Greek Mythology: Cassandra – the Gift and the Curse of Apollo

Cassandra by Evelyn De Morgan [Public domain] (cropped)

Cassandra

In Greek mythology, Cassandra was a prophetess who could accurately foretell the future but was never believed.  This talent had been a gift from the god Apollo but when she rejected his advances he cursed her so that her predictions were never believed. She was also known as Kassandra and occasionally Alexandra.   Her parents were King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy and she had a twin brother named Helenus. Paris, whose abduction of Helen of Sparta helped spark the Trojan War was one of her brothers, as was the Trojan hero and war leader Hector. According to legend although very beautiful and intelligent she was regarded as being insane.

The Gift and the Curse

She served as a priestess of Apollo and took a vow of chastity swearing to remain a virgin for life.  In some versions of her story Apollo seeking to win her love gave her the power of prophecy on the condition that she bestowed her favors upon him.  However, after receiving the gift she went back on her word. With the gift of a divine power already given Apollo could not take it away so he added a curse to it. Although she would predict the future accurately her predictions would never be believed. In some later versions she receives her prophecies from a snake that whispered to her as she slept in the temple. 

The Gift of Prophecy

The gift of prophecy should have brought her great esteem and reverence among her people but the curse of Apollo turned it into a terrible blight on her life.  Although her predictions were always correct no one would believe her.  She was forced to watch her predictions unfold unable to do anything to alleviate their consequences until it was too late.  Her family and the Trojan people regarded her as a madwoman and a liar.  She was locked up on the orders of her father and her wardress was ordered to report all of her prophecies to him.

Cassandra by Evelyn De Morgan [Public domain]

Helenus

Cassandra had a twin brother named Helenus whom she taught how to foretell the future.  His prophecies were just as accurate as his sister’s but where her’s were disbelieved his were generally believed. She had predicted the death of her mother and had foreseen that the abduction of Helen by Paris would lead to the Trojan War warning him not to go to Sparta.  When Paris returned with Helen, Cassandra attacked her tearing away Helen’s golden veil and tearing at her hair because she knew her arrival in Troy heralded the ultimate destruction of the city.

Cassandra’s Prophecies

Cassandra had correctly prophesied the fall of Troy warning of the Trojan Horse concealing Greek soldiers. She also correctly foretold of the ten year journey and the return  of Odysseus. She predicted how her cousin Aeaneas would escape the destruction of Troy and is descendants  Romulus and Remus would found Rome. 

After the Greeks had captured the city she was taken by Agamemnon as one of the spoils of war.  Despite being consistently accurate with her predictions she continued to be disregarded and ignored to the cost of others and herself. She  forewarned him of a plot by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover, Aegisthus, to both kill him and her but he ignored her and both were murdered.  

The Love of Coroebus

Coroebus, the son of King Mygdon of Phrygia fought on the side of the Trojans because he was in love with Cassandra. During the Sack of Troy he persuaded some of the Trojan defenders such as Aeneas to disguise themselves by wearing the enemy armour.  He tried to defend Cassandra from rape by Ajax the Lesser but was killed in her defence.

Othryoneus

Another suitor mentioned in the Illiad, by Homer was Othryoneus from Cabesos.  He took part in the war on the side of the Trojans solely with the purpose of marriage to Cassandra which her father, King Priam had agreed to.  However, he was killed by Idomeneus in the Battle of Ships who cruelly mocked him as he lay dying.

Cassandra in Greek Drama

There are several versions of the story of Cassandra in Greek drama.  Quintus Smyrnaeus in The Fall of Troy, tells how Cassandra desperately tried to warn the Trojans of the danger presented by the Trojan Horse during a victory feast over the Greeks.  The Trojans refused to believe her. In desperation she grabbed a burning torch and an axe and ran towards the wooden horse intent on destroying it and the Greeks hidden inside. The disbelieving Trojans stopped her sealing their own fate.  The Greeks inside the wooden horse could see and hear what was happening but would have been helpless should the horse have been torched. They were greatly relieved she failed but alarmed she had so quickly and easily realized their plan.

