THE GIRL WHO CRIED WOLF
Once upon a time there was a young boy. As a lot of young boys like to do, he enjoyed playing tricks on the gullible villagers in the town below the fields where he tended his flocks. In order to revel in the chaos that ensued, the young boy would cry "Wolf! Wolf!" and snigger as he watch the villagers panic and hurry for cover. Inevitably, when no wolf did appear, the boy was chastised for falsely starting the alarm and was warned of the dangers in telling lies. The young boy was foolish and did not heed their warning. Continuing his game far too frequently, the villagers grew tired of the charade. One day, the boy whilst resting under a stooped laurel tree spied in the corner of the field a skulking and ferocious wolf. Leaping to his feet he fled to the edge of the field and shouted with all his might "Wolf! Wolf!" The villagers, having being deceived so often, chose to ignore the cries and rallied on with their daily chores. This time, the young boy though telling the truth was unconvincing and stranded up in the field fell prey to the unimpeded wolf. The young boy would certainly never cry wolf again.
This is the tale I remember, I'm not even sure its accurate but I always think it’s more interested to retell the story you remember than the precise details of the original. Similar to the ever-changing mythology of the Greeks, it's a nice thought to think that we contribute to the Chinese whispers of changing stories.
This fable comes with a clear message: lying is wrong and perhaps more importantly those who lie will dearly pay the price. No-one in Greek Mythology knew this better than poor Cassandra, who although not a typical femme fatale will be the focus for this post. A favourite subject of the pre-raphaelites, Cassandra is a famed symbol of cursed prophecy and few in mythology can lay claim to a more tragic tale of woe.
Living in 2012, we are well aware of DOOMSDAY prophecies, the study of the finality of earth is known as Eschatology and we are facing this on 21st December 2012. this has come about because the calendar invented by the Olmec people of Mesoamerica ends on this date. This has popularly been then associated with the Mayans. Having taken a brief look into this theme of doomsday. I was shocked to see how many times the world was supposed to have ended. With the prophets swearing blind that it would happen on a certain day only to take a rain check and reschedule the Apocalypse when it didn't quite occur. Harold Camping predicted that the world would end on the 6th September 1994, 29th September 1994, 2nd October 1994, 31st March 1995, 21st May 2011 and the 21st October 2011. At this rate, he'll get it right just by dumb luck.
The most shocking prophecy I saw was that of Joseph Kibweteere and Credonia Mwerinde who formed in 1989 a religious group (cult) which splintered from the Roman Catholic Church in Uganda. Credonia claimed to have seen a prophetic vision which told that the world would end on 1st January 2000. After slaughtering cattle and buying mass amounts of Coca-Cola, believed to be for some sort of final feast however even after the prophecy was proven false, the cult participated in a mass suicide by poison and burning down the Kanungu church with the followers trapped inside. Joseph died in the fire however, it is assumed that this was part of a mass murder and that their followers did not choose their deaths voluntarily. Credonia is suspected to still be alive and was sought after by authorities for sect murdering.
In September 2011, acknowledging their foolishness, the Ip Nobel Prize (a sort of Razzie for odd/stupid achievements) was awarded to several of these false prophets including Credonia for reminding the world to take more care when making calculations!
Cassandra, meaning entangler of men, was the daughter of Hecuba and King Priam, the rulers of Troy during the Trojan War according to Homer's Iliad. Cassandra was a beautiful young woman, blessed with the gift of prophecy by Apollo, who was infatuated with her. Unfortunately, she shunned Apollo at the last minute and he added a twist to her gift; Cassandra was doomed to tell the truth, but never to be believed. King Priam did not know what to do with her, so he tried to keep Cassandra locked up and out of the way of the warriors of Troy. When Troy finally fell to the Greek invaders, Cassandra was attacked and supposedly raped by the Greek warrior Ajax of Locris, but eventually avenged by Athena. When Cassandra accompanied the Greek hero Agamemnon as his mistress to his homeland, she was killed by his vengeful wife, Clytemnestra
The Pre-Raphaelites, fairly predictably, sought to spin their own sympathies towards this character, displaying her in a more favourable light.
The composition of this painting is an interesting one. It feels layered and delicately positioned and whilst I applaud yet another well captured expression of doom and the fabric in the bottom corner is beautiful, I am really unsure about the placement of the hair. I conceptually understand the use of the fiery hair to represent the forthcoming fire of troy that Cassandra foresaw. This painting cleverly tells us the full Cassandra myth without ramming it down our throats. Cassandra foreseeing the fire of troy submerged in the background is struck with the doom of knowing and trapped in her own knowledge of this. The whipped hair simulates the future fire that comes from Cassandra who feels responsible for its coming to pass.
Oh, joy. I love this (Sandys - "Helen and Cassandra"). What is the art version of intertextuality? Is there one? Interpictuality - I've invented it now, if not. Sandys, replays one of his sulking expressions to signify what is happening here. The same insipid look is displayed on the painting of Helen who is also depicted below by Sandys.
I think the use of fire in white on the skyline is an interesting storytelling device. On first appearance we see the chastisement of Helen and the clear outline of Cassandra to the backing yet it only appears on second look that the clarity of her outline is due to the fire of troy. I really do think Sandys is at his best in pen and ink, it is such a lovely medium for detail and the fabric in this piece is so beautifully drawn and falls effortlessly unlike the De Morgan fabric which looks like it would crack if you dropped it.
