“Why Do I Recount Odysseus’ Troubles?”

In the following passage Kassandra prophesies Odysseus’ travails in returning home. Although she seems to refer to a few events not in our Odyssey (fast rocks, talking meat), what I find interesting is the possible poetic engagement with Kassandra’s presentation in the Odyssey where she is not mentioned as the cause of Athena’s anger or marked as a prophet. 

Euripides, Trojan Women 424–447

“Really, a clever servant. Why do heralds have
the name they have, when one hatred is common to people:
the servants of tyrants and their regimes?
You say that my mother will arrive at
Odysseus’ home? Where then are Apollo’s words
which say—when I have translated them—
that she will die here? I will not insult her with the rest.
The wretched man, he doesn’t know what suffering awaits him—
how even these Phrygian horrors of mine will seem
golden to him. For ten years after sailing out added to ten
spent here he will finally arrive at his fatherland alone
< >
where the swiftest rocks [make] the passage narrow,
and dreadful Charybdis, near the man-eating, cliff-walking [Skyla],
The Kyklops, and the Ligurian, swine-witch
Kirkê, and shipwrecks over the salted-sea,
lusts for lotus, and the sacred cattle of Helios,
whose flesh will sing in human voice one day
a bitter song for Odysseus—I will cut this short:
he will go into Hades still alive and though feeling the water’s flow
he will come home and find countless evils at home.
But why do I enumerate the toils of Odysseus?
Take me right away, let me marry a bridegroom for Hades’ home.
You are evil and you will be evilly buried at night, not at day
Captain of the Danaid women, believing you are doing something good.”

Κα. ἦ δεινὸς ὁ λάτρις. τί ποτ’ ἔχουσι τοὔνομα
κήρυκες, ἓν ἀπέχθημα πάγκοινον βροτοῖς,
οἱ περὶ τυράννους καὶ πόλεις ὑπηρέται;
σὺ τὴν ἐμὴν φὴις μητέρ’ εἰς ᾿Οδυσσέως
ἥξειν μέλαθρα; ποῦ δ’ ᾿Απόλλωνος λόγοι,
οἵ φασιν αὐτὴν εἰς ἔμ’ ἡρμηνευμένοι
αὐτοῦ θανεῖσθαι; τἄλλα δ’ οὐκ ὀνειδιῶ.
δύστηνος, οὐκ οἶδ’ οἷά νιν μένει παθεῖν·
ὡς χρυσὸς αὐτῶι τἀμὰ καὶ Φρυγῶν κακὰ
δόξει ποτ’ εἶναι. δέκα γὰρ ἐκπλήσας ἔτη
πρὸς τοῖσιν ἐνθάδ’ ἵξεται μόνος πάτραν
< >
†οὗ δὴ στενὸν δίαυλον ὤικισται πέτρας†
δεινὴ Χάρυβδις ὠμοβρώς τ’ ὀρειβάτης
Κύκλωψ Λιγυστίς θ’ ἡ συῶν μορφώτρια
Κίρκη θαλάσσης θ’ ἁλμυρᾶς ναυάγια
λωτοῦ τ’ ἔρωτες ῾Ηλίου θ’ ἁγναὶ βόες,
αἳ σαρξὶ φοινίαισιν ἥσουσίν ποτε
πικρὰν ᾿Οδυσσεῖ γῆρυν. ὡς δὲ συντέμω,
ζῶν εἶσ’ ἐς ῞Αιδου κἀκφυγὼν λίμνης ὕδωρ
κάκ’ ἐν δόμοισι μυρί’ εὑρήσει μολών.
ἀλλὰ γὰρ τί τοὺς ᾿Οδυσσέως ἐξακοντίζω πόνους;
στεῖχ’ ὅπως τάχιστ’· ἐν ῞Αιδου νυμφίωι γημώμεθα.
ἦ κακὸς κακῶς ταφήσηι νυκτός, οὐκ ἐν ἡμέραι,
ὦ δοκῶν σεμνόν τι πράσσειν, Δαναϊδῶν ἀρχηγέτα.
κἀμέ τοι νεκρὸν φάραγγες γυμνάδ’ ἐκβεβλημένην
ὕδατι χειμάρρωι ῥέουσαι νυμφίου πέλας τάφου
θηρσὶ δώσουσιν δάσασθαι, τὴν ᾿Απόλλωνος λάτριν.

