Saturday, January 21, 2012

Oh, princess, how they'll whisper your name...

Hands up if you knew Cassandra had a suitor. (Not counting Apollo, that is, or Ajax of Rapetown in the shire of Rapesly.) Two suitors, in fact. At least. Coroebus and Othronus, foreign princes who fought and died for Troy because they wanted to marry Cassandra.

Cassandra, Frederick Sandys
I wonder why so few Iliad adaptations mention that? What part of "feared and shunned prophesying madwoman" doesn't
scream dude magnet?

I like that Cassandra had suitors. It's a canon confirmation of how fascinating a character she's always been. We're not the only ones interested in a dead-on accurate and utterly ignored prophet. Even then, even among the people who stuffed their fingers in their ears, someone saw something in her that made them want to know more.

And in a serious way, too. It would be different if Coroebus came to Troy, saw a hot princess (Homer compares Cassandra to Aphrodite at one point), and decided she wasn't interesting enough to risk his life for. Instead, he made it all the way through the war fighting for Troy, only to die trying to defend Cassandra from Ajax of Locris.

Cassandra Dragged from Athena's Temple, Antoine Rivalz

Poor Othronus comes late and leaves early, arriving and dying in the Iliad. Homer takes the time to inform us that Othronus is there only so he can marry Cassandra, and that he would have married her even without a dowry.

We're not talking puppy love here. There was something about this woman. (Sure, at the beginning an alliance with Troy probably helped. But after ten years of war, with all its deprivations and losses, there was something else keeping them on that battlefield.)

So what is it about Cassandra that's so magnetic? Her own people don't like her, at least one god has a serious vendetta against her, and she cares very little for her own personal image, or she wouldn't be quite so prone to public screaming prophecies. I'm going to hazard a guess that whatever drew Coroebus and Othronus to her was not the prophetic gift that so enthralls modern readers. That particular blessing had very little value, either to Cassandra or to anyone who heard her. The benefit of hindsight makes it easier for us to appreciate Cassandra than it was for the Trojans.

Cassandra, Evelyn De Morgan
And she never stops fighting. In the face of scorn, ridicule, and disbelief, she never falters or betrays what she knows to be true. A Trojan, living day-to-day with an uncanny child prophet who grows more unhinged with each year, would not be kindly disposed toward her; an outsider, already prepared to like a rich and lovely princess, could easily be surprised and touched by her tenacity and her struggles. (Loyalty and courage being traits that ancient Greek society prized highly.)

But the repercussions of a lifetime of denial would have been very visible. Cassandra's a loner, a dreamer, a half-mad voice of reason at the mercy of unwanted powers.

So it's a lot to read into three characters who barely rate a mention in the Iliad. But it's a hard question to answer, and one that few people have even tackled. And in my head, at least, it gives Cassandra a measure of the sympathy and kindness that her people couldn't find for her.

And now you know what a softy I really am.

For extra fun: this song, from which I took the title of the post, might as well have been written by one of Cassandra's suitors.

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