You weren’t invited to the wedding, and you love weddings.
There’s nothing quite like the pressure and fear and (if you’re lucky) elation that comes with good old fashioned nuptials for inciting a little mayhem.
Zeus had seen Thetis bathing in the water below Mount Olympus with her sisters the Nereids; sea nymphs, shapeshifters, all of them beautiful and kind, with voices so sweet and melodious, it was said to hear them sing in harmony would cause anyone to lose their senses and begin weeping with the sheer emotion of their refrain. Sailors routinely followed the siren song to their deaths, searching for the source of the unearthly music that seemed to come from the earth herself. Thetis was particularly beautiful; with glimmering blue-black hair that seemed threaded with gold; a crown of red coral about her head and her supple body swathed in white silk that rippled like the sea she was borne from. Her arms were lean and strong from carrying Poseidon’s trident, and she had no interest nor involvement in the mundane goings on of the mortal world. Zeus had wanted her for himself, not content with his many divine and mortal lovers, until one of that number, Themis, warned him that Thetis was destined to bear a son who would become greater than his father. Zeus, being a god who overthrew his own father, Cronos, in order to rule, was fearful for his own reign, and did not doubt Themis, who, after all, had received the Oracle at Delphi from Gaia herself, and could always be trusted in matters of prophecy and judgement. He found a mortal man, Peleus, and was content that any child of this mortal man could not be greater than Zeus, god of the sky, lightning, thunder, law, order, justice.
Thetis didn’t want to marry Peleus. He was a mortal, beneath her, she could crush him like the grapes Dionysus made his wine from. When she refused the match, Zeus sowed a little discord of his own, without any help from you - though you’d have been happy to lend a hand, as always you love to blow on the embers of doubts and fears and insecurities; to puff them up until they are flames of chaos and strife. He had Proteus set it up instead, to take himself further out of the equation, to distance himself from the lovely nymph whom he both wanted and feared. Proteus told Peleus where to find Thetis, and instructed him to bind her in a sea cave with every rope and knot and noose and snare he could, and though she metamorphosed again and again, taking on a hundred different guises and shapes and faces, whispered a thousands stories in the night, desperate for him to let her go – she could never slip through the knots, couldn’t slither free and be one with the ocean again. With freedom now her only goal, Thetis succumbed to him, though it broke her heart. She accepted the offer of marriage, and so the date was set, the invitations sent, and the inhabitants of Mount Olympus descended to witness the marriage of human and goddess, mortal and immortal; father to mother (for the fated child had already begun to blossom within her); lover to lover. Some attended just to witness Zeus’ plan take shape.
He was so threatened by even the suggestion of Thetis’ son. He was desperate for things to go just right. He didn’t invite you.
You are persona non grata to the Olympians (you hope they’ll forgive you for mixing your Latin with your Greek, but being an immortal being does make it somewhat difficult to keep track of which languages are dead or alive at any given moment). Your mother, Nyx, is the night herself, a daughter of Chaos and older than Zeus; the only goddess he fears. She is very beautiful and extremely powerful, and lives in the shadows at the edge of the cosmos where she cedes day into night, spilling her dark poison across the blue skies and turning them black. You have no father.
You are Eris, and you weren’t invited because it was felt you would make the banquet unpleasant for everyone, to which, obviously, you took great offence. There’s something about being the goddess of discord that just gets you stricken from guest lists, and there’s nothing that upsets you more than being left out of something. What’s a party without a little Strife? You are beautiful and witty and manipulative and you make men hate each other, but only by nudging them towards their true inclinations anyway. You decide, on the morning of the wedding, to take a stroll in the Garden of the Hesperides, Hera’s orchard in the Atlas Mountains. You know they’ll be empty, for everyone is at the wedding of Thetis and Peleus. You love weddings.
The Garden of the Hesperides is itself a reminder of what you are missing out on. The orchard was grown from a branch laden with golden apples which Gaia presented to Zeus and Hera at their wedding. Now the orchard is enormous and tended to by the nymphs of the evening, your sisters, all of them daughters of Nyx and suspected by Hera of stealing her golden apples; of plucking them from her branches and keeping them for themselves. It was they who gave you the idea, and they who distracted Hera’s dragon - whose serpentine body twisted through all the branches of the trees to guard the apples from theft or destruction - while you found the most perfect, gleaming, golden apple in the whole immense garden, and ripped it from its bough. Your sisters danced for the dragon, their lithe, writhing bodies capturing the gaze of every one of his hundred eyes, while you stole out of the garden, and returned to Mount Pelion, where Zeus’ banquet was ongoing. Everyone was gathered outside Chiron’s Cave, and Apollo played the lyre while the muses sang and gifts were handed to the bride and groom: an Eros-embossed bowl from the lovely Aphrodite; a flute from Athena, goddess of wisdom, and a chlamys from Hera herself, who wrapped the cloak around the couple, binding them ever closer together despite Thetis’ obvious displeasure. It was after Poseidon had gifted them his immortal horses, Balius and Xanthus, that you gave your gift.