Kassandra is most famous in ancient art and myth for the sexual violence she suffers at Oilean Ajax’s hands. But when there is an opportunity to refer to this, the Odyssey avoids it. Instead, it creates a new reason for Ajax to suffer:

 Od. 5.499–511: “Ajax perished with his ash-oared ships.
First Poseidon drove him against the great Guraean
Cliffs and then he saved him from the sea.
He would have avoided death then even though he was hated by Athena,
If he hadn’t shot out an arrogant word as he was greatly blinded.
He said that he would escape the great swell of the sea despite divine will.
And when Poseidon heard him boasting so greatly
He immediately grabbed his trident with his strong hands
And struck the Guraen cliff, splitting it in half.
One part remained where it was, the other fell to the sea,
First where the great-blinded fool Ajax was then waiting.
It carried him down into the endless whirling sea.
And he died there, after drinking the salt water.”

Αἴας μὲν μετὰ νηυσὶ δάμη δολιχηρέτμοισι·
Γυρῇσίν μιν πρῶτα Ποσειδάων ἐπέλασσε
πέτρῃσιν μεγάλῃσι καὶ ἐξεσάωσε θαλάσσης·
καί νύ κεν ἔκφυγε κῆρα, καὶ ἐχθόμενός περ ᾿Αθήνῃ,
εἰ μὴ ὑπερφίαλον ἔπος ἔκβαλε καὶ μέγ’ ἀάσθη·
φῆ ῥ’ ἀέκητι θεῶν φυγέειν μέγα λαῖτμα θαλάσσης.
τοῦ δὲ Ποσειδάων μεγάλ’ ἔκλυεν αὐδήσαντος·
αὐτίκ’ ἔπειτα τρίαιναν ἑλὼν χερσὶ στιβαρῇσιν
ἤλασε Γυραίην πέτρην, ἀπὸ δ’ ἔσχισεν αὐτήν·
καὶ τὸ μὲν αὐτόθι μεῖνε, τὸ δὲ τρύφος ἔμπεσε πόντῳ,
τῷ ῥ’ Αἴας τὸ πρῶτον ἐφεζόμενος μέγ’ ἀάσθη·
τὸν δ’ ἐφόρει κατὰ πόντον ἀπείρονα κυμαίνοντα.
[ὣς ὁ μὲν ἔνθ’ ἀπόλωλεν, ἐπεὶ πίεν ἁλμυρὸν ὕδωρ.]

Homer does make the conflict the result of Athena’s rage earlier.

Od. 3.132–136:

“And then Zeus was really devising a murderous homecoming in his thoughts
For the Argives, since they were not all just or prudent a bit.
This is why many of them suffering a terrible fate
From the ruinous rage of the grey-eyed-daughter of a strong-father
Who sent strife between Atreides’ two sons.

καὶ τότε δὴ Ζεὺς λυγρὸν ἐνὶ φρεσὶ μήδετο νόστον
᾿Αργείοισ’, ἐπεὶ οὔ τι νοήμονες οὐδὲ δίκαιοι
πάντες ἔσαν· τῶ σφεων πολέες κακὸν οἶτον ἐπέσπον
μήνιος ἐξ ὀλοῆς γλαυκώπιδος ὀβριμοπάτρης,
ἥ τ’ ἔριν ᾿Ατρεΐδῃσι μετ’ ἀμφοτέροισιν ἔθηκε.

And a scholion to the Odyssey connects it to the famous rape:

Schol. HQ ad Od. 3.135 : “The ruinous rage: “Since they did not stop Lokrian Ajax from raping Kasandra in her temple. Now the rage is [directed at everyone in common, but it is clear that the responsibility for the anger lies with Ajax.”

μήνιος ἐξ ὀλοῆς] ἐπεὶ Αἴαντα τὸν Λοκρὸν οὐκ ἐκόλασαν βιασάμενον ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ αὐτῆς τὴν Κασάνδραν. H.E.V. νῦν μὲν κοινῶς εἰς ἅπαντας τὴν μῆνιν, ἑξῆς δὲ σαφέστερον τὴν αἰτίαν τῆς ὀργῆς δηλοῖ ἐπὶ τοῦ Αἴαντος. Q.

