Pamela Jaye Smith
DATELINE: THE AEGEAN, 1200 B.C.
One of the most interesting and famous VOICES whose name still reverberates in modern times is the Trojan Princess Cassandra, daughter of King Priam of “Illiad” fame.
Recall the Trojan War, which came down to us via the blind poet Homer: the Trojan prince Paris stole away fair Helen, wife of Greek King Menelaus. Menelaus and his brother King Agamemnon gathered up lots of other Greek heroes, including Ulysses and Achilles, and sailed off to Troy to rescue Helen. Ten years later with both sides exhausted, lots of heroes slain (a 676,000 body count), and the various gods still at odds with each other over which side should win, the wily Ulysses came up with a brilliant plan to defeat the Trojans. More on all that in a bit.
Meanwhile, some time back the fair Cassandra had been “blessed” by the adoring Greek god Apollo with the gift of prophecy. His little love offering turned sour, however, when Cassandra refused Apollo’s romantic advances. One wonders why, since Apollo was supposedly a very talented and gorgeous kind of guy. The bad track record of mixed dating (mortals and immortals with mortals usually coming out on the bad side of the deal) may have had something to do with her reluctance. Well, the gods are not used to being turned down by mortals and Apollo was immortally miffed at Cassandra’s rebuff. According to the Olympic god-rules he couldn’t take back his gift so instead he put a nasty little rider on it: no one would ever believe her prophecies.
This led to no end of problems. Cassandra’d prophecy something important, no one would listen, then it’d turn out she was right, and then people would wail, “Why didn’t you make us listen!?!” What’s a girl to do?
Cassandra, for example, vehemently suggested it was probably a bad idea to wheel that large wooden horse left on the beach by the departing Greeks right through the gates of Troy. The Trojans were so happy to be rid of those pesky Greeks after ten years of vicious siege warfare, they just wanted to party. And what better token of victory than that big old horse the Greeks had built as an offering to their gods. This is where the saying, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” comes from. Actually it doesn’t, but you can twist the clichés a bit and say, “Do look a Greek horse in the mouth, you may find an invading army in it’s belly.” The real saying is “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts”.
Well, you know how this part turned out. The Trojans rolled the horse into the city, partied hearty, and as they were sleeping it off in the arms of Bacchus and Morpheus (the gods of wine and sleep) those wily Greeks slipped out the trap door of the Trojan horse, opened the gates of Troy to their waiting comrades and all heck broke loose.
Cassandra sought refuge in the sacred temple of Athena. But her prophesied invaders snatched her away from the goddess’s sanctuary (ach, the sacrilege!). The Greek Ajax the Lesser may or may not have had his way with the princess, (accounts differ) but she was ultimately hauled away as war booty and presented to the Greek King Agamemnon as her beloved Troy lay smoldering in ruins because the people wouldn’t believe her prophecy.
It gets worse, and has environmental consequences. The goddess Athena was really upset about this sacrilege in her temple and the abduction of Princess Cassandra. She appealed to Poseidon to assist her vengeance. Ever ready to stir up a storm, sea god Poseidon agreed to blow the Greeks off course. The Greek fleet was tossed hither and yon, sailors drowned (including that beastly Ajax), and poor Ulysses wandered ten years before making it back home to his kingdom of Ithaca.
But back to Cassandra on board King Agamemnon’s ship. The king’s homecoming was seemingly pleasant: all full of music, a smiling spouse, and obeisant subjects, although those old men wringing their hands in the background seemed a bit worried about something. Agamemnon blithely introduced the beautiful Cassandra to Clytemnestra, his wife, and ordered her to treat the girl well, she’s a special prize. “Yeah, right…,” you can almost hear Clytemnestra mutter. Ignoring Cassandra’s warning of marital treachery, Agamemnon hurried in to the welcome feast in the great palace hall. Queen C. had a hidden agenda, however, and this is what Cassandra saw with her prophetic vision.
After ten years, Clytemnestra was still (rather rightfully) upset that her husband had sacrificed their innocent young daughter Iphigenea to get fair winds to sail off to Troy in the first place. In the king’s absence, she had taken up with Aegisthes, who coincidentally had his own family vengeance going against Agamemnon’s line. Seriously, you needed a scorecard to keep all these warring families straight.
The people left to let the king and queen have their homecoming but the elders hung around staring gloomily at the palace doors, fearing the worst. After all, how do you politely introduce your lover to your husband, particularly when there’s already bad blood between them?
Cassandra meanwhile fell into a vision trance and began rattling on about children devoured by their parents, blood on the floor, cursed families…. The elders were terrified: how could a stranger from a strange land know these things about their king and his family, for indeed there had been some rather vicious cannibalistic goings-on just a generation or so back. As if that weren’t bad enough, Cassandra let out a shriek and prophesied her own death that very day. Knowing her fate (always a downside to being a prophet), she went nobly into the palace to meet it.
A few moments of silence. Then a blood-curdling yell came from behind the doors of the great hall. The King’s agonized death cries froze the blood of those outside. As the dead Agamemnon later tells it to Ulysses when they meet in the Underworld, Cassandra dashed in, saw Clytemnestra stabbing her husband to death and ran to help him. But all for naught, and his arms reached out to her as she too fell under the bloody knife and into death.
Queen C. opened the great hall doors and stood there covered in blood and proudly announced that her daughter Iphigenia’s slaughter had been avenged. The elders were horrified: the curse of blood on blood would continue.
Cytemnestra and Aegisthes didn’t get off scot-free; they were eventually assassinated by her son Orestes, but that’s another twisted story.
Oh, and the environmental consequences we mentioned a bit ago? Not only did fierce storms whip the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas after the fall of Troy, but remember Ajax, that wicked Greek who raped Cassandra back at Athena’s temple? Not satisfied with just his death, the goddess Athena laid a thousand year curse upon his city.
DATELINE: HERE & NOW
There are a lot of people who make a living predicting the future: bookies, futurists, consultants, commodities brokers. However, the Cassandras out there are the ones we should’ve listened to but didn’t, and have lived to regret it. If we learn anything from the Cassandra story it should be to listen carefully to people giving what might seem like odd bits and bobs of information, or full-blown theories which initially sound screwy.
Some contemporary examples of people who were disbelieved, pooh-poohed or downright persecuted at first, but who turned out (or may turn out) to be correct are:
Rachel Carson, marine biologist and author of “Silent Spring” (1962), a warning on the dangers of insecticides on the environment.
Louis A. Frank of the University of Iowa whose theory that earth is continually bombarded by giant snowballs from outer space provoked snickers and disbelief in the halls of astronomical academia. Satellite photography seems to offer proof, but the final verdict is still out. If he’s right, then earth is literally “seeded” every day with space-stuff. This kicks the foundations out from under our isolationist attitude. We and every living thing on the planet could truly be alien life forms from outer space.
Recall KAREN SILKWOOD & the Kerr-McGee nuclear plant dangers. See the 1983 movie “Silkwood”, starring Meryl Streep, Kurt Russell and Cher.
THE CHINA SYNDROME (1979) was a film about a cover-up at a nuclear powerplant; its debut was timed eerily close to real-life nuclear spills.
And how about all those ATMOSPHERIC SCIENTISTS who’ve been sounding the warning about the growing Ozone Hole but who are pooh-poohed by many big business concerns and (?!) the American government.
EDGAR CAYCE made an awfully lot of predictions, as well as reading the past (as did Cassandra). Some of Cayce’s seem to be coming true, and it wouldn’t hurt to glance back over his writings now and then to see how his accuracy rates are doing. Particularly since the things he foresaw will have great effect on lots of us if they do indeed come about. Things like major earthquakes and the discovery of Atlantis.
Most religions have prophets with varying messages and varying interpretations of the outcomes.
In looking at the phenomenon of prophecy we’d do well to keep in mind a couple of things: chess, chaos theory, the space-time continuum, and the geography of the “other” worlds.
Geography of the other worlds because sometimes people’s consciousnesses seem to travel above the physical dense world and visit those realms where ideas and emotions are made, and perceive them before they precipitate down into physical dense reality. This is where inspiration, new art forms, inventions, and new social policies all come from as well.
The space-time continuum because according to physics, the progression of linear time is not the only way the universe works. We’ve all seen enough sci-fi to know how this stuff goes, and science is now catching up to show us why it works. Physicist Richard Feynman has some fascinating work on sub-atomic particles going forwards and backwards in time.
Chaos theory has as one of its components the concept of the “Strange Attractor in the Field of Chaos”, which basically means if you drop some information into a mess of stuff, the stuff will eventually take recognizable form around the bit of information. A person capable of perceiving the bit of information, the Strange Attractor, as it first enters a situation may be able to accurately predict an outcome which no one else can see at the time because all they note is the seeming chaos.
Chess because it’s a marvelous game to train the human mind to consider consequences to the 4th, 5th, 6th and so on levels. A mind which is naturally “blessed” by this ability may seem prophetic to those of us who are not.
So if you’re the kind of person who can see the future better than others but have trouble getting people to believe you, to buy your script which is about this great new idea, or to believe you when you say so-and-so’s doing such-and-such with this-and-that and people think you’re just paranoid, you might begin to document these things. Then you can whip out your datebook and say, “See, on August 5th I said that on October 10th this would happen. It did. Then at Christmas I predicted a such and such. It happened. I’ve a pattern of success here, you should listen to what I say.”
Yeah, well, good luck. But at least if you aren’t believed you can now wag your finger at people and say, “Remember Cassandra and that Trojan Horse.”
VOICE TO REMEMBER:
“I’m not paranoid, I’m just perceptive.” Paula J. Lewis, Los Angeles, CA 1986