Cassandra is a popular figure and made many appearances in Greek plays and poems. Her predicament even inspired a name for a present day problem- the Cassandra Syndrome. So who was this lady whose name inspires even today?
Cassandra was born a princess of Troy, the daughter of Priam and Hecuba and the fraternal twin sister of Helenus. She was the most beautiful of their daughters and as such attracted divine attention. Homer tells a tale that she and her brother Helenus spent the night in Apollo’s temple where the temple snakes licked their ears clean so they were able to hear the future. Cassandra was a priestess of Apollo and vowed to be chaste for life.
However, Apollo had different ideas. He saw her and fell in love on the spot. From here stories differ, some say Cassandra spurned him outright. Other stories say she offered herself to him in return for the gift of prophecy then refused him. However, she got her gift of prophecy it was quickly turned into a curse. Insulted at being spurned by a mortal woman, Apollo cursed Cassandra so that no one believed any of her prophecies. He even made it so she fell into a kind of trance before she gave a prophecy with made everyone think she was insane. Strangely, her brother Helenus was also always right but people believed him giving credence to Homer’s snake story. She was seen as a liar and crazy person, and in some version of the story locked in pyramid within Troy on her father’s order. She had one attendant, who was instructed to report any visions and prophecies she had.
In any case, people should have been listening because Cassandra predicted some of the great downfalls of the ancient world. It was she who predicted the outbreak of the Trojan War by her brother, Paris’, abduction of Helen of Troy. (For more on the Trojan War, please see this post http://www.historynaked.com/the-trojan-war/ ) It is said when Helen came to Troy, Cassandra tore Helen’s golden veil and hair. Again, reinforcing her reputation as a mad woman since the entirety of Troy welcomed Helen to the city. She also warned against allowing the Trojan Horse inside the gates. Again, no one listened and the Horse was dragged inside the gates. In The Fall of Troy by Quintus Smyrnaeus, Cassandra grabbed an ax and tried to destroy the Horse herself, but was stopped. The famous phrase “Beware of Danaos (Greeks) bearing gifts” has been attributed to her.
As the slaughter of the fall of Troy raged, Cassandra attempted to take shelter in the Temple of Athena. However, even though all supplicants were to be untouchable in the sanctuary of a god, she was not safe. Ajax the Lesser grabbed her and raped her at the foot of Athena’s statue. The rape was so brutal, that in some versions of the story, the statue turned its face away and gave a scream that made the temple floor shake. Cassandra was taken to Agamemnon as a concubine. However, Odysseus and other Greek leaders demanded Ajax be punished for his crime as it angered Athena. Ajax then grabbed the same statute and demanded supplicant status so they left him alone. Um…not so much. However, the Greek leaders to were too chicken to punish him and let him go. Athena caused Poseidon to delay the Greek’s journey home by sending ill winds, and Athena punished Ajax herself. One legend says, she had Ajax’ ship hit with a thunderbolt, which killed many of his men. Ajax apparently didn’t know when to quit, and as he hung onto a rock in the raging sea bragged the gods couldn’t kill him. Hearing that Poseidon hit the rock with his trident, splitting it making him drown. Another legend says, he was lifted up by a whirlwind and impaled with a firebot from Athena. Then she left his body on the sharp rocks to rot. Pro tip: Don’t cross the gods.
Cassandra was taken by King Agamemnon to Mycenae and became his concubine. Her gift of prophecy didn’t leave her as she predicted Agamemnon’s and her own death at the hands of Agamemnon’s wife, Clytemnestra and her lover, Aegisthus. Cassandra was supposed to have born Agamemnon twin boys, Teledamus and Pelops, who were also killed. In some versions, Cassandra by this time was truly mad after all of her warnings were disregarded time after time. In other versions, she is simply frustrated and misunderstood. In all versions, it’s a sad end to the story.
However, Cassandra was sent to the Elysian Fields after her death for her dedication to the gods. In the 19th century, Heinrich Schleimann claimed he discovered her tomb in Mycenae. In it were the remains of a woman with two infants.