Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Biography of Princess Cassandra of Troy

Written By: Katelyn Abbott

 A picture of Princess Cassandra of Troy by Evelyn De Morgan (1898, London); standing in front of the burning city of Troy at the peak of her insanity 


 Cassandra (also known as Alexandra or Kassandra and the basic meaning of her name being “she who entangles men”) was the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba and the twin sister of Helenus and therefore a princess of Troy. She had brown hair kept in curls, brown eyes, and fair white skin. Cassandra was considered to be very beautiful, intelligent, charming, desirable, and elegant with a friendly and gentle nature and she had much courage and determination in her, but she was deemed to be insane. She was described as “the second most beautiful woman in the world.”  Her beauty ended up even compared to that of Aphrodite the goddess of love and beauty and Helen of Troy.


Cassandra was able to be born along with her twin brother Helenus in a high citadel with a beautiful view of hills and water and brightly colored frescos and rich mosques where the royal Trojan family had dwelt in.

Cassandra had brown hair kept in curls, brown eyes, and fair white skin. She had been a beautiful, intelligent, and charming child. The little girl had a deep curiosity in her and a friendly and gentle nature.

Cassandra’s parents King Priam and Queen Hecuba held a birthday feast for her twin brother Helenus and her at a temple of Apollo during her childhood. Both of the twins became tired and came to fall asleep in a corner of the temple. King Priam and Queen Hecuba did get drunk and ended up leaving their children Cassandra and Helenus behind in the temple when they returned home. The twins were found by their parents King Priam and Queen Hecuba when they went back to get them at the temple entwined with Apollo’s sacred snakes flickering their tongues into the twins’ ears and mouths. Hecuba screamed in terror at the sight of it and the snakes turned into a pile of laurel boughs, but both Cassandra and Helenus had received the gift of foresight which allowed them to see into the future.

During her childhood Cassandra had maids-in-waiting to wait on her due to her status as a royal princess of Troy. Her maids-in-waiting ended up to give Cassandra food to eat during her meals and helped her to dress in her clothes. She was followed around by them for them to keep her company as she would go around playing among columned halls decorated with lively paintings on them, visiting the temples of the gods and goddesses, or wandering around the agora (also known as the marketplace) where the merchants would have either kept stalls or shops to sell their goods at. She got educated in  the application of cosmetics, the arrangement of flora, dance, drawing, the genealogy of her lineage back ten generations, how to honor the gods and goddesses and keep the old ways, music, and needle arts like other girls of her status did. Her nurse took care of her when she was sick and her nurse had made her dolls among the rest of her other toys she had to play with. It was also her privilege to attend feasts and festivals just like the rest of her brothers and sisters did.

Cassandra ended up growing up to be a priestess of Apollo (though other Greek sources had said that she was a priestess of Athena). She dressed in the white virgin robes of the office as a priestess of Apollo and a wreath of flowers (or ribbons) in her hair. These white virgin robes meant that she had planned to remain a virgin for her entire whole life.

Apollo fell in love with Cassandra when she had grown up into a young woman. Cassandra had gone to spend the night in Apollo’s temple in prayer and reflection. Apollo had sought to seduce her when she had slept in his temple once again while she was there, but Cassandra refused his sexual advances towards her and scorned his love for her. He was infuriated at Cassandra’s rejection of him and he had horribly punished her for it. It was impossible for him to take away her gift of foresight from her since no gift given to anyone by the gods could ever be taken back by them. Instead he turned her gift into a cruel curse so Cassandra would always accurately predict the future, but her predictions would not be believed by anyone whenever she would try to share her knowledge of what was to occur in the future with  other people. In Aeschylus’ Agamemnon it appeared that she had agreed to become Apollo’s lover in exchange for the gift of foresight, but she broke her end of their bargain by refusing him her body after he had instructed her in the art of prophecy and caused herself to incur his wrath: though she would be able to see the future and be right in her foresights, he cursed her so that no one would believe her predictions. Some Greek versions said that Apollo cursed her by begging Cassandra to give him one last kiss from her which she agreed to do and then when his lips closed on her lips he spat into her mouth to release the curse on her. This curse on her gift of prophecy would be a source of endless pain and frustration to her for the rest of her entire whole life.
                                      A second picture of Princess Cassandra of Troy

Telephus, the son of Heracles, had loved Cassandra but she rejected his love and sought to help him seduce her older sister Laodice instead.

It is said that when she saw Helen arrive at Troy with her brother Paris she snatched away her golden veil and tore at her hair, but the city of Troy nevertheless received Helen as a jewel meant to enhance its’ beauty.