Carlo Raso from Naples, Italy [Public domain]

Nevertheless, when the time was right the Greeks put their plan into action and caught the Trojans by surprise.  As they took control of the city Cassandra sought sanctuary in the temple of Athena but was followed by Ajax the Lesser.  Coroebus tried to defend her but was killed and although she embraced the feet of the statue of Athena begging her protection Ajax dragged her from it and raped her.  According to some accounts despite the goddess Athena’s support for the Greeks she found this act by Ajax abhorrent and the cheeks of the statue flushed red in anger.  Tears fell from her eyes which she averted so that she would not see the violation and made a sound that caused the floor to tremble and shake. The goddess was enraged and demanded the Greeks punish Ajax.

Despite Odysseus calling for him to be stoned to death the Greeks would not carry it out because Ajax clung to the feet of Athena.  However Athena was furious at the Greeks for not bringing Ajax to justice and sought the help of Poseidon and Zeus. As the victorious Greeks sailed home from Troy Poseidon sent storms and strong winds which sank much of the fleet and Athena herself killed Ajax.

The Cursed Chest

According to some sources Cassandra had left a cursed chest in Troy intended for the first Greek who should open it.  The chest contained an image of Dionysus which had been created by Hephaestus and given to the Trojans by Zeus. The chest was given to Eurypylus, a Greek war lord as part of his reward for helping fight the Trojans.  When he opened it he saw the image and was instantly struck by madness

The Cassandra Syndrome

It was said that when she died her soul went into to the Elysian Fields the resting place of good and worthy souls.  She also became a figure of epic tradition and tragedy. The Cassandra Syndrome is a term named after her because it applies to predictions of doom by some oracle or prophet that are disbelieved and rejected when made but later prove to be true.  It is a form of psychological denial blocking out bad, unwelcome news or inevitable outcomes. This leaves the seer in the dilemma of knowing that something good or bad will happen but powerless to influence the outcome because no one will act upon their prediction to change or minimise the impact of the prediction.

© 15/01/2020 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright December 15th, 2020 zteve t evans

Winter Folklore: Traditions and Customs of the Cailleach Bheur

Gustave Doré [Public domain]

In Scottish, Irish, Manx and Gaelic mythology the goddess of winter is known as the the Cailleach, Beira or the Cailleach Bheur, which means old woman or hag. In Celtic mythology she had a similar role to Jörð in Norse mythology  and Gaia, in Greek mythology.

Donald Alexander Mackenzie

The Scottish folklorist Donald Alexander Mackenzie (1873 – 1936) wrote frequently on the subjects of mythology, anthropology and religion and developed a theory that there was a matriarchal society spread across Europe in Neolithic times.  In his book,  Myths of Crete and Pre-Hellenic Europe (1917), he argues that these early societies were gynocentric and matriarchal venerating goddesses above gods but during the Bronze Age a patriarchal society evolved supplanting it.  Mackenzie called the Cailleach Bheur by the name of Beira, Queen of Winter.  

He saw her as a giantess with  a single eye who had her mountain throne on Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest mountain and the highest in the British Isles.  According to him she had white hair, dark blue skin, and rust-colored teeth. She had a magic hammer that she used to create the mountains and valleys  of Scotland.  Loch Ness was created when she changed a careless maid named Nessa into a river which then formed the loch.  Each year her rule would come to an end when the longest night of the year arrived when she would seek out the Well of Youth and drink its waters which made her grow younger by the day. 

As the Cailleach

In Scottish folklore and mythology, as the Cailleach she was believed to have created many of the mountains and hills.  She carried a wicker basket containing rocks and as she strode across the land at such a pace many of these rocks accidently fell out creating hills and mountains as she went. Sometimes she was said to have created the mountains on purpose and carried a hammer which she used to shape the hills and valleys.   She opposed Spring and herded deer and when she strikes the ground with her staff the ground freezes. 

