We might say the judgement of Paris was the first beauty contest in history (more precisely, in mythology). Unfortunately, the outcome of this contest was terrible: nothing less than the Trojan war.
The story begins with the wedding of Thetis and Peleus, where all the gods had been invited, except Eris, the Discord. Nobody liked her, because she was such a trouble maker. Full of envy, she thought about a plan to ruin the party.
A good psychologist, she came up with a simple solution: he went to the wedding and threw a golden apple in the middle of the guestes, then she left, laughing all the time.
A goddess picked up the golden apple and saw there was something written on it: "To the fairest". For a moment there was silence, until Hera came up and said, "Then it is for me, let me have it, please."
Athena, the goddess of wisdom, didn't behave wisely at all. She said, "It can't be yours, because I am the fairest. Let *me* have it."
Of course Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, couldn't keep her mouth shut. She said, "Why, everyone knows *I* am the most beautiful of all, so the golden apple must be mine."
Eris, the goddess of discord, was happy, she had got what she wanted. The three candidates... sorry, goddesses, went before Zeus, to ask for his opinion. Poor thing Zeus, he was in a very delicate position: one the contestants was his wife, another one was his sister and the third was his daughter. So he decided to just wash his hands and sent them with the messenger god, Hermes, to mount Ida, where the shepherd Paris had to decide.
Paris was the son of Priamus, king of Troy, and Hecuba. When he was born, his mother had a dream in which her son destroyed the city. That's why his father decided to abandon him on mount Ida, where he was raised by a bear.
When he grew up, he became a shepherd. He was the one named by Zeus to choose the most beautiful among the goddesses, a task so difficult, that Zeus himself didn't feel up to it.
When Paris the shepherd saw this group approaching, he was afraid and tried to run away. But Hermes told him that Zeus had given orders and Paris should obey.
Each of the goddesses talked about her beauty (one version says Hermes told them to undress, so as Paris could judge better) and then promised gifts, should she be chosen: Hera promised him power over all Asia, Athena promised him wisdom and victory in all the battles, while Aphrodite promised to give him as a wife the most beautiful woman on earth, Helen, who was already married to king Menelaus of Sparta.
Without hesitation, Paris declared Aphrodite as the most beautiful, then waited for his reward. (I have read that she had washed her hair with water from the river Scamander, near Troy, because that water gave hair red reflexes, so as to appear even more beautiful).
As you can see, it wasn't exactly a beauty contest, because in fact Paris has judged the quality of the gifts (more exactly bribes) given by the three goddesses (which means the very first beauty contest in history was not... fair at all).
Later, goddess Aphrodite kept her word and helped prince Paris kidnap Helen, "the face that launched a thousand ships" (later known as Helen of Troy, because she lived with Paris in Troy).
The consequences of Paris' choice appeared very soon (that's why Zeus refused to judge in the first place). By deciding that Aphrodite was the most beautiful, he made enemies out of Hera and Athena.
So how did the judgement of Paris cause the trojan war? When Helen chose Menelaus as her husband, all the other suitors vowed to defend him, should anyone offend his honour. When his wife was kidnapped, they all gathered their armies and went to war against Troy. Eris must have been more than pleased, as she probably didn't have such an outcome in her mind when she started it all!
Is there a moral in this myth? Well, I think there are several ones:
1. When you're a goddess, behave like a goddess, don't accept provocations!
2. Never mess with someone else's wife!
3. When the boss orders you to do something, he might just shift responsibilities to you!
4. How a stupid thing (the golden apple) can lead to serious consequences (the Trojan war).
Here are some paintings
representing the judgement of Paris. The characters appearing in them are the three contestants, Hera (sometimes there is a peacock near her), Athena (usually the most dressed one, sometimes she has a shield or a helmet) and Aphrodite with god Cupid, the shepherd Paris (who didn't know yet he was a prince) and god Hermes, with his characteristic winged cap and the caduceus.
In the next one, while I can appreciate the dynamism of the composition, it still makes me laugh: the three goddesses are all moving in a hurry towards the shepherd, and one of them extends the hand as if she was saying: "Hey, give me that bloody apple now!".