Cassandra

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Cassandra by Evelyn De Morgan (1898, London); Cassandra in front of the burning city of Troy, depicted with dishevelled hair denoting the insanity ascribed to her by the Trojans Cassandra1.jpeg
Cassandra by Evelyn De Morgan (1898, London); Cassandra in front of the burning city of Troy, depicted with dishevelled hair denoting the insanity ascribed to her by the Trojans
"Cassandra and Ajax" depicted on a terracotta amphora, circa 450 BC Terracotta Nolan neck-amphora (jar) MET DT369516.jpg
"Cassandra and Ajax" depicted on a terracotta amphora, circa 450 BC

Cassandra or Kassandra (Ancient Greek: Κασσάνδρα, pronounced  [kas:ándra], also Κασάνδρα, and sometimes referred to as Alexandra) [2] in Greek mythology was a Trojan priestess dedicated to the god Apollo and fated by him to utter true prophecies but never to be believed. In modern usage her name is employed as a rhetorical device to indicate a person whose accurate prophecies, generally of impending disaster, are not believed.

Contents

Cassandra was a daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy. Her elder brother was Hector, the hero of the Greek-Trojan war. The older and most common versions of the myth state that she was admired by the god Apollo, who sought to win her love by means of the gift of seeing the future. According to Aeschylus, she promised him her favors, but after receiving the gift, she went back on her word. As the enraged Apollo could not revoke a divine power, he added to it the curse that nobody would believe her prophecies. In other sources, such as Hyginus and Pseudo-Apollodorus, Cassandra broke no promise to Apollo but rather the power of foresight was given to her as an enticement to enter into a romantic engagement, the curse being added only when it failed to produce the result desired by the god.

Later versions on the contrary describe her falling asleep in a temple, where snakes licked (or whispered into) her ears which enabled her to hear the future. [lower-alpha 1]

Etymology

Hjalmar Frisk (Griechisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch, Heidelberg, 1960–1970) notes "unexplained etymology", citing "various hypotheses" found in Wilhelm Schulze, [3] Edgar Howard Sturtevant, [4] J. Davreux, [5] and Albert Carnoy. [6] R. S. P. Beekes [7] cites García Ramón's derivation of the name from the Proto-Indo-European root *(s)kend- "raise". The Online Etymology Dictionary states "though the second element looks like a fem. form of Greek andros "of man, male human being." Watkins suggests PIE *(s)kand- "to shine" as source of second element. The name also has been connected to kekasmai "to surpass, excel. [8] "

Biography

Woodcut illustration of Cassandra's prophecy of the fall of Troy (at left) and her death (at right), from an Incunable German translation by Heinrich Steinhowel of Giovanni Boccaccio's De mulieribus claris, printed by Johann Zainer [de] at Ulm ca. 1474. Woodcut illustration of Cassandra's prophecy of the fall of Troy (at left) and her death (at right) - Penn Provenance Project.jpg
Woodcut illustration of Cassandra's prophecy of the fall of Troy (at left) and her death (at right), from an Incunable German translation by Heinrich Steinhöwel of Giovanni Boccaccio's De mulieribus claris , printed by Johann Zainer  [ de ] at Ulm ca. 1474.

Cassandra was one of the many children born to the king and queen of Troy, Priam and Hecuba. She is the fraternal twin sister of Helenus, as well as the sister to Hector and Paris. [9] One of the oldest and common versions of her myth states that Cassandra was admired for her beauty by the god Apollo, who sought to win her with the gift to see the future. According to Aeschylus, Cassandra promised Apollo favors, but, after receiving the gift, went back on her word and refused Apollo. Since the enraged Apollo could not revoke a divine power, he added a curse that nobody would believe Cassandra's prophecies.

Mythology

Cassandra appears in texts written by Homer, Virgil, Aeschylus and Euripides. Each author depicts her prophetic powers differently.

