In my previous post “Set Aside for the Gods” I briefly touched on the figure of Cassandra. After some consideration I decided that I needed to address more time to the discussion of Cassandra as she is such a unique figure in Apollon’s mythology, and one around whom there have circulated some anti-Apollon feeling in regards to her punishment and some cheering of Cassandra as a feminist self ascertaining figure. In other words, many who strongly dislike Apollon for his rape myths (please see my above linked post for further discussion on that if you haven’t read it because I won’t be reiterating in this post) I have already showed previously some argument against how the “rape myth” of Cassandra is really a feminist issue, and is actually a political issue about personalized illicit relationship in myth (recalling if you will that any case of a relationship that wasn’t sanctioned by the family would have fallen into the rape camp, regardless of consent. I am reiterating that here since I did not in my previous post) versus sanctioned appointed attachment to a god as a priestess/official bride of a god.
The first thing that is notable about Cassandra is that her myth is comparatively late. In fact we see no mention of her in the Iliad, although a daughter of Priam is discussed but as engaged to a hero. I have yet to find any mention of the myth of Cassandra that pre-dates the work of Aeschylus in his first play of the Oresteia triology, “Agamemnon”. Here is where we actually get our full introduction to Cassandra (although she also makes an appearance in the later tragedy of the Trojan Women by Euripedes) and that her story unfolds in the framework of another story, her curse by Apollon. However in the context of this play I think a certain frame of mind must be kept when reading through it. One is that Aeschylus had a tendency to introduce mystic elements into his writing (being a member of a Eleusinian priestly family, wherein the idea of certain associations by benefit of lineage would have been strong asserted while he was growing up, as well as the experiential personal versus the official) and also that in the context of the Oresteia we are not only dealing with matters of lineage, or rather the curse of lineage that has been handed down to Orestes as one that has plagued the house of Atreus), but also a conversation on what is lawful.
It is only within the context of these matters that the whole scene of Cassandra’s appearance makes any sense at all, as a maiden who rebuked her expected obligations, her social contract, and instead of being a priestess/bride of the god was reduced to having no house at all (not a coincidence that she would have been designated the daughter of fallen house in this context) and the benefit of family or lineage, or even social status. Her existence was a lover or concubine of the god, who was regular seized by him by what she allotted for herself. The rages she has towards the god is really of no different character than those rages we see the lovers of the gods hurling. Certainly we see Creousa rage at Apollon at Delphi for her lot. I would consider these commentary of the social helplessness. Without protection of family or one of few social privileges that an unmarried woman of good breeding could acquire as serving as a temple priestess, a woman was without anything. Euripedes plays often address to this sort of helpless of women which we see in Ion, and the unfairness of their lot in society.
When I first considered plans for introducing an oracle card for Apollon with the image of Cassandra I wanted to play strongly on this hidden away, internally burning, segregated image of Cassandra. Not as hubric villainess, but rather I see clearer now a lover of the god, like so many mythic, who are segregated and cast off from the norm of society and peanlized for their illicit affair with the god by society. The curse of Apollon that none would believe her prophecies becomes more of a statement that none would hold any authority in her due to her chosen situation that she chose the illicit ecstatic relationship with the god rather than the pure rote existence of a priestess. Euripedes really fleshes out this ecstatic relationship in Trojn Women where we hear of Cassandra running about wildly, engaged in things that she could see and experience alone. She is uncontrolled by system or regulated official bondage which would offer social protections and a highly controlled and ritualized life. She traded one boon for the other. But of course she would curse the god for her choice, as men often do, for the ills that have fallen to her even as she opens herself and embraces the presence of Apollon, her sole comfort against the horror she sees unfolding before her.
In many ways Aeschylus could have been demanding attention from the crowd regarding the nature of the mysteries that lies outside of social norm and regulations, and justice which lay outside of what is recognized as right and lawful, to which ultimately heritage and family mean little outside of legal-societal nicities. Speaking of the validity of something that could have been seen as potentially chaotic despite the highly ritualized proceedings of the mystery program performed before the initiates. The mysteries thrive and grow off of the personal contact with the gods, the way is but shown by the priests. The foreshadowing of Cassandra’s presence and speech serves a very profound role as brief as it is, and one that will capture the imagination of poets to come.
In many ways Cassandra is the voice of godspouses, and those who embrace the love of their gods, as she is the one who looses all that she has known before, is ridiculed as mad, thrown aside, and is without apparent value within her social-religious network as she is not there in her existence for service to others. Yet she still spreads what gifts she may. Cassandra is her own kind of heroine, but not in the way anti-Apollon dialogue would have us think.