What appears to be Cassandra's goal throughout the Trojan War?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Christa Wolf's novel Cassandra, one of Cassandra's goals throughout the Trojan War is to get her people to understand the truth. One truth she wants her people to realize is that they are fighting a senseless war with no true existing motive other than financial and political gain.

The Greeks say they are there to take Helen back to King Menelaus. Even the Trojan people believe the "beautiful Helen was inside the palace of their king" (p. 67). At first, even Cassandra refused "to recognize that there was no beautiful Helen in Troy" (p. 67). However, since she has the gift of prophecy, she eventually had to face the fact that Helen was not in Troy. She came to understand that the king of Egypt had taken Helen from Paris once Paris had stolen her from Menelaus. Once Cassandra realized that, she eventually had to call out to her people in screams of supplication, "We are lost! ... Trojans, there is no Helen!" (p. 69) The reason why the fact that Helen is not in Troy is so critical is because, if Helen is not there, then they are fighting a war on false pretenses, and the Trojans will have no way of ending the war because they will not be able to give Helen back as a peace offering.

Another truth Cassandra wants her people to understand is exactly how much women are being used in society as pawns just like Helen is being used as a pawn, as an excuse, to start a war. But beyond the problem concerning Helen, Cassandra wants her people to understand just how much the war has impacted her society. The kingdom of Troy used to be as much of a matriarchy as it is a patriarchy. For example, Queen Hecuba used to participate in government alongside her husband King Priam; however, since the war started, Priam has forbidden Hecuba from meeting with the council.

Hence, it can be said that one of Cassandra's main goals during the Trojan War was to expose all truths about her society concerning the motive for the war and society's treatment of women.

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Cassandra by Christa Wolf is in many ways both a feminist and an anti-war novel. Christa Wolf herself is an East German novelist, and her life and that of her family were in many ways affected by World War II and its outcomes. Her family, Germans who lived in what eventually became part of Poland, not only endured the horrors of World War II, but were forced to relocate at the end of the war, due to the remapping of Eastern Europe. That and the collective trauma the Holocaust inflicted on the German nation, inform Wolf's approach to the Trojan War. Rather than considering "heroism" a virtue, she sees it as a pathology of patriarchy.

While the protagonist Cassandra realizes that Troy must defend itself from the brutal, almost bestial, Greek invaders, she is generally opposed to war. She admires the balance between male and female power in Trojan society, and sees war as an essentially patriarchal act, shifting the balance of power to men and societal norms away from the feminine virtues of community to the masculine ones of conflict. While Cassandra as a prophet knows that Troy will fall and she will die, she supports Aeneas in his goal to found a new Troy and save many of the women who have become outcasts under the new, increasingly bellicose, regime. Thus her main goal is trying to save some of the best elements of Trojan culture, even if Troy itself is conquered.

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Cassandra by Christa Wolf is a feminist retelling of the story of the seer and prophetess Cassandra. Wolf herself was an East German author, an active member of the communist party, whose work associates war with patriarchy.

The actual material on which Wolf bases her novel derives from two main sources, Homer's Iliad and Aeschylus' Agamemnon. In the legend of Cassandra, Apollo promises Cassandra the gift of prophecy if she agrees to sleep with him. Although he holds up his side of the bargain, she refuses his sexual advances. One rule in Greek myth is that the gods cannot take back their gifts, and so Apollo took his revenge by adding a second "gift," namely that although her prophecies would be true, they would never be believed. Thus Cassandra was aware of the secret of the Trojan horse but couldn't do anything about it, just as she was aware that she would be murdered by Clytemnestra and Aigisthos.

In Wolf's novel, Trojan society had been balanced between patriarchy and matriarchy, as opposed to Greek society, which was purely patriarchal. As Cassandra awaits her death, standing before the gates of Mycenae, she reflects back upon how war changed the power balance between men and women, giving men more power and women less. She thus links patriarchy and bellicosity. Her overall goal is to end war and restore a more balanced society. She was also in love with Aeneas, and wished to flee with him and like-minded Trojans at the fall of Troy to found a more just society, but eventually did not.    

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