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In Greek mythology, Cassandra (Greek: Κασσάνδρα "she who entangles men") (also known as Alexandra) was a daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy whose beauty caused Apollo to grant her the gift of prophecy. However, when she did not return his love, Apollo placed a curse on her so that no one would ever believe her predictions.


[edit] History

In an alternative version, she spent a night at Apollo's temple with her twin brother, at which time the temple snakes licked her ears clean so that she was able to hear the future. This is a recurring theme in Greek mythology, though sometimes it brings an ability to understand the language of animals rather than an ability to know the future.

Apollo loved Cassandra, and when she did not return his love, he cursed her so that her former gift would become a source of endless pain and frustration. In some versions of the myth, this is symbolised by the god spitting into her mouth; in other Greek myths, this act was sufficient to remove the gift so recently given by Apollo, but Cassandra's case varies. From the play Agamemnon, it appears that she made a promise to Apollo to become his consort, but broke it, thus incurring his wrath.

Telephus the son of Heracles also loved Cassandra but she scorned him and instead helped him seduce her sister Laodice.

When Cassandra foresees the destruction of Troy (she warns the Trojans about the Trojan Horse, the death of Agamemnon, and her own demise), she is unable to do anything to forestall these events. Her family believes she is mad, and, according to some versions, kept her locked up because of this. From her appearances in various plays, it seems that the incarceration drove her truly mad, at least by the time of Troy's destruction.

Coroebus and Othronus came to the aid of Troy out of love for Cassandra. Cassandra was also the first to see the body of her brother Hector being brought back to the city.

After the Trojan War, she sought shelter in the temple of Athena, where she was raped by Ajax the Lesser. Cassandra is then taken as a concubine by King Agamemnon of Mycenae. Unbeknownst to Agamemnon, while he was away at war, his wife, Clytemnestra, had begun an affair with Aegisthus. Upon Agamemnon and Cassandra's arrival in Mycenae, Clytemnestra asks her husband to walk across a purple carpet, the color purple symbolizing the gods. He initially refuses, but gives in and enters by walking on this purple carpet he is committing sacrilege, ignoring Cassandra's warnings. Clytemnestra and Aegisthus then murder both Agamemnon and Cassandra. Some sources mention that Cassandra and Agamemnon have twin boys Teledamus and Pelops, both of whom are killed by Aegisthus.

Homer. Iliad XXIV, 697-706; Homer. Odyssey XI, 405-434; Aeschylus. Agamemnon; Euripides. Trojan Women; Euripides. Electra; Apollodorus. Bibliotheke III, xii, 5; Apollodorus. Epitome V, 17-22; VI, 23; Virgil. Aeneid II, 246-

[edit] Troilus and Criseyde

Cassandra appears in Book V of Geoffrey Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde as the sister of the protagonist Troilus.

When Troilus has a dream where his lover Criseyde is engaged in an erotic liaison with a boar, he goes to Cassandra to interpret the dream for him. She correctly interprets it to mean that Criseyde has left Troilus for the Greek warrior, Diomede (who has an ancestor famous for slaying a boar.)

As a result of her curse, Troilus does not believe Cassandra and dismisses what she says:

"`Thou seyst nat sooth,' quod he, `thou sorceresse,
With al thy false goost of prophesye!
Thou wenest been a greet devyneresse;
Now seestow not this fool of fantasye
Peyneth hir on ladyes for to lye?
Awey!' quod he. `Ther Ioves yeve thee sorwe!
Thou shalt be fals, paraunter, yet to-morwe!"

[edit] Modern adaptations

A modern psychological perspective on Cassandra is presented by Eric Shanower in Age of Bronze: Sacrifice. In this version, Cassandra, as a child, is molested by a man pretending to be a god. His warning "No one will believe you!" is one often spoken by abusers to their child victims.

A similar situation occurred in Lindsay Clarke's novel The Return from Troy (presented as a reawakened memory), where a priest of Apollo forced himself upon Cassandra and was stopped only when she spat in his mouth. When the priest used his benevolent reputation to convince Priam that he was innocent of her wild claims, Cassandra subsequently went insane.

The myth of Cassandra is also retold by German author Christa Wolf in "Kassandra." She retells the story from the point of view of Cassandra at the moment of her death and uses the myth as a metaphor for the both the unheard voice of the woman writer and the oppression and strict censorship laws of socialist East Germany.

The ABBA song Cassandra is most likely about Cassandra of Troy.

The author Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote an historical novel called, "Firebrand", which presents a story from Cassandra's point of view.

[edit] Modern usage

Michelangelo's depiction of the Delphic Sibyl, sometimes identified with Cassandra, and therefore with a specific allusion of the author to classical antiquity. (Fresco at the Sistine Chapel).

In more modern literature, Cassandra has often served as a model for tragedy and Romance, and has given rise to the archetypical character of someone whose prophetic insight is obscured by insanity, turning their revelations into riddles or disjointed statements that are not fully comprehended until after the fact. Notable examples are the character of River Tam from the science fiction TV series Firefly and the science fiction short story "Cassandra" by C. J. Cherryh.

Cassandra is the title of an episode of the British sci-fi comedy series Red Dwarf. In it a futuristic computer, Cassandra, is discovered to have the ability to predict the future. She foretells a number of conversations and events which each come true, save for one scenario where Lister kills Rimmer in a jealous rage. It emerges this is a lie to try to punish Lister for his responsibility for her later death, which she correctly predicts he accidentally causes. The story in the episode deviates somewhat from myth in that she is not universally disbelieved. The theme of the futility or otherwise of trying to change the future is explored at several points in the episode.

The word Cassandra has become widely used. In modern usage, however, a "Cassandra" tends to describe someone who makes true predictions which are disbelieved.

The Cassandra Syndrome is used to describe someone who believes that he or she can see the future but cannot do anything about it. Fictional character Dr. Kathryn Railly explores this syndrome and those who suffer from it in Twelve Monkeys.

Cassandra is also known as Alexandra. In the video games Soul Calibur II and Soul Calibur III, there is a character named Cassandra Alexandra, the sister of Sophitia Alexandra (which is derived from "Sophia"). In Soul Edge, however, Cassandra's name was mistranslated as Kathandra.

A first season episode of Smallville entitled "Hourglass" featured a character named Cassandra Carver, who gained the ability to see the future after a kryptonite meteor explosion destroyed her optic nerves, blinding her to normal sight.

The story of Cassandra was also used in a song by Norwegian goth band Theatre of Tragedy, entitled "Cassandra" on the concept album Aégis, and also in multiple songs by epic metal band Blind Guardian.

The first demo EP of the Romanian noise/black metal band Syrigx is entitled "The Cassandra Syndrome". The EP is based entirely on the Greek myth.

Folk and popular music group ABBA also used the story of Cassandra in one of their last recorded songs entitled "Cassandra".

Mathcore band Fear Before the March of Flames uses elements of the story of Cassandra in there song "Taking Cassandra to the End of the World Party" which is found on there album The Always Open Mouth. Some of the lines of the song include " one listens to the damned" and "don't believe this girl, she preaches mayhem".

Many people refer to popular figures as "the Cassandra". An example of this is seen in the British pre-WWII appeasement historian Dr. Patrick Finney's comments on Winston Churchill's work, The Gathering Storm, in which he calls Churchill "...the Cassandra of the 1930s whose warnings and calls for resistance to Hitler were consistently ignored." [1]

[edit] Further reading

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