment of Paris:
"I must notice a very fine and highly-finished water-colour, called “The Judgment of Paris.” The subject was a congenial one to Blake, who entertained the most original notions about classic legend and literature.
'The Artist (Blake) having been taken in vision into the ancient republics, monarchies, and patriachates of Asia, has seen those wonderful originals called in the sacred scriptures the Cherubim, which were sculptured and painted on walls of temples, towers, cities, palaces, and erected in the highly-cultivated States of Egypt, Moab, Eden, Arum among the rivers of Paradise—being the originals from which the Greeks and Hetruvians copied Hercules Farnese, Venus of Medicis, Apollo Belvedere, and all the grand works of ancient art.
No man can believe that either Homer’s Mythology or Ovid’s was the production of Greece or Latium; neither will anyone believe that the Greek statues, as they are called, were the invention of Greek artists; perhaps the Torso is the only original work remaining, all the rest being evidently copies, though fine ones, from the greater works of the Asiatic patriarchs. The Greek muses are daughters of Mnemosyne or Memory, and not of Inspiration or Imagination, therefore not authors of such sublime conceptions.' Descriptive Catalog, (E 531)
In this ingenious way did Blake seek to justify his admiration for the old pagan art, the old pagan mythology. They were recollections of symbols and ideas given by God to the ancient patriarchs of the Old Testament, and from them had filtered through to the civilization of Greece and Rome. To Blake it all amounted to this, “God hath not left Himself without witnesses,” and he vehemently protested against any race, age, or religion arrogating to itself the authorship of ideas which should only be ascribed to God.
So that the “Judgment of Paris” is treated like the biblical subjects, as a spiritual parable. When the apple of desire is given to mere sensual beauty instead of to moral or intellectual beauty, Love, the winged spirit, flies away, and Discord, the malformed demon, arrives. The three goddesses’ forms, delicate as reeds, pure as Blake’s austere imagination, and modelled with tender care for their lovely limbs, hands and faces, awaken in us a great wonder at the technique he could command when he chose."
Four Zoas, Night I, Page 13, (E 308) "But purple night and crimson morning & golden day descending Thro' the clear changing atmosphere display'd green fields among The varying clouds, like paradises stretch'd in the expanse With towns & villages and temples, tents sheep-folds and pastures Where dwell the children of the elemental worlds in harmony, Not long in harmony they dwell, their life is drawn away And wintry woes succeed; successive driven into the Void Where Enion craves: successive drawn into the golden feast And Los & Enitharmon sat in discontent & scorn The Nuptial Song arose from all the thousand thousand spirits Over the joyful Earth & Sea, and ascended into the Heavens For Elemental Gods their thunderous Organs blew; creating Delicious Viands. Demons of Waves their watry Eccho's woke! Bright Souls of vegetative life, budding and blossoming PAGE 14 Stretch their immortal hands to smite the gold & silver Wires And with immortal Voice soft warbling fill all Earth & Heaven. With doubling Voices & loud Horns wound round sounding Cavernous dwellers fill'd the enormous Revelry, Responsing! And Spirits of Flaming fire on high, govern'd the mighty Song. And This the Song! sung at The Feast of Los & Enitharmon"
Four Zoas, Night 1, Page 16, (E 309) "They melt the bones of Vala, & the bones of Luvah into wedges The innumerable sons & daughters of Luvah closd in furnaces Melt into furrows. winter blows his bellows: ice & Snow Tend the dire anvils. Mountains mourn & Rivers faint & fail There is no City nor Corn-field nor Orchard! all is Rock & Sand There is no Sun nor Moon nor Star. but rugged wintry rocks Justling together in the void suspended by inward fires Impatience now no longer can endure. Distracted Luvah Bursting forth from the loins of Enitharmon, Thou fierce Terror Go howl in vain, Smite Smite his fetters Smite O wintry hammers Smite Spectre of Urthona, mock the fiend who drew us down From heavens of joy into this Deep. Now rage but rage in vain Thus Sang the Demons of the Deep. the Clarions of War blew loud The Feast redounds & Crownd with roses & the circling vine The Enormous Bride & Bridegroom sat, beside them Urizen With faded radiance sighd, forgetful of the flowing wine And of Ahania his Pure Bride but She was distant far But Los & Enitharmon sat in discontent & scorn Craving the more the more enjoying, drawing out sweet bliss From all the turning wheels of heaven & the chariots of the Slain At distance Far in Night repelld. in direful hunger craving Summers & Winters round revolving in the frightful deep."