In Homer's work, Cassandra is mentioned a total of four times "as a virgin daughter of Priam, as bewailing Hector’s death, as chosen by Agamemnon as his slave mistress after the sack of Troy, and as killed by Clytemnestra over Agamemnon’s corpse after Clytemnestra murders him on his return home. [10] "

In Virgil's work, Cassandra appears in book two of his epic poem titled Aeneid, with her powers of prophecy restored. Unlike Homer, Virgil presents Cassandra as having fallen into a mantic state [11] and her prophecies reflect it. In book 2, she gives her prophecy of why Agamemnon deserves the death he got:

Quid me vocatis sospitem solam e meis, umbrae meorum? te sequor, tota pater Troia sepulte; frater, auxilium Phrygum terrorque Danaum, non ego antiquum decus video aut calentes ratibus ambustis manus, sed lacera membra et saucios vinclo gravi illos lacertos. te sequor… (Ag. 741–747)Why do you call me, the lone survivor of my family, My shades? I follow you, father buried with all of Troy; Brother, bulwark of Trojans, terrorizer of Greeks, I do not see your beauty of old or hands warmed by burnt ships, But your lacerated limbs and those famous shoulders savaged By heavy chains. I follow you… [11]

Later on in Virgil's work, this behavior is reflected in act's 4 and 5 as "Her mantic vision in act 4 will be supplemented by a further (in)sight into what is going on inside the palace in act 5 when she becomes a quasi-messenger and provides a meticulous account of Agamemnon’s murder in the bath: “I see and I am there and I enjoy it, no false vision deceives my eyes: let’s watch” (video et intersum et fruor, / imago visus dubia non fallit meos: / spectemus. [12] "

Gift of prophecy

Cassandra was given the gift of prophecy, but was also cursed by the god Apollo so that her true prophecies would not be believed. Many versions of the myth relate that she incurred the god's wrath by refusing him sexual favours after promising herself to him in exchange for the power of prophecy. In Aeschylus' Agamemnon, she bemoans her relationship with Apollo:

Apollo, Apollo!
God of all ways, but only Death's to me,
Once and again, O thou, Destroyer named,
Thou hast destroyed me, thou, my love of old!

And she acknowledges her fault:

I consented [marriage] to Loxias [Apollo] but broke my word. ... Ever since that fault I could persuade no one of anything. [13]

Latin author Hyginus in Fabulae says: [14]

Cassandra, daughter of the king and queen, in the temple of Apollo, exhausted from practising, is said to have fallen asleep; whom, when Apollo wished to embrace her, she did not afford the opportunity of her body. On account of which thing, when she prophesied true things, she was not believed.

Louise Bogan, an American poet, writes that another way Cassandra, as well as her twin brother Helenus, had earned their prophetic powers: "she and her brother Helenus were left overnight in the temple of the Thymbraean Apollo. No reason has been advanced for this night in the temple; perhaps it was a ritual routinely performed by everyone. When their parents looked in on them the next morning, the children were entwined with serpents, which flicked their tongues into the children's ears. This enabled Cassandra and Helenus to divine the future." It would not be until Cassandra is much older that Apollo appears in the same temple and tried to seduce Cassandra, who rejects his advances, and curses her by making her prophecies not be believed. [15]

Her cursed gift from Apollo became an endless pain and frustration to her. She was seen as a liar and a madwoman by her family and by the Trojan people. Because of this, her father, Priam, had locked her away in a chamber and guarded her like the madwoman she was believed to be. [15] Though Cassandra made many predictions that went unbelieved, the one prophecy that was believed was that of Paris being her abandoned brother. [16]

Menelaus captures Helen in Troy, Ajax the Lesser drags Cassandra from Palladium before eyes of Priam, Roman mural from the Casa del Menandro, Pompeii Ajax drags Cassandra from Palladium.jpg
Menelaus captures Helen in Troy, Ajax the Lesser drags Cassandra from Palladium before eyes of Priam, Roman mural from the Casa del Menandro, Pompeii

Cassandra and the Fall of Troy

Before the fall of Troy

Ajax and Cassandra by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein, 1806 Aias und Kassandra (Tischbein).jpg
Ajax and Cassandra by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein, 1806

Before the fall of Troy took place, Cassandra foresaw that if Paris goes to Sparta and brings Helen back as his wife, the arrival of Helen would spark the downfall and destruction of Troy during the Trojan War. Despite the prophecy and ignoring Cassandra's warning, Paris still went to Sparta and returns with Helen. While the people of Troy rejoice, Cassandra, angry with Helen's arrival, furiously snatched away Helen's golden veil and tore at her hair. [16]

In Virgil's epic poem, the Aeneid, Cassandra warned the Trojans about the Greeks hiding inside the Trojan Horse, Agamemnon's death, her own demise at the hands of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra, her mother Hecuba's fate, Odysseus's ten-year wanderings before returning to his home, and the murder of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra by the latter's children Electra and Orestes. Cassandra predicted that her cousin Aeneas would escape during the fall of Troy and found a new nation in Rome. [17]

During the fall of Troy

Cassandra imploring Athena for revenge against Ajax, by Jerome-Martin Langlois, 1810-1838. Jerome-Martin Langlois - 1810 - Cassandra begging Minerva for vengeance on Ajax.jpg
Cassandra imploring Athena for revenge against Ajax, by Jerome-Martin Langlois, 1810-1838.

