Mar 27, 2012

Prophets and Prophecies - Part Five

In Greek mythology, Cassandra was a princess of Troy, daughter of Priam and Hecuba. Like Helen of Troy, she was astonishingly beautiful. Legend has it that the god Apollo fell in love with her and granted her the gift of prophecy. Now able to see into the future, she saw a time when Apollo would help the Greeks destroy Troy. Cassandra then refused his love, and Apollo cursed her so that no one would believe her predictions.

The first mention of Cassandra as a prophetess concerns her brother Paris. When Paris was born there was a prediction that he would cause the destruction of Troy. Heeding this prophecy, Priam and Hecuba had him taken from the city and abandoned in the wilderness. He was saved by a she-wolf, however, and and grew up as a shepherd, eventually returned to Troy. While in Troy Paris entered the temple dedicated to Zeus where Cassandra recognized him as her brother. Apparently forgetting the original prediction, King Priam welcomed him home.

The beginning of the Trojan War took place with the abduction of Priam’s sister, Hesione. Cassandra was already predicting the tragic end to the Trojan War, but because of her curse no one believed her. Priam, judging her to be insane, had her locked away to avoid any scandal – although he received regular reports on all her prophetic utterances.

Magnificent Rome herself is being broken [by] her own wealth. I speak certain [words], but no belief; Once the truthful maenad (Cassandra) ought to have been held by the people of Pergama and not worthless words of hardship: she alone said Paris to be causing the ruin of Troy, she alone said that a horse treacherous for Troy was creeping. That prophetic frenzy was useful for her fatherland, that [was useful] for her father: the futile speech proved the gods to be true.
Elegies Book III. 14, poem XIII, by Propertius

Near the end of the Trojan War, Cassandra prophesized the danger posed by the Trojan horse but her warnings were ignored and the Greek soldiers hidden inside the horse were able to capture the city. During the fall of Troy, Cassandra was dragged out of the temple of Athena where she had sought protection, and raped by Ajax the Lesser. She was then given as a war prize to Agamemnon.

She returned to Mycenae with Agamemnon, and bore him twin sons: Teledamus and Pelops. Although she tried to warn him of the danger, once again her prophecies were ignored and were both murdered by Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s wife and Aegisthus, her lover.

The term "Cassandra Syndrome" was coined by the French Philosopher Gaston Bachelard in 1949, and is applied in cases where valid alarms are ignored or disbelieved. The syndrome applies most often in psychology and politics or science.

For anyone who is further interested in Cassandra’s story, I highly recommend Marion Zimmer Bradley’s novel, The Firebrand, which presents the story from Cassandra’s point of view.

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