Unit 3: Adventure and The Hero’s Journey

Fury of Achilles, by Charles-Antoine Coypel. 1737, $\ccpd$


Before You Read: About Homer

The writer of the following two stories is Homer. Not much is known about him. It is believed that his two most famous epic poems, The Iliad, which describes the Trojan War, and The Odyssey, which follows the adventures of Odysseus (Ulysses in Latin) after the war, were written in 7th Century BCE. An epic poem is a very long adventure story in the form of a poem. These two poems are considered classics of Greek literature.

The Trojan War Part 1: The Apple of Discord

Adapted from Stories of the Ancient Greeks by Charles D. Shaw, $\ccpd$

Priam, king of Troy, lived in a prosperous city called Ilion, with many sons and daughters around him. One of the sons, named Paris, had a strange history. He was only a few days old when his mother dreamed that he found and took a blazing torch and ran through the city, setting it on fire. The king asked an oracle what that dream meant. He was told that it would all come true. Priam ordered that the child should be taken to Mount Ida, on the eastern side of the kingdom, and left there to die.

Some shepherds found the boy and brought him up as their son. He was strong and bold and liked to fight, to wrestle, and to run with the other young shepherds. They called him Alexander, which means, “Defender of men.” When everybody was afraid to race or fight with him, he was made the referee of their games. He always gave just decisions, and even the gods knew that he was fair and honest.

Eris, the goddess of discord. $\cczero$

Years later, after learning that a child of Thetis, an immortal nymph, and a god would come to overthrow the king of Olympus, the gods Zeus and Poseidon, who both loved her very much, decided she must marry a mortal. At the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, an uninvited guest arrived. The goddess of Discord, Eris, angry that all the gods but her were invited to the wedding and loving to see mortals argue, flew in anyway and threw on the table a golden apple, marked, “For the most beautiful.” Hera said, “That is for me. Who is so beautiful as the queen of heaven?” But Athena stretched out her hand and said, “No, it is for me. Who can equal me in the beauty of wisdom?” Then Aphrodite rose up and said, “It is for me.”

illustration by George A. Harker in Charles C Shaw’s Story’s of the Ancient Greeks, 1903, $\ccpd$

There was a nasty argument, until someone said, “Let us go to the shepherd of Mount Ida; he will decide accurately.” It was agreed, and Paris saw all heaven coming to him on the mountain-side. Among so much beauty and power the shepherd found it hard to choose. The goddesses made him wonderful promises.

Hera said, “Give me the prize, and I will make you the most powerful king in the world.”

Athena said, “No one will be able to match your wisdom if you give me the apple.”

Aphrodite smiled at the youth and said, “Give it to me, and you shall have for a wife the most beautiful woman in the world.”

He gave her the golden apple, and from that moment Hera and Athena hated him and his family.

The Decision of Paris

King Priam knew nothing of all this. He intended to have a contest among the young princes, his neighbors, and the prize was to be the finest bull on Mount Ida. Officers looking for such an animal found it in the herd of Paris.

“Shepherd,” they said, “the king has need of this beast.”

“Why does he want him?” asked Paris. The officers answered, “To be the prize of the royal games. How much is he worth?”

Paris replied, “He is not for sale.” When the officers urged him he said, “You can not have the bull unless I may enter the games and have a chance to win the prize.”

When this was told the king said, “Let the bold shepherd come.” Paris went to Troy, and in the games conquered everybody except Hector, the king’s oldest son. The younger man was afraid of this great hero, so he dropped his sword and ran for his life.

When Paris reached the temple of Zeus he went in and was safe. Nobody would dare to harm him in that holy place. Cassandra, his sister, was a prophetess in that temple. She cried out that this was not a shepherd, but the king’s son; that his name was not Alexander, but Paris; and that Hector was his brother. They all went to the palace, and Priam was glad to see again his child whom he had sent away to die. He welcomed the youth to his royal home and gave him every right of a king’s son.

