This painting, by the American artist Samuel Finley Breese Morse (c. 1791–1872), depicts a scene of Greco-Roman mythology. Although the painter graced the work with the undetailed title of, The Judgment of Jupiter, it is reminiscent of a particular myth of a woman named Marpessa. In her memorable myth, Marpessa was desired by two aggressive men. The first was the god, Apollo, while the other competitor was a mortal prince named Idas. Perhaps knowing that he was outmatched, Idas decided to take drastic action and ultimately kidnapped Marpessa. He dragged her through the Greek landscape towards the Peloponnesus, where Idas’ father controlled a kingdom. Yet, Apollo could not be outrun, and he eventually intercepted Idas and captive Marpessa. God and mortal were about to come to blows over their rival attractions when the high-god, Zeus, decided to come and arbitrate the dispute. A scholar known as the Pseudo-Apollodorus (c. 1st-2nd century) described the story of Marpessa’s fate: “As they were fighting for her hand, Zeus separated them and allowed the girl herself to choose which of them she preferred to live with; and Marpessa, fearing that Apollo might leave her when she grew old, selected Idas for her husband” (Apollodorus, Library, I.7.8).
If The Judgment of Jupiter is indeed a re-creation of his judgment in the case of Marpessa, then it likely shows the end of the myth, with Marpessa choosing to remain with her kidnapper, Idas. Apollo, crowned with the halo of light, looks on with disappointment, but he obeys the judgment of Zeus. Unfortunately for Marpessa, the choice of going home with neither of her pursuers may not have been an option.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- Apollodorus, The Library of Greek Mythology, translated by Robin Hard. New York, Oxford University Press, 1997.