The Judgment of Paris

Much more ancient literature has been lost to time than saved, such that what we know about the ancient world is tantalizingly provisional. It’s conjecture and reasoning and following trails that often lead to more questions, rather than fewer. Myths that are referenced obliquely in archaic texts might disappear from written sources for centuries, only to reappear later in Roman sources, or never again, not because they stopped being told but because the sources are lost.

This seems to be the case with the Judgement of Paris, a crucial piece of the Trojan war myth that is referenced once in the Iliad (24.29-30). According to surviving scholarly summaries, the story of Paris’ ill-fated choice is told in the Cypria, one of several lost epic poems. Cypria apparently told the story of the war’s origins and first nine years. Other Greek sources for the myth can be found much later in The Library of Greek Mythology, aka Bibliotheca by Pseudo-Apollodorus, a first or second century AD compendium of Greek myths.

Though we don’t find the myth being told in stories, it appears on pottery and sculpture.

If you could go back in time and save one piece of lost ancient literature, what would it be?

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