Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cassandra and Apollo

ABFH has asked her readers to contribute doggerel to a "Tony Attwood/FAAAS Poetry Slam", which I think is an awesome idea, but I've been fighting writer's block recently, and trying to write poetry (even bad poetry!) after so many years out of practice sounds like too big a challenge.

So, instead, I'll talk about Cassandra and Apollo.

Cassandra, as she appears in the Agamemnon, is a former priestess of Apollo and princess of Troy, captured by Agamemnon in the Trojan War. She has the gift of prophecy, which she demonstrates on arriving at Agamemnon's palace by reciting his family's bloody history.

This amazes the chorus (made up of wise old men of Argos, too old to have accompanied Agamemnon to Troy) so much that they have to ask her how she came by her gift:

You come from a far country and recite
Our ancient annals as though you had been present.

The Lord Apollo bestowed this gift on me.

Was it because he had fallen in love with you?

I was ashamed to speak of this till now.

Did you come, then, to the act of getting child?

At first I consented, and then I cheated him.

Already filled with his gift of prophecy?

Yes, I forewarned my people of their destiny.

Did your divine lover show no displeasure?

Yes, the price I paid was that no one listened to me.

(Dialogue taken from George Thomson's 1938 translation of the Oresteia, reproduced in Classical Mythology: Images and Insights by Stephen L. Harris and Gloria Platzner).

So, Apollo falls in love with Cassandra, and gives her the ability to see the future as part of his courtship attempt. Cassandra, wanting to keep the prescience but not wanting to shed her priestly virginity, rebuffs him, which makes him angry. He curses her, rendering her gift useless and sterile, and her visions a burden --- while still at Troy, she foresees the Greeks' strategy of entering the city in a wooden horse, and warns her people, but they ignore her; and while she's a captive at Argos, she foresees Clytemnestra's murderous intentions toward her husband, Agamemnon, and toward Cassandra herself, but is similarly unable to convince anyone of the danger. Even those elders in the Chorus, who are quoted above listening to the story of how Cassandra became a prophetess, and marveling at her ability to pull their royal family's sordid history out of thin air, end up dismissing her predictions.

With that in mind, let's turn to the treatment of the myth on which Maxine Aston and FAAAS seem to have based their own mythology of Cassandra Affective Deprivation Disorder:
Apollo fell in love with the mortal Cassandra, but cursed her after some small infringement of his rules. "This attraction of opposites seems to exert a magnetic pull, when - like the God who loved Cassandra - an Apollo man is drawn to a psychic woman who is emotional, irrational, impractical, and often unimpressed with him. He finds her fascinating, frustrating, and unpredictable. Many Apollo men are drawn to such women whom they try and control."

"The woman who rejects the handsome, virtuous, dependable Apollo man usually does so because he lacks qualities that are essential for her, such as depth and intensity, or emotional closeness, or sexual spontaneity ... Apollo men are rejected by women who want a deeper bond, with more intensity and emotional expressiveness, than he can provide.
I really don't see this in the story at all; if anything, it's Apollo who wants more (sexually and emotionally) from Cassandra than she is willing to give!

I also don't see in the Cassandra of legend any of the traits Aston (or her source, Jean Shinoda-Bolen) attributes to her: as a priestess of Apollo, Cassandra would have held many of the same values as her divine suitor --- why else would she have chosen to devote her life to his service?

Still less do I see in Apollo the emotionally distant, hyper-rational being who just can't understand the human need for love and attention. While he is the god of a lot of things associated with intellect and reason --- music, healing and medicine, cities, the sun --- he's also a very demanding, jealous and quick-to-anger sort, like most of the Greek gods.

Examples: He and his sister Artemis killed the fourteen sons and daughters of the Theban queen, Niobe, just because she boasted that in bearing and raising so many children she had outdone Apollo and Artemis's mother; he had Artemis kill a woman, Coronis, whom he had loved and found to be unfaithful; when the satyr Marsyas challenged him to a musical competition and lost, he had Marsyas flayed alive for daring to think himself a better piper.

Apollo is also frequently head over heels in love --- typically with mortal women (and a few men) or nymphs, and often tragically. Besides Cassandra, there's Daphne, who begged her river-god father to turn her into a tree rather than let Apollo touch her; Creusa, a mortal woman who had a son, Ion, by him, whom she abandoned, only to be unable to conceive any other child once she married, and met with skepticism and disgust by her grown son when she finally reunited with him; Hyacinthus, whom Apollo accidentally killed; Rhoio, whose father threw her into the sea when he learned she was pregnant (by guess who); Adonis, the hero also loved by Aphrodite, killed by a wild boar; Cyparissus, who killed himself in Apollo's presence; Clytia, who loved Apollo unrequitedly and was changed into a sunflower; Leucothea, sister of Clytia, whom Apollo visited disguised as her mother, and whose father, learning of the affair from Clytia, ordered her to be buried alive.

Neither of these aspects --- the jealous, angry god who'll kill you for looking at him cross-eyed, or the serially lovesick Romeo whose reckless affairs frequently end in the loved one getting killed --- sounds like the Apollonian man Aston and Bolen describe:
Apollo was the Greek God of detached observation and intellectual elucidation, a personality trait having similarities with the cognitive style of those with alexithymia. In classical myth Apollo is considered the antithesis of Dionysus, the God of emotional expressiveness.

According to Clinical Professor of Psychiatry Jean Shinoda-Bolen, "Individuals who resemble Apollo have difficulties that are related to emotional distance, such as communication problems, and the inability to be intimate ... It is paradoxical that the God of clarity, and the man who can speak so precisely and clearly about an impersonal subject is so sparing of words about feelings and so obscure and difficult to interpret when he does say something about himself ... Rapport with another person is hard for the Apollo man. He prefers to access (or judge) the person from a distance, not knowing that he must "get close up" - be vulnerable and empathic - in order to truly know someone else...
While this is certainly an aspect of Apollo (cf. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy), it's not the side of him I see guiding his actions in the Cassandra story. That Apollo is demanding, needy, desperately in love and furious at Cassandra for withholding it from him.

He might even have Cassandra Affective Deprivation Disorder!


Linda Radfem said...

Hi Lindsay

Your blog came up on my stats recently and I just wanted to stop by and say hi. I've been looking for AS-related blogs that are also feminist. Looking forward to going through your archives!

Lindsay said...

Hi, Linda.

Yes, I also discovered your blog recently --- that's probably when I appeared in your statcounter.

I really like what you've written, and was flabbergasted to see that you were Aspie as well.

Besides me, there's Sarah, Gonzo (whose blog is now, unfortunately, for Invited Readers Only), Amanda, Urocyon and Shiva.

There's probably more, too, but I can't think of them now.

Linda Radfem said...

Thanks, I appreciate the pointers and also the links here on your site.

I'm just now starting to connect online with other Aspies.

I'm interested in hearing from/about adults who went through childhood just being "weird" or "different" who may have developed camo-devices by now.

Most of the Aspie stuff here in Oz is child/parent-oriented.

Thanks again.

Socrates said...


Do you know about ?

They're largely Oz based, with a lot of AS women regulars

abfh said...

Gonzo's back public again. :)

It doesn't surprise me at all that the FAAAS crowd has no clue about the mythology, as it's obvious that they have no interest in learning facts generally.

Gonzo said...

Yes, this was a mistake, sorry! ;)

But that's not why I'm dropping in, I've just seen you've been added to the Hub!!!