Often Engaged, but Never a Bride: Kassandra

Hesychius: “Kassandra: Alexandra in Lakedaimonia”

Κασσάνδρα· ᾿Αλεξάνδρα ἐν Λακεδαιμονίᾳ


Earlier I posted some etymologies for Kassandra. Her name appears on ceramic fragments in Lakonia where, according to some, she was worshiped before Agamemnon and that he received cult-rites because of his connection with her.  There are also suggestions that her name in Sparta, rather than meaning “defender of men” as Aleks-andros is usually identified, was understood as “defender-against-men”, marking out her ability to resist marriage.  In this capacity, she may have been a patron heroine of unwed girls looking to avoid marriage.

Echoes of Kassandra as someone often sought but never married appear as early as Homer and as late as Pausanias. The three potential bridegrooms below do not,of course, include her rapist Ajax son of Oileus or her temporary ‘owner’, Agamemnon (with whom some allege she bore twins).
Homer, Il. 13.361-369

“There, though his hair was partly grey, Idomeneus called
Out to the Danaans and drove the Trojans to retreat as he leapt.
For he killed Othryoneus who was there from Kabesos—
He had just arrived in search of the fame of war.
He asked for the most beautiful of Priam’s daughter’s
Kassandra, without a marriage-price, and he promised a great deed,
That he would drive the sons of the Achaians from Troy unwilling.
Old Priam promised this to him and nodded his head
That he would do this. Confident in these promises, he rushed forth.”

῎Ενθα μεσαιπόλιός περ ἐὼν Δαναοῖσι κελεύσας
᾿Ιδομενεὺς Τρώεσσι μετάλμενος ἐν φόβον ὦρσε.
πέφνε γὰρ ᾿Οθρυονῆα Καβησόθεν ἔνδον ἐόντα,
ὅς ῥα νέον πολέμοιο μετὰ κλέος εἰληλούθει,
ᾔτεε δὲ Πριάμοιο θυγατρῶν εἶδος ἀρίστην
Κασσάνδρην ἀνάεδνον, ὑπέσχετο δὲ μέγα ἔργον,
ἐκ Τροίης ἀέκοντας ἀπωσέμεν υἷας ᾿Αχαιῶν.
τῷ δ’ ὁ γέρων Πρίαμος ὑπό τ’ ἔσχετο καὶ κατένευσε
δωσέμεναι· ὃ δὲ μάρναθ’ ὑποσχεσίῃσι πιθήσας.


Pausanias 10.27.1-2 (see Benarbe Il. Parvae 15)

“Koroibos came to seek a marriage with Kassandra, but he died. According to a greater tale, she was taken by Neoptolemus; but Lesches gave her to Diomedes.”
ἀφίκετο μὲν δὴ ἐπὶ τὸν Κασσάνδρας ὁ Κόροιβος γάμον, ἀπέθανε δέ, ὡς μὲν ὁ πλείων λόγος, ὑπὸ Νεοπτολέμου, Λέσχεως δὲ ὑπὸ Διομήδους ἐποίησεν.


Alcimadas, Rhetor fr. 16.72-7 (4th Century BCE) This is an imagined speech performed by Odysseus prosecuting Palamedes. In myth, it was Palamedes who revealed that Odysseus was just pretending to be crazy to avoid going to war. Odysseus held a grudge and framed Palamedes as a traitor when they arrived in Troy by planting gold and a letter in his dwelling.

“After calling Sthenelos and Diomedes to witness, I was showing them the contents. The letter clearly said these things:

“Alexandros [writes] to Palamedes. You will have all the things promised to Telephos and my father will give you Kasandra as a wife, just as you asked. But do those things you offered quickly.”

These were the things which were written, and when you approached me and witnessed it you took the bow.”

πράγματι, προσκαλεσάμενος Σθένελόν τε καὶ Διομήδη ἐδείκνυον αὐτοῖς τὰ ἐνόντα. ἡ δὲ γραφὴ ἐδήλου τάδε· ‘᾿Αλέξανδρος Παλαμήδει. ὅσα συνέθου Τηλέφῳ, πάντα σοι ἔσται, ὅ τε πατὴρ Κασάνδραν γυναῖκα δίδωσί σοι, καθάπερ ἐπέστειλας· ἀλλὰ τὰ ἀπὸ σοῦ πραττέσθω διὰ τάχους.’ ἐνεγέγραπτο μὲν ταῦτα· καί μοι προσελθόντες μαρτυρήσατε οἱ λαβόντες τὸ τόξευμα.

Though the story is old, Homer does not mention the rape…

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