Eris: The Gleeful Greek Goddess of Chaos and Discord
Many of the Greek gods and goddesses enjoyed inflicting in pain, suffering, and destruction, but few took as much joy in it as Eris. Eris was the Greek goddess of chaos, strife, and discord. According to legend, she was the cause of many wars, including the Trojan War. She was also the cause of famine and disease. Where there was suffering, it was a safe bet that Eris would be blamed for it. She was often portrayed as a demon, haunting the battlefield and delighting in the bloodshed along with her son and her brother. So let’s find out more about this Greek goddess who just loved starting trouble.
Eris, the Greek Goddess of Chaos and Discord (Andrew7 / CC BY SA)
Eris’ Darkly Dysfunctional Family
There are conflicting accounts of the goddess Eris’ family tree. According to some myths, including Homer’s Iliad, she was the daughter of Zeus and Hera, and the sister of Ares. Another Greek poet named Hesiod claims she was the daughter of Nyx. Either way, Eris, goddess of chaos, certainly caused a few headaches for her parents, leaving behind a trail of mayhem wherever she went.
According to Homer, Eris was close with her brother Ares, both delighting in the chaos of war. Her insatiable desire for bloodshed led her to remain on the battlefield even after the fighting had finished, rejoicing over the pain and discord she had caused. She also brought her son with her, whose name was Strife, when she rode her chariot on the battlefield. She would often spur on both sides, encouraging them to continue fighting for victory at any cost. No other god or goddess thrived on chaos the way Eris did.
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The Golden Apple of Discord, gift from Eris, goddess of chaos (Croisy / Adobe Stock)
How Eris caused the Trojan War
The best example of this was at the wedding of Peleus, a Greek king who married the sea-nymph Thetis. All of the Olympian gods had been invited, with the exception of Goddess Eris, probably because of her fondness for drama. Unfortunately for the newlyweds, Eris decided she would show up anyway and get revenge. Eris, goddess of chaos, brought with her a golden apple of Hera with the words “For the most beautiful” inscribed on it, and threw it into the crowd. Unsurprisingly, this caused discord, because Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite began to argue over who deserved it.
In order to end the fight, Zeus, king of the gods of Olympus, appointed Paris, prince of Troy, to be the judge of who was the most beautiful. The goddesses offered Paris various gifts to convince him. Athena promised him wisdom. Hera offered him power. Eventually he picked Aphrodite, who tempted him with the most beautiful woman in the world: Helen, wife of King Menelaus of Sparta. Paris seduced Helen with the aid of Aphrodite and brought her back to Troy. Her husband Menelaus was understandably furious and gathered 1,000 ships in order to get her back. This marked the beginning of the Trojan War, much to the delight of Eris. The war lasted ten years and resulted in Troy being burnt to the ground. All because of a single apple, a perverse gift from Eris, goddess of chaos and discord.
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The Golden Apple of Discord, Jacob Jordaens, 1633 (Public Domain)
Eris’ Trail of Turmoil
Eris didn’t limit her work to the battlefields either. When a married couple by the names of Polytekhnos and Aedon claimed they loved each other more than Zeus and Hera, Hera became angered. She sent Eris down to create strife and discord between them. Polytekhnos had almost finished work on a standing board for a chariot, and Aedon had almost finished a weaving project.
Goddess of discord Eris urged them into a competition that whoever finished first would give the other a female servant. Aedon finished first, with the help of Hera. Polytekhnos was infuriated. In his fury, he found Aedon’s sister, raped her, and brought her back disguised as a slave for his wife. After Aedon and her sister realized what had happened, they murdered Polytekhnos’ son and fed him to his father. The gods then transformed them all into birds. This time, Eris had turned a simple competition into rape, murder, and cannibalism. Just another day in the life of the goddess of chaos and strife.
Goddess Eris is also mentioned in Aesop’s Fables. In this fable, Heracles was making his way through a narrow pass when he came across an apple on the floor. He hit the apple with his club, but instead of flattening, it doubled in size. He hit it again. It doubled in size again. Athena appeared to the hero and explained to him that the apple belonged to the Goddess Eris. The apple would stay small if left alone, but it would expand if it was fought, just like strife.
Although Eris only had one son named Strife, according to Hesiod, she was the mother of many different spirits who plagued mankind. These children were Ponos (Hardship), Lethe (Forgetfulness), Limos (Starvation), Dysnomia (Anarchy), Atë (Ruin), Horkos (Oath), the Algea (Pains), the Hysminai (Battles), the Makhai (Wars), the Phonoi (Murders), the Androktasiai (Manslaughters), the Neikea (Quarrels), the Pseudologoi (Lies), and the Amphillogiai (Disputes). According to Hesiod, these evil demons were stored in Pandora’s box (although it was actually a jar, not a box). When Pandora opened her box, they were released out into the world.
Wherever there was pain and suffering in ancient Greece, it was surely provoked by Eris, goddess of chaos and discord, or one of her spirit children. They unleashed chaos and discord with war, famine, and disease by silently working in the background. These Greek gods seemed to be the origin of all evil in the world, and it could all be created using something as simple and innocent as a single apple.
Top image: The Greek goddess Eris inspired fear in everyone Source: Likozor / Adobe Stock
By Mark Brophy
Britannica. 1998. Eris. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Eris-Greek-and-Roman-mythology
Greek Legends and Myths. The Goddess Eris in Greek Mythology. Available at: https://www.greeklegendsandmyths.com/eris.html
Theoi. Eris. Available at: https://www.theoi.com/Daimon/Eris.html#Children