The Cailleach and Brigid

Sometimes she is seen with the goddess Brigid in partnership or operating as two faces or aspects of one goddess.  They ruled the winter and spring months between November 1st or Samhain to May 1st or Beltane. Brigid rules from Beltane through summer and autumn  to Samhain.

In some traditions the Cailleach turns to stone on Beltane and reverts to her human form on Samhain to rule the winter and spring months. However, this is not straightforward,  in some traditions the transfer of jurisdiction between the two goddesses and winter to spring can be celebrated any time between Là Fhèill Brigid or February 1st, Latha na Cailliche or March 25th and Beltane or May 1st.  Festivals named after either of the two goddesses are held in between these dates.

Saint Brigid’s Day

According to tradition the Imobolc, or the 1st of February or  Là Fhèill Brigid is the day the Cailleach gathers her firewood for winter.  If she is planning a long winter she will make that day sunny and bright to help her find plenty of fuel to last her through the cold days of winter.  Therefore with this legend in mind people are pleased if the weather on February 1st is wet and dismal as the winter will be short. A tradition on the Isle of Man  where she is called Caillagh ny Groamagh, says that on St. Bride’s day she has been seen to take the form of a giant bird that flies around collecting sticks in its beak.

The Whirlpool of Corryvreckan

Another tradition from the west coast of Scotland tells how the Cailleach by washing her great plaid, which can be a kind of kilt, or sometimes a large shawl, in the waters of the Gulf of Corryvreckan causes the whirlpool in the gulf and brings in winter.  This also causes a storm that can be heard twenty miles away and lasts for three days.  When she is finished her plaid is clean and white and covers the land as snow. 

Harvest Traditions

There was an old custom in Ireland and Scotland where the farmer who was first to finish harvesting his crop of grain made a corn dolly that represent the Cailleach from the last sheaf that he cut.  This would be thrown into the field of one of his neighbors who had yet to finish bringing in his harvest.  If the farmer finished before his other neighbors this was passed to one of them. This was passed on until it at last came into the hands of the last unfortunate farmer to finish who it was implied had the misfortune to have to take care of the corn dolly for the following year. In doing so he was obliged to feed and house the Cailleach, the hag of winter, until summer returned.  This gave all of the farmers the encouragement and motivation to get their harvest in quickly.

© 06/12/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attribution and Further Reading

Copyright December 6th, 2019 zteve t evans

Greek mythology: Gaia’s revenge

Gaia the Earth Mother

Gaia – Public Domain

In Greek mythology Gaia  appeared out of Chaos and was the primal Mother Goddess who gave birth to the Earth and the universe.  According to some sources she was seen as the personification of the Earth and the mother of all.

Ouranos the god of the skies

Ouranos was the personification of the sky or the heavens in Greek mythology and is also known by his Latinized name of Uranus. He was also known as Father Sky.  Sources differ but  Hesiod in his work Theogony says that Gaia was his mother while other sources say his father was Aether.

Gaia gave birth to Ouranos who became the sky crowned with stars and of equal splendor to her and made so as to fully cover her. She then created the mountains and the sea. After the universe had been formed the next task was to populate it.

The birth of the Titans

Ouranos was not only her son but her husband too. Gaia united with Ouranos to give birth to the twelve Titans, six male and six female and the first race upon the earth. Their sons names were Oceanus, Coeus, Crius, Hyperion, Iapetus and Cronus, and their daughters names were Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe and Tethys.

The birth of the Cyclops

Ouranos and Gaia then produced the Cyclops, who were named Brontes, Steropes and Arges. These were giants with one eye in their foreheads and who possessed incredible strength.

The birth of Briareus, Cottus and Gyes

Their next offspring were three monsters who each had one hundred powerful arms and fifty heads. They were known as the Hecatonchires, or the Centimanes, and their names were Briareus, Cottus and Gyes.

