Eris, Greek goddess of strife, discord and chaos is much more than popular mythology leads us to believe. To the left we see Eris on an Athenian black-figure kylix from the 6th century BCE. In fact, Eris has been given a pretty bad rap. So I consulted my pineal gland and was inspired to clear her name. Yes, she is a troublemaker. But she also serves a vital purpose. For if life isn't rattled around a little from time to time there would be no change, no progress. It is only through chaos that we learn who we truly are and what we can accomplish. Allow me to explain.
The most well known story of Eris relates how she, supposedly singlehandedly, started the Trojan War which resulted in the complete destruction of Troy and great loss of life. It all started when the soon-to-be-wed couple, Peleus and Thetis, refused to invite Eris to their wedding even though most of the Olympian pantheon would be in attendance. (Peleus is a Greek hero and Thetis is a sea-nymph; their union produces Achilles, but that's about all we need to know about them as they don't figure into the story much.) During the course of the wedding Eris causes a shiny golden apple to be found among the guests. Written on the apple is "Kallisti" which means "for the fairest" or "for the most beautiful" or something to that effect. Hera, Athena and Aphrodite all claim the prize and title of most beautiful. Zeus, who doesn't want to be in the middle of a fight between the goddesses, decides to let a mere mortal make the decision.
He chooses Paris who is a prince of Troy and one of the most handsome of all men. The three goddesses then set about trying to bribe him. Hera promises great political power and Athena either offers great military skill or wealth depending on who you ask. But Aphrodite offers Helen of Sparta, the most beautiful mortal woman on Earth. Paris gives in to lust and chooses Aphrodite as the fairest, despite the fact that Helen is already married. Paris successfully steals Helen away from her husband which leads to the Trojan War and the deaths of many heroes and innocents. And Eris is to blame for all of it. Right? Well, not exactly.
Eris only tosses a golden apple with a beauty queen title into a crowd of narcissistic deities. Said deities make the situation worse by allowing a mortal, a mortal!, to make the crucial decision. And it is the "good" goddesses who recklessly and irresponsibly offer Paris bribes that they know could do great harm to the world of the living. It is the lowly human who willingly, knowingly pursues a course of action he must surely know will lead to war.
Eris, on the other hand, bribes no one as does Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. She kills no one as do all the Spartan and Trojan soldiers and she steals no one away from another as Paris does. And she doesn't shirk her duty like Zeus; she does her job. She uses her shiny golden apple as a tool to unmask those around her. She stirs things up and forces the various individuals to reveal, and hopefully eventually face, their faults.
As Eris did for the gods she also does for humanity. When life is at its craziest Eris is in our midst. When things get out of hand Eris is making her presence known. When everything seems to be going wrong and we are at our wits end Eris is giving us the opportunity to rise to the challenge. Yes, she's pushing us to our limits and she's causing us to sweat, cry, palpitate and just generally freak out. But she is also teaching us valuable lessons. Or, rather, she is giving us the chance to learn from our own actions and reactions. She is giving us the wisdom and wits to deal with future stresses. All hail Eris and her shiny golden apple!
Photo from here.
P.S. I'm doing my own internal synchroblog so please check out this golden apple tattoo over at my pagan tattoo blog.