Coroebus and Othronus came to the aid of Troy during the Trojan War out of love for Cassandra and in exchange for her hand in marriage, but both were killed. [18] According to one account, Priam offered Cassandra to Telephus’s son Eurypylus, in order to induce Eurypylus to fight on the side of the Trojans. [19] Cassandra was also the first to see the body of her brother Hector being brought back to the city.

In The Fall of Troy, told by Quintus Smyrnaeus, Cassandra had attempted to warn the Trojan people that Greek warriors were hiding in the Trojan Horse while they were celebrating their victory over the Greeks with feasting. Disbelieving Cassandra, the Trojans resort to calling her names and hurling insults at her. Attempting to prove herself right, Cassandra took an axe in one hand and a burning torch in the other, and ran towards the Trojan Horse, intent on destroying the Greeks herself, but the Trojans stopped her. The Greeks hiding inside the Horse were relieved, but alarmed by how clearly she had divined their plan. [20]

Ajax and Cassandra by Solomon J. Solomon, 1886. Solomon Ajax and Cassandra.jpg
Ajax and Cassandra by Solomon J. Solomon, 1886.

At the fall of Troy, Cassandra sought shelter in the temple of Athena. There she embraced the wooden statue of Athena in supplication for her protection, but was abducted and brutally raped by Ajax the Lesser. Cassandra clung so tightly to the statue of the goddess that Ajax knocked it from its stand as he dragged her away. The actions of Ajax were a sacrilege because Cassandra was a supplicant at the sanctuary, and under the protection of the goddess Athena and Ajax further defiled the temple by raping Cassandra. [21] In Apollodorus chapter 6, section 6, Ajax's death comes at the hands of both Athena and Poseidon "Athena threw a thunderbolt at the ship of Ajax; and when the ship went to pieces he made his way safe to a rock, and declared that he was saved in spite of the intention of Athena. But Poseidon smote the rock with his trident and split it, and Ajax fell into the sea and perished; and his body, being washed up, was buried by Thetis in Myconos". [22]

Cassandra puts herself under the protection of Pallas, Aime Millet (1819-1891), Tuileries Garden, Paris Cassandre se met sous la protection de Pallas, Aime Millet (1819-1891), Jardin des Tuileries, Paris.jpg
Cassandra puts herself under the protection of Pallas, Aimé Millet (1819-1891), Tuileries Garden, Paris

In some versions, Cassandra intentionally left a chest behind in Troy, with a curse on whichever Greek opened it first. [23] Inside the chest was an image of Dionysus, made by Hephaestus and presented to the Trojans by Zeus. It was given to the Greek leader Eurypylus as a part of his share of the victory spoils of Troy. When he opened the chest and saw the image of the god, he went mad. [23]

The aftermath of Troy and Cassandra's death

Once Troy had fallen, Cassandra was taken as a pallake (concubine) by King Agamemnon of Mycenae. While away at war and unknown to Agamemnon, his wife, Clytemnestra, had taken Aegisthus as her lover. Cassandra and Agamemnon are later killed by both Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. Various sources state that Cassandra and Agamemnon had twin boys, Teledamus and Pelops, who were murdered by Aegisthus. [24]

The final resting place of Cassandra is either in Amyclae or Mycenae. In Amyclae, Cassandra has statue in both there and in Leuctra. In Mycenae, German business man and pioneer archeologist Heinrich Schliemann discovered in Grave Circle A the graves of Cassandra and Agamemnon and telegraphed back to King George of Greece:

With great joy I announce to Your Majesty that I have discovered the tombs which the tradition proclaimed by Pausanias indicates to be the graves of Agamemnon, Cassandra, Eurymedon and their companions, all slain at a banquet by Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthos.

However, it was later discovered that the graves predated the Trojan War by at least 300 years. [25]

Agamemnon by Aeschylus

Ajax taking Cassandra, tondo of a red-figure kylix by the Kodros Painter [el], c. 440-430 BC, Louvre Attic red-figure cup with Ajax and Cassandra Louvre G 458.jpg
Ajax taking Cassandra, tondo of a red-figure kylix by the Kodros Painter  [ el ], c. 440–430 BC, Louvre

The play Agamemnon from Aeschylus's trilogy Oresteia depicts the king treading the scarlet cloth laid down for him, and walking offstage to his death. [26] :ln. 972 After the chorus's ode of foreboding, time is suspended in Cassandra's "mad scene". [27] :p. 11–16 She has been onstage, silent and ignored. Her madness that is unleashed now is not the physical torment of other characters in Greek tragedy, such as in Euripides' Heracles or Sophocles' Ajax.

