Part 1 is here. I'm considering scrapping this version of Part 2 entirely and jumping directly into the Illiad material instead. I may keep the first paragraph and save the rest of this version for the end of the story. I'm concerned that the reference to Keats is a bit forced.
Athena's Illiad - Part 2
On Olympus debate was stirring about exactly what Aphrodite meant by offering Paris the most beautiful woman in all of the world. We Gods knew that there was a mortal living who was more lovely than any woman in all of time had ever been. Her name was Helen and she was the wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta. The Kings of Greece had nearly gone to war with each other over her hand in marriage. To preserve the peace of Greece all of the Kings had pledged that Helen's chosen husband would be defended against all invaders and usurpers who might lay claim to fair Helen. A number of the Gods seemed convinced that Aphrodite was offering Paris the love of Helen. I was dumbfounded by this talk. Certainly Aphrodite would not risk the peace of Greece for her prize. Paris, well aware of the fabled beauty of Helen among mortals, plied his father Priam into a peacekeeping summit with Menelaus across the Aegean in Sparta. I tried to find fair Aphrodite, to dissuade her from this madness of offering Helen as a prize, but she was gone. Gone to Sparta to appear before Helen, offering forth the use of her magical zone – a golden girdle which made its wearer irresistible – and promising the love of a young and handsome prince en route to Sparta's shores.
Helen and Paris were awakened to love at first sight. Aphrodite's son Eros shot his arrows straight to their hearts, and truly, never had a mortal looked more lovely than did Helen bearing the zone of Aphrodite. Paris knew that the promise of Aphrodite had been fulfilled as Helen confessed her passionate love for him by the light of a sputtering oil lamp. Paris smuggled her away to Ilium that night, taking leave under cover of darkness like a petty thief. Ares, lord of war, rejoiced. He and his mother Hera would have their war. Zeus ignored the whole debacle. “What business have I with the love affairs of mortals?” he claimed, absolving himself of the coming bloodbath. “If you have a care about it, speak with Aphrodite,” he advised me. But Aphrodite had taken her leave of Olympus. She dwelt now in the violet mist around the mast of Paris's ship as it sailed swiftly through the Aegean Sea. She lent her starry crown to guide them back to the great city of Ilium. She took up residence within the hulking walls of Troy.
After the war, when Aphrodite and I were speaking to each other again, I asked her why she had done it. Why, out of all of the women in the world, did she have to offer forth Helen as Paris's prize? Helen, who had been promised to be defended by the myriad kings of Greece. Helen, whose beauty was trumped up by Aphrodite's art. Helen, who she knew would start a war to rage across the sea. Aphrodite drew forth the golden apple from the folds of her peplos. I had not seen it for many a long age, and was surprised at its luster. She regarded its inscription KALLISTI – for the fairest. Her answer was measured, spoken in the most dulcet tones. “This apple was meant for the fairest of Gods. Although it would have been wise for it to go to you, it would not have been truthful. I offered Paris the most beautiful of lovers. I could have given him someone less beautiful than Helen, but I would have been breaking my word.” She turned the apple in her hand, catching the light. “Truth is the mark of beauty. I promised Paris his true love. How could I be false to him when I offer forth truth?” She spoke these words and they fell like a muse upon the ears of poets. One Keats, regarding a Grecian Urn depicting the Trojan War, added them to a verse, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
This then is why, for all of my wisdom, I am not a champion of beauty. I seek skill. I do not rejoice in truth, but in craftiness. I am called a war Goddess, but in my heart I long for peace. The only joy I take in war is the nurturing of heroes, true champions of skill. Through war I have gained and lost the best of heroes. Hector was supposed to be my champion, but he was taken from me by the cruel division of conflict. From the battlefield I found another – a warrior who fought with his mind as much as his hands. My Odysseus. But his is another story for another time.