(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The novel Cassandra began when Wolf delivered a series of lectures on poetics at Frankfurt University in 1982. She did not present the expected scholarly analysis of poetics, but instead she delivered a series of four talks, including two “Travel Reports,” “A Work Diary,” and a “Letter.” These lectures explained how Wolf became interested in the figure of Cassandra. Her fifth lecture was the narrative of Cassandra itself. Wolf often refused to play by academic rules.

Like Euripides’ Triades (415 b.c.e.; The Trojan Women, 1782), Cassandra is told from the perspective of the vanquished survivors of the Trojan War, with Wolf describing the obliteration of the people and culture of Troy in 1200 b.c.e. Cassandra’s interior monologue as she awaits her death at the gates of Agamemnon’s fortress takes her back in memory to Troy. She remembers peaceful scenes of a society balanced between matriarchy and patriarchy, a balance represented by the closeness and mutual counsel of her mother, Hecuba, and her father, Priam. Cassandra recalls how the war destroyed that delicate balance; matriarchal vision and patriarchal political power vied with one another and the patriarchy eventually won.

Wolf’s antiwar message is evident in her portrayal of the real reasons for war. Rejecting the Trojan War as a battle caused by the beauty of Helen...

(The entire section is 494 words.)


(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The captive Cassandra stands in Agamemnon’s chariot outside the lion gate of Mycenae, awaiting her death at the hands of Clytemnestra. She knows that Clytemnestra is now killing Agamemnon in the palace. She says as much to the Greek elders who cluster around the chariot, but they, like her own people, do not believe or cannot understand her dire prophecies. She casts aside, as a bitter mockery, the insignia of her rank as a seeress and a priestess of Apollo. What time she has left she spends recalling her past, from the time she enjoyed the status of favorite daughter to Priam, her beloved father and King of Troy, until the time when Priam imprisoned her in the dungeon. She was punished because she would not cooperate in a plan to use her sister, Polyxena, as erotic bait to trap Achilles in the temple of Apollo. Achilles had demanded Polyxena as the price of giving back the body of Hector. According to the plan, while Achilles was making love to Polyxena, Paris would wound him in his vulnerable heel.

Cassandra’s adamant refusal to cooperate with this plan was not motivated by any love for Achilles, whom she abhorred, nor was it a statement against the profanation of the temple, which had been declared neutral territory in the contest between Trojans and Greeks. To Cassandra, her refusal was a protest against a long process by which women had been deprived of all autonomy in this irrational war. This supposedly gallant contest over a woman was a lie from the very beginning. There was no Helen in Troy; the king of Egypt had taken her from Paris...

(The entire section is 638 words.)