According to author Seth Schein, two further familiar descriptions of her madness are that of Heracles in The Women of Trachis or Io in Prometheus Bound. [27] :p. 11 She speaks, disconnectedly and transcendent, in the grip of her psychic possession by Apollo, [26] :ln. 1140 witnessing past and future events. Schein says, "She evokes the same awe, horror and pity as do schizophrenics". [27] :p. 12 Cassandra is one of those "who often combine deep, true insight with utter helplessness, and who retreat into madness."

Eduard Fraenkel remarked [27] :p. 11,note 6 [28] on the powerful contrasts between declaimed and sung dialogue in this scene. The frightened and respectful chorus are unable to comprehend her. She goes to her inevitable offstage murder by Clytemnestra with full knowledge of what is to befall her. [29] :pp. 42–55 [30] :pp. 52–58

See also

Notes

  1. A snake as a source of knowledge is a recurring theme in Greek mythology, though sometimes the snake brings understanding of the language of animals rather than an ability to know the future. Likewise, prophets without honor in their own country reflect a standard narrative trope.

Related Research Articles

Agamemnon Figure from Greek mythology

In Greek mythology, Agamemnon was a king of Mycenae, the son, or grandson, of King Atreus and Queen Aerope, the brother of Menelaus, the husband of Clytemnestra and the father of Iphigenia, Electra or Laodike (Λαοδίκη), Orestes and Chrysothemis. Legends make him the king of Mycenae or Argos, thought to be different names for the same area. When Menelaus's wife, Helen, was taken to Troy by Paris, Agamemnon commanded the united Greek armed forces in the ensuing Trojan War.

Aegisthus Figure in Greek mythology

Aegisthus was a figure in Greek mythology. Aegisthus is known from two primary sources: the first is Homer's Odyssey, believed to have been first written down by Homer at the end of the 8th century BC, and the second from Aeschylus's Oresteia, written in the 5th century, BC.

Hector Greek history hero

In Greek history and Roman history, Hector was a Trojan prince and the greatest warrior for Troy in the Trojan War. He led the Trojans and their allies in the defence of Troy, killing countless Greek warriors. He was ultimately killed in single combat by Achilles, who later carried his dead body around the city of Troy in his chariot.

Trojan War Legendary war in Greek mythology

In Greek mythology, the Trojan War was waged against the city of Troy by the Achaeans (Greeks) after Paris of Troy took Helen from her husband Menelaus, king of Sparta. The war is one of the most important events in Greek mythology and has been narrated through many works of Greek literature, most notably Homer's Iliad. The core of the Iliad describes a period of four days and two nights in the tenth year of the decade-long siege of Troy; the Odyssey describes the journey home of Odysseus, one of the war's heroes. Other parts of the war are described in a cycle of epic poems, which have survived through fragments. Episodes from the war provided material for Greek tragedy and other works of Greek literature, and for Roman poets including Virgil and Ovid.

Orestes Figure in Greek mythology

In Greek mythology, Orestes or Orestis was the son of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, and the brother of Electra. He is the subject of several Ancient Greek plays and of various myths connected with his madness and purification, which retain obscure threads of much older ones.

Hecuba Spouse of king Priam in Greek mythology

Hecuba was a queen in Greek mythology, the wife of King Priam of Troy during the Trojan War. She had 19 children, some of which included major characters of Homer's Iliad such as the warriors Hector and Paris, as well as the prophetess Cassandra. Two of them, Hector and Troilus, are said to have been born as a result of Hecuba's relationship with the god Apollo.

Atreus King of Mycenae, father of Agamemnon and Menelaus

In Greek mythology, Atreus was a king of Mycenae in the Peloponnese, the son of Pelops and Hippodamia, and the father of Agamemnon and Menelaus. Collectively, his descendants are known as Atreidai or Atreidae.

Helenus of Troy Mythical Trojan prince, son of Priam and Hecuba

In Greek mythology, Helenus was a gentle and clever seer. He was also a Trojan prince as the son of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy, and the twin brother of the prophetess Cassandra. He was also called Scamandrios, and was a lover of Apollo.

