Cassandra is perhaps most remembered today as the prophetess who wasn't believed.
There are many allusions to Cassandra's prophetic powers in literature, such as the one made by Propertius in Book III.14, poem XIII, of the Elegies.
(60) Frangitur ipsa suis Roma
Certa loquor, sed nulla fides; neque vilia quondam
verax Pergameis maenas habenda mali:
sola Parim Phrygiae fatum componere, sola
fallacem Troiae serpere dixit equum.
Ille furor patriae fuit utilis, ille parenti:
expertast veros irrita linqua deos.
|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.|
Hecuba, in Seneca's play Troades, also compares herself to Cassandra:
(33) quidquid adversi accidit,
quaecumque Phoebas ore lymphato furens
credi deo vetante praedixit mala,
prior Hecuba vidi gravida nec tacui metus
et vana vates ante Cassandram fui.
Non cautus ignes Ithacus aut Ithaci comes
nocturnus in vos sparsit aut fallax Sinon.
Meus ignis iste est, facibus ardetis meis.
|Whatever misfortune occurs, and whatever harms the priestess of Apollo (Cassandra), raving, prophesied, the god (Apollo) prohibiting her to be believed, Hecuba, weighed with child (Paris), previously saw, nor did I keep my fear silent and before Cassandra I was the empty prophetess. Neither the cautious Ithacan (Odysseus) nor the nocturnal companion of the Ithacan (Diomedes) has scattered fire among you, nor the false Sinon. That fire is mine, by my torches you are burning.|
Cassandra was the daughter of Priam and Hecuba, and therefore was a princess of Troy.
When she was a young girl, she spent the night at the temple of Thymbraean Apollo with her twin brother, Helenus (Bell, 109). Robert Bell writes: "When their parents looked in on them the next morning, the children were entwined with serpents, which flicked their tongues into the children's ears. This enabled Cassandra and Helenus to divine the future."
Once Cassandra had grown up, she again spent the night in Apollo's temple. This time, however, Apollo tried to force himself upon her. When she refused his advances, he cursed her in such a way that no one would believe her prophecies (although they would be true).
Hyginus relates this story in Fabulae 65:
|Cassandra Priami et Hecubae filia in Apollinis fano ludendo lassa obdormisse dicitur; quam Apollo cum vellet comprimere, corporis copiam non fecit. Ob quam rem Apollo fecit, ut, cum vera caticinaretur, fidem nono haberet.||Cassandra, daughter of Priam and Hecuba, in the temple of Apollo, exhausted from practicing, 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.|
Robert Bell notes that this curse stayed true throughout Cassandra's life except for on one occasion in which she declared Paris to be her brother when he arrived, as an adult, in Troy (109).
Cassandra predicted the many misfortunes of Troy but, because of her curse, was not believed and Priam eventually locked her in a chamber, judging her insane.
In the Aeneid, Aeneas laments letting the Trojan horse into the city, even though Cassandra had predicted it would bring the end to Troy.
(II.234) Dividimus muros et moenia
Accingunt omnes operi, pedibusque rotarum
subiciunt lapsus, et suppea vincula collo
intendunt: scandit fatalis machina muros,
feta armis. Pueri circum innuptaeque puellae
sacra canunt, funemque manu contingere gaudent.
Illa subit, mediaeque minans illabitur urbi.
O patria, O divum domus Ilium, et inculta bello
moenia Dardanidum, quater ipso in limine portae
substitit, atque utero sonitum quater arma dedere:
instamus tamen immemores caecique furore,
et monstrum infelix sacrata sistimus arce.
Tunc etiam fatis aperit Cassandra futuris
ora, dei iussu non umquam credita Teucris.
