Cassandra – Greek Princess, Priestess, and Prophetess

Affiliate Disclosures

In Greek mythology, Cassandra, also known as Alexandra, was a princess of Troy and a priestess of Apollo. She was a beautiful and intelligent woman who could prophesy and foretell the future. Cassandra had a curse inflicted upon her by god Apollo where her truthful words were believed by none. The myth of Cassandra has been used by contemporary philosophers, psychologists, and political scientists to explain the condition of valid truths being disregarded and disbelieved.

Let’s take a closer look at Cassandra and explore how her myth has changed and grown over the centuries.

Cassandra’s Origins

Cassandra was born to King Priam and Queen Hecuba, the rulers of Troy. She was the most beautiful of all Trojan princesses’ and her brothers were Helenus and Hector, the famous Trojan war heroes. Cassandra and Hector were one of the few favored and admired by God Apollo.

Cassandra was desired and sought by many men such as Coroebus , Othronus, and  Eurypylus , but the paths of destiny led  her to King Agamemnon, and she gave birth to two of his sons. Although Cassandra was a brave, intelligent, and clever woman, her powers and abilities were never truly appreciated by the people of Troy.

Cassandra and Apollo

The most important event of Cassandra’s life was the encounter with the god Apollo. Although there are several versions of Cassandra’s stories, all of them have some connection with God Apollo. 

Cassandra became a priestess in Apollo’s temple and vowed a life of purity, divinity, and virginity. 

Apollo saw Cassandra in his temple and fell in love with her. Due to his admiration and affection, he gave Cassandra the powers of prophesying and foretelling. Despite Apollo’s favors, Cassandra could not reciprocate his feelings, and rejected his advances towards her. This angered Apollo, and he cursed her powers, so that no one would believe her prophecies.

In another version of the story, Cassandra promises various favors to Aeschylus, but goes back on her word after she obtains powers from Apollo. An angered Apollo then puts a curse upon her powers for being untruthful to Aeschylus. After this, Cassandra’s prophecies are not believed or acknowledged by her own people.

Later versions of the myth say that Casandra fell asleep in Apollo’s temple and serpents whispered or licked her ears. She then heard what was happening in the future and prophesied about it.

Apollo’s Curse

Cassandra faced many challenges and difficulties ever since she was cursed by Apollo. She was not only disbelieved, but also termed as a mad and insane woman. Cassandra was not permitted to stay in the royal palace, and king Priam locked her in a room much farther away. Cassandra taught Helenus the skills of prophesying, and while his words were taken to be the truth, she was consistently criticized and disbelieved.  

Cassandra and the Trojan War

Cassandra was able to prophesy about many events before and during the Trojan war. She tried to stop Paris from going to Sparta , but he and his companions ignored her. When Paris came back to Troy with Helen, Cassandra showed her objection by ripping of Helen’s veil and tearing at her hair. Although Cassandra was able to foresee the destruction of Troy, the Trojans neither acknowledged nor listened to her.

Trojan horse Diomedes

Cassandra predicted the death of many heroes and soldiers during the Trojan war. She also prophesied that Troy would be destroyed by a wooden horse. She informed the Trojan’s about Greeks hiding in the Trojan horse, but everyone was busy drinking, feasting and celebrating, after the ten-year war that none took heed of her.

Cassandra then took matters into her own hands and set to destroy the wooden horse with a torch and an axe. However, her advances were stopped by the Trojan warriors. After the Greeks won the war and the Trojans were destroyed, Cassandra was the first to glance upon Hector’s body.

Some writers and historians attribute the famous phrase “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts” to Cassandra.

Cassandra’s Life After Troy

The most tragic event in Cassandra’s life occurred after the Trojan war. Cassandra went to live and serve in the temple of Athena and held onto the goddess’s idol for security and protection. However, Cassandra was spotted by Ajax the Lesser, who forcibly abducted and raped her.  

Enraged at this blasphemous act, Athena, Poseidon, and Zeus set out to punish Ajax. While Poseidon sent storms and winds to destroy the Greek fleet, Athena killed Ajax. To make up for Ajax’s heinous crime, the Locrians sent two maidens to serve at Athena’s temple every year.

Meanwhile, Cassandra took revenge on the Greeks by leaving behind a chest that invoked madness upon those who opened it.  

Cassandra’s Captivity and Death

After Cassandra was abducted and raped by Ajax, she  was taken as a concubine by King Agamemnon . Cassandra gave birth to two of Agamemnon sons, Teledamus and Pelops.

Cassandra and her sons returned to Agamemnon’s kingdom after the Trojan war but were met by an ill fate. Agamemnon’s wife and her lover murdered both Cassandra and Agamemnon, along with their children.

Cassandra was either buried at Amyclae or Mycenae, and her spirit travelled to the Elysian Fields, where the good and worthy souls rested.

Cultural Representations of Cassandra

There are many plays, poems, and novels written on the myth of Cassandra. The Fall of Troy by Quintus Smyrnaeus depicts Cassandra’s bravery in venturing to destroy the wooden horse.

In the novel Cassandra, Princess of Troyby Hillary Bailey, Cassandra settles into a peaceful life after the gruesome and tragic events she faced.  

The novel Fireband by Marion Zimmer looks at the myth of Cassandra from a feminist perspective, where she journeys to Asia and begins a kingdom ruled by woman. Christa Wolf‘s book Kassandra is a political novel  that reveals Cassandra as a woman who knows several true facts about the government.

Cassandra symbolism and importance in Greek mythology

The Cassandra Complex

Cassandra complex refers to individuals whose valid concerns are either disbelieved or invalidated. The term was coined by the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard in 1949. It is popularly used by psychologists, philosophers, environmentalists, and even corporations.

Individual environmental activists are termed Cassandras if their warnings and foretellings are mocked. In the corporate world, the name Cassandra is used to refer to those who can predict rises, falls, and crashes of the stock market.

Cassandra Facts

1- Who are Cassandra’s parents?

Cassandra’s parents were Priam, King of Troy and Hecuba, Queen of Troy.

2- Who are Cassandra’s children?

Teledamus and Pelops.

3- Does Cassandra get married?

Cassandra was forcibly taken as a concubine by King Agamemnon of Mycenae.

4- Why is Cassandra cursed?

Cassandra was given the gift of prophecy but then was cursed by Apollo so that she wouldn’t be believed. There are different versions as to why she was cursed, but the most common is that she refused to keep to her end of the deal after promising Apollo sex in exchange for the gift of prophecy.

In Brief

The character of Cassandra has fascinated and inspired writers and poets for over thousands of years. She has especially influenced tragic and epic genres of writing. The myth of Cassandra is a fine example of how stories and folktales continuously grow, develop, and change.