Cassandra: Wikis


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In Greek mythology, Cassandra (Greek: Κασσάνδρα, "she who entangles men",[1] also known as Alexandra[2]) was the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy. Her beauty caused Apollo to grant her the gift of prophecy. In an alternative version, she spent a night at Apollo's temple, 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.[3] However, when she did not return his love, Apollo placed a curse on her so that no one would ever believe her predictions. She is a figure both of the epic tradition and of tragedy, where her combination of deep understanding and powerlessness exemplify the tragic condition of humankind.



Ajax and Cassandra by Solomon Joseph Solomon, 1886.

Apollo's cursed gift became a source of endless pain and frustration. 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.

Telephos, the son of Heracles, loved Cassandra[citation needed] but she scorned him and instead helped him seduce her sister Laodice.

In Aeschylus' Agamemnon

In Aeschylus' Agamemnon, Agamemnon, 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", which does nothing to advance the action in any way.[4] 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,[5] but she speaks, disconnectedly and transcendent, in the grip of her psychic possession by Apollo,[6] witnessing events past and future. "She evokes the same awe, horror and pity as do schizophrenics", an observer[7] has noted, "who often combine deep, true insight with utter helplessness, and who retreat into madness." Eduard Fraenkel remarked[8] 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.[9]

Greek and Latin sources

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, 246ff; Lycophron. Alexandra

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.

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 an allegory for both the unheard voice of the woman writer and the oppression and strict censorship laws of East Germany.

Ajax taking Cassandra, tondo of a red-figure kylix by the Kodros Painter, ca. 440-430 BC, Louvre

Author William Faulkner, in his novel Absalom, Absalom!, writes of Rosa Coldfield, a principal character in the Sutpen Dynasty/Tragedy, and how her "childhood ... consisted of a Cassandra-like listening beyond closed doors", alluding to both mythological concerns that (1) Cassandra was locked away, or behind closed doors (as with Rosa's youth), and (2) that Cassandra's prophecies were true, yet fated to be ignored (as with Rosa's premonitions about Thomas Sutpen and his desire to forge a dynasty).

The author Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote a historical novel called 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 Clemence McLearn's Inside the Walls of Troy, Cassandra has a strong friendship with Queen Helen of Sparta when she came to Troy with Prince Paris. Cassandra essentially hates Helen but gives in to her unbearable joy and happiness and becomes Helen's "confidante". At the end of the story instead of Cassandra being raped and taken as Agamemnon's "battle prize", she simply joins her two sisters, Polyxena and Laodice, at the temple of Athena. The rest of her story is left untold.

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 Hercules: The Animated Series (presented by Disney), Hercules befriends Icarus and Cassandra at his local high school.

Modern usage

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. Notable examples are the character of River Tam from the science fiction TV series Firefly, the character Cassandra in the TV series The X-Files (an alien abductee that nobody took seriously), and the science fiction short story "Cassandra" by C. J. Cherryh. Even pop group ABBA recorded a song titled "Cassandra" about her.

Syrigx's demo EP cover "The Cassandra Syndrome"

See also


  1. ^ This is Robert Graves' etymology.
  2. ^ See Lycophron's poem Alexandra, which was about assandra.
  3. ^ Compare Melampus; Athena cleaned the ears of Tiresias
  4. ^ Seth L. Schein, "The Cassandra Scene in Aeschylus' 'Agamemnon'" Greece & Rome, Second Series, 29.1 (April 1982:11-16).
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ The chorus find her to be "crazed in mind and transported by a god" (Agamemnon, 1140).
  7. ^ Schein 1982:12
  8. ^ Fraenkel, Kleine Beiträge zur klassische Philologie , vol. I (Rome) 1964, 344-48, 375-87, noted in Schein 1982 note 6
  9. ^ 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.

Further reading

Primary sources

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CASSANDRA, in Greek legend, daughter of Priam and Hecuba. She was beloved of Apollo, who promised to bestow on her the spirit of prophecy if she would comply with his desires. Cassandra accepted the proposal; but no sooner had she obtained the gift than she laughed at the tempter, and refused to fulfil her promise. Apollo revenged himself by ordaining that her predictions should be discredited (Apollodorus iii. 12.5); and hence it was in vain that on the arrival of Helen she prophesied the ruin of Troy. On the capture of that city she was ravished by Ajax, the son of 011eus, in the temple of Minerva (Strabo vi. p. 264). In the distribution of the booty, Cassandra fell to the lot of Agamemnon; but again her foresight was useless, for he would not believe her prediction that he should perish in his own country. The prophecy was fulfilled, for both were slain through the intrigues of Clytaemnestra (Odyssey, xi. 421 ff.). It is to be noticed that there is no mention in Homer of her prophetic gifts. Together with Apollo, she was worshipped under the name of Alexandra.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



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Ancient Greek Κασσάνδρα.

Proper noun




  1. (Greek mythology) Daughter of King Priam of Troy and his queen Hecuba, who captured the eye of Apollo and was granted the ability to see the future. However, she was destined to never be believed.
  2. A female given name.
    • 1605 William Camden, Remains Concerning Britain, John Russell Smith, 1870, page 56
      But succeeding ages (little regarding S. Chrysosthome's admonition to the contrary) have recalled prophane names, so as now Diana, Cassandra, Hyppolytus, Venus, Lais, names of unhappy disaster are as rife, as ever they were in paganism.
  3. A person who makes predictions which are never believed but turn out to be true.

Derived terms


See also

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