Cassandra or Kassandra (Ancient Greek: Κασσάνδρα,
pronounced [kas̚sándra], also Κασάνδρα), also known as
Alexandra, was a daughter of King
Priam and of Queen
Cassandra was cursed to utter prophecies which were true but which no
one believed. A common version of her story relates how, in an effort
to seduce her,
Apollo gave her the power of prophecy. When she refused
him, he spat into her mouth to inflict a curse that nobody would ever
believe her prophecies. Another version has her falling asleep in a
temple, where snakes licked (or whispered in) her ears so that she
could hear the future.[a]
Cassandra became a figure of epic tradition and of tragedy.
In modern usage her name is employed as a rhetorical device to
indicate someone whose accurate prophecies are not believed by those
2.2 Gift of prophecy
2.3 Fall of
Troy and aftermath
2.4 Captivity and death
Agamemnon by Aeschylus
4 Modern adaptations
5 See also
8 Primary sources
9 Further reading
10 External links
Hjalmar Frisk (Griechisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch, Heidelberg,
1960–1970) notes "unexplained etymology", citing "various
hypotheses" found in Wilhelm Schulze, Edgar Howard Sturtevant,
J. Davreux, and Albert Carnoy. R. S. P. Beekes cites García
Ramón's derivation of the name from the
Woodcut illustration of Cassandra's prophecy of the fall of
left) and her death (at right), from an
Incunable German translation
Heinrich Steinhöwel of Giovanni Boccaccio's De mulieribus claris,
printed by Johann Zainer (de) at Ulm ca. 1474.
Cassandra was a princess of Troy, the daughter of King
Priam and Queen
Hecuba and the fraternal twin sister of Helenus. According to legend,
Cassandra had dark brown curly hair and dark brown eyes, and was both
beautiful and clever, but considered insane.
Gift of prophecy
Cassandra was given the gift of prophecy, but was also cursed by the
Apollo so that her accurate prophecies would not be believed. Many
versions of the myth relate that she incurred the god's wrath by
refusing him sex, after promising herself to him in exchange for the
power of prophecy.
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.
A similar version is related in Aeschylus's play Agamemnon. Cassandra
says she consented to have sex with
Apollo in exchange for the gift of
prophecy, and then broke her promise: "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
In some versions of the myth,
Apollo curses her by spitting into her
mouth during a kiss.
In Aeschylus' Agamemnon, she 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.
Ajax the Lesser
Ajax the Lesser in
Cassandra from Palladium before eyes of
Priam, Roman mural from the Casa del Menandro, Pompeii
Her cursed gift from
Apollo became a source of endless pain and
frustration to Cassandra. She 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 the
orders of her father, King Priam. 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.
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, and all of her prophecies were
disbelieved except for one, when she foresaw who Paris was and
proclaimed that he was her abandoned brother. That took place after he
had sought refuge in the altar of
Zeus from their brothers’ wrath,
which resulted in his reunion with their family.
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.
Helenus echoed her prophecy, but their warnings were
Cassandra saw Helen coming into
Troy when Paris returned
home from Sparta.
Cassandra 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.
Troy and aftermath
Cassandra by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein, 1806
Cassandra foresaw the destruction of Troy. In various accounts of the
war, she warned the Trojans about the Greeks hiding inside the Trojan
Horse, Agamemnon's death, her own demise at the hands of
Clytemnestra, her mother Hecuba's fate, Odysseus's ten-year wanderings
before returning to his home, and the murder of
Clytemnestra by the latter's children
Electra and Orestes. Cassandra
predicted that her cousin
Aeneas would escape during the fall of Troy
and found a new nation in Rome. However, she was unable to do
anything to forestall these tragedies since no one believed her.
Othronus came to the aid of
Troy during the Trojan War
out of love for
Cassandra and in exchange for her hand in marriage.
Priam decided to betroth
Cassandra to Telephus’s son Eurypylus,
Telephus had reinforced the Trojans by sending them an army of
Mysians to come to defend
Troy for them.
Cassandra was also the
first to see the body of her brother
Hector being brought back to the
In The Fall of Troy, told by Quintus Smyrnaeus,
attempted to warn the Trojan people that Greek warriors hiding in the
Trojan Horse while they were celebrating their victory over the Greeks
with feasting. They disbelieved her, calling her names and degrading
her with insults. She grabbed an axe in one hand and a burning
torch in her other, and ran towards the Trojan Horse, intent on
destroying it herself to stop the Greeks from destroying Troy. The
Trojan people stopped her before she could do so. The Greeks hiding
inside the Horse were relieved that the Trojans had stopped Cassandra
from destroying it, but they were surprised by how clearly she had
seen their plan to defeat Troy.
