Paris, also known as Alexander, is a figure from Greek mythology who is most famous for his role in the events leading up to the Trojan War. He was a prince of Troy, the son of King Priam and Queen Hecuba.
Paris’s story begins with a prophecy. Before his birth, Hecuba dreamed that she gave birth to a flaming torch that destroyed Troy. The seers interpreted this as a sign that her son would be the downfall of the city, so when Paris was born, Priam ordered a servant to abandon the infant on Mount Ida. However, the servant couldn’t bring himself to leave the child to die and instead gave him to a shepherd. Paris grew up among the shepherd’s family, ignorant of his royal lineage.
Paris is perhaps best known for his role in the “Judgement of Paris.” Presented with a golden apple by the goddess Eris, with the inscription “to the fairest,” he was asked to choose between Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite to decide who was the most beautiful. Each goddess tried to influence his decision with promises: Hera offered him power, Athena wisdom and prowess in war, and Aphrodite the love of the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris chose Aphrodite, thus earning the enmity of Hera and Athena.
The “most beautiful woman,” as it turned out, was Helen of Sparta, who was already married to King Menelaus. Paris either seduced or abducted Helen (the myths vary on this point) and brought her back to Troy. This act triggered the Trojan War, as the Greeks launched a massive expedition to retrieve Helen.
Paris participated in the war, but was not typically portrayed as a heroic character. In fact, he often avoided combat, a notable exception being his slaying of the Greek hero Achilles with a shot to the heel. However, this act was often attributed more to the guiding hand of Apollo than to Paris’s skill.
Paris was ultimately killed near the end of the war. Depending on the version of the story, he was either killed in combat by the hero Philoctetes, who had inherited Heracles’s bow and arrows, or was mortally wounded and abandoned by his former lover, the nymph Oenone, whom he had left for Helen and who could have healed him.