AskDefine | Define Cassandra

Dictionary Definition

Cassandra n : (Greek mythology) a prophetess in Troy during the Trojan War whose predictions were true but were never believed

User Contributed Dictionary


Proper noun

  1. Daughter of King Priam of Troy and his queen Hecuba, who captured the eye of Apollo and was granted the ability to see the future. However, she was destined to never be believed.
  2. A given name
  3. Somebody who makes predictions which are never believed but turn out to be true.
  4. Somebody who makes predictions which are believed but turn out to be false. This "incorrect" meaning of the word is often used (in the UK at least),,1676985,00.html.

Extensive Definition

In an alternative version, she spent a night at Apollo's temple with her twin brother Helenus, at which time the temple snakes licked her ears clean so that she was able to hear the future. This is a recurring theme in Greek mythology, though sometimes it brings an ability to understand the language of animals rather than an ability to know the future. Apollo loved Cassandra and when she did not return his love, he cursed her so that her gift would become a source of endless pain and frustration. In some versions of the myth, this is symbolized by the god spitting into her mouth; in other Greek versions, this act was sufficient to remove the gift so recently given by Apollo, but Cassandra's case varies. From the play Agamemnon, it appears that she made a promise to Apollo to become his consort, but broke it, thus incurring his wrath.
Telephus, the son of Heracles, loved Cassandra but she scorned him and instead helped him seduce her sister Laodice.
While Cassandra foresaw the destruction of Troy (she warned the Trojans about the Trojan Horse, the death of Agamemnon, and her own demise), she was unable to do anything to forestall these tragedies. Her family believed she was mad, and according to some versions, kept her locked up. In versions where she was incarcerated, this was typically portrayed as driving her truly insane, although in versions where she was not, she is usually viewed as remaining simply misunderstood.
Coroebus and Othronus came to the aid of Troy out of love for Cassandra. Cassandra was also the first to see the body of her brother Hector being brought back to the city.
After the Trojan War, she sought shelter in the temple of Athena, where she was raped by Ajax the Lesser. Cassandra was then taken as a concubine by King Agamemnon of Mycenae. Unbeknownst to Agamemnon, while he was away at war, his wife, Clytemnestra, had begun an affair with Aegisthus. Clytemnestra and Aegisthus then murdered both Agamemnon and Cassandra. Some sources mention that Cassandra and Agamemnon had twin boys, Teledamus and Pelops, both of whom were killed by Aegisthus.
Homer. Iliad XXIV, 697-706; Homer. Odyssey XI, 405-434; Aeschylus. Agamemnon; Euripides. Trojan Women; Euripides. Electra; Apollodorus. Bibliotheke III, xii, 5; Apollodorus. Epitome V, 17-22; VI, 23; Virgil. Aeneid II, 246-

Modern adaptations

A modern psychological perspective on Cassandra is presented by Eric Shanower in Age of Bronze: Sacrifice. In this version, Cassandra, as a child, is molested by a man pretending to be a god. His warning "No one will believe you!" is one often spoken by abusers to their child victims.
A similar situation occurred in Lindsay Clarke's novel The Return from Troy (presented as a reawakened memory), where a priest of Apollo forced himself upon Cassandra and was stopped only when she spat in his mouth. When the priest used his benevolent reputation to convince Priam that he was innocent of her wild claims, Cassandra subsequently went insane.
The myth of Cassandra is also retold by German author Christa Wolf in Kassandra. She retells the story from the point of view of Cassandra at the moment of her death and uses the myth as an allegory for both the unheard voice of the woman writer and the oppression and strict censorship laws of East Germany.
Author William Faulkner, in his novel Absalom, Absalom!, writes of Rosa Coldfield, a principal character in the Sutpen Dynasty/Tragedy, and how her "childhood ... consisted of a Cassandra-like listening beyond closed doors", alluding to both mythological concerns that (1) Cassandra was locked away, or behind closed doors (as with Rosa's youth), and (2) that Cassandra's prophecies were true, yet fated to be ignored (as with Rosa's premonitions about Thomas Sutpen and his desire to forge a dynasty).
The author Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote a historical novel called, Firebrand, which presents a story from Cassandra's point of view.
Marcus Sedgwick's novel The Foreshadowing features a protagonist named Alexandra who has the gift of foresight, though she sees mainly others' pain and death.
In Clemence McLearn's Inside the Walls of Troy, Cassandra had a strong friendship with Queen Helen of Sparta when she came to Troy with Prince Paris. Cassandra essentially hated Helen but gave in to her unbearable joy and happiness and became Helen's "confidante". At the end of the story instead of Cassandra being raped and taken as Agamemnon's "battle prize", she simply joined her two sisters, Polyxena and Laodice at the temple of Athena. The rest of her story is left untold.