Neoptolemus Greek mythological figure; son of Achilles

In Greek mythology, Neoptolemus, also called Pyrrhus, was the son of the warrior Achilles and the princess Deidamia, and the brother of Oneiros. He became the mythical progenitor of the ruling dynasty of the Molossians of ancient Epirus.

Diomedes Hero in Greek mythology

Diomedes or Diomede is a hero in Greek mythology, known for his participation in the Trojan War.

<i>Oresteia</i> Trilogy of Greek tragedies written by Aeschylus

The Oresteia is a trilogy of Greek tragedies written by Aeschylus in the 5th century BC, concerning the murder of Agamemnon by Clytemnestra, the murder of Clytemnestra by Orestes, the trial of Orestes, the end of the curse on the House of Atreus and the pacification of the Erinyes. The trilogy—consisting of Agamemnon (Ἀγαμέμνων), The Libation Bearers (Χοηφóρoι), and The Eumenides (Εὐμενίδες)—also shows how the Greek gods interacted with the characters and influenced their decisions pertaining to events and disputes. The only extant example of an ancient Greek theatre trilogy, the Oresteia won first prize at the Dionysia festival in 458 BC. The principal themes of the trilogy include the contrast between revenge and justice, as well as the transition from personal vendetta to organized litigation. Oresteia originally included a satyr play, Proteus (Πρωτεύς), following the tragic trilogy, but all except a single line of Proteus has been lost.

<i>Helen of Troy</i> (miniseries)

Helen of Troy is a 2003 British-American television miniseries based upon Homer's story of the Trojan War, as recounted in the epic poem, Iliad. This TV miniseries also shares the name with a 1956 movie starring Stanley Baker. It stars Sienna Guillory as Helen, Matthew Marsden as Paris, Rufus Sewell as Agamemnon, James Callis as Menelaus, John Rhys-Davies as Priam, Maryam d'Abo as Hecuba, as well as Stellan Skarsgård as Theseus. The series was entirely shot on location in the islands of Malta.

<i>Posthomerica</i> Epic poem by Quintus of Smyrna

The Posthomerica is an epic poem in Greek hexameter verse by Quintus of Smyrna. Probably written in the 3rd century AD, it tells the story of the Trojan War, between the death of Hector and the fall of Ilium.

Clytemnestra Figure from Greek mythology

Clytemnestra, in Greek mythology, was the wife of Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, and the sister of Helen of Troy. In Aeschylus' Oresteia, she murders Agamemnon – said by Euripides to be her second husband – and the Trojan princess Cassandra, whom Agamemnon had taken as a war prize following the sack of Troy; however, in Homer's Odyssey, her role in Agamemnon's death is unclear and her character is significantly more subdued.

Returns from Troy Greek myths about the warriors voyages home

The Returns from Troy are the stories of how the Greek leaders returned after their victory in the Trojan War. Many Achaean heroes did not return to their homes, but died or founded colonies outside the Greek mainland. The most famous returns are those of Odysseus, whose wanderings are narrated in the Odyssey, and Agamemnon, whose murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra was portrayed in Greek tragedy.

Cassandra (novel) 1983 novel by Christa Wolf

Cassandra is a 1983 novel by the German author Christa Wolf. It has since been translated into a number of languages. Swiss composer Michael Jarrell has adapted the novel for speaker and instrumental ensemble, and his piece has been performed frequently.

<i>The Firebrand</i> (Bradley novel) 1987 novel by Marion Zimmer Bradley

The Firebrand is a 1987 historical fantasy novel by American author Marion Zimmer Bradley. Set in the ancient city of Troy, the novel is a re-telling of Homer's epic poem, the Iliad. The Firebrand is written from the point of view of Kassandra, the prophet daughter of King Priam of Troy, and also features other prominent characters from Greek mythology. As in the Iliad, Kassandra foresees catastrophe for her city but few pay heed to her warnings. In Bradley's story, Kassandra is presented as a strong and insightful woman, rather than as a sufferer of insanity.

<i>Agamemnon</i> (Seneca) Tragedy by Seneca

Agamemnon is a fabula crepidata of c. 1012 lines of verse written by Lucius Annaeus Seneca in the first century AD, which tells the story of Agamemnon, who was killed by his wife Clytemnestra in his palace after his return from Troy.

Eurypylus (son of Telephus)

In Greek mythology, Eurypylus ("Broadgate") was the son of Telephus, king of Mysia. He was a great warrior, who led a Mysian contingent that fought alongside the Trojans against the Greeks in the Trojan War. He killed Machaon, and was himself killed by Achilles' son Neoptolemus.

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Primary sources

Further reading