Just Another Effin' Observer

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Location: Huntsville, Texas, United States

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Of Golden Apples and Golden Hair

While cleaning out a closet the other day, I found an old book, which, given that 'words on paper' thing (if it's words, and it's printed on paper, then it's a moral imperative), I started reading, and suddenly found myself transported back in time to the days of my dissipated youth (which actually includes my last birthday, but that's a topic for another day); remembering two fine gold chains, from which were suspended two gold charms, in the shape of an apple; an apple with the word KALLISTI engraved upon it. I wondered whether those gold chains still encircled two slender necks, whether they still occasionally got entangled in long blonde hair. I had a profound weakness for blondes in those days, one of many weaknesses I had back then, some of which I eventually outgrew. Two tales of bittersweet romance, painful at the time, but now little more than poignant memories, encased in the protective amber of a great many intervening years. I've changed a lot since then; I'm older now, and I like to think wiser, and absolutely certain that my taste in women has improved.

The story I found in that musty old book reminded me of how I said goodbye to two women I should never have said hello to in the first place. The story began with a party, a long, long time ago, in a land far, far away . . . .

To celebrate the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, Zeus hosted a wedding feast. He invited all of the gods and goddesses of Olympus, with one exception: Eris, the goddess of discord. Zeus wanted nothing to disrupt the festivities, so he felt that not inviting the goddess of chaos was a wise precaution. He couldn't have been more wrong.

Eris, quite understandably, was somewhat put out by her exclusion from the list of invited guests. Not to put too fine a point on it, she went downright logarithmic over Zeus' obvious snub, and vowed to get even. Hell hath no fury, and all that.

The party was in full swing, everyone just having the grandest time, when the doors opened and a solid gold apple was thrown into the ballroom. Thrown in by Eris. On the apple was engraved the word KALLISTI, 'the fairest'. Three goddesses -- Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite -- immediately pounced upon the apple, each claiming it for herself; each considered herself the fairest, and thus deserving of the prize.

A near riot ensued. In an effort to restore order to the proceedings, Zeus commanded that a contest be held. For this first-ever recorded beauty pageant, Paris, son of Priam, king of Troy, was selected to be the judge. (Zeus knew a no-win situation when he saw it, and wisely decided to let somebody else take the heat. One winner meant two losers, and one of the potential losers was his wife; like a lot of long-married couples I know, they didn't get along all that well. And an omnipotent, supremely honked-off deity can lay some serious hurt on you, even if you're another omnipotent deity.)

Paris, as the legend goes, was reputed to be rather naive, just this pretty, dumb kid who hung out on Mount Ida, tending his sheep. In his favor, it must be said that he wasn't too thrilled by the spot Zeus had put him in, for exactly the same reasons. Ticking off goddesses was, as a rule, not exactly conducive to a long and healthy life. Whatever; each of the goddesses put her case before the reluctant judge; in other words, all three contestants offered him a bribe. (Things like morality, honor and fair play were virtues that the gods of Olympus didn't have much use for.) Hera offered Paris power and riches beyond his wildest dreams; Athena offered him glory and renown in war; Aphrodite offered him the most beautiful woman in the world as his wife.

Paris proved to be not as naive as everyone had assumed: his hormones took over, and he awarded the apple to Aphrodite. (Although I suppose it should be acknowledged that his decision may actually have been based on the objective merits of the case; the Goddess of Love was reputed to have been exceedingly beautiful, and Hera was getting a bit long in the tooth by then, and probably beginning to sag a bit in all -- well, both, anyway -- of the wrong places. And Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, probably had a certain bookish, Marian-the-Librarian look about her, and although I personally find that almost irresistably attractive, a guy spending all of his time alone on a mountaintop, with nothing but sheep to keep him company -- and no, we are not going to go there -- might well have been of a different frame of mind.) In return, Aphrodite awarded Paris the most beautiful woman in the world: Helen. (Yeah, that one.)

There was just one minor complication to this arrangement. Helen was already married, to Menelaus, king of Sparta. A complication, yes; an obstacle, no. After accepting a bribe and making formidable enemies of the two runners-up (another characteristic of deities: they were notoriously ungracious in defeat), was a little kidnapping going to stop him? Not bloody likely. Paris, aided and abetted by the goddess of love, seduced Helen and convinced her to elope with him back to Troy. Menelaus raised an army to get her back. The result was the Trojan War. It lasted ten years, reduced the city of Troy to rubble, brought down Priam's kingdom (to say nothing of the fact that Priam didn't come out of it too well, either), and decimated the ranks of the heroes of ancient Greece.

And all because Zeus didn't want any trouble at his party.

Reading about the Judgement of Paris, and about the Trojan War, reminded me of those two golden-haired vixens, and I wondered where they are now. I wondered if they ever think of me, and if so, whether they recall me with a twinge of regret at what they turned away, or with an enormous sigh of relief at their narrow escape. (Probably the latter; I am very much an acquired taste, always have been.) The golden apple charm was a sort of symbolic message to them. I have always been fond of myth and legend, and that particular myth is one of my favorites, being about how the wrong woman can really screw up your world. Anyone who has ever been in love, or thought he was, knows very well just how foolishly a man will behave while in the grip of that particular form of insanity. To this day, I am persona non grata at several restaurants in Houston, and for a while I was on a first-name basis with at least half of the staff at the crisis-intervention hotline there. I still get Christmas cards from several of them.

In the three decades and change since I discovered the fundamental differences between males and females and, more importantly, the reasons for those differences, there have been only two recipients of the golden apple; the two women who goobered up my life so totally that the experiences changed me forever.

I'm still partial to blondes, though. Some people just never learn.


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