The Judgment of Paris

Not taking into consideration faulty verdicts and irrational politics in the judicial system, especially inconsiderate cadre decisions and rash judge nominations, has catastrophic consequences for the judicial system, as well as for the whole country. It’s a shame, that the same mistakes are repeated so many years later. The opinion that because people do not have divine perfection, they want to be closer to gods so they repeat their mistakes does not seem to be appropriate.

[The myth]

Paris – the younger son of the king of Troy, Priam and Hekabe. His birth was preceded by prophetic signs that the new born will eventually contribute to the fall of Troy. Therefore, his parents decided to get rid of their son shortly after his birth. They did not kill him, but abandoned him in the mountains of Ida. In the mountains a bear took care of him and fed him with her own milk, afterwards he was cared for by shepherds. 
Paris grew to be a beautiful and courageous youngster, who very skillfully looked after herds. 
As an adult, the young man went to Troy to take part in the Olympics. He won in all the competitions, leaving all his brothers – the princes trailing behind him in achievments. When one of the angry brothers wanted to kill him, their sister Cassandra recognized in Paris their long lost brother. He was then readmitted to the royal family. 
The most famous mythological episode in which he played a role is the judicial process (subsequently named the Court of Paris) during which it was to be decided which of the goddesses: Hera, Athena or Aphrodite is the most beautiful. He decided Aphrodite was the most beautiful, as she promised him that if he choses her he will marry beautiful Helen. Gifts offered by other goddesses were less enticing.

Paris made Helen fall in love with him and kidnapped her while visiting  her husband Menelaus, in Sparta. Later, Paris fled with Helen to Troy. Enraged by Paris’s betrayal, Menelaus gathered friends and set out to conquer Troy. This is what is described in the Iliad. Troy bravely defended itself against the invaders and fell only when Odysseus came up with a cunning trick. The Greeks pretended to withdraw and walked away from the fights, leaving behind a huge wooden horse (the Trojan Horse). The defenders pulled the horse into the city, not knowing that inside the statue soldiers were hidden. During the night those soldiers opened the gates of the city. Troy fell, and Paris was killed by a poisoned arrow.


The nomination of Paris for judge was controversial from the very beginning. In the Gods’ opinion, Paris was not appropriate for such an office, as his family was informed before his birth. Paris was born in the Trojan Royal family. One of the king’s main duties, apart from ruling, was judging. When Hakebe – the mother of Paris, was expecting him, the Gods informed her during her sleep, which was an official form of communication, that in their opinion Paris should not become a judge. Hakebe’s dream left no doubt that the judgments of Paris will have catastrophic consequences.

Hakebe and Priam, due to the fact that the human resources of the Kingdom of Troja  provided a sufficient number of  people for each post, stroke Paris’s name off the list, dismissing him and sending to the province in a basket, where he became a shepherd and was not responsible for any public post.

Paris performing the role of a sheep and bull shepherd, fulfilled his obligations not only properly but in an exemplary fashion. He stood out from all the rest of the shepherds thanks to his spectacular beauty. Unfortunately, unclear criteria for judge nominations and the lack of transparent mechanisms as to the rules of nominating, lead to an incorrectnessHis appearance became a premise for his nomination. His beauty was said to prove that he came from a faultless family and therefore had the predispositions to become a judge.


Inadvertently, Paris had been chosen to declare a truce in the dispute between Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. Each of them claimed the right to a golden apple with the inscription “for the most beautiful one”, with which the goddess of dissension sowed the seeds of dispute between the three goddesses.

During the process of solving this case there were many missteps. Establishing a one-person adjudicating panel in such a difficult and delicate case, Zeus should have at least had chosen a judge who would be experienced and immune to pressure. Zeus, however, never had patience for women’s disputes and did not like to solve them himself; the choice of an inexperienced judge was perhaps even deliberate. Such a judge does not really know how to get out of a troublesome obligation with honour and it is harder for him to resist the old know it alls (the three goddesses where not novices). As we can see, the tradition of granting a votum by the executive power, giving the right to judge, to the inexperienced assessors is not an invention of our times. As we remember, the constitutional doubts concerning entrusting assessors with dealing with difficult and delicate cases were related to the doubts about the resistance of inexperienced assessors, whose promotion and future still depend on others. In comparison to judges they do not have a stable job and therefore may be prone to manipulations of other authorities. The story of Paris’s judgment confirms the accuracy of such doubts.

