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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. Unfortunately for her, the god Apollo inflicted a curse upon her, so that regardless of how truthful her words were, no one would believe her.
The metaphor 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 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.
Many men, including Coroebus , Othronus, and Eurypylus, desired Cassandra, 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. But 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.
Cassandra faced many challenges and difficulties from the time 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. Ironically, it was Cassandra who 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 foretell many key events before and during the Trojan war. Had she been believed, the tide of these events could have been turned, and the entire could have had a different outcome for the Trojans.
For example, 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.
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. No on 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.
Symbolism and Symbols of Cassandra
Cassandra is a tragic figure in ancient Greek mythology, known for her gift of prophecy, which was also her curse. As a character, Cassandra is rich in symbolic value, representing several universal themes. These include:
- Ignored Warnings: Cassandra represents the tragic consequences that follow unheeded prophesy and foresight. She predicted several key events during the Trojan War, but was always ignored. This can be interpreted as a cautionary symbol about the dangers of ignoring unpleasant truths or warnings.
- Power and Powerlessness: Cassandra has a great power, which is a gift, but it’s also her curse and renders her powerless. This duality symbolizes the paradox of possessing great ability or knowledge, but being unable to use or benefit from it.
- Voicelessness: Despite her gift of voice (prophecy), Cassandra’s curse effectively silences her and makes others ignore her. This can symbolize the plight of those who speak out, especially women in patriarchal societies, only to be ignored or marginalized, as this study outlines.
There aren’t many physical objects associated with Cassandra. But the most common would be Troy and the Trojan Horse. Cassandra’s most famous prophecy was about the fall of Troy and the danger of the Trojan Horse. These objects, especially the horse, can be symbolic of her tragic foresight.
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 Troy by 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.
The Cassandra Complex
Cassandra’s myth has become a metaphor that’s often used in scientific and corporate contexts. Know as the Cassandra Complex, it refers to individuals whose valid concerns are either disbelieved or invalidated for no specific reason. 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 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’s parents were Priam, King of Troy and Hecuba, Queen of Troy.
Teledamus and Pelops.
Cassandra was forcibly taken as a concubine by King Agamemnon of Mycenae.
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.
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.