“Let it never be said that Eris isn’t gracious,” you said, stunning the assembly into silence with your terrible, magnificent voice. “That even when her invite does not reach her, she never forgets to send a gift.”
You tossed a golden apple into the company of goddesses, all flowing tresses and gleaming skin. “For the fairest,” you said. It’s all you need to say. The crystalline eyes of the goddesses swivelled from you to the golden apple on the floor. Many step back - they take a cue from the bride herself, who sighed dramatically, a hand on her rounding belly, and looked away, turning to her new husband and capturer, eager to stay out of any discord to protect the son growing inside her. Three goddesses leapt upon your apple.
Hera, Aphrodite and Athena each claimed to be the fairest in attendance (or of all, you’re not sure quite how seriously they take themselves). Hera demanded her husband make the call, and award your apple to whomever he deemed the most beautiful creature in the world.
Zeus was reluctant to decide, and declared that a human man must make the decision: a Trojan prince named Paris, who had recently shown extraordinary fairness in a contest with Ares, the god of courage and war.
The wedding was forgotten (destroyed, sewn through with discord and ruin by your expert hand), and the multitude left Thetis and Peleus to their unhappy life together and their unborn child - about whom the prophecies were all true. He would grow to be a warrior named Achilles, whom Thetis baptised in the River Styx in an effort to grant him invulnerability.
You would have been happy just with the ruination of the wedding party you were so rudely left out of, but in the interest of seeing things through, you hide amongst the rhododendrons by the spring of Ida, where the three goddesses bathed before presenting themselves to Paris, who, blushing, inspected their celestial bodies and tried hard to concentrate as each goddess offered him a gift in turn - if he picked her. Hera, haughty, vengeful and proud; objectively beautiful but cold and demure, offered him the kingdom of Europe and Asia if he picked her. Tall, clever Athena offered him knowledge and skill in the art of war, believing that true beauty came from wisdom and might.
It was Aphrodite who had the true measure of the man. She draped herself, naked and languorous, across the mossy banks of the spring, and offered him the world’s most beautiful woman in return for him awarding her the golden apple.
Paris accepted the gift, and declared Aphrodite the winner of your highly contested contest. She took your apple, fluttered her eyelashes at Hera and Athena, and departed the mountain in a burst of dove feathers and rose petals with faithful Eros by her side.
Hera and Athena were apoplectic with rage, furious at the infinite charm of Aphrodite and the salacious methods with which she won the prize. Both of them returned to their homes in the clouds above Olympus plotting revenge against her - not against you though, not Eris, who started it all with a stolen apple and a challenge, and what a challenge it turned out to be. You were forgotten amongst the scheming and the machinations of both men and gods - none of them realised that Strife was within them, and a little piece of you was threaded now into the fabric of their existence.
The world’s most beautiful woman at that time was a girl called Helen, whose mortal mother Leda had lain with Zeus in the guise of a swan, later laying an egg from which Helen sprang. This curious fruit of the gods was a beauty from the moment she hatched. A child of Sparta, she was beautiful and strong, capable of holding a spear and commanding the hunt, and was much sought after for her beauty and her strength, with many suitors from all over the world.
Upon leaving the spring with Aphrodite’s promise still ringing in his ears, Paris went right to Sparta to collect his prize, and Eros, who was waiting for him, shot Helen with one of his arrows the minute she saw the boy prince from Troy. She went with him willingly then, for she loved him with every inch of her being, and all but forgot her husband Menelaus, left behind to rule austere Sparta without his young queen.
You were back in your home in Tartarus and the cosmos and the clouds above Olympus and in the hearts and minds of men everywhere, musing on plots and schemes and revenge and eating golden apples you’d kept for yourself when the mortal world took the threads of strife you threw at them - with just a single apple, and still those goddesses lost their senses over it - and wove them into an unexpectedly cataclysmic tapestry, and you didn’t need to lift another finger to help them.
Everyone knows what came next. The war that old, besotted, betrayed and bewildered Menelaus started to get his wife back ended ten years later with a giant wooden horse and the total destruction of the city of Troy; the deaths of thousands including Paris and poor Achilles, and so much infidelity, murder and betrayal that even you, the goddess of strife, found it difficult to keep up with, and harder still to remember it was your apple that started it all.
No one ever forgot to invite you to a wedding again. Even today, you can be found lurking in the backs of churches, pinching children to make them cry during the vows, tripping up brides as they walk down the aisle, causing birds to shit on the cake. You are the fly in the ointment of parties all over this world, the small things that go wrong. You want people to heed your simple warning: just don’t try to exclude you. It’s when people try to avoid any possible catastrophe that all hell breaks loose and entire cities just happen to be razed to the ground.