At the fall of Troy,
Cassandra sought shelter in the temple of Athena.
There she embraced the wooden statue of
Athena in supplication for her
protection, but was abducted and brutally raped by Ajax the Lesser.
Cassandra was clinging so tightly to the statue of the goddess that
Ajax knocked it from its stand as he dragged her away. One account
claimed that even Athena, who had worked hard to help the Greeks
destroy Troy, was not able to restrain her tears and her cheeks burned
with anger. In one account, this caused her image to give forth a
sound that shook the floor of the temple at the sight of Cassandra's
rape, and her image turned its eyes away as
Cassandra was violated,
although others found this account too bold. Ajax's actions were a
Cassandra was a supplicant of
Athena and supplicants
were untouchable in the sanctuary of a god, being under the protection
of that god. Furthermore, he committed another sacrilege by raping her
inside the temple of Athena, despite it being strictly forbidden for
people to have sexual intercourse in a temple.
Odysseus insisted to the other Greek leaders that Ajax should be
stoned to death for his crimes, which had enraged
Athena and the other
gods. Ajax avoided their wrath, because none of them dared to punish
him after he clung, as a supplicant, to Athena's altar and swore an
oath proclaiming his innocence.
Athena was furious at the Greeks'
failure to punish Ajax for raping
Cassandra in her temple, and she
punished them severely with the help of
Poseidon and Zeus. Poseidon
sent storms and strong winds to destroy much of the Greek fleet on
their way home from Troy.
Athena punished Ajax herself, by causing him
to have a terrible death, although the sources differ as to the manner
of his death. The
Locrians had to atone for Ajax's great sacrilege
Cassandra in Athena's temple by sending two maidens to Troy
every year for a thousand years to serve as slaves in Athena's temple.
However, if they were caught by the inhabitants before they reached
the temple they were executed.
In some versions,
Cassandra intentionally left a chest behind in Troy,
with a curse on whichever Greek opened it first. Inside the chest
was an image of Dionysus, made by
Hephaestus and presented to the
Trojans by Zeus. It was given to the Greek leader
Eurypylus as a part
of his share of the victory spoils of Troy. When he opened the chest
and saw the image of the god, he went mad.
Captivity and death
Cassandra was then taken as a concubine by King
Agamemnon of Mycenae.
Unbeknown to Agamemnon, while he was away at war, his wife,
Clytemnestra, had begun an affair with Aegisthus.
Aegisthus then murdered both
Agamemnon and Cassandra. Some sources
Agamemnon had twin boys, Teledamus and
Pelops, both of whom were killed by Aegisthus.
Cassandra was sent to the Elysian Fields after her death, because her
soul was judged worthy due to her dedication to the gods, and her
religious nature during her life.
Cassandra was buried either at Amyclae or Mycenae. The two towns
disputed the possession of her grave. It is most likely that she
was buried in Mycenae.
Heinrich Schliemann was certain that he had
discovered Cassandra’s tomb when he had excavated Mycenae, because
he found the remains of a woman and two infants in one of the circle
graves at Mycenae.
Agamemnon by Aeschylus
Ajax taking Cassandra, tondo of a red-figure kylix by the Kodros
Painter (el), c. 440–430 BC, Louvre
Agamemnon from Aeschylus's trilogy
Oresteia depicts the king
treading the scarlet cloth laid down for him, and walking offstage to
his death.:ln. 972 After the chorus's ode of foreboding, time is
suspended in Cassandra's "mad scene".:p. 11–16 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.
According to author Seth Schein, two further familiar descriptions of
her madness are that of Heracles in
The Women of Trachis
The Women of Trachis or Io in
Prometheus Bound.:p. 11 She speaks, disconnectedly and
transcendent, in the grip of her psychic possession by Apollo,:ln.
1140 witnessing past and future events. Schein says, "She evokes the
same awe, horror and pity as do schizophrenics".:p. 12 Cassandra
is someone "who often combine deep, true insight with utter
helplessness, and who retreat into madness."
Eduard Fraenkel remarked:p. 11, note 6 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.:pp. 42–55[full citation
Cassandra is an enduring archetype. Modern invocations of Cassandra
are most frequently an example of a
Cassandra complex. To emphasize
such a situation, Cassandra's name is frequently used in fiction when
prophecy comes up, especially true prophecy that is not believed. This
can include the names of people, objects, or places.