Ouranos regarded his children with horror and revulsion and was also thought to be fearful of their strength, and possibly usurping him. As soon as they were born he imprisoned them in  the earth, which was inside Gaia who was the Earth goddess.

Gaia’s revenge

Victory, Janus, Chronos, and Gaea – by Giulio Romano – Public Domain

Gaia was distraught at this, and feeling great sorrow for her children and great pain for herself planned vengeance against Ouranos. From her bosom she manifested a sharp sickle and asked her children to join in with a plan she had made to set them free and wreak vengeance. The plan was to castrate Ouranos when he visited her at night. Only Cronus agreed to help her and she gave him the sickle.

When evening fell Ouranos returned to rejoin Gaia. While Ouranos was asleep, Cronus and Gaia mutilated him, cutting off his genitals and throwing them in the sea. From the blood that seeped from the terrible wound onto the earth sprang the Furies, the Giants and the ash-tree nymphs. From what was thrown into the sea the goddess of love and desire, known as Aphrodite, was born.

Cronus becomes king of the gods

With Ouranos now impotent and the sky separated from the earth, Cronus liberated his fellow Titans, but not the Cyclops and Hecatonchires, and became king of the gods. Later he too was to be deposed by his son Zeus, who became the chief god of the Greek Pantheon.

References and attributions

Copyright 25/03/2015 zteve t evans

Greek mythology: Doris the Oceanid

According to wikipedia.org, Hesiod along with Homer was a Greek oral poet whose work has survived the centuries. His writings on farming, astronomy, time-keeping and mythology serve as a major source of information for scholars. One of his works, Theogony, explains the origins of the cosmos and the genealogy of the gods.

Doris - Public Domain

Doris – Public Domain

There is very little known about Doris and she is barely mentioned in any myths or legends. According to Hesiod, Doris was the daughter of the Titan, Oceanus and Tethys, the Titaness.

Doris was an Oceanid, or sea nymph, and was the sister of many other such nymphs such as Clymene, Calypso, Styx, Metis, and Tyche. The Oceanids were named from their father, Oceanus. Doris was also the aunt of Atlas whose task was to carry the world on his shoulder. Her sister Clymene was the mother of Atlas.

She is briefly mentioned in the myth of Phaethon for taking refuge in the darkest places of the earth with her husband to escape the excessive heat of Phaethon’s fiery ride in the chariot of Helios. A ride which nearly destroyed the world.

In Greek mythology she was the wife of the sea god Nereus and between them they were parents of the Nereids, These were fifty in number and were very beautiful and include Psamathe, Galatea, Amphitrite, and Thetis.

The most famous of these was Thetis, who was the mother of Achilles and Galatae who Polphemus the Cyclops fell in love with. Galatae rejected Polphemus and instead fell in love with a shepherd, Acis. Polphemus killed Acis with a boulder in revenge.

Arethusa, a nymph, was also a daughter of Doris changed by Artemis into a fountain so she could escape the pursuit of Alpheus.

The Nereids also played a part in the myth of Jason and the Argonauts by helping to guide the ship in the encounter with Charbdys and Scylla, and the Wandering Rocks.

Nereus was sea god of some significance, being the son of the god Pontus, who was considered the personification of the sea, by Hesiod. He considered to be an old man with the gift of prophecy. He was known for his wisdom and devotion to truth and justice. He was also called the Old Man of the Sea.

She was not a resident goddess on Mount Olympus and Doris does not play a significant part in Greek mythology other than as wife to Nereus and mother to the Nereids. Her name means bounty of the sea and was the god of rich fishing grounds at the mouths of rivers, where fresh water mingles with salt water.

Copyright July 30, 2009 zteve t evans

References and Attribitions

Copyright July 30, 2009 zteve t evans

Greek mythology: The Moirai

In Classical Greek mythology the description of the Moirai differs from age to age and also with location. They vary in number from one to four. This discussion is based on the account of the Greek poet, Hesiod who was believed to have lived in the eighth century BC.

