Wednesday, May 11, 2016

TFBT: I, the Goddess Casandra

Scamander, my native stream! Upon your sandy banks and flowery mead in bygone days, happy maid, was I nurtured with fostering care.[i]   You naiads of Troy, daughters of the god of the river, Lord Xanthus, I oft-times left on your father’s sands the combs that bind your hair, the bracelet that bind your wrists and slim ankles that array you for the dance on Mt. Ida. [ii]  I recall the elms, the willows and tamarisks, the clover, the rushes and the galingale, all those plants that grew in abundance by the lovely stream of the River.  [iii] 

My father was King Priam of Troy. Priam ruled from a magnificent palace, which was fronted by marble colonnades. In the main building there were fifty apartments of polished stone, where his sons lived with their wives. His daughters occupied the chambers in the building on the other side of the courtyard, and there they lived with the sons-in-law of the king. [iv]In his youth my father journeyed to the land of Phrygia, rich in vines, and there he saw in multitudes the Phrygian warriors, masters of glancing steeds, even the people of Otreus and godlike Mygdon, that were then encamped along the banks of Sangarius. Being their ally, he was numbered among them on the day when the Amazons came, the peers of men.[v] My mother was Hecuba, wife of Priam, mother of Hector, the invincible, steadfast pillar of Troy[vi].  My mother Hecuba dreamed once that she had borne a fire-brand.[vii]   

My twin brother Helenus and I were left by our parents in the shrine of the Thymbraean Apollo. There the Thymbrios River flows through the plain and empties into the River Skamandros.[viii]  The festival in honour of our birth was   held in the sanctuary. We fell asleep in the temple. Meantime our parents and their friends, flushed with wine, returned to Troy, forgetting all about us twins whose birth had given occasion to the festivity. Next morning, when they were sober, they returned to the temple and found the sacred serpents purging with their tongues the organs of sense in Helenus and I. Frightened by the cry which the women raised at the strange sight, the serpents disappeared among the laurel boughs upon which we slept. From that hour Helenus and I possessed the gift of prophecy.[ix]   In like manner Melampus is said to have acquired the art of soothsaying through the action of serpents which licked his ears.  He… 

“lived in the country, and before his house there was an oak, in which there was a lair of snakes. His servants killed the snakes, but Melampus gathered wood and burnt the reptiles, and reared the young ones. And when the young were full grown, they stood beside him at each of his shoulders as he slept, and they purged his ears with their tongues. He started up in a great fright, but understood the voices of the birds flying overhead, and from what he learned from them he foretold to men what should come to pass. He acquired besides the art of taking the auspices, and having fallen in with Apollo at the Alpheus he was ever after an excellent soothsayer.[x] 

In due time I would have my own interview with Apollo alongside a lovely river.   

My brother Helenus was a skillful observer of auguries, and knew the counsel of the gods [xi] but he was at the same time a warrior, and with Deiphobus he led the third host of the Trojans against the camp of the Greeks. (Il. xii. 94.)  His original name was Scamandrius, and that he received the name of Helenus from a Thracian soothsayer, who also instructed him in the prophetic art.[xii]  It was Helenus, who predicted that if that fire-brand Prince Alexander brought home an Achaean wife, the Greeks would pursue, and overpower Troy and slay our parents and brothers.[xiii]  Naturally when I heard of my father’s intentions in this regard my voice echoed my twin’s word.  My words told what the Trojans were going to suffer if he should sent a fleet into Greece.[xiv]  “I see thee, hapless city, fired a second time by Aeacide hands.”[xv]

With the war came my suitors; Othryoneus, Coroebus and Thoraiox, Lord of Ptoon

Othryoneus of Cabesus, came upon the rumour of war.  He asked to wed me, whom Homer called “the comeliest of the daughters of Priam”.  He brought no gifts of wooing, but promised he would drive out of Troy’s lands the sons of Achaeans. [xvi]  Some believe that he whispered in my ear about his homeland.  He told me of the sacred River Hebros, which flows, the most beautiful of rivers, past Ainos into the turbid sea, surging through the land of Thrace. And of the many maidens like me that visit the river to bathe their lovely thighs with tender hands; becoming enchanted as we handle his marvelous cleansing waters. [xvii]   Othryoneus was slain by Idomeneus.

Coroebus, the son of Mygdon came to marry me, and was killed, when Diomedes amid the war-storm met my spearman Coroebus, “and 'neath the left ribs pierced him with the lance …Ah fool! The bride he won not, Priam's child Cassandra, yea, his loveliest, for whose sake to Priam's burg but yesterday he came,  [xviii]

Apollo I spurned from my maiden bed,  the Lord of Ptoön, Ruler of the Seasons, Leader of the Muses, “as one who had taken eternal maidenhood for my portion to uttermost old age, in imitation of her who abhors marriage, even Pallas Athena ” [xix]  Or maybe I choose like Marpessa, because she feared that Apollo might desert her in her old age,  instead she chose Idas (a mortal) for her husband[xx]  Or maybe I chose like Achilles; If I stay here at Troy to await my destiny, then I will attain glory imperishable. Whereas if I go off to some new home, with the Lord of Delphi  then it is my glory genuine as it is, that will be destroyed for me, but my life will then last a long time, and the final moment of death will not be swift in catching up with me.[xxi]  Regardless, I had promised consent to Apollo but broke my word ... and ever after I could persuade no one of the truth of my utterances. [xxii]

