• By Terry Norton

Cassandra


Greek Red Figure Vase, circa 600 BCE

Both beauty and intelligence were mine.

But to what end? Of all the nineteen who

Sprang from my mother’s fecund thighs, of daughters

I was the loveliest and by far most prized –

At least in my old father’s eyes – to wed

An eager prince who might with armed men come

To aid the city that the gods had built.

But not one would I have. No need for that!

By other means, I would have saved the town.

And yet, I was too shrewd for my own good.

I spurned Apollo in his holy shrine.

He offered me the gift of prophecy,

Rare and precious. I needed but succumb

And forthwith acquiesced, knowing full well

That we as mortals keep or break with ease

Our pledges but a god cannot withdraw

His sacred promises. And in this way,

I tried to trick the Lord of Light and keep

My chastity to which I’d sworn myself

As faithful votary. Besides, he’d come

Upon me in his temple while I slept –

Exhausted, prostrate, from my adoration –

That he might force the issue on me there.

Yet my perfidious deed brought only ruin.

For that Divine Destroyer damned his gift

And turned foreknowledge to a curse,

My divinations melting in the air,

Believed by none and thought insane by all.

So much for my vow of virginity.

How wearisome to know and be ignored.

How hard to hold my tongue and silence keep,

When truth’s goad ever prodded me to speak

And be a nag to ears forever deaf.

My people paid me not the slightest heed

When on the beach they found the monstrous horse.

With hair about my ivory shoulders streaming,

Wildly my eyes ablaze as if in trance,

But with a heart and soul steadfast, I cried,

“What madness, men of Troy, possesses you!

You think the Greeks have gone and left

A present free of treachery?

It is a ruse to use against our walls.

Like fools, you celebrate a victory

And feast in ignorance!” And then to save

Them from themselves, I ran with axe and torch

In either hand intent on its destruction.

But overzealous drunks surrounded me,

Sundering the salvation that I brought,

And held me on the strand. They rushed me back,

As sick of me as I was sick of me,

To lock me in my confines in the city,

The pyramid perched on the citadel,

So that their festal scene not be disturbed

By my dire words that knelled fair Ilium’s doom.

Catcalls and jeers accompanied my path.

“Away, vile sorceress! Shame on your lies!

Babble your evil speech in solitude!”

I’d early hoped my second sight would shine

Its truths to spur audacious acts that might

Alter the iron, relentless will of Fate.

Vain wish that matters not! For in the end,

We alter nothing if it is to be.

Knowing my own cruel destiny, I could

Effect no change. Ajax of Locris raped

Me at Athena’s statue just the same,

While burning palaces and temples fell

And men lay butchered in the blood-drenched streets,

Some gasping their last breath as others clutched

Their hands across their wounds where bowels stared out

From heinous gashes. Neither intelligence

Nor beauty could have changed the savage scene.

Yet even so, I’ve warned the Grecian king –

The truth unfiltered, bubbling from my lips –

About his wife and cousin, lovers now,

Conspiring how they best might murder him.

And still he will not heed my prophecy.

No small relief that I alone can see,

As those three hard-set sisters spin the thread

And Clytemnestra lifts her long bronze axe,

A like grim final fate on shore awaits for me.

I’d rather die than be his concubine,

My pointless life too miserable to save,

My end a welcome thing when soon we touch

The alien land, where puffed with victory

And spoils and pride, His Paramountcy strides,

The High Lord Agamemnon, soon to be

Entangled in his tunic. Joyfully,

My arms will round him twine as serpents’ tongues

Now titillate my ears to hear the bow’s

Crisp twangs and sure, swift flying arrows’ thuds,

Their points dipped long ago in passion’s venom.


Terry L. Norton is professor emeritus of literacy acquisition at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He is the author of Cherokee Myths and Legends: Thirty Tales Retold as well as academic articles on literacy and literature for children and young adults. His poetry has appeared in Ekphrastic Review, Kakalak Review, and The Society for Classical Poetry. His renditions of the first century Latin poet Phaedrus received second place in the 2020 translation competition sponsored by The Society of Classical Poets.

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