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The Goddess Eris in Greek Mythology

Having traveled through Italy, Greece, and the Aegean in his youth, Colin quickly became interested in the ancient mythology of the region.

Have You Heard of Eris?

In Greek mythology, the Trojan War is probably the most famous event. Today, anyone with any knowledge of the war assumes that it began as a result of the abduction of Helen. But the abduction of Helen by Paris is just one starting point, and preceding this was another starting point where the goddess Eris was involved.

Eris was the goddess of strife, or discord, and was the Greek equivalent of the Roman goddess Discordia. Eris was considered the direct opposite of Harmonia.

One or Two Goddesses

Generally speaking, Eris was considered to be the daughter of Nyx (Night), with Erebus (Darkness) possibly being the father. This parentage makes Eris a “dark” goddess.

Eris though is occasionally referred to as the sister of the war god Ares, making her a daughter of Zeus and Hera; this parentage was one identified by Homer. There's a probability, though, that Homer was using the names Eris and Enyo interchangeably, with Enyo being the goddess of war and destruction.

Role of Eris in Greek Mythology

Eris could cause division between groups of friends, neighbors, or between a married couple, causing discord that could spark hatred and war.

The goddess could invade the individual, infecting the body and mind, resulting in disease and madness taking over; only when the body and mind were in harmony could a person be truly happy. It was impossible for Harmonia and Eris to be in the same place at the same time.

Likewise, Justice and Eris could not co-exist; and once Justice is forced to leave, Eris takes her place, opening up a place for her children, including Lawlessness (Dysnomia) and Murder (Phonoi).

When referred to as the Nurse of War, Eris was described as a goddess of the battlefield, and the deity that stirred men to fight and kill each other. In this role, Eris would be depicted alongside Ares and would rejoice in the pain and suffering of dying men.

There were some positive elements to the role of Eris for it would be her who stirred up the lazy to work, and would make man strive to achieve when in competition with his neighbor.

"The Wedding of Peleus and Thetis" by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640)

"The Wedding of Peleus and Thetis" by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640)

Parent to Many

One area in which Eris was famous was as the mother of other “dark” deities. Hesiod’s famous genealogical work, the Theogony, lists a series of other gods, goddesses, and spirits.

The most famous of these children were Lethe (Forgetfulness), a deity associated with the river of Hades, and also Dysnomia (Lawlessness); but other children also included Ponos (Toil), Limos (Famine), Phonoi (Murder), Amphilogiai (Dispute) and Pseudologoi (Lies)

The Golden Apple of Discord

Eris’ most prominent role, in stories of Ancient Greece, occurred in the lead-up to the Trojan War.

Zeus had arranged for Peleus to marry the sea nymph Thetis; although the hero had to trap the sea nymph to finally get her to marry him. A huge wedding ceremony was planned, and all of the gods and goddesses of the Greek pantheon were invited to the festivities; all, that was, aside from Eris. Eris was not invited as she would have brought division to the assembled guests.

Such a huge wedding ceremony could not be kept hidden from Eris, and her omission from the guest list, only riled the goddess more. Eris, therefore, decided to attend the festivities anyway, and once there threw the Golden Apple of Discord amongst the assembled guests. On the golden apple were inscribed the words “for the fairest”.

Due to the inscribed words, three goddesses, Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, believed that the Golden Apple was meant for them.

"The Judgement of Paris" by Gaetano Gandolfi (1734–1802)

"The Judgement of Paris" by Gaetano Gandolfi (1734–1802)

The Judgement of Paris and the Trojan War

The dispute between the three goddesses required resolution, but Zeus was too sensible to pass judgment himself. So Zeus decreed that Paris, a prince of Troy, would judge the one worthy of the golden apple.

With the judge chosen, bribery followed. Hera offered Paris power, and Athena offered skill in the art of war, but Aphrodite’s bribe proved the most tempting to Paris. Aphrodite offered the Trojan prince the most beautiful mortal in the woman, a woman believed to be Helen of Sparta; it did not matter that Helen was already married to Menelaus. Paris’ subsequent abduction of Helen would of course lead to the Achaean leaders raising an army to retrieve her.

During the subsequent war, Eris was talked of as having stalked the battlefield alongside Ares, although, unlike other deities, Eris was not mentioned as having actually fought.

Some of the ancient sources do put forward the thesis that Zeus was the instigator of the Trojan War, having planned the war with Eris, or simply having used the goddess for his own means. This would mean that Zeus had induced Eris to throw the Golden Apple amongst the wedding guests.

The reasons for Zeus’ action were partially to reduce the world’s population, and partially to remove many heroes and demi-gods who might have threatened his position as supreme ruler of the cosmos.