06 Jun Cassandra
Cassandra (Greek: Κασσάνδρα, pronounced [kas̚sándra͜a], also Κασσάνδρα), also known as Alexandra or Kassandra, was a daughter of King Priam and of Queen Hecuba of Troy.
A common version of her story relates how, in an effort to seduce her, Apollo gave her the power of prophecy—but when she refused him, he spat into her mouth to inflict a curse that nobody would ever believe her prophecies. In an alternative version, she fell asleep in a temple, and snakes licked (or whispered in) her ears so that she could hear the future. (A snake as a source of knowledge is a recurring theme in Greek mythology, though sometimes the snake brings understanding of the language of animals rather than an ability to know the future. Likewise, prophets without honour in their own country reflect a standard narrative trope.)
Cassandra became a figure of epic tradition and of tragedy.
Family and gift of prophecy
Cassandra was the daughter of King Priam (Priamos) and Queen Hecuba (Hekabe) and the fraternal twin sister of Helenus and a princess of Troy. According to legend, Cassandra had dark brown curly hair and dark brown eyes and was both beautiful and clever, but considered insane. However, her perceived insanity is the result of being cursed by the god Apollo. Many versions of the myth relate that she incurred the god’s wrath by refusing him sex, sometimes after first promising herself in exchange for the power of prophecy. Hyginus says:
Cassandra, daughter of the king and queen, in the temple of Apollo, exhausted from practising, is said to have fallen asleep; whom, when Apollo wished to embrace her, she did not afford the opportunity of her body. On account of which thing, when she prophesied true things, she was not believed.
In another version, Cassandra consented to have sex with Apollo in exchange for the gift of prophecy, and then broke her promise. Her punishment was the curse of never being believed. This version of the myth is told by Cassandra in Aeschylus’s Agamemnon: “Oh, but he struggled to win me, breathing ardent love for me….I consented to Loxias (Apollo) but broke my word….Ever since that fault I could persuade no one of anything.”
In some versions of the myth, Apollo curses her by spitting into her mouth during a kiss. In Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, she foretells the betrayal of Clytemnestra. She also bemoans her relationship with Apollo:
God of all ways, but only Death’s to me,
Once and again, O thou, Destroyer named,
Thou hast destroyed me, thou, my love of old!
Cassandra had served as a priestess of Apollo and taken a sacred vow of chastity to remain a virgin for her entire life.
Her cursed gift from Apollo became a source of endless pain and frustration to Cassandra. Cassandra was seen as a liar and a madwoman by her family and by the Trojan people. In some versions of the story, she was often locked up in a pyramidal building on the citadel on her father King Priam’s orders. She was accompanied there by the wardress who cared for her under orders to inform the King of all of his daughter’s “prophetic utterances”. She was driven truly insane by this in the versions where she was incarcerated; though in the versions where she was not, she was usually viewed as being simply misunderstood.
According to legend, Cassandra had instructed her twin brother Helenus in the power of prophecy so he could be a prophet. Like her, Helenus was always correct whenever he had made his predictions, but unlike his sister, people believed him.
Cassandra made many predictions, with all of her prophecies being disbelieved except for one. She was believed when she foresaw who Paris was and proclaimed that he was her abandoned brother. This took place after he had sought refuge in the altar of Zeus from their brothers’ wrath, which resulted in his reunion with their family.Cassandra foresaw that Paris’ abduction of Helen for his wife would bring about the Trojan War and cause the destruction of Troy. She did warn Paris not to go to Sparta along with Helenus who echoed her prophecy, but their warnings ended up being ignored.Cassandra saw Helen coming into Troy at Paris’ return home from Sparta. She furiously snatched away Helen’s golden veil and tore at her hair, for she had foreseen that Helen’s arrival would bring the calamities of the Trojan War and the destruction of Troy. The Trojan people, however, welcomed Helen into their city.