It was the task of the Moirai to shadow human beings from birth to death throughout their mortal, physical life on earth. They take the form of three old women spinning out the threads of each person’s life on earth.

Fates_tapestry

Their names were: Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos and when death approaches, it is their task is to ensure that and the natural order is preserved and a person’s fate is meted out accordingly. They are believed to sing in harmony with the Sirens when death approaches and were also known as the Fates.

Clotho represents the thread of life that begins at the birth of a mortal and is the spinner of that thread and sings of those things that are.

Lachesis was the dealer of lots. Through her people were given their chances in life and it was up to them to make the best of it. It was she who measured the thread of life. She sings of the things that were.

Atropos is the smallest and most fearsome of the three and represented the irrevocable fate that awaits a person and in the end there can be no appeal. It was she who cut the thread of life at a mortal’s death. She sings of the things that will be.

The lives of all living things were presided over by the Moirai. They apportioned everyone their share of good and evil at birth. The manner in which they conducted their lives could change the allotted portions of good and evil.

Not even the gods could change fate and if Zeus alone had such power he was reluctant to use it to disturb the natural order of the world.

The only time the Moirai were foiled in their task was by the physician, Asclepius, the son of Apollo, who revived a man, bringing him back from death. The Moirai then persuaded Zeus to kill Asclepius with a thunderbolt.

Just as the Moirai were the delegates of Zeus to ensure the natural order was carried out the Keres task was to carry out the decrees of the Moirai, and were sometimes confused with them. It was the Keres who appeared at the final hour of a mortal’s life to ensure death.

It was believed that during battles they could be seen hovering over the doomed mortal ready to ensure his fate was complete. They killed the wounded and drank their blood and were also known as the dogs of Hades.

In Greek, the word moira means a part, or portion, and it was the Moirai who decided a mortal’s portion in life at their birth and followed their life to ensure destiny was fulfilled. The Moirai also had the gift of prophecy and were honoured among the gods sitting in their assemblies and giving advice on the destinies of mortals.

Their myth is perhaps best seen as a way to describe the fate of mortal human beings and to try and make some sense out of the human cycle of life and the ultimate destiny of death.

Copyright July 7, 2009 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright July 7, 2009 zteve t evans

Greek Mythology: The Story of The Centaurs

In Greek mythology the Centaurs are also known as the Kentauroi. They are beings that are semi horse and semi human. Their torso and head are in human form, and their body is the form of a horse. Being half human and half animal they were in continuous conflict with themselves and the world around them.

Origin of the Centaurs

The Centaurs dwelt on Mount Pelion in Thessaly, northern Greece. They are thought to be the result of Ixion, the king of Lapithe, having a mistaken liaison with a cloud. The cloud had been created by Zeus in the likeness of Hera, to foil a planned rendezvous by her and Ixion.

This resulted in the birth of Centaurus, who was to become the father of the Centaurs by mating with Magnesian mares. Sometimes the Centaurs are known as Ixionida from this liaison.

Drunkenness and Debauchery

As worshipers of Dionysus, the god of wine, the Centaurs had a reputation of drunkenness and debauchery and lust for women. There were a few such as Chiron, who was an exception to this behavior and was held in high esteem as one who is wise.

War With King Peirithous

The Centaurs went to war when a part of Thessaly was inherited by King of the Lapiths from his father Ixion. Because they were grandsons of Ixion the Centaurs believed they also had a claim to the land and fighting broke out before a peace was put in place.

King Peirithous was getting married and, as a token, invited the Centaurs to the marriage feast. They then lived up to their reputation by getting drunk, violating the female guests and attempting to kidnap the bride.

This resulted in a battle where they were all driven from Thessaly, with the exception of Chiron. He was the only immortal of the Centaurs and was regarded as someone with great graciousness and wisdom. He was a teacher to Jason and Achilles, as well as Asclepius, and Actaeon.