Paris as a prince was not so happy as he had been when a shepherd. He lived in the city instead of on the mountain, and had nothing to do but amuse himself. His clothes were very fine and set off his handsome face and figure. But he grew tired of home and friends.”Father,” he said to Priam, “let me go abroad and see something of the world.”


The king thought well of the plan, so he gave Paris money, and sent him to travel with several young men like himself. They traveled from island to island and came at last to Sparta where Menelaus was king. He welcomed the young travelers and was very kind to them. In a few days, he said to his guests, “I must go to Crete on important business. Excuse me for leaving you, but my queen will do all she can to make you comfortable while I am gone.”

Helen of Troy, by Gaston Bussière, 1895, $\ccpd$

That queen was named Helen and was the most beautiful woman in the world, hatched from an egg after Zeus turned into a swan and seduced her mother, Leda. When Helen was a girl many princes asked her in marriage, but she did not care for any of them.

Her father said to these princes, “I can give her to only one. You must not argue over her. Let each man promise to be satisfied when she has made her choice, and to defend her husband against all enemies.” They promised, and she chose Menelaus, king of Sparta, and went with him to his home.

They had lived happily for some years when Paris came. He was a prince, rich, fair to see, and with very good manners. Helen was young and weak. She forgot about her marriage to Menelaus, fell in love with Paris, and went with him to Troy.

Aphrodite had kept her promise. Paris had the most beautiful wife in the world. But sadness, suffering, and death followed, as they are sure to follow selfishness and deceit. When Menelaus returned and found his wife had left him, he called all the princes of Greece and of the islands to help him get back Helen, now known as “the face that launched a thousand ships.” They raised a large army and sailed against Troy. This was the beginning of the Trojan war, which lasted for ten years.

A painting of Thetis and Peleus' wedding. There is a female figure with a helmet and spear, a lady with a winged baby, a man wearing a winged hat, and a woman with a crescent moon shaped tiara.
The Wedding of Thetis and Peleus by Jacob Jordaens, 1633, $\ccpd$. Do you see the golden apple? Can you identify any of the guest gods?

Comprehension Questions

Answer the following questions according to the reading.

  1. Who is Paris’ father? What happens to him as a baby and why?
  2. Why did Eris throw the apple of discord?
  3. Which three goddesses were fighting over the apple, and why?
  4. Who has the responsibility of deciding who gets the apple, and why him?
  5. What did each of the goddesses offer him in exchange for the apple?
  6. Who did he give the apple to?
  7. Who are Menelaus and Helen?
  8. Where does Menelaus go and why?
  9. How was the Trojan War started?

Vocabulary from the Story

Answer the following questions. Compare your answers with a partner.

  1. We get the idiom “apple of discord” from this story. Read the definition from Wikipedia ($\ccbysa$) below:

    An apple of discord is a reference to the Golden Apple of Discord (Greek: μῆλον τῆς Ἔριδος) which, according to Greek mythology, was what the goddess Eris (Gr. Ἔρις, “Strife”) tossed in the midst of the feast of the gods at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis as a prize of beauty, thus sparking a vanity-fueled dispute among Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite that eventually led to the Trojan War. Thus, “apple of discord” is used to signify the core, kernel, or crux of an argument, or a small matter that could lead to a bigger dispute.

    Give your own example of an “apple of discord”.

  2. Google “apple of discord” and click on “news”. What news articles are using this idiom?
  3. We get the idiom “in a nutshell” from a reference to The Iliad in Pliny the Elder’s book Natural History, written in Italy in 77 AD. In it he notes extraordinary human achievements, such as someone writing the whole Iliad on such a small piece of paper that it could fit inside a walnut shell. In Rome, the phrase “The Iliad in a nutshell” became popular, and later Shakespeare also made it popular in English, shortening it to “in a nutshell” in his play Hamlet. Use a dictionary to find the meaning of “in a nutshell” and use it in a sentence.

CEFR Level: CEF Level B1


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It’s All Greek to Me! Copyright © 2018 by Charity Davenport is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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