Here my brother wisely insured his destiny parted from mine and he went on to attain his best possible fate; husband to the daughter of Eetion and King of Molossus. [xxiii]

That fateful night arrived;

 “So feasted they through Troy, and in their midst loud pealed the flutes and pipes: on every hand were song and dance, laughter and cries confused of banqueters beside the meats and wine. They, lifting in their hands the beakers brimmed, recklessly drank, till heavy of brain they grew, till rolled their fluctuant eyes. Now and again some mouth would babble the drunkard's broken words. The household gear, the very roof and walls seemed as they rocked: all things they looked on seemed whirled in wild dance. About their eyes a veil of mist dropped” [xxiv]

But one heart was steadfast, and one soul clear-eyed, mine!  And I paced as mid the hills a furious lioness with savage heart and abided my time.  [xxv]  That night the Horse birthed and the gates burst open. The city was set afire and flooded with blood.  I suppose you think it not odd, that I still a virgin should take sanctuary in the temple of the virgin-goddess Athena.  Did I know that Athena did not love us? (Iliad 6.310)  Did I know that the Locrian Ajax, would find me there clinging to the wooden image of Athena?  That he would drag me form there knocking the goddess’ image to the ground in the process?[xxvi]     Did I know that consequently the majority of the Danaans would die when gods sent a storm and contrary winds against them?  That my enemies and the enemies of my people upon returning home after the destruction of my home and the division of our wealth would wreck on the Cepharean Rocks thanks to the anger of the gods? 

I am the loveliest of Priam’s daughters so naturally when the loot was portioned out I received as my prize, finally,  a husband the greatest of the Achaean kings; Agamemnon. 

For those who don’t know the story, men die.  So do women, but my husband shall be called Zeus-Agamemnon in Sparta, obtaining highest honours from the descendants of Gorgophone.[xxvii]   Nor shall my name be unsung and unhonored among men, nor fade hereafter in the darkness of oblivion for I shall long be called an immortal goddess.[xxviii]   

And it will be said of me and mine that;

 “Zeus the son of Kronos made a noble and righteous god-like generation of heroes who are called demi-gods throughout the boundless earth. Grim war and dread battle destroyed a part of them, some in the land of Kadmos at seven-gated Thebe when they fought for the flocks of Oidipous, and some, when it had brought them in ships over the great sea gulf to Troy for rich-haired Helen's sake: there death's end enshrouded a part of them . But to the others father Zeus the son of Kronos gave a living and an abode apart from men, and made them to dwell at the ends of earth. They live untouched by sorrow in the Islands of the Blessed along the shore of deep swirling Okeanos, happy heroes for whom the grain-giving earth bears honey-sweet fruit flourishing thrice a year.”[xxix]    

[i] “Agamemnon” Aeschylus
[iii] Homer, Iliad 21. 211
[iv] (Iliad 6.240)
[v] (Iliad 3.182) 
[vi] Odyssey 2.89
[vii] Lychophron, Alexandra 216, footnote 7
[viii] Strabo, Geography 13. 1. 35
[ix] Pausanias 10.27.1] XXVII
[x] Apollodorus, Library 1.9.11
[xi] (Hom. Il. vi. 76, vii. 44; Apollod. iii. 12. § 5);
[xii] (Eustath. ad Hom. p. 626.)
[xiii] Dares of Phrygia History of the Fall of Troy 7
[xiv] Dares of Phrygia History of the Fall of Troy 8
[xv] Lychophron, Alexandra 31
[xvi] Hom. Il. xiii. 363
[xvii] Alcaeus, Fragment 45a (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric I) (C7th to 6th B.C
[xviii] QUINTUS SMYRNAEUS 13 Quintus Smyrnaeus. The Fall of Troy. Translated by Way. A. S. Loeb Classical Library Volume 19. 190] London: William Heinemann, 1913
[xix] Callimachus, Hymns and Epigrams. (352-353):Lycophron. Aratus. Translated by Mair, A. W. & G. R. Loeb Classical Library Volume 129. London: William Heinemann, 1921.  Book 1
[xx] Apollodorus. The Library. Translated by Sir James George Frazer. Loeb Classical Library Volumes 121 & 122. [1.7.9] Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921
[xxi] Iliad 9.413
[xxii] Aeschylus, Agamemnon 1208
[xxiii] Pausanias [1.11.2]
[xxiv] Quintus Smyrnaeus 13.1 The Fall of Troy. Translated by Way. A. S. Loeb Classical Library Volume 19. London: William Heinemann, 1913
[xxv] Quintus Smyrnaeus. 12.565 & [12.625]]  The Fall of Troy. Translated by Way. A. S. Loeb Classical Library Volume 19. London: William Heinemann, 1913
[xxvi] [Apollodours EPITOME OF THE LIBRARY, TRANS. BY J. G. FRAZERE.5.22]
[xxix] Hesiod, Works and Days 156


  1. So bisexual Apollo required only Cassandra but not Helenus to make sex in exchange for the prophetic gift. I find it unjust.

  2. Maya,

    Cassandra was the loveliest of Priam's daughters, so I can understand Apollo's attraction and disappointment. No one ever said Helenus was the most handsome of his sons, so ...