C is for Cassandra:
a cautionary tale
by Christine Rossi
Cassandra was the daughter of Priam and Hecuba the king and queen of ancient Troy, the site of the infamous Trojan War. Already you can see there will be problems…
She had a twin sister, Helenus, who you don’t see mentioned very much in the ancient literature…maybe she wasn’t as cute as Cassandra or as talented or maybe she just didn’t want to be in the limelight.
Legend has it that Apollo gave Cassandra the gift of prophecy; Helenus supposedly had the gift of prophecy too but Apollo didn’t seem interested in her. One story has it that the serpents of Apollo gave both girls the gift of prophecy when Hecuba and Priam forgot about them and
left them asleep in the Temple of Apollo during an outing that included
much drinking and other such activities.
One could surmise many double entendres from this story…
Anyway, Apollo was really in to Cassandra, but Cassandra wouldn’t go out with Apollo….she thinks he’s really cool but not in that way and can’t they just be friends… He is a god and doesn’t do well with rejection so he curses her. She will be able to tell the future but nobody will believe her. What a guy!
Helenus discreetly fades into the background as Cassandra’s problems really begin:
She tells Paris not to judge the beauty contest between the three goddesses, Artemis, Aphrodite and Athena…he doesn’t listen....
She also tells him not to kidnap Helen (no relation to Helenus) from Sparta…he doesn’t listen.
She tells King Priam to send Helen back so Troy won’t be destroyed…Priam doesn’t listen and we have the first epic poem by Homer, The Iliad.
She tells the Trojans to be wary of Greeks bearing gifts (one large horse statue), they don’t listen and we know what happens there…
“There on the threshold of the breach
It jarred to a halt four times, four times the arms
In the belly thrown together made a sound-
Yet on we strove unmindful, deaf and blind
To place the monster on our blessed height.
Then, even then, Cassandra’s lips unsealed
The doom to come: lips by a god’s command Never believed or heeded by the Trojans.”
(The Aenid by Virgil, Fitzgerald Translation)
She seeks solace and refuge at the temple of Athena where she is pursued and kidnapped by Ajax the lesser (he is the lesser for many reasons).
She warns the Greeks not to desecrate the temple... they don’t listen and incur the wrath of
Athena (who had been on their side…dumb Greeks). So Athena gets Poseidon to create a big storm when
they try to return home and we have another epic poem by Homer…The Odyssey.
Back to Cassandra…
Just when you think things can’t get worse, she gets taken by Agamemnon, the King of Mycenae, and made his mistress. She warns him that if he takes her home things will not go well for him or her with his wife Clytemnestra.
From The Trojan Women by Euripedes:
Agamemnon, that famous king of the Achaeans will find in me a bride more vexatious than Helen. For I will slay him and lay waste his home to avenge my father's and my brothers' death. But let that go; I will not tell of that axe which shall sever my neck and the necks of others, or of the conflict ending in a mother's death, which my marriage shall cause, nor of the overthrow of Atreus' house. But I, for all my frenzy, will so far rise above my frantic fit, that I will prove this city happier far than those Achaeans, who for the sake of one woman and one passion have lost a countless army in hunting Helen.
True to form nobody listens. And off they go to Mycnae..
It takes a while to get home to Mycenae and they have a couple of kids on the way.
So guess what happens? They get back to Mycenae and Clytemnestra is really pissed (she doesn’t act it…all gracious and forgiving)…and she has several reasons, Agamemnon killed her previous husband and baby, and she was probably pretty annoyed that he made it back from Troy and was going to take over. Maybe she was jealous of Cassandra too, but who knowswhy she would be!
Whatever her motivation, she gets her lover, Aegisthus to help her kill Agamemnon. Then she chops off Cassandra’s head and has Aegisthus do away with the kids. These actions lend much grist for a series of classic Greek tragedies starring Orestes and Electra, the children of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra.
All this prophecy gone awry was good for the careers of Euripedes and Aeschylus; as well as Homer and Virgil and a whole bunch of other poets and playwrights as well as sculptors and artists.
Just like a Greek Tragedy, Cassandra is still hanging around and still nobody will listen.
Warren Buffet was dubbed the Wall Street Cassandra when he warned that the rise of the Stock Market in the 1990’s was a bubble that would burst.
Nobody listened, and here we are….
The Environmentalist Alan Atkinson claims that we are on an environmental collision course and will be unable to divert disaster, he calls this the “Cassandra dilemma”.
So our friend Al Gore is a major Cassandra because he is so not being listened to and is derided and mocked for his messages…
So it goes…
Wait til we are all eating Soylent Green and we will be wishing somebody paid attention…