Cassandra made many predictions. She was able to recognize Paris to be her own brother. Cassandra declared that that Paris’s abduction of Helen from Sparta to steal her from her husband Menelaus to take her to be his own wife in Troy would bring about the Trojan War and cause the destruction of Troy. She ended up foreseeing the death of her beloved older brother Prince Hector at the hands of Achilles and the danger inside of the Trojan Horse to Troy. Cassandra foresaw that she would be given as a war prize to Agamemnon at the end of the Trojan War. She predicted the death of Agamemnon at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra and her adulterous lover Aegisthus in revenge for him sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia to Artemis and her own death at their hands as well, the death of her mother Queen Hecuba before she could serve as a slave to Odysseus’s wife Penelope, and that Odysseus would not be able to return home to Ithaca for another ten years when he would return on his own alone and the dangers that he would encounter on his way home. Cassandra saw the return of Agamemnon’s son Orestes to Mycenae and his daughter Electra and his son Orestes would murder Aegisthus and their mother Clytemnestra’s death in revenge for their father Agamemnon’s murder. She was unable to do anything to forestall any of these sad tragedies that she had predicted to occur since no one believed her when she predicted them with the only time people did was of her foreseeing Paris to be her own brother. The only happy prediction she made on record was that her cousin Aeneas would found a great city known as Rome.

She was seen as a liar and thought to be mad by her own family and some Greek versions said that her father King Priam kept her locked up in a pyramidal building on the citadel.  He ordered the wardness who cared for her to keep him informed of all her “prophetic utterances.” The Greek versions in where she was incarcerated show this was typically portrayed as driving her truly mad. Though in some Greek versions where she was not locked up she was usually viewed as remaining simply misunderstood by the people around her.

Corobeus the son of Mydon and Othryoneus of Cabeus came to the aid of Troy during the Trojan War out of their acceptance of who Cassandra was, their care for her, and their love for her. The two men did fight among the Trojans against the Greeks in exchange for Cassandra’s hand in marriage. However anyone who was betrothed to her died which was a fate that the three of Cassandra’s suitors Corobeus, Eurplyus the son of Telephus, and Othryoneus shared as the three of them died in the Trojan War.

Cassandra was the first person to see the dead body of her beloved older brother Prince Hector being brought back to the city of Troy as she had climbed the ramparts and saw the chariot and wagon carrying it from a distance.

Cassandra had attempted to warn the Trojan people against bringing the Trojan Horse inside of the city as there were armed Greek soldiers inside of it in their plan to destroy Troy, but the Trojan people had not believed her. She was caught by them when she had grabbed a burning pine branch in one hand and a double-edged axe in her other hand and had run towards the wooden Trojan Horse intent on destroying it herself to stop the Greeks from destroying Troy. During the fall of Troy she sought refuge in the temple of Athena. She clung to the wooden image of Athena in the shrine and she prayed for salvation. There she was abducted and brutally raped by Ajax the Lesser who had pulled her away from the altar.

A picture of Princess Cassandra of Troy imploring Athena to gain revenge on Ajax the Lesser by Jerome Martin Langlois (who lived from 1779-1839) 

Odysseus, who feared that Athena and the other gods would destroy them on the journey home for Ajax the Lesser’s crime of abducting and brutally raping Cassandra while she was in the sanctuary of Athena, advised the other Greek leaders to stone him to death, for the sacrilege he had committed before Athena’s altar. Ajax the Lesser saved himself from their wrath as he threw himself to Athena’s defiled altar where he pleaded for mercy. The Greeks foolishly did not punish Ajax so that many of them had incurred Athena’s enmity and wrath.

Poseidon sent a violent storm to destroy much of the Greek fleet at Athena’s insistence. Though Ajax the Lesser managed to swim to safety and then clung to a rock, Ajax defiantly boasted that not even the gods could kill him. This made Poseidon hurl a bolt of lightning that split the rock in two. The impetuous Ajax the Lesser fell back into the sea where he drowned to death.

Cassandra was seized as a concubine by King Agamemnon and he took her back to Mycenae with him. Since Agamemnon had the common sense of sacrificing to all of the gods for a Greek victory at Troy he was one of the few Greek leaders able to safely travel home to Mycenae by sea. Cassandra tried to warn Agamemnon that she had a vision that the both of them would be murdered by Aeigsthus and his wife Clytemnestra, but her warnings were to no avail as he did not believe her. They were both murdered by Aegisthus and Clytemnestra shortly after their arrival in Troy. Cassandra had told the Greek elders at Mycenae of her prophecy of Agamemnon’s death at the hands of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra and her own fate as well and the elders tried to persuade her to escape for her life, but the prophetess saw no escape for herself. Therefore she resignedly entered the palace and not long after the doors closed behind her, that either Aegisthus or Clytemnestra murdered her with an axe beheading her or a knife stabbing her to death with it.

There were some Greek sources that mentioned that Agamemnon and Cassandra had twin boys together. They named these twin boys Pelops and Teledamus. Their sons were both killed by Aegisthus.

Cassandra was said to have been sent to the Elysian Fields after her death as her soul was one of the ones judged worthy enough to be there.

When Heinrich Schliemann excavated Mycenae he was sure that he had found Cassandra’s grave since he had found the skeleton of a woman and two infants in it.

A marble bust of Princess Cassandra of Troy


Anonymous said...

Ran across your page while researching Cassandra. I'll read it in detail after work tonight (I can hardly wait!). But I do want to comment on one of the pictures now. It turns out the second picture is not actually Cassandra. It's part of Jacques-Louie David's 1799 painting "The Intervention of the Sabine Women". You can read more about it here:".

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