"Oracle, in the Ancient Greek world, was a shrine where people went to seek advice from prophets or prophetesses (individuals who had special powers to speak on behalf of a god or foretell the future). Besides referring to an altar, the word oracle also refers to the prophet or prophetess, and to his/her prophecy" (Cassandra). The Ancient Greeks wholly believed in these sacred persons. When disease would corrupt a city, the people would go to the shrines to ask a prophet to speak on behalf of the gods. Once the Greeks knew the cause of the plague, they would do everything in their immortal power to convince the gods to relieve them from their suffereing. In the same way as Oedipus, the king of Thebes, asked Tiresias (a prophet) to speak for the gods explaining why his people were suffering, in Oedipus Rex. The Ancient Greeks believed their fate lay in the powers and oracle of the prophets and prophetesses. There was one prophetess, however, that was an exception to this belief. Although Cassandra was the most beautiful and intelligent prophetess, in Greek mythology, her prophecies were never believed.
Stories of gods falling in love with or lusting after young beautiful women appear everywhere in Greek mythology, and the case of Cassandra is no exception. Greek gods chose their prey because of some distinguished characteristic or part of their genealogy
. Cassandra was a
lovely young woman, and described by Homer as the most beautiful of Priam's daughters. Apollo, similarly, was the most handsome of the young gods. Cassandra describes Apollo as someone who "struggled to win me, breathing ardent for me" (Lefkowitz 15).
Cassandra, daughter of Queen Hecuba and King Priam of Troy, was a beautiful young woman blessed with the gift of prophecy by the god Apollo. In return, she was supposed to love him, but at the last minute she shunned Apollo. As an act of revenge, Apollo added a twist to her gift: Cassandra was doomed to tell the truth, but never to be believed (Cohen 50).
Cassandra has always been misunderstood and misinterpreted as a madwoman or crazy doomsday prophetess. She has always been shown in paintings with her long hair flying around her shoulders in what was considered lunatic fashion, scantily clad, and helpless on her knees in the face of her predicted doom. However, there is so much more to Cassandra than her maddened predictions and pitiable treatment. Cassandra was a great, intelligent heroine who was cursed by the gods for not playing by their rules. She is a tragic figure, not a madwoman (Lefkowitz 4).
Cassandra's gift began with her falling asleep in the temple of Apollo. As he looked down on her, her beauty roused him. He promised to teach her the art of prophecy in return for lust. Cassandra agreed to his terms, but after accepting his gift of prophecy, she denied him her body. Apollo was outraged and added a condition to the gift: though Cassandra would always speak the truth, no one would ever believe her. " Already I prophesised to my countryment all their disasters...(but) Ever since that fault I could persuade no one of anything.' " He begged Cassandra to give him one last kiss, and as she did so, he spat into her mouth, when he backed away, the curse was planted (Lefkowitz 20).
Once Cassandra had been cursed by Apollo, and she would never be believed, Troy was doomed. Countless times before and during the Trojan War Cassandra predicted what would come of the war, but no one believed her. Always it was Cassandra who recognized a face, who predicted a fateful occurrence, who ran around the ramparts of the city with her hair flying around her shoulders, crying and spouting oracles that no one understood. Most people considered her insane and tried to subdue her, but she was only trying desperately to warn her people of impending disaster.
One of Cassandra's most famous predictions was that of the Greek siege behind the gift of the...