Nos delubra deum miseri, quibus ultimus esset
ille dies, festa velamus fronde per urbem.
|We [of Troy] divide the walls and we spread open the defense of the city. They all make ready for labor, and they slide rollers under the feet [of the Trojan horse], and they slip chains of hemp on the neck: the fateful machine scales the walls, full of armed men. The boys and the unmarried girls sing sacred songs all around, and they rejoice to touch the rope with hand. It (the horse) ascends and, threatening, it glides into the middle of the city. O fatherland, O Illium, home of the divine, and the walls of the Dardanians renowned in war, four times [the horse] jarred at the threshold of the gate, and four times from the belly the weapons gave a noise: nevertheless, we, heedless, pressed on blind with emotion, and we placed the unlucky monster on the sacred citadel. Then also Cassandra opens her mouth with fates to come, by the order of the gods not ever believed by the Teucrians. Miserable we, for whom that day would be the last, covered the shrine of the gods with festal garlands through the city.|
After Troy fell, Cassandra sought shelter at the temple of Athena and she clung to Athena's statue. The "lesser" Ajax found her there and raped her, as Ovid mentions in Amores I.9:
(37) Summa ducum, Atrides, visa
maenadis effusis obstipuisse comis.
|The most distinguished leader of Atreus, having caught sight of the daughter of Priam, is said to have been awestruck by the streaming hair of a Maenad.|
The "lesser" Ajax was then punished for this sacrilege. Edward Tripp writes:
|Odysseus wanted Ajax stoned for thus angering the gods, but the Greeks did not dare to touch him, for he clung as a suppliant to the image which he had just desecrated. Athena enlisted the aid of Zeus and Poseidon to avenge the outrage. Together they caused the Greek fleet to be wrecked off Cape Caphareus, in southen Euboea. Some say that Athena struck Ajax dead with a thunderbolt, others that Poseidon let him swim in safety to a huge rock called Gyrae. There the rash man boasted that he had saved himself in spite of any god. Poseidon thereupon split the rock with a thunderbolt, and Ajax was drowned. (Tripp, 32-33)|
Cassandra was given to Agamemnon as a spoil of war, and with him returned to Mycenae. She bore him twins, named Teledamus and Pelops.
When Cassandra and Agamemnon returned to Mycenae, they were both murdered by Clytemnestra, Agamemnon's wife, and Aegisthus, Clytemnestra's lover. Aegisthus murdered both Teledamus and Pelops.
Hyginus, in his Fabluae, suggests that Clytemnestra killed her husband and Cassandra at the prompting of Oeax, who told her that Cassandra was being brought as a concubine.
Hyginus states that Oeax did this in order to "avenge the injustices of his brother." Odysseus, wanting no part of the Trojan War, had pretended to be insane. Palamedes, Oeax's brother, exposed Odysseus' ruse and forced Odysseus to join the war. In doing so, Palamedes gained the wrath of Odysseus. To seek revenge, Odysseus framed Palamedes by making him out to be a traitor, and Agamemnon turned Palamedes over to the Greek army to be stoned to death (Hornblower, 1099).
Hyginus also suggests that Cassandra, in fact, was not being brought back as a concubine but, nonetheless, Clytemnestra planned the murders with Aegisthus. Hyginus writes:
Clytaemnestra Tyndarei filia Agamemnonis uxor cum audisset ab Oeace Palamedis fratre Cassandram sibi paelicem adduci, quod ementitus est, ut fratris iniurias exsequeretur, tunc Clytaemnestra cum Aegistho filio Thyestis cepit consilium, ut Agamemnonem et Cassandram interficeret, quem sacrificantem securi cum Cassandra interfecerunt.
At Electra Agamemnonis filia Orestem fratrem infantem sustulit, quem demandavit in Phocide Strophio, cui fuit Astyochea Agamemnonis soror nupta.
Clytemnestra, daughter of Tyndareus and wife to Agamemnon, had heard from Oeax, brother of Palamedes, that Cassandra was to be brought as a concubine for Agamemnon, which [tale] Oeax fabricated in order to avenge the injustices of his brother. Then Clytemnestra held council with Aegisthus, son of Thyestes, in order to kill Agamemnon and Cassandra, whom, while [Agamemnon was] sacrificing, with Cassandra, they killed with an ax.
But Electra, daughter of Agamemnon, lifted her infant brother Orestes, whom she entrusted to Strophius in Phocis, to whom Astyochea, sister of Agamemnon, was a bride.
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