Modern usage

In more modern literature, Cassandra has often served as a model for tragedy and Romance, and has given rise to the archetypical character of someone whose prophetic insight is obscured by insanity, turning their revelations into riddles or disjointed statements that are not fully comprehended until after the fact. Notable examples are the character of River Tam from the science fiction TV series Firefly and the science fiction short story "Cassandra" by C. J. Cherryh.
"Cassandra" is the title of an episode of the British sci-fi comedy series Red Dwarf. In it a futuristic computer, Cassandra, is discovered to have the ability to predict the future. She foretells a number of conversations and events which each come true, save for one scene where one character kills another in a jealous rage. It emerges this is a lie to try to punish the killer for his responsibility for his victim's later death, which Cassandra correctly predicts he accidentally causes. The story in the episode deviates somewhat from myth in that she is not universally disbelieved. The theme of the futility of trying to change the future is explored at several points in the episode.
In "Help," an episode of the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a young girl named Cassandra "Cassie" Newton foresees her own death despite the attempts of the show's protagonist, Buffy Summers, to prevent it. She also foresees what will happen in Buffy's final battle with one of the show's antagonists, The First, and its army.
In the episode "Hourglass" of the sci-fi series Smallville, the plot revolves around an old people's home where one of the residents who was blinded on the day of the meteor shower called Cassandra can apparently see the future. She also makes reference to the story of Troy when mentioning to Lex Luthor, who had brought her a bunch of flowers, that "It was the Greeks who also brought gifts." The resident also sees Lex's future and his ascendancy to the US Presidency.
The Cassandra syndrome is a fictional condition used to describe someone who believes that he or she can see the future but cannot do anything about it. Fictional character Dr. Kathryn Railly explores this syndrome and those who suffer from it in the film Twelve Monkeys.
In Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson's Scream 2, Sidney Prescott, the main character played by Neve Campbell, is a mirror of Cassandra in the sense that she is cursed by forever being susceptible to murder, conspiracy, and being alone, and actually appears in a play within the film titled "Cassandra", where she also plays the lead. During the rest of the trilogy, she has made clear that if it weren't for her, the plot of the movies, and for Sidney, the events in her life, would have never happened, and that continually surviving attacks has made the ones closest to her even more vulnerable to the characteristics that plague her life. Sidney is also seen speaking the line, "You know, I saw it all coming. I knew it wasn't over", referring to the murders in Scream 2. This is a prophecy revealed, a play on the curse that plagued Cassandra.
Norwegian gothic metal pioneers Theatre of Tragedy wrote a song about Cassandra on their 1998 album Aegis.
German power metal group Blind Guardian featured two songs about Cassandra and the Trojan War on their 2002 album A Night at the Opera, Under the Ice and And Then There Was Silence, the latter of which was the title track of the 2001 "warmup" single for the album.
The musical group ABBA released a song titled "Cassandra" as a B-side to the single, The Day Before You Came at the very end of their time as an active group. Anni-Frid Lyngstad has the lead vocal and sings about Cassandra's departure from a town after some unnamed disasters have occurred and her own regret about not believing Cassandra's warnings. The song has been included in subsequent compilation CD releases.
In Woody Allen's Mighty Aphrodite, the character Cassandra is quoted as saying "I see disaster. I see catastrophe. Worse, I see lawyers!"
The Melbourne band Something for Kate released the song 'Cassandra Walks The Plank" as a B-side on their single "California" from 2007. Vocalist and guitarist Paul Dempsey later describes the song as a 'Straightforward angry rant' about warning signs in the modern world on their iTunes Originals release.
David Murray Black also released a song called "Prophet of Doom" in his CD Sacred Ground about Cassandra.
The Crüxshadows sing a song about Cassandra on their 2003 album Ethernaut on their song "Cassandra".
The Motorcycle Boy's girl Cassandra in Rumble Fish says that she is not hooked on drugs, but Rusty-James doesn't believe her.
The show Hercules: The Animated Series depict Cassandra as a rather goth teenager who has visions of awful things and is loved by Icarus.
American progressive metal group Dream Theater refer to Cassandra fleetingly in a song called "Voices" in which they mock the (false) prophetic message of modern day religion.
The character Cassandra Kirschbaum in the 2004 MGM film Saved! is likely named after the Greek Cassandra. Cassandra Kirschbaum is the only Jewish student at the Evangelical Christian high school that serves as the film's setting. Her character fills the role of "truth-teller" at the school, exposing other characters' hypocrisy. Cassandra Kirschbaum also appears in the Off-Broadway musical based on the film.
Dr. Bocker, in John Wyndham's The Kraken Wakes mentions Cassandra fleetingly in "Phase 2," referring to the aspect of one who predicts the future but goes unheeded, with dire consequences. The quote can be found on page 107 of the 1973 publishing by Penguin Books.


Further reading

  • Clarke, Lindsay. The Return from Troy. HarperCollins (2005). ISBN 0-00-715027-X.
  • 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

Primary sources

  • Virgil, Aeneid II.246-247, 341-346, 403-408
  • [ Theoi Project: Cassandra, classical sources in English translation
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