A bit of background is likely in order... you can skip this section if you all ready know the legend. This is the scene which heralded the Trojan War. At the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, the goddess Dischord was not invited (for obvious reasons,) but showed up anyway. To get revenge for not being invited, she tossed a golden apple onto the table where the gods were eating, engraved with the words, 'For the most beautiful.' Hera, queen of the gods and goddess of marriage and nobility, Athena, goddess of wisdom and warfare, and Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, all claimed the apple as justly theirs. They argued about it for about 20 years, evidently, before finally going to Zeus and asking him to choose one of them to recieve the prize.
Zeus didn't get to be king of the gods by being thick headed, and he knew trouble when he saw it. The three arguably most powerful goddesses approached him asking him to choose one, and he neatly deflected the question by saying that since he loved all three equally he could not made a decision. When they complained that they should recieve a judgement, Zeus looked down and saw, sitting innocently on a mountainside herding sheep, Paris, the son of the king of Troy. Why he was herding sheep and not off being price is another story, involving women giving birth to torches and very motherly bears. So, Zeus sent Hermes the messenger down to Paris to explain his task to him, and the three goddesses trooped off to get judged. Hermes gave Paris the apple and told him to get to work. Now, being goddesses, all three were exactly as beautiful, and he was unable to chose between them, so they all resorted to bribery. Hera offered him skill in ruling people, Athena offered wisdom, and Aphrodite offered him love - depending on the version, either love of whoever he choses or love of the most beautiful woman in the world. Now, anyone with any knowledge of how the male mind works (or Mazlov's hierarchy of needs, for that matter) can easily figure out who he picked. Athena and Hera were a little miffed, and once Paris cashed in his prize and stole Helen, the wife of the Greek king Menaleus, they were quick in supporting the Greek armies against those of Troy, ultimately leading to the destruction of the city.
This is a poplular scene in artwork through the ages, and as time goes on, you can see different interpretations of its myth. The ancient greeks focused wholly on the gifts of the goddesses. The heart of a man will always rule his mind - aphrodite truely is the most powerful goddess, simply because love is so desireable by all men. Later, as art became more realistic, painters wanted an excuse to paint a whole lot of beautiful women in beauty pagent poses, and this myth was perfect for their purposes. They focused on the physical beauty of the contestants, and made aphrodite out as their ideal. I always had a different impression of the myth, though. It always seemed to me the the biggest moral of the story is that balance is what is needed. Poor Paris, forced to chose one goddess over the other two, is doomed to fail no matter what he does. Even the king of the gods wouldn't touch that tricky little problem with a ten foot pole, and he just shoves it off on a mere mortal. I imagine that Paris must have complained bitterly before finally getting browbeaten into the task by Hermes.
Well, that was a long caption.