2020.03.13 | By Gregory Nagy
§0. In the previous two posts, Classical Inquiries 2020.02.28 and 2020.03.06, I analyzed the idea of trifunctionality in the myth about the Judgment of Paris, especially with reference to the version of this myth as retold in Homeric poetry, at Iliad 24.25–30. In my analysis, I followed the formulation of Georges Dumézil in his book Mythe et épopee I (originally published in 1968), who shows that the goddesses Hērā, Athena, and Aphrodite are representatives of the first, second, and third “functions” of society: (1) sovereignty, (2) warfare, and (3) “reproductivity” or, to say it more simply, (3) fertility. As we saw, the hero Paris praised the goddess Aphrodite in her role as the representative of sexual pleasure—which is a vital aspect of the third function—and that he thus undervalued the first and the second functions of sovereignty and warfare as represented respectively by the goddesses Hērā and Athena. As we also saw, the act of praising Aphrodite required the commensurate act of insulting Hērā and Athena by way of blaming them. And so, in terms of the overall myth about the Judgment of Paris, the dysfunctionality of undervaluing Hērā and Athena by way of overvaluing Aphrodite resulted in disaster both for Paris and for his homeland of Troy. But now, in the post here for Classical Inquiries 2020.03.13, I draw attention to an afterthought of Dumézil about the Judgment of Paris as narrated in the Homeric verses I have already cited, Iliad 24.25–30. In terms of his afterthought, the myth about this judgment—and about the resulting disaster—is signaled not only in those verses. Rather, the Judgment of Paris is a grand epic theme that pervades the overall plot of the Iliad, visible especially in Rhapsodies 3, 4, 14, and 21. I will focus here on Rhapsody 14, which features an erotic scene where Hērā seduces her husband and brother Zeus on the heights of Mount Ida. The painting that I have chosen as illustration for this posting pictures the divine couple at the very moment when they begin to engage in an act of cosmic lovemaking.
[Essay continues here…