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Sphinx (Riddle of)
detail from The Fall of Troy; courtesy University of Haifa Library
The Fall of Troy: Ajax Attacking Cassandra
C A S S A N D R A :
Cassandra, or Alexander, was the daughter of Hecuba and King Priam, the rulers of Troy during the Trojan War. Cassandra was a beautiful young lady, blessed with the gift of prophecy by Apollo. She then shocked Apollo at the last minute, so he turned her gift around. Cassandra was doomed to tell the truth, but she would never be believed. King Priam did not know how to control her, so he kept her locked up and out of the way of the warriors of Troy. Troy finally fell to the Greek invaders. Cassandra was attacked and supposedly raped by the warrior Ajax, but eventually avenged by Athena. Cassandra accompanied the Greek hero Agamemnon and his wife to his homeland. She was soon killed by his wife, Clytaemnestra. Cassandra had always been misunderstood as a madwoman or crazy. Her own family and the people of Troy mistook her as a raving lunatic when really she was a great, intelligent heroine who had been cursed by the gods for not playing by their rules. Her name, Cassandra, has two distinct meanings. One meaning is “she who entangles men", and the other is "Cassandra” someone whose true words are ignored. Cassandra's doom was to predict what others refused to believe. If Cassandra had not been raped or attacked at Athena's temple, there would have been no Odyssey.
C A S S A N D R A - A N D - A P O L L O :
Cassandra was described as the most beautiful of Priam's daughters, and Apollo was described as the most handsome of the young gods. Cassandra described Apollo as
"someone who struggled to win me, breathing love for me."
Apollo granted Cassandra the gift of prophecy. Cassandra stayed over night in the temple of Apollo where her beauty was an interest to Apollo. He promised to teach her the art of prophecy in return for sexual favors. Cassandra agreed to his offer, but after accepting the gift, she denied him her body. He begged Cassandra to give him one last kiss, and as she did he spit into her mouth. When he backed away from her the curse had been planted.
T H E - F A L L - O F - T R O Y :
Cassandra fled to the temple of Athena where she clutched the wooden image of the warrior goddess, sometimes called the Palladium. There she was found by the Greek warrior Ajax. He tried to drag her away from the statue, but she held on so tightly that he had to take it with him when he carried her off to slavery. The Trojans attacked Ajax. Most sources do agree that he dragged her off into slavery. Athena was not happy after this occurrence.
"Her cheeks burned with anger, and her image gave forth a sound that shook the floor of the temple. Turning her eyes from this scene of crime, she swore to avenge the wrong done to Cassandra.
" (As related in Swhwab page. 563) The crime Ajax had caused deserved a damaging punishment. Agamemnon claimed Cassandra as a reward for himself. As the Greek ship was about to set sail, Odysseus felt it was right to tell Agamemnon that Ajax had raped Cassandra. Ajax denied this crime. After being confronted Ajax ran away and hid in Athena's temple, where he swore Odysseus was lying. Even Cassandra herself never admitted. Ajax apologized for removing Athena's image Cassandra had been clutched to, and offered to work off his crime. Like so many other Greeks in the Odyssey, Ajax was killed when his ship wrecked. A great storm had blown off the shores caused by Athena. She demanded the right to take revenge on Ajax for the crime. After complaining to Zues he gave her permission to wreak his ship. Zues also lent her one of his own thunderbolts. Cassandra was the reason the Greeks never returned to Greece.
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