Cassandra- Christa Wolf

 

 

“Cassandra. I saw her at once. She, the captive, took me captive; herself made an object by others, she took possession of me.”- Christa Wolf, Cassandra

This wasn’t the easiest of books to get through due to its relatively dense prose but it was well worth the effort. In a way it made me realize that I don’t know enough Greek mythology, as well as how pervasive the knowledge of ancient Greek culture is in our modern society. However, not knowing too many particulars of the Trojan War, which is the backdrop of this book, didn’t dampen my experience whatsoever.

I’d never even heard of Cassandra before, the Trojan princess who the gods had given the gift of prophecy.  Most of what I’ve heard of the Trojan war has been about Helen of Troy so it was a nice experience to witness the story from another woman’s perspective. Although the gods give Cassandra the gift of prophecy, they make it so that nobody believes her prophecies. She foresees the fall of Troy and her own death.

What I realized while reading this famous story from a woman’s point of view is the importance of the feminist perspective when it comes to talking about just about anything, but history is what came to mind more strongly here.  This perspective often recounts a more painful history, one where the pain isn’t kept at a distance or hidden away.  In this case, this is a story recounted by a woman who was in the midst of the action. It was more painful shown this way and it clearly highlighted  all that women had to deal with, matters of the heart, feelings of helplessness and so on. I found so much that would probably have been ignored or glossed over had it been written from a male perspective. However, in this case the rapes weren’t omitted, neither was the violence against women. The entire women’s experience was highlighted and that’s probably the reason why I read this as slowly as I did, it was slightly overwhelming to tell the truth.

This book was definitely feminist in its approach. It also showed the patriarchal nature of war.  Cassandra could easily stand as a symbol of all women, especially those who are oppressed and don’t have a voice. Cassandra is intelligent, observant, and well-learned, yet still finds it impossible to convince people of her views, all because she’s a woman. It didn’t matter that Cassandra was a princess, she still didn’t have much say, led a claustrophobic life and was a pawn.

The book ended with four literary essays written by Wolf.  I’m interested in inspiration and how people get their ideas, especially their writing ideas. The essays were a great way of learning how Wolf was inspired to write about Cassandra while reading  Aeschylus’s Oresteia while in Greece:

 

“What does it matter if you do not believe me?
The future will surely come.
Just a little while
And you will see for yourself.”

-Cassandra, in Aeschylus, Oresteia

This book reminded me of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad. Great story, one that I’d read again.

 

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