On Cassandra…

I want to comment on Polyxena’s clairvoyant sister, Cassandra.  I’ve stated in a previous blog how Cassandra was cursed by the god Apollo in having the ability to foresee the future but never being believed by anyone.  He placed this curse on her because, as his priestess, she refused to give up her chastity for him (this makes one ponder what duties such functions incurred).  Cassandra is a pathetic figure, hounded by misfortune.  Not only was she never believed, but even held to be mad; she lost her lover, Coroebus, slain by Neoptolemus; she was raped by Ajax of Locris on the night Troy fell; she was taken by Agamemnon as a concubine, only to be then slain along with him by the king’s wife, Clytemnestra and her lover, Aegisthus, in Mycenae (she predicts this fate to Polyxena).

Polyxena has an interesting relationship with Cassandra.  For much of my novel, she views her sister as unsociable and estranged from the rest of the family, but often seeks her out, wanting her advice, yet, true to Apollo’s curse, never taking it.  She tells us: I once made a record of her prophecies regarding coming events and was astonished to learn she had been correct in all her predictions.  In spite of this, I am ashamed to admit that I regularly disputed her warnings and even ignored them. They are alike in some ways; both exhibit an independent spirit and shun the womanly social gatherings in the palace.  Polyxena’s mother, Hecuba, speaks about this:  “My other disagreeable daughter.  You’re becoming more like her every day, Polyxena.  She hides from me in Apollo’s temple, you in your riding.  Why can’t you two behave as normal women?”

Cassandra warns Polyxena that Neoptolemus will prove her undoing, but she minimizes the threat in her thinking:  What else could place me in danger of Neoptolemus except the fall of the city itself.  Otherwise I obviously would be able to shun him.  But that would have horrible consequences for all of us, not just me.  This told me that, while I may be in danger, my peril was no worse than anyone else’s….Increasingly her admonitions seemed less and less relevant to my safety.  I do wish she was less dramatic in her presentations.

After Troy falls, and the Trojan women are held captive in their compound, Polyxena warms up to Cassandra, becoming close to her and admiring her toughness:  Cassandra remained as steady as a rock under our duress, never complaining or even lamenting our fate….I was drawn to her constancy, her poise significantly alleviating the fears dogging me, and spent a lot of time with her, seeking out the reassurance she instilled in me.

When Polyxena learns she is doomed and tells Cassandra about it, her sister says: “Have courage, Polyxena.  Accept what the fates have decreed for you.  Let the Greeks know the mettle Trojan women are made of.” This comforts Polyxena:  She pleased me with those words, instilling in me a resolve to bravely embrace the end in store for me.  I was not going to depart this world bemoaning my destiny, whimpering like a child, giving the Greeks the pleasure of seeing me stripped of my dignity, cowardly in my exhortations for mercy.  Once again, Cassandra gave me the strength of will to undergo the ordeal waiting for me.  I was truly indebted to her. In the end, Polyxena draws much of her courage from Cassandra.


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