Cassandra has been used as metaphor and allegory in psychological and
philosophical tracts. For example, Florence Nightingale's book
Suggestions for Thought to Searchers after Religious Truth has a
section named for Cassandra, using her as a metaphor for the
helplessness of women that she attributes to over-feminization.
(Further examples are located on the
Cassandra complex page.)
Cassandra myth itself has also been retold several times by modern
authors of novels and dramatizations, including works by Eric
Shanower, Lindsay Clarke, Christa Wolf, Lesya Ukrainka, Woody Allen,
Marion Zimmer Bradley, David Gemmell, and
Hector Berlioz. A number of
songs have also referred to her, such as "Cassandra" (1982), by
Swedish pop band ABBA.
Greek mythology portal
Novikov self-consistency principle
The Boy Who Cried Wolf
^ 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 honor in their own country reflect a
standard narrative trope.
^ Wilhelm Schulze, Kleine Schriften (1966), 698, J. B. Hoffmann,
Glotta 28, 52
^ Edgar Howard Sturtevant, Class. Phil. 21, 248ff.
^ J. Davreux, La légende de la prophétesse Cassandre (Paris, 1942)
^ Albert Carnoy, Les ét. class. 22, 344
^ R. S. P. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009,
^ Schein, Seth L. (1982). "The
Cassandra Scene in Aeschylus'
Agamemnon". Greece & Rome. 29 (1): 11–16.
doi:10.1017/S0017383500028278. ISSN 1477-4550.
^ "Cassandra". Mortal Women of the Trojan War. Stanford University.
Retrieved March 24, 2014.
^ "Aeschylus, Agamemmon 2". The Theoi Project. Retrieved March 24,
^ "The Trojan women of Euripides". Retrieved March 24, 2014.
^ a b c d e "
Cassandra in the Classical World". English.illinois.edu.
^ a b c d e f g h "
Cassandra – Greek Mythology Link". Maicar.com.
^ "The Internet Classics Archive The
Aeneid by Virgil".
Classics.mit.edu. Retrieved 2014-03-24.
^ "Full text of "The Trojan women of Euripides"". Archive.org.
2003-11-16. Retrieved 2014-03-24.
^ a b "Classical E-Text: Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of
Theoi.com. Retrieved 2014-03-24.
^ "Cassandra, Ancient princess of Troy, priestess and Prophetess".
Archived from the original on February 3, 2014. Retrieved March 24,
^ See [[ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ajax_the_Lesser#Death ]].
^ Westmoreland, Perry L. (2007).
Ancient Greek Beliefs. San Ysidro,
CA: Lee & Vance Publishing Company. p. 179.
^ a b
Agamemnon (play script) (in Greek). The chorus find her to be
"crazed in mind and transported by a god"
^ a b c d Schein, Seth L. (1982). "The
Cassandra Scene in Aeschylus'
'Agamemnon'". Greece & Rome. Second Series. 29 (1): 11.
^ Fraenkel, Eduard (1964). Kleine Beiträge zur klassische Philologie
(book). Storia e letteratura (in German). Vol. I. Rome.
^ Analyses of the
Cassandra scene are in
Bernard Knox Word and Action:
Essays on the Ancient theatre (Baltimore and London: Penguin) 1979
^ Anne Lebeck, The Oresteia: A study in language and structure
Iliad XXIV, 697–706;
Odyssey XI, 405–434;
Euripides. The Trojan Women; Electra
Bibliotheca III, xii, 5;
Epitome V, 17–22; VI, 23
Aeneid II, 246–247, 341–346, 403–408
Quintus Smyrnaeus: Posthomerica
Clarke, Lindsay. The Return from Troy. HarperCollins (2005).
Marion Zimmer Bradley. The Firebrand. ISBN 0-451-45924-5
Patacsil, Par. Cassandra. In The Likhaan Book of Plays 1997-2003.
Villanueva and Nadera, eds. University of the Philippines Press
(2006). ISBN 971-542-507-0
Ukrainka, Lesya. "Cassandra". Original Publication: Lesya Ukrainka.
Life and work by Constantine Bida. Selected works, translated by Vera
Rich. Toronto: Published for the Women's Council of the Ukrainian
Canadian Committee by University of Toronto Press (1968).
Pp. 181–239 ← Broken link, November 2016.
Schapira, Laurie L. The
Cassandra Complex: Living with Disbelief: A
Modern Perspective on Hysteria. Toronto: Inner City Books (1988).
Media related to
Cassandra at Wikimedia Commons
Characters in the Iliad
Ajax the Greater
Ajax the Lesser
Balius and Xanthus
Mygdon of Phrygia
Rhesus of Thrace