Notice how Cassandra is stepping on a mirror, now discarded on the floor, we can see the reflection of her foot and note this intent by Sandys as perhaps to show the abandoned vanity pursued by Helen as she look sullenly at her sister. Cassandra fervently allocates blame on her sister since she would feel so helplessly connected with the event since she knew its occurrence but was unable to stop it
Sandys Helen is indeed sullen and stubbornly spoilt looking. I feel very much like I know her just from that one look. Choosing to portray Helen in such a way was a clever means of perhaps creating antipathies towards her but rendering the audience unable to place culpability on her with her child-like appearance. It's like the small child who smashed the priceless plate, perhaps unwilling to own up and sad to be caught looks meekly up at their chastiser with self-pitying and sullen eyes. The Helen we see in the above drawing has been taken one step further, she is even coyly sucking on her hair, blocking Cassandra's advancing wrath with her arm and she sheepishly turns away from her.
Perhaps I am just Sandys only fan, but I really just love the sense of character you get from these works. Yes, it's true they are over-dramatised and caricaturish but you must admit, Helen the petulant sulking teenager makes for a fairly jolly and innovative interpretation.
In contrast with the melancholy and pained Cassandra that is portrayed by Burne-Jones, Rossetti chooses to show Cassandra in the throws of some meltdown. In the heights of frustration, Cassandra tugs at her hair, no longer like the De Morgan piece, which (in my opinion - sorry Evelyn!) fails to display imperative or drama, the wildness of Rossetti's piece echoes an almost Gothic feeling. Overcome with frustration or doom, Cassandra's expression displays a state of madness.
Oh, Rossetti, for what reason did you decide not to complete this. It actually looks excitingly dramatic and a good 'ole Cassandra is missing from your beautiful collection of damsels in distress.
Rend, rend thine hair, Cassandra: he will go
Yea, rend thy garments, wring thine hands and cry
From Troy still towered to the unreddened sky.
See, all but she that bore thee mock thy woe:-
He most whom that fair woman arms, with show
Of wrath on her bent brows; for in this place
This hour bad'st all men in Helen's face
The ravished ravishing prize of Death to know.
What eyes, what ears hath sweet Andromache,
Save for her Hector's form and step; as tear
On tear make salt the warm last kiss he gave?
He goes. Cassandra's words beat heavily
Like crows above his crest, and at his ear
Ring hollow in the shield that shall not save.
Rend is such a lovely word: "to tear (the hair or clothing) as a sign of anger, grief, or despair". I really love this poem my favourite part being "wring thine hands and cry from Troy still towered to the unreddened sky" I just think that the word "unreddened" has such foreboding as if it’s a reminder of what a reddened sky might foretell, like Cassandra herself...clever.
CASSANDRA THE POLITICAL
Now I'm just not a hugely political person so I am always up for a foray into learning something about politics when it links in with mythology. When looking at Cassandra as a symbol, I came across a woman called Cassandra has become symbolically recognised for several phenomena in the modern age.
Robinson Jeffers writes this poem:
The mad girl with the staring eyes and long white fingers
Hooked in the stones of the wall,
The storm-wrack hair and screeching mouth: does it matter, Cassandra,
Whether the people believe
Your bitter fountain? Truly men hate the truth, they'd liefer
Meet a tiger on the road.
Therefore the poets honey their truth with lying; but religion—
Vendors and political men
Pour from the barrel, new lies on the old, and are praised for kind
Wisdom. Poor bitch be wise.
No: you'll still mumble in a corner a crust of truth, to men
And gods disgusting—you and I, Cassandra.
The message is conveyed clearly, that humankind would prefer to be told sweet lies than the harsh truth and that Cassandra is a metaphor for the truth that no-one wants to listen to or believe.
NIXON, CASSANDRA AND PSYCHIATRY
Infrequently, my interests interact with politics. Does not happened often, less so with American politics. I belong in the world of the aesthetic. But here was the opportunity for me to broaden my horizons to finally learn what "Watergate" is. Yes, of course, know the expression "X-gate" (the most famous for British reality television fans being "Verruca-gate" - how times have changed).
I'm going to keep this short, sweet and relevant so bear with me on the facts. Nixon is the only president in American history to resign and here's why. Basically some guys got caught burgling a hotel in June 1972, they were trying to wire-tap the Democratic conference. Sadly for Nixon, these guys were on his reelection committee (SCANDAL).
So why am I talking about this? Well, Martha Mitchell (wife of the Attorney-General in Nixon's administration) alleged that White House officials were involved in illegal activities. Poor Martha though, her claims were put down to her mental illness. Obviously after the debacle, she was vindicated and she became known as "The Cassandra of Watergate".
In general, when a paranoid claims something that seems ridiculous and is unbelieved, but later it is discovered to have been telling the truth it is known as the Martha Mitchell effect.
"Sometimes, improbable reports are erroneously assumed to be symptoms of mental illness due to a failure or inability to verify whether the events have actually taken place, no matter how improbable intuitively they might appear to the busy clinician"
The classic quote has to go to Joseph Berke: "even paranoids have enemies"!
Lets end this brief foray into Cassandra in a melancholy fashion, with the captured despair from Edward Burne-Jones. Cheer up love, it might never happen...