Although many scholars drew the opposite conclusion, that Homer did not know about the rape (which seems as risible as impossible to me).


Strabo 13.1.40

“These things are also not Homeric: for Homer did not know of the violation of Kassandra but he says she was a virgin at that time….[citation from Iliad 13] nor does he mention the that Ajax’s death in the shipwreck happened because of the rage of Athena or for this kind of reason. Instead, he claims that he was hated by Athena in common—since she was raging at all of them for the desecration of the shrine and that he was killed by Apollo for his arrogant speech.”

καὶ ταῦτα δ’ οὐχ ῾Ομηρικά· οὐδὲ γὰρ τῆς Κασάνδρας φθορὰν οἶδεν ῞Ομηρος, ἀλλ’ ὅτι μὲν παρθένος ἦν ὑπ’ ἐκεῖνον τὸν χρόνον λέγει…βίας δὲ οὐδὲ μέμνηται, οὐδ’ ὅτι ἡ φθορὰ τοῦ Αἴαντος ἐν τῇ ναυαγίᾳ κατὰ μῆνιν ᾿Αθηνᾶς συνέβη ἢ κατὰ τοιαύτην αἰτίαν, ἀλλ’ ἀπεχθανόμενον μὲν τῇ ᾿Αθηνᾷ κατὰ τὸ κοινὸν εἴρηκεν (ἁπάντων γὰρ εἰς τὸ ἱερὸν ἀσεβησάντων ἅπασιν ἐμήνιεν), ἀπολέσθαι δὲ ὑπὸ Ποσειδῶνος μεγαλορρημονήσαντα·

When Kassandra is actually mentioned in the Odyssey, it is to increase Agamemnon’s suffering:

Od. 11.421-434: “Then I heard the most pitiable voice of Priam’s daughter
Kassandra—crooked-minded Klytemnestra killed her
Over me. Then I fell to the ground with my hands spread wide
Dying on a sword—but the bitch-face turned away from me
And, even as I was on my way to the underworld,
she wouldn’t close my eyes and mouth with her hands.
There is nothing more terrible or cruel than a woman
Who could put such deeds in her thoughts,
The way this woman devised an unseemly act,
When she planned the murder of her wedded husband.
I would have thought that I would come home happy
To my children and the household servants
But she, by conceiving these murderous ideas,
Has poured shame on herself and those to come later,
On the whole female race of women, even for one who does well.”

οἰκτροτάτην δ’ ἤκουσα ὄπα Πριάμοιο θυγατρὸς
Κασσάνδρης, τὴν κτεῖνε Κλυταιμνήστρη δολόμητις
ἀμφ’ ἐμοί· αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ ποτὶ γαίῃ χεῖρας ἀείρων
βάλλον ἀποθνῄσκων περὶ φασγάνῳ· ἡ δὲ κυνῶπις
νοσφίσατ’ οὐδέ μοι ἔτλη, ἰόντι περ εἰς ᾿Αΐδαο,
χερσὶ κατ’ ὀφθαλμοὺς ἑλέειν σύν τε στόμ’ ἐρεῖσαι.
ὣς οὐκ αἰνότερον καὶ κύντερον ἄλλο γυναικός,
[ἥ τις δὴ τοιαῦτα μετὰ φρεσὶν ἔργα βάληται·]
οἷον δὴ καὶ κείνη ἐμήσατο ἔργον ἀεικές,
κουριδίῳ τεύξασα πόσει φόνον. ἦ τοι ἔφην γε
ἀσπάσιος παίδεσσιν ἰδὲ δμώεσσιν ἐμοῖσιν
οἴκαδ’ ἐλεύσεσθαι· ἡ δ’ ἔξοχα λυγρὰ ἰδυῖα
οἷ τε κατ’ αἶσχος ἔχευε καὶ ἐσσομένῃσιν ὀπίσσω
θηλυτέρῃσι γυναιξί, καὶ ἥ κ’ εὐεργὸς ἔῃσιν.’

So it seems to me that Euripides’ Kassandra is asking a fair question indeed–why should she enumerate Odysseus’ troubles when the men of his epic find hers so easy to ignore?

Leave a Reply