In Greek mythology, Cassandra (Greek Κασσάνδρα, also Κασάνδρα) was the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy. She had the power of prophecy and the curse of never being believed. A common version of her story is that Apollo gave her the power of prophecy to seduce her, and then cursed her when he failed. In an alternate version, she fell asleep in a temple, and snakes licked her ears 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). When Cassandra refused Apollo's attempted seduction, he placed a curse on her so that her predictions and those of all her descendants would not be believed. She is a figure of both epic tradition and of tragedy.
According to legend, Cassandra was a beautiful girl with red hair kept in curls, blue eyes, and fair skin. She is portrayed as intelligent, charming, desirable, elegant, friendly, and gentle – but towards the end of her life she was regarded as mentally unstable. Cassandra was described as the "second most beautiful woman in the world." Her beauty was even compared to that of Aphrodite and Helen of Troy.
In Mythic tradition, Cassandra's ability to hear the future, combined with Apollo's curse that she not be believed, created a source of endless pain and frustration to her. In some versions of the myth, this is symbolized by the god spitting into her mouth; in other Greek versions, this act was sufficient to remove the gift so recently given by Apollo, but Cassandra's case varies. From Aeschylus' Agamemnon, it appears that she has made a promise to Apollo to become his consort, but broke it, thus incurring his wrath: though she has retained the power of foresight, no one will believe her predictions.
While Cassandra foresaw the destruction of Troy (she warned the Trojans about the Trojan Horse, the death of Agamemnon, and her own demise), she was unable to do anything to forestall these tragedies since no one believed her. 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.
At the fall of Troy, she sought shelter in the temple of Athena, where she was violently abducted and raped by Ajax the Lesser. Cassandra was 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. Clytemnestra and Aegisthus then murdered both Agamemnon and Cassandra. Some sources mention that Cassandra and Agamemnon had twin boys, Teledamus and Pelops, both of whom were killed by Aegisthus.
Agamemnon by Aeschylus
In Aeschylus' Agamemnon, the king, treading the scarlet cloth laid down for him, walks offstage to his sure death at line 972. After the chorus's ode of foreboding, time is suspended in Cassandra's "mad scene". 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, but she speaks, disconnectedly and transcendent, in the grip of her psychic possession by Apollo, witnessing past and future events. "She evokes the same awe, horror and pity as do schizophrenics", an observer has noted, "who often combine deep, true insight with utter helplessness, and who retreat into madness." Eduard Fraenkel remarked 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.
In the DC comic The Sandman, Delirium, one of The Endless, has some form of prophetic knowledge but due to her chaotic nature, her prophecies almost never make sense until it is too late and no other character recognizes them.
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 story 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 tale as an allegory for both the unheard voice of the woman writer and the oppression and strict censorship in East Germany.
Cassandra is the main protagonist of the eponymous play by the Ukrainian author Lesya Ukrainka.
The author Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote a fantasy novel called The Firebrand, which presents a story from Cassandra's point of view. Marcus Sedgwick's novel The Foreshadowing features a protagonist named Alexandra who has the gift of foresight, though she sees mainly others' pain and death.
In David Gemmell's Troy trilogy, Cassandra is credited with opening the mind of exiled Egyptian prince Gershom (Moses) to his own gift of prophecy. Cassandra got her gift after suffering from 'brain-fever' as a young child, and dies in the volcanic eruption of Thera.
In the section Cassandra of Suggestions for Thought to Searchers after Religious Truth, Florence Nightingale protests the over-feminization of women into near helplessness, such as what Nightingale saw in her mother's and older sister's lethargic lifestyle despite their education. The work also reflects her fear of her ideas being ineffective, as were Cassandra's.
In Hector Berlioz’s opera Les Troyens (1863), based on Virgil's The Aeneid, Cassandra commits suicide with other Trojan women as Troy falls, rather than being raped by Ajax. She dies with the word “Italy” on her lips, presaging (in prophetess mode) her cousin Aeneas’s eventual founding of Rome. This is a role written for a dramatic mezzosoprano, whose most important interpreters in the last years were singers like Petra Lang, Jessye Norman and Anna Caterina Antonacci.
In the 1997-2003 television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the seventh season episode "Help" features a character named "Cassie Newton" (played by Azura Skye), a teenage girl who can see the future, such as her own death, her best friend's history test results, the protagonist Buffy Summers' future battle with The First in "Chosen," etc.
In The Secret Series by Pseudonymous Bosch, the narrator gives each character a fake name to hide their identity (for the characters' protection). The name he gives the main protagonist is "Cassandra", or "Cass" for short, naming her after Cassandra of the myth, as Cass is always predicting dangerous events.
Cassandra appears as a main character in Disney's Hercules voiced by Sandra Bernhard. She appears as a friend of Hercules and Icarus. Like in mythology, she could foresee the future and was generally unbelieved until the event happens. This has caused her to be pessimistic to humorous levels.
In J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, the Divination professor is said to be the great-great-granddaughter of "the celebrated Seer Cassandra Trelawney." (See: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, chapter 15)
In Theresa Tomlinson's novel "The Moon Rider," Cassandra becomes a Moon Rider and is presented as Trojan princess promised to Apollo.