Another falsity of the court on the mountain of Ida (this is where Paris’s court was placed) was its susceptibility to pressure and influences. This referred to the promise of becoming the lord of all lands (Hera), as well as to the corrupt proposition of becoming the undefeated warrior in a different resort (Athena). Eventually, what influenced the judge was an immaterial promise of having the most beautiful woman as his wife. This was what Aphrodite promised and it is to her – enticed by private profit – that Paris gave the golden apple.

“A judge ought to have not only undesireing hands, but also eyes” – this was how Hekaton from Rodos, a stoic, described the features of a judge. One could repeat these words also nowadays, as it is an undeniable truth. Paris had been seduced by the image of the most beautiful woman presented to him by Aphrodite.

Paris’s lack of professionalism was apparent also by the fact that he could not predict all the consequences of his judgments. Even though two renowned experts, who were also members of his family – Cassandra and Helenos, after the verdict had been given, informed him about the consequences of bringing it into life. Unfortunately, Paris did not take their expertise into consideration and even if he could have ceased the executive proceedings, he did not.


The proceedings had consequences, which could have contented only the goddess of dissension – Irid.

The reservation referred not only to the verdict itself, but also to its direct consequences. Bringing it into life led to a competence conflict with other kings. The fact that as a consequence of the verdict the beautiful Helena became Paris’s wife, after being kidnapped from her husband, which was already against the law, caused many controversies. In those times the means of repairing faulty verdicts, which breached human rights (this refers to Menelaos, the husband of Helena, whose right to private life was drastically breached and what more, he was robed, and all this in the name of fulfilling a verdict from mount Ida) were not sufficient. A complaint referring to the lawfulness of a verdict was also unknown. Because of the lack of legal measures, those who disagreed with the verdict, started the Trojan war. Inter arma silent leges. Mediation, as an alternative means of solving conflicts as well as restorative justice as a means of eliminating the consequences of a corrupt verdict from mount Ida was also attempted. Menelaos and Odysseus suggested that handing over Helena and all the goods she had with her, will secure peace. The Trojans agreed on peace. Paris turned out to be very sensitive when it came to his authority and did not want to agree on abandoning his position and therefore he rejected the mediation. It is worth reminding, that publishing the protocol from this mediation convinced the Polish legislator to oblige mediators to keeping in secret their cases.

Despite all the falsities in judging, Paris, in the beginning, not only hadn’t experienced any professional consequences, but was even promoted. He was recognized as a member of the royal family and he has passed in a way to the higher instance, abandoning his shepherd duties in order to receive the honours of a warrior and leader.

The lacks of the legal system in those times resulted in the fact that there was only one way of depriving a judge of his office – depriving him of his life. This is what eventually happened with Paris – he was killed by a poisoned arrow. He took a long time to die. With him died all of Troja and all Trojans. The cruel collective responsibility was not eased by humanitarian war law, which did not yet exist.


Nevertheless, already before his birth, it was known that Paris should not be a judge, and his family had been warned. As we can see, not taking into consideration faulty verdicts and irrational politics in the judicial system, especially inconsiderate cadre decisions and rash judge nominations have catastrophic consequences for the judicial system, as well as for the whole country. It’s a shame, that the same mistakes are repeated so many years later. The opinion that because people do not have divine perfection, they want to be closer to gods so they repeat their mistakes does not seem to be appropriate. Sometimes. Agnostics and atheists, whose world is deprived of the unlimited and transcendent being are optimists in this regard. They not only claim that the human being can make its own mistakes, but – what more – they give humankind the attribute of divinity, saying that human stupidity has no limits.

The text is a chapter published originally in the book: Acus, O prawie i o mitach (On Law and Myths), Wolters Kluwer, Warsaw 2013.

Translated by Natalia Pawłowska


Posted on by ACUS in Civil Procedure, General Issues

About the author


EWA ŁĘTOWSKA - Professor of private law in the Institute of Legal Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences and an Ordinary Member of the Academy, a Corresponding Member of the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the Académie de Droit Comparé, a former judge on the Constitutional Tribunal and previously of the Supreme Administrative Court, and in 1987 - 1992 the first Ombudsman in Poland. KRZYSZTOF PAWŁOWSKI - philosopher (graduated from the Institute of Philosophy of the University of Warsaw), worked closely with academic institutions and NGOs, writer.