Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Christa Wolf’s novel about the aftermath of the Trojan War begins with the titular protagonist awaiting her execution. As she waits for Clytemnestra, who will likewise put to death Agamemnon, Cassandra renounces her status as Apollo’s priestess. She runs through her life’s main events, including her fall from grace in the eyes of her father, King Priam of Troy. Like her sister, Polyxena, Cassandra is becoming another female casualty of the war. Refusing to see her sister become a pawn in the men’s political battle, Cassandra was first imprisoned and then condemned.
The grown woman looks back at her coming of age, which meant entering into temple service. Although she had visionary gifts, her role was to serve the priests. Taken as a virgin, she should have been forced into sex, but Aeneas claimed her and spared her virtue. Although later she was a sexual servant to the chief priest, Panthous, she and Aeneas found a deeper love.
Casssandra’s disappointments were not only her own, however. With her sharp intelligence, she could see past the empty rhetoric of rescuing Helen—who, indeed, had already left Troy—and analyze the complex political and economic reasons that the men waged war. Despite her many predictions, she was powerless to stop the trajectory of destruction once it got underway. Ironically, her love for Aeneas as a person turned her away from him in wartime, as she rejected the falsity of war hero status. Cassandra remained in Troy, rather than escape with her lover and became, according to Wolf’s feminist revisionist telling, another female casualty of war.