The musical group 'ABBA' has a song named "Cassandra" including the lyrics "But none of us would listen to words of warning", and "Sorry Cassandra, I didn't believe you really had the power; I only saw it as dreams you would weave, until the final hour."
The artist Emmy the Great has a song called "Cassandra" on her second album, "Virtue". The song refers to Cassandra's prophetic power and inability to change the future: "And daily, you saw it come, And you gave warning but couldn't run, And so you watched until it was broken, And knew that foresight delays no motion."
In the 1997 horror film, Scream 2, the main character of Sidney Prescott plays the title role of Cassandra in her college's play about the myth. She is shown rehearsing a scene from after the fall of Troy.
In Sheri S. Tepper's post-apocalyptic novel The Gate to Women's Country, the women put on a performance of a play entitled "Iphigenia at Ilium", which tells the story of the Siege of Troy from the point of view of the women in the story, including Cassandra. Cassandra appears as a ghost in the play.
In the film 12 Monkeys, Cassandra is referenced by a protagonist who has difficulty believing a time-traveler from the future.
In the Dresden Files series, the protagonist meets a character afflicted with Cassandra's Tears, well known in-universe among the supernatural community. The victim is seized with visions of the future, which always come to pass but are never believed by others. The condition itself might be considered a Cassandra affliction, in addition to the visions - there is no physical or psychic evidence of it on a person, so others often do not believe that they have it.
In the 1995 film, Mighty Aphrodite, one of the Greek Chorus is Cassandra.
In more modern literature, Cassandra has often served as a model for tragedy and romance, and has given rise to the archetypal 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.
In his 2011 novel The Diviner's Tale, Bradford Morrow names the protagonist Cassandra. She is a Diviner, also called a water-witch or dowser, who finds spots for wells and ponds in the back country, for farmers and developers. Cassandra foretells a murder that seems unlikely at first, and then impossible, but finally proves to be prophetic and leads to the discovery of a serial murderer.
A manga called "Uncassandra" by Hifumishi Gorou refers to Cassandra's prophetic ability and stars two people who have the ability to predict disasters, but who decide to sabotage their own prophecies and prevent the disasters they've seen from occurring.
Greek and Latin sources
- Homer. Iliad XXIV, 697-706; Odyssey XI, 405-434;
- Aeschylus. Agamemnon
- Euripides. Trojan Women; Electra
- Bibliotheca III, xii, 5; Epitome V, 17-22; VI, 23
- Virgil. Aeneid II, 246ff
- Lycophron. Alexandra
Quintus Smyrnaeus: Posthomerica (after Homer)
- Apollo archetype
- Cassandra (metaphor)
- Novikov self-consistency principle
- The Boy Who Cried Wolf
- Hjalmar Frisk (1970) notes "unexplained etymology", citing "various hypotheses" found in Schulze Kleine Schriften (1966), 698, Hoffmann Glotta 28, 52, Sturtevant Class. Phil. 21, 248f., J. Davreux La légende de la prophétesse Cassandre (Paris 1942) 90ff., Carnoy Les ét. class. 22, 344.
- Compare Melampus; Athena cleaned the ears of Tiresias
- Schein, Seth L. (1982). "The Cassandra Scene in Aeschylus' 'Agamemnon'". Greece & Rome. Second Series 29 (1): 11–16. doi:10.1017/S0017383500028278.
- Or descriptions of madness, such as that of Heracles in The Women of Trachis or Io in Prometheus Bound, two further familiar examples cited by Schein 1982:11.
- The chorus find her to be "crazed in mind and transported by a god" (Agamemnon, 1140).
- Schein 1982:12
- Fraenkel, Kleine Beiträge zur klassische Philologie , vol. I (Rome) 1964, 344-48, 375-87, noted in Schein 1982:11 note 6
- Analyses of the Cassandra scene are in Bernard Knox Word and Action: Eassays on the Ancient theatre (Baltimore and London: Penguin) 1979:42-55; and more briefly, in Anne Lebeck, The Oresteia: A study in language and structure (Washington) 1971:52-58.
- Morrow, Bradford. "The Diviner's Tale". Houghton Mifflin.
- Clarke, Lindsay. The Return from Troy. HarperCollins (2005). ISBN 0-00-715027-X.
- Marion Zimmer Bradley. The Firebrand. ISBN 0-451-45924-5
- Patacsil, Par. Cassandra. In The Likhaan Book of Plays 1997-2003. Villanueva and Nadera, eds. University of the Philippines Press (2006). ISBN 971-542-507-0
- Ukrainka, Lesya. Cassandra. Original Publication: Lesya Ukrainka. Life and work by Constantine Bida. Selected works, translated by Vera Rich. Toronto: Published for the Women's Council of the Ukrainian Canadian Committee by University of Toronto Press, 1968. Pp. 181–239
- Schapira, Laurie L. The Cassandra Complex: Living with Disbelief: A Modern Perspective on Hysteria. Toronto: Inner City Books (1988). ISBN 0-919123-35-X. (This work is mentioned in the Cassandra (Metaphor) page in the Wiki.)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Cassandra.|
- Virgil, Aeneid II.246-247, 341-346, 403-408
- Theoi Project: Cassandra, classical sources in English translation