Chiron is Placed Among the Stars

Having been accidentally wounded by Heracles, he lived in constant great pain and, as an immortal, could not die a natural death. The only release from an eternity of pain was to trade his immortality for the mortality of Prometheus. For this Zeus placed him in the stars becoming part of the constellation of Sagittarius.

Redemption From Savagery

Some scholars think that the Centaur represents a conflict in human nature. Being half human and half animal, the Centaurs could not fully bring into being their humanity resulting in their nature becoming increasingly bestial and wild and, in effect, caught between two worlds. The fact that even a few such as Chiron manage to overcome this condition suggests that in the end they were capable of redemption from savagery.

© 12/18/2013 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright 12/18/2013 zteve t evans

Greek Mythology: The Fall of Phaethon

The Fall of Phaethon – Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617). Public Domain

Greek mythology contains many stories that have relevance and significance today.  The story of Phaethon’s downfall is one such myth.  Phaeton was a young man who felt embarrassed and humiliated because he was illegitimate and did not know who his father was. He knew his mother who loved him and he had sisters who loved him but this was not enough.

Ever since he was a boy his play mates had taunted him because he had no father and was illegitimate.  This upset him greatly so one day he went to his mother, Clymene and begged her to tell him who is father was.   His mother told him his father was the sun god, Helios (Apollo).

Phaethon Begs His Father A Favor

Excited by the thought that the great god of the Sun was his father Phaethon went to see Helios and told him what his mother had said. Helios had not known he had a son by Clymene and was pleased and proud to discover that he was Phaethon’s father.   Phaethon was ecstatic that his father was the powerful and important god of the sun and wanted everyone to know the truth.  He begged his father a favor which Helios rashly granted without knowing what it was.

So that everyone would see that in truth he did have a father of such high significance he wanted to ride his father’s chariot across the skies. He thought that in doing so it would prove his own importance and significance.

Helios is Fearful

When Phaethon told Helios what he wanted granted he was full of fear and tried to dissuade his son from this.  He pointed out that even the mighty Zeus, who was the King of the Gods, would not attempt such a feat as the horses breathed fire and were wild and the chariot glowed red hot.  It needed someone of great strength, skill and experience to control the chariot on its journey across the sky.

Phaethon was not put off and insisted his father fulfill his wish as he had promised.  Reluctantly Helios gave in and Phaethon took the reins of the chariot.

Phaethon Loses Control of the Chariot

The fiery, wild horses knowing there was a lesser charioteer than their master, Helios, charged across the sky.  The chariot glowed ret hot and spewed flames and the young and inexperienced boy could not master the powerful horses.

Out of control the horses rampaged across the sky bringing death and destruction to the earth and its inhabitants below.   They flew so high that the earth was bereft of light and grew cold, before turning and diving so close to the earth that cities were scorched and forests set ablaze and turned to ash.

Zeus Acts

At last seeing the danger Zeus decided to intervene.  He threw a thunderbolt at Phaethon killing him.  His body plummeted from the sky falling into the River Erianus.   There his sisters found his body and were transformed by grief and mourning into trees and their tears became amber.

Helios Blames Zeus

Full of grief and guilt for his weakness in giving into his son, Helios blamed Zeus and refused to drive his chariot across the sky for many days. But Zeus insisted that there had been no other way to save the world.  The other gods begged Helios to take to his chariot again as the earth needed light and warmth.  Eventually Helios agreed and light and warmth in proper measure were restored to the earth.

Boy Racers

Today one only has to think of those “boy racers” who drive their father’s powerful cars too fast in search of respect and admiration from their friends only to lose control and meet disaster.  No doubt their father’s, like Helios the Sun god, would rue their own weakness for the rest of their days.

References and Attributions
Phaethon, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Theoi Project
Image - File:Phaeton-engraving.jpg From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository -An engraving  The fall of Phaëton by Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617) - Public Domain