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Are You Cassandra?

We Chinese like to give auspicious and aspirational names to our children. Wealth, prosperity and cleverness, virtuousness, trustworthiness are all acceptable. Few if any Chinese people would name their children after ill-fated characters in history or mythology.

Westerners do not seem to have the same issues even though I’ve not come across anyone named Macbeth or Shylock. Most Asians would give themselves or their children “Western” names that sound good, but while many Western names sound good, there are stories and mythologies behind some of the names which most Asians may not be aware of. One common name closely associated with Greek mythology is Cassandra. Some spell it Kassandra because the original Greek spelling is Κασσάνδρα.

The first Cassandra known to the world was a princess. She was the daughter of King Priam of Troy. Legend had it that the Greek god of prophecy Apollo fell madly in love with her. In exchange for her reciprocation, she demanded a most valuable gift from Apollo. Apollo gave her his power of prophecy. Disappointingly, Cassandra did not keep her end of the bargain. She spurned Apollo. The god of prophecy was infuriated, but he could not take back his gift. In revenge, he placed a curse on Cassandra.

Ashmolean, Apollo, 150 - 200 CE, Roman, i

Apollo cursed that even though Casandra could tell the future, nobody would believe her. It did not bother Cassandra too much at first, until she realised the implications. Cassandra foresaw that Paris’ abduction of Helen for his wife would bring about the Trojan War and warned Paris not to go to Sparta. She was ignored. Cassandra furiously snatched away Helen’s golden veil and tore at her hair, for she had foreseen that Helen’s arrival would bring the calamities of the Trojan War and the destruction of Troy. The Trojans loved Helen and locked Cassandra up as they would a mad woman. Of course, when she warned that the Greeks’ wooden horse would destroy Troy, nobody listened to her.

-0330: La violación de Casandra
The rape of Cassandra

After the destruction of Troy, Cassandra sought refuge in the Temple of Athena where she was brutally raped by Ajax, kings of Locris. Of course, Cassandra foresaw her fate but nobody believed her or bothered to protect her. That’s why she clung so desperately to the statue of Athena Nike. This tragic scene is depicted in the piece of Greek pottery above.

The violated Cassandra was then taken as a concubine by King Agamemnon of Mycenae. In the palace, she foresaw the queen’s affair with Aegisthus. She was not believed but the guilty killed her anyway.

Cassandra lived a life of misery and frustration after Apollo placed the curse on her. Being able to see the future is indeed a priceless gift, but it becomes a curse for Cassandra as she was unable to do anything to forestall these tragedies since no one believed her.

Do you want to name